Employee Appreciation Day

Have you ever wondered what it takes to put on a show at Centre In The Square? Which efforts do staff members need to partake in before, during, and after a show to ensure a safe, successful, and enjoyable live performance? In all actuality, it’s quite the production before the actual production!

Behind every event at Centre In The Square is a diverse and talented team of individuals who work effortlessly and tirelessly together to assure your experience is as flawless, unique, and entertaining as possible. From the months, weeks, and days leading up to the moment the curtain opens, during the performance, and long after the curtain closes involves a wide array of coordination, communication, and all hands on deck.

Today for National Employee Appreciation Day, we wanted to have a little chat and shine a spotlight on some of these individuals that always strive to bring you the best experience at Centre In The Square. Some of these staff members you may recognize, some you may even have had conversations with before. Some you have seen before the event, and some during the event. Many work behind the scenes – playing a silent yet vital role – and all are united together by their passion for live entertainment.

Now of course there wouldn’t be any shows if we didn’t have someone in charge of bringing in the talent. At Centre In The Square, we have our very own, Greg Henderson – Director of Programming & Rentals – who scours the land to bring you your favourite shows. Greg has been actively utilizing his skillset for 7 years and 4 months in this role. Below, we asked Greg a few questions about his experience with Centre In The Square:

Can you tell us a bit about your main roles and responsibilities as Director of Programming & Rentals?

Greg: I’m responsible for hustling shows for Centre In the Square and by that, I mean bringing shows that matter to our community and working with promoters to bring shows to our spaces.

What is your favourite thing about working at Centre In The Square?

Greg: My favourite thing about Centre In The Square is the people. The people that come to shows and the people I work with often bring a great feeling of belonging. Each show offers a bunch of variables that challenge us, but I still get excited just before the performers hit the stage. It is a fun way to make a living.

What’s your favourite Centre In The Square memory?

Greg: My favourite memory…so many to choose from…getting a hug and a thank you from so many performers makes my job easy. It’s those small moments that appeal to me.

Not every show that comes to Centre In The Square is sought out, some shows seek out Centre In The Square to host their event. That’s when our Rental Coordinator, Karen McKerracher, comes into play. Below, we asked Karen a few questions about her experience with Centre In The Square:

What’s the most fun show you’ve seen at Centre In The Square?

Karen: The most fun show I have seen at Centre In The Square would be the Choir! Choir! Choir! show in 2020! A sold-out show and the entire audience on their feet, singing along and laughing away with their neighbours, to master one full take of ABBAs Mamma Mia.

What’s the most meaningful moment you think Centre In The Square has experienced?

Karen: I think the event that was the most meaningful to date was our presentation of Near Normal Man: a documentary film about Ben Stern, a young man, who from 17-24 survived 2 ghettos, 9 concentration camps and 2 death marches. Ben Stern now in his 90’s, along with his daughter was present to speak about their history and it was immensely powerful.

What do you love most about working at Centre In The Square?

Karen: What I love about this industry, is as a Rental Coordinator, the range of shows that I am a part of is such a privilege and joy to work every day. I am grateful for the opportunities with community involvement that we can participate in as a not-for-profit, events that we can bring to people while bringing them together is gratifying. Having worked in Finance and Ticketing for 11 years before coming to Centre In The Square, it’s fair to say I’m a ticketing nerd that loves numbers and analytics. I have recently started working with the team on KW Tickets and its continuing growth. This is such a great project not only for Centre In The Square but for patrons and communities. There are some great opportunities for future endeavours at Centre In The Square and I cannot wait to be apart of them!

How long have you been working at Centre In The Square and what are some of your responsibilities?

Karen: I came to Centre In The Square in 2019 and I couldn’t be happier to work with a great group; from the initial booking and estimates through to the final settlement on show night. I get to be a part of the entire process, working alongside one of the best teams in the business.

Once a show has been negotiated, a mountain of paperwork is filled, and a sign of relief is let out, it’s time to let the public know and give them access to buy tickets. Often your first inkling that something is being presented at Centre In The Square comes from the marketing team. William Muir is Centre In The Square’s Marketing, Digital, and Social Media Manager who works alongside Marketing Coordinator – Tonya Brant. Below, we asked them a few questions about their experience with marketing Centre In The Square shows:

Can you tell us a bit about your main roles and responsibilities?

