Transcript: Lauren Zenreich, Set Decor Volunteer (The Art of Volunteering)

The following is a transcription of The Art of Volunteering Episode 5: Lauren Zenreich, Set Decor Volunteer.

Stormy Bell: Welcome to another episode of The Art of Volunteering. Today I’m interviewing a friend of mine, Lauren Zenreich. Her and I had the opportunity to work together for a little over a year and I love what she does and how she volunteers. She shows up in a different way. She works with sets for plays and we’re gonna hear about this. Lauren, can you introduce yourself and tell a little bit about your background and maybe bring it into how you got involved in this type of volunteering?

Lauren Zenreich: Hi, I’m Lauren Zenreich. I’m married to Alan and I have two boys, men now. My oldest son is an actor. He’s an actor [and] playwright. He started out being very young and being an actor in school and the bug just hit. One day he was in a play [called] Damn Yankees for this little tiny Annunciation Players production and one of the people from our local theater, called the Bergen County Players (BCP), came by and said you have to audition. They’re doing Oliver! He went to audition and his little brother, who was 11 at the time, tagged along. They went to the audition and my son Scott the older one, he was 15 at the time, was too old for the Fagin boys and too young for the adult things so they made him a newspaper boy. My youngest got cast as the lead and we had no idea he could sing or act any of that stuff and that’s how we got involved in theater. I just remember my youngest, Josh, who was on stage and had never done this before would continue to turn his back to the audience. I was sitting in the audience with rubber bands and every time he turned his back, I would shoot at him.

I’ve always been into art and playing and crafts and all this other wonderful stuff. I’m a woodturner, I do a lot of jewelry, and I volunteer for that kind of stuff too but Bergen County Players is this wonderful community theater and so welcoming that I just wanted to join. I love to paint, that’s my thing that I love to do, and I like to organize so I wound up doing decor. Decor is dressing the set like the furniture, the backgrounds, and anything with painting, creatures, [and[ anything that is not carried away by actors is decor. I just loved it. The wonderful thing about BCP is if there’s something that you wanna do, they are so willing to train you and teach you the ropes and whatever you wanna do is great with them so I had free reign to do all these shows. I’ve done over 45 shows for them. Big productions and every one of their children’s shows ever since Oliver! My husband and I are now lifetime members because we’ve been there for 21 years. Guess it’d be 22 in July and we are just having such a good time.

I get to do big things because I do little things. I do little bowls and jewelry and this way I get to do a big set and I get to play and introduce people to things which they’ve never done before. We just have a ball. I love just volunteering there. BCP is a volunteer organization. We have about 250 members but not everybody shows up. People like coming to my sets because they get very comfortable because I keep telling them it’s only paint. Don’t worry, we can paint over it. We can do it again. Not a problem. When we do a show, if it’s the first show of the season, which is in September, we have pretty much all summer because BCP is off in the summer to plan it out and to work on it. We have a few weeks to have people come down and work on it so it’s usually a big show. The other shows just follow behind it. Each show goes up for a month and then you have two weekends to get it together. I only have two weekends of volunteers coming in to help so that’s why you gotta plan it. I like being a decor manager so to speak.

Stormy Bell: How many volunteers work with you or does it change with every show?

Lauren Zenreich: It changes with every show and if they’re available because a lot of rehearsing is going on and people are in other shows. It [also] depends on how big the show is and how complicated it is because if it’s a really easy set I can get everybody to come in and paint the base coats and stuff and they’ll come in and do the detail work but there are a lot of people who do a lot of detail work so I want to get them. I remember in The Drowsy Chaperone, it’s a big set. There’s an airplane on that stage and a whole apartment and we did not have enough time [separately] to do the whole thing so we split it up three ways. We said I can do a third of it, if you do a third of it, then I’ll do it. We wound up doing three people as the decor management. That worked out so great. The thing about BCP is we have a really high bar when it comes to professionalism and the sets look amazing. We’re really happy about that. The acting is terrific. The lighting, the stage direction, and the directors are great and everybody just really wants to make the show. It’s kind of like-  I don’t know if your audience knows about The Little Rascals.