William: It’s my job (and pleasure) to connect artists with their fans here in KW, and let the good folks know about upcoming shows & events through various media outlets.
Tonya: I create visual concepts that inspire, inform, and captivate patrons through various traditional and digital media channels to help build stronger connections with our audience.

How long have you been marketing Centre In The Square Shows?

William: Since July 2016
Tonya: Since January 2018

What’s your favourite thing about working at Centre In The Square?

William: Beyond the staff, and seeing people rock out in the audience, one of my favourite parts of the job is that it’s truly unique watching a band run through soundcheck. Sometimes you get to hear new songs they’re working on, or get an idea of what might be played later on that night.
Tonya: I love the energy, it’s always buzzing with laughter and excitement! There’s never a dull moment, and everybody has a wicked sense of humour.

What’s your favourite Centre In The Square memory?

William: My favourite (and first) Centre In The Square memory was singing in the Kiwanis Festival with Chalmers St. School. It introduced me to this world, and I’ve been working in music or entertainment ever since.
Tonya: Participating in the STEAM Camp Tour of Centre In The Square with 11 awesome young girls that loved their “custom” backstage passes!

Favourite concert at Centre In The Square?

William: One of my favourite Centre In The Square concerts was Sarah McLachlan. If I could see any artist booked here at The Centre, it’d be Metallica or Nickelback.
Tonya: So many…30th Anniversary of Copperhead Road is up there!

Once the word is out there, it’s time for Box Office to shine! The gatekeepers to all events at Centre In The Square, we have Lisa Williams, Internal Ticket Services Manager, & Margie Hogg, External Ticket Services Manager. Together with their team of 12, they work hard to provide ticketing needs, customer service, and troubleshooting to tens of thousands of patrons a year. Below, we asked Lisa and Margie a few questions about their experience with Centre In The Square:

Can you tell us a bit about your main roles and responsibilities at Centre In The Square?

Lisa: I handle the set up of sales in our ticketing system for Centre In The Square events.
Margie: I take care of our external clients, such as the Rangers, KMAC, Registry Theatre, Elmira Theatre. I also help manage the Box Office with Lisa.

How long have you been working at Centre In The Square?

Lisa: “Laughs” – a long time, 31 years! Fun fact: One of our ushers, Michael Dowling, was one of my tennis coaches in High School. To this day, I still address him as “Mr. Dowling” and I’m unable to call him by his first name.
Margie: I’ve been working at CITS for 29 years. Obviously, a wee girl when I started! I started part-time in the box office when I was in university and moved to full-time several years later.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Centre In The Square?

Lisa & Margie: The great people, friendly staff and happy patrons.

What’s your favourite Centre In The Square memory?

Margie: Having Fred Penner come to chat with us in the box office, and getting to meet The Wizard after seeing Wicked!
Lisa: One of the first shows I saw at Centre In The Square was Starlight Express. The front of the stage came out into the audience and the location where I sat made you feel like you were part of the show!

No show can be presented without the crew. Spearheading the team is Adam Qualter, Crew Chief & Head of Props. This team of hard workers meticulously labour away to ensure the sound is perfect, the lights are perfect, and the stage is set-up perfectly. There are safety protocols to follow, along with working with scenery, props and special effects. There’s operating scenery on the fly system, ensuring projections are working, and so much more for hundreds of shows a year. The crew plays a quiet, yet incredibly vital role in every performance.

Below we touched base with a few members of our crew at Centre In The Square, Jim Constable, Head Carpenter and, Michael MacLean, Head of Stage Lighting.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey with Centre In The Square?

Jim: My journey to the Centre in the Square started at the Charlottetown Festival in 1968. I worked and toured with Festival shows until I joined the National Ballet of Canada in 1978. By 1980 I was living full time in Kitchener, while still touring with the Ballet. I worked part-time at the Centre when I was not on the road with the Ballet. In 1991, I joined the Canadian Touring Company of Phantom of the Opera. I believe it was 1994 when I took the job as acting Head Carpenter and Crew Chief of the Centre. When that stint was over, I worked for a few years at the Stratford Festival and the Kitchener Aud. I joined the staff as the Assistant Carpenter in 2001, and have been here ever since. When Head Carpenter Steve Cassaubon went on sick leave, I became Acting Head for a few years before being confirmed as the Head. In this role, I am responsible for the setting up and tearing down of local and touring shows. When we are not doing shows, I supervise various maintenance projects on and about the stage. We have one of the best-equipped theatres in the country, and we work hard to keep it that way.

What do you look forward to in the future?

Jim: I look forward to seeing people from previous performances come and visit us again with their new projects. I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals. Our space is so well suited to this type of show.

Can you tell us a bit about your main roles and responsibilities at Centre In The Square?

Michael: I am responsible for the management, design, operation, maintenance and coordination with touring shows of the CITS stage lighting equipment. Our inventory consists of approximately 400 conventional fixtures, 60 computer-controlled automated fixtures and numerous effects lighting fixtures. Centre In The Square is also equipped with state-of-the-art control consoles for both the main stage and studio spaces.

How would you describe the working dynamic amongst the crew at Centre In The Square?

Michael: Working alongside our other production departments (audio, carpentry, rigging, props, and video) we have the unique ability to adapt from one style of show to another (symphony concert, rock concert, Broadway show, choir, or corporate event) in very short order. My crewmates are all seasoned industry professionals and we strive for perfection as we can not simply rewind the tape if something goes wrong! We have one shot to create the magic that is LIVE entertainment!

How long have you worked at Centre In The Square?

Michael: I have been fortunate to have been working behind the scenes at Centre In The Square since the summer of 1983 when I was a student at the first School for the Performing Arts that used to be held in the summer. I helped design the lighting and was stage manager for the end-of-term production. Connections made with the house crew then led to part-time employment on the crew and eventually to full-time almost 10 years ago. I have worked in all of the backstage departments and was promoted to Head of Stage Lighting three years ago.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Centre In The Square?

Michael: The favourite part of my position on the crew here is a hard question to answer. I guess there are two answers. I have spent many years touring and working across North America in the event and entertainment industries. Many friendships have been forged and it is always a great feeling to see those friends come to visit us with the shows they are touring. It is like a family reunion. The second favourite part would have to be the creative license I am afforded to light shows and events that are not travelling with their own lighting operator. To create my art and to be able to allow our audiences to be entertained and escape reality carries with it an emotional high for me. Especially when everyone is on the edge of their seat in anticipation and is fully committed to the experience.

What’s your favourite Centre In The Square memory?

Michael: My favourite memory would have to be Phantom of the Opera. Being a part of such an incredible show, and working on stage in the shadows. The crew would act out charade skits that could only be seen on infrared camera monitors backstage while the show was happening! We could see the audience but they could not see us! The wardrobe dept. even made some of us black tutus so we could have a stagehand ballet under the bridge scene. Not a sound was made while the show played above and in front of us. The cast and crew would be off stage watching our antics and guessing the answer to the charade! The magic of theatre! It was an incredible amount of work to load in and set-up, but worth every moment. Fun fact, our Head Carpenter toured Phantom across North America for several years before coming to Centre In The Square and some of the chandelier technology still exists in our ceiling!

Any final thoughts?

Michael: I thoroughly enjoy working in such a collaborative environment that is Centre In The Square. Every day is different, and working on productions where we can all be creative and find solutions and build experiences for our audience is amazing. I am fortunate to be able to work alongside a group of amazing stagehands including one who deserves special mention. Our Head of Sound, Bob Luffman, has been with Centre In The Square since before we opened! He designed, built, and installed the original sound system and is still with us 40+ years later sharing his mastery and skill! A career lasting over 4 decades is a testament to how special Centre In The Square is to work in and for our community! Bravo!

And with every show, there’s always a Production Manager overseeing the technical needs of each show at Centre In The Square, including supervising technical staff to run the show during the performances and ensuring the efficiency of the production process. Rachel Dunlop has been working at Centre In The Square since 2013 and has currently taken the role of Production Manager.

What’s your favourite concert to come to Centre In The Square?

Rachel: The Collective Soul concert. I’ve never felt the energy in the building like I did that night.