Stormy Bell: I’m sure some of them have heard of The Little Rascals.

Lauren Zenreich: There was a little TV show that a group of kids would get together and let’s put on a show! Well this is what we’re doing.

Stormy Bell: Wery cool.

Lauren Zenreich: I’m very happy to be able to help do this and be part of it.

Stormy Bell: What was the largest show or set that you had to create or do?

Lauren Zenreich: Well the largest one is probably Man of La Mancha.

Stormy Bell: Okay.

Lauren Zenreich: I actually have pictures of that if you’re interested.

Stormy Bell: Oh you have pictures! Show me some pictures. Let’s see what the Bergen County Players look like.

Lauren Zenreich: This is Bergen County Players little firehouse theater [that] used to be a firehouse. An actual firehouse. This is a picture of the 75th season but we’re up to 90! 90 years of being in Oradell, New Jersey, putting on these plays. It’s just pretty amazing.

Talk about volunteers. These are volunteers. Some of them are actors, some of them do the lighting, the design, the sound, and everything. I am in the middle there holding one of my pieces. These blocks are all individual blocks that I made from foam and we cut them out, that’s what the set looks like, 298 of them.

Stormy Bell: Oh my goodness.

Lauren Zenreich: The staircase case comes up and I did the floor too. I’m probably crazy to do that because it took me like seven hours and nobody can see it until you actually walk on it. It was a really wonderful show. I had to cut them out and I stripped off the backing and we used acetone to texturize it. These are the ladies who would sit out there because it’s acetone, you gotta be outside.

Stormy Bell: You need to, yes.

Lauren Zenreich: They’re stressing that and painting it in four different colors because of the lighting and I needed it to change with the lighting changes so everybody was doing different colors on them. Now of course you can see we’re not having any fun at all.

Stormy Bell: Oh, no fun at all!

Lauren Zenreich: No fun at all.

Lauren Zenreich: Everybody had a wonderful time doing this. That was Man of La Mancha.

Stormy Bell: Wow.

Lauren Zenreich: That was summer. That was our first show.

Stormy Bell: That was your summer so you worked on it all summer too to get it ready.

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah. I did a lot of experimenting to see how that worked because they all had to go up. What we did was kind of interesting. Somebody asked us how many stones there were and we took a little laser to count them all and it turned out there were 298. What was really interesting is [that] the address of the theater is 298 Kinderkamack.

Stormy Bell: That’s funny. You couldn’t have planned that.

Lauren Zenreich: It was meant to be

Stormy Bell: Very good. You know, I had all these questions lined up and you’ve covered most of them. You are telling me before we started recording, there’s an opportunity coming up for you with Bergen County Players in the town?

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah, the town approached Bergen County Players to see if we can put a mural up on an old gas station that we have in town. They’ve got three really big doors that need to be covered and they wanna have murals. I did some murals for them of the town including Bergen County Players. I do sets called paint by number sets to get people excited and interested about what they want to do to help me out. I do basically a coloring book where I’ll draw in everything and then I’ll put little dabs of the color of the paint that I want, have a cup of paint, a paint brush, and hand it to them and say, go find your color. They will do that and then they feel like they’re all part of it because ooh, I did that! I did this castle and I did [it in] margarita paint. They were so excited about that, I started doing that.

This was one of the first sets that I did paint by numbers on. I had 12, 10 by 4 inch panels that I had to do different scenes on so I did a paint by number set and everybody did that. This was The Wizard of Oz and people were very excited to do that. This was for Jack and the Beanstalk and it was for the proscenium and you can see that some of it is not painted in but you see a little castle down here. This is a paint by numbers piece.

Stormy Bell: Wow. Very empowering to the volunteer who’s looking for something different to do out of their norm. [It] gives some great confidence to do that. Then to see the piece when it comes out, what a collaborative work.

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah! I like to make it fun and interesting for people. Here’s another one. 

Stormy Bell: Is this for a castle?