Now we come to the moment of truth, the night of the show! How exciting! Yet the excitement has been bubbling inside the theatre for hours before the doors will open to the public. There is so much to do beforehand, such as soundcheck and last-minute adjustments and fine-tuning. But inside the theatre, there is another type of hustle and bustle – there’s the coordinating of ushers, bartenders, parking service staff, and volunteers. There’s the stocking of refreshments, going over safety protocols and emergency contingencies, reviewing the agenda for the event, and ensuring there are no tripping hazards or dangerous obstacles. Before every show, staff thoroughly make sure that the theatre is clean and in its most tip-top shape for our amazing patrons.

Below, we caught up with Kris Ozolins – Director of Events and Patron Services, along with Gary Shantz –
Front of House Coordinator, Heidi Peller-Oliver – Bartender, and Jon Keighan – Usher, Lead Usher, Parking Services, Health and Safety Committee, & Office Coordinator.

How many bartenders, ushers, and parking service staff work at Centre In The Square?

Kris: We have 20 bartenders, 50 ushers, and 8 parking service staff employed at Centre In The Square.

How long have you worked at Centre In The Square?

Kris: In my 22nd year.
Gary: Been at the Centre for 40 years (started one month before the theatre opened – Aug 1980).
Heidi: I’ve been a bartender at Centre In The Square for 12 years, and have loved every minute of it!
Jon: Since May 2008

Can you tell us a bit about your main roles and responsibilities at Centre In The Square?

Kris: As Director of Events and Patron Services, I look to engage our guests the moment they arrive with the best experience that they can possibly have through the strength of our front-of-house team.
Gary: While working a shift, I am responsible to ensure that things flow smoothly, and the audience has a world-class experience while at The Centre. This is accomplished in coordination with Front-Of-House staff, including valet, bar, ushering, and box office staff, as well as other Front-Of-House supervisors providing a coordinated effort to ensure the evening, runs smoothly.
Heidi: 1st and foremost- customer service with a smile – includes exceptional customer service for physically & intellectually disabled customers. Also, working well and effectively with our co-bartenders. If I was out of Vodka suddenly for an order, I would coordinate getting a shot from my fellow bartender to have the drink ready for the customer so he can get into the show quickly. The customers love to see this and comment on how fast and efficient we are. Furthermore, inventory at the beginning and end of our shift, setting up of our bar to make it look pretty from the customer’s view. As well as, bringing together drinks and snacks for customers, cleaning up cans, and so much more!

What’s your favourite thing about working at Centre In The Square?

Kris: Unlike many other careers, my work at the centre has many distinct perks to the role. The biggest is working alongside my peers, performers and patrons of our events. We all have one thing in common, we are here to make the best memories while having a great time. There aren’t too many places of work that 100% of the people around you have chosen to escape, to witness, to experience, and to be engaged in a positive and happy environment every day. This great culture makes meeting and exceeding one’s goals that much more rewarding.
Heidi: I have seen a lot of changes with the theatre and with my job responsibilities over the years. The Front-Of-House staff that I am a part of are all wonderful people and so much fun to know! We are like a 2nd family away from home.
Jon: Centre In The Square is a great place to work; great people, great work environment! Some of my favourite shows that came to Centre In The Square include Brian Wilson, Wicked, The Mavericks, all improv shows, and, of course, all Pink Floyd and Beatles shows. Chatting with Ted Neeley (Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar) was really cool. Of course, the highlight of my career at Centre In The Square has to be watching Madison, my granddaughter, perform with her dance group on stage; and then helping me with my duties in the office afterwards!

What’s your favourite Centre In The Square memory?

Kris: Without a doubt, I love working the big-name events. But some of my favourite memories are the unexpected events that didn’t interest me as much but then having them blow my socks off in amazement. Some of these shows: Choir Choir Choir, Blind Boys of Alabama, Xavier Rudd, and David Blaine.
Gary: One of my favourite memories was the night of an Alice Cooper concert when one of the feeder mice for his snake escaped and got into the theatre, creating a commotion with the patrons as he ran over their feet trying to get away. I was called to the section to try to calm the situation. With the help of a plastic glass from the bar and a house program, I managed to catch the mouse and let him outside to run for his life. Luckily, the Press was there to catch a picture of me and the mouse at the Stage Door before he was released, giving me a great picture to remember the event.
Heidi: My favourite memory of working as a bartender is when Tragically Hip came many years ago for 3 nights in a row. I was working away and listening to the music of Gord Downie and The Hip when I noticed that everyone was dancing in their spot, having a great time! Bar sales were up and up, and the best thing was the Hip played different songs for their program every night! Another Favourite memory was bartending for the show Wicked. At the end of a 5-day run, a couple of us bartenders were asked to stay and set-up a bar and bartend at the Centre In The Square Studio Theatre for the Wicked cast and crew’s after-party. It was so much fun for 3 hours, we didn’t finish until 2:30 am! They were a great bunch! And finally, when I was bartending for Trailer Park Boys, a man came up to my bar and asked for a Coors Light, but he looked EXACTLY like Bubbles!! Still to this day, I do not know- but he could have been the real Bubbles!

Some people know, but many do not know about the secret door that leads to the chic, elegant room reserved for the use of CentreStage members and their guests. This exclusive retreat is a place for CentreStage members to unwind, socialize, entertain and engage friends and clients before, during, and following all performances at Centre In The Square. Dwayne Bryshun, Director of Business Development and Fundraising has many roles, but the most fun part of his job is running the CentreStage Member’s lounge and pouring wine for everyone going to shows. Below we had a little chat with Dwayne:

Can you tell us a bit about your main roles and responsibilities at Centre In The Square?

Dwayne: I get to try to find Centre In The Square some extra money through fundraising efforts, as well as entertaining patrons that are coming to shows.

How long have you worked at Centre In The Square?

Dwayne: I have been at Centre In The Square for 6 years.

Can you tell us something interesting about yourself?

Dwayne: I came to Ontario for Film/TV work, after spending 15 years running restaurants for numerous Celebrity Chefs in Vancouver.

Best act you’ve seen at Centre In The Square?

Dwayne: Coolest act I have seen at Centre In The Square is Carol Burnett. One of the greatest entertainers of ALL TIME, still funny after 87 years!

The coolest thing you’ve seen at Centre In The Square?

Dwayne: The coolest thing I have seen at Centre In The Square is when Emma from the Wiggles jumped on the drums. She could have played for any rock band that has ever played at Centre In The Square!

What’s the best part about working at Centre In The Square?

Dwayne: The best part of working at Centre In The Square is always being surrounded by happy people, both patrons and staff.

Finally, it’s the end of the night and we hope your experience was incredible! The lights, the sound, the energy, and the memories the staff try to bring to every patron all are carefully orchestrated endeavours that take a tremendous amount of time, effort, talent, and teamwork to pull off. We do 160 events or so a year – including hosting 48 dates with the KWS. We are also home to the KWAG and Grand Philharmonic Choir. So for our patrons – this amounts to about 320 hours of arts, culture and entertainment. But for the team at Centre In The Square, this is 1000’s hours of hard work and dedication.

What our guests see is the finished product – the show or event – what they don’t know is that we may have started preparations for the event days before. Often beginning the day at 6 am and continuing until midnight, when the last trucks are loaded and on their way to the next town.

We have well over 150 employees from part-time to full-time, working so hard to ensure our patron’s night out is the best night out! They provide patron care and customer service, technical and production support, IT, catering, finance, artist support, ticketing support, and so many more aspects and details to ensure that there is a show and the event is professionally delivered. The sum of all the moving parts is an intricate balance of many different departments and resources – and not one department or person is more important than another! We are truly a team! Everyone’s efforts are appreciated and we cannot be so successful without the entire machine called Centre In The Square – it is well oiled and ready every day – all day.

As a final note, we bring you this message from our General Manager of Centre In The Square, Rob ‘Kato’ Sonoda:

“I can’t help being so proud to be a part of this organization – the culture is everything – the atmosphere here is awesome – the entire team makes us flourish – we are not just a team – but a FAMILY – that is our success! I am blessed to be a small part of Centre In The Square – and my team drives me to do my best all the time! Although this pandemic is destructive – disruptive – and has caused a lot of heartaches and some tough decisions had to be made – we will all come together again as families do -ready to perform at our highest levels – so the performance our patrons attend is safe – well delivered and amazing! A heartfelt thank you to every single member of the Centre In The Square team! Centre In The Square cannot be what it is today without all of you and the dedication and devotion you provide our patrons and our clients.”