Lauren Zenreich: That was for Pippin.

Stormy Bell: Stain glass windows I assume.

Lauren Zenreich: Stain glass windows, yep. They would paint these things and I would detail it. So the stone was all detailed and some of the light coming through was detailed and these are flats that you can turn around. The other scene was actually a battle.

Stormy Bell: Oh my!

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah, that was for The Women and the only thing I did on this was I was asked to do a marble bathtub. So I got to do a marble bathtub.

Stormy Bell: A marble bathtub. What play was that for?

Lauren Zenreich: That was called The Women.

Stormy Bell: Oh, The Women. Okay.

Lauren Zenreich: Then there’s a Seussical which was fun. We wanted it to look very cartoony like Seuss.

Stormy Bell: Absolutely.

Lauren Zenreich: This one was pretty ambitious too. This one was One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Stormy Bell: You know, I was gonna ask you if that’s what it was.

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah and we needed it to look like an asylum. You can see there’s pictures off the wall, there’s dirt, there’s even dirt going to the bathroom. You can see where this thing looked really run down.There was a talk back session one night after the play and one woman said this was freaking her out because she was in one of these and it looked exactly like it’s supposed to.

Stormy Bell: No! Oh my goodness.

Lauren Zenreich: It was the greatest compliment. I was so happy. Let’s see this was Jack and the Beanstalk.

Stormy Bell: Jack and the Beanstalk.

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah so we made a beanstalk! That was all felt and wire and it came up out of the trap door, which is no longer on stage. They closed the trap door.

Stormy Bell: How long does a set like Jack and the Beanstalk take to create? I know you said you have more time in the summertime, but is it just done in two weeks? How many hours I guess do you put in?

Lauren Zenreich: Oh lots! I do at least whatever I can do before I can get onto set because it’s not only me, it’s the set builder who has to get on stage and do all this in the two weekends. Because the other play was going on it has to be the set, right. That’s one of the back walls. The back wall usually has to be done. That was for Cinderella.

Stormy Bell: Now, do you typically do one children’s play a season?

Lauren Zenreich: Yes, until the pandemic.

Stormy Bell: Okay.

Lauren Zenreich: Since we couldn’t do a children’s show at all, we have been doing mother goose. People who are reading story books to children once a month [every] second Sunday in a month. We’ve been doing it for the last three or four months and we’re gonna keep doing it because the actors come in and they get recorded and they’re reading and the book is there for the children to read all along with if they wanted to. It’s really wonderful. There are all these different kinds of books. The one coming up is Dr. Seuss.

Stormy Bell: Well, it’s March. It’s Dr. Seuss month.

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah. The actors are doing amazing jobs there. It is just wonderful. You can see all of it even if you’re not a member of Bergen County Players if you go to All of them are there for you to play. That’s great for your kids and even if you don’t have kids it’s awesome.

The pandemic changed everything and we’re just now coming back and actually doing plays. We’re being very careful about it. People have to wear masks and we have to show that you’ve been vaccinated but it’s working out really well now. We’re kind of on the comeback but before that, we were doing things through Zoom. We’ve done a few plays through Zoom.

Stormy Bell: Did that have a good response? Did you have a lot of people tune into that?

Lauren Zenreich: Yes. Yeah, we do.

Stormy Bell: One more question about your volunteers and then I’m gonna ask you to just love on Bergen County Players.

Lauren Zenreich: Okay. I can explain more about volunteering too.

Stormy Bell: Well,then let’s go into that. Tell me more about your volunteers.

Lauren Zenreich: The volunteers are really the heart and soul of our little theater and we really, really need you to do all sorts of stuff. Membership the first year, if you decide to become a member, you’re an associate member and there’s certain things that are required for ushering for like two to three performances. I love to usher. It’s a lot of fun because you get to have people come in and they’re all excited about being at the play and you get them to their seats and it’s kind of fun. You have to participate in three different work sessions during the year like a set strike. That’s when the set comes down. I hate that because it’s only a month and you work on a big play. I keep telling the paint company I go to and I say, I only need cheap paint. It’s only going up for a month and then it comes down. So yeah strikes, general cleanup days, set building, and you have to do one backstage job like main stage production, decor, set building, lights, sound, or any of that. That’s fun. We’ve got all that equipment. And the dues for us are $36 a year. So it’s not really that terrible.

Stormy Bell: No, it’s not expensive.

Lauren Zenreich: You have privileges because what happens is every show has a final dress rehearsal and that’s free to anybody who comes down and works on the show.

Stormy Bell: Nice.

Lauren Zenreich: You can come down as a member and that’s one of your perks is you can see the show before it opens and we get to root for everybody. It’s a really good fun atmosphere. We also have parties. In June we’re having a 90th birthday celebration for BCP which is nice. There’re all sorts of different VIP events. We have a dinner club where we go to different restaurants every month. There’s bowling. Not bowling, bingo! They do bowling too but there’s bingo every month and it’s free. You just come and play it’s all online. After a year if you do everything that’s required, you can also do makeup and hair and costumes. We have this really big costume area with all sorts of amazing stuff. Once your associate membership is over, you get voted in to be a regular member and the only thing you have to do basically is usher and we’re hoping that you’ll come in, and work on more stuff.

Stormy Bell: Oh, that’s awesome. Do you have a good retention? Do you have a good amount [of] people who come in as associates that stay on to be a regular member?

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah, we do. Unfortunately we get young adults who are going off to college and then we lose them. We need younger people or younger members to come and fill out. We are getting older and it’s getting harder to be up and down those ladders.

Stormy Bell: I’m sure it is.

Lauren Zenreich: So it’d be nice to have younger blood but yeah we hopefully retain. Any actors who get cast, usually stick around and everybody really likes to be there.

Stormy Bell: Well, I’m wanting to join. I’m not nearby but I’m like, they have a lot of fun!

Lauren Zenreich: Well on March 23rd, every month we have a new member orientation where you’ll come and you can ask questions and see what it is. You might be interested in and see all the spots, the entire theater tour and see what we have there. You can decide whether you want to join or not.

Stormy Bell:  I’ve learned so much today, Lauren! I’ve been to Bergen County Players for a play, I cannot tell you the name, but we went to support an actress. We had known her and so we went to see the play and had a great time. I totally love the space that you’re in and you talked about the high quality of the production, it was likeBroadway quality. It was excellent.

Lauren Zenreich: We do have people who go on to do Broadway like Rob McClure who is one of ours since he was a kid. He was in a few plays with my sons, Scott and Josh, who was in Oliver! too. He got to put my son into a coffin.

Stormy Bell: Oh my goodness!

Lauren Zenreich: As I said, my older son is an actor, director, playwright. He’s in Seattle now and my younger [son] doesn’t want anything to do with it.

Stormy Bell: As we’re wrapping up, just love on Bergen County Players. Just over the top. Just love on them.

Lauren Zenreich: Well Bergen County Players is almost like a family and the people there are very welcoming, very nice, and smart. They do some great stuff. [They’re] very talented whether you want to be an actor or director or anything to do with this. The sets, the stage, and the musicians are great. [It’s] mostly a volunteer thing. We do parades. We do the 4th of July parade. It’s a really fun place to be. I feel very included. My husband has done photography for almost as many shows as I have, and he’s been doing the video and especially the zoom stuff. This is our group. We feel good being here.

Stormy Bell: It’s more than just volunteering. It’s a community,

Lauren Zenreich: It’s a community. Exactly. We do a lot of volunteering in other places though for say the woodturning community. We have this one wonderful friend who is blind. She’s a blind woodturner. She does this thing at the conference. There’s a yearly conference for the American Association of Woodturners and she usually has a session, one on disabilities, how to handle them, that kind of stuff and my husband is very involved in that. Then she has this thing where they set up a bunch of lathes and blind woodturners come in and they are helped out. Each lathe is monitored or helped out by another woodturner, an actual person whose site can see wood turning. Some of the top woodturners there are there to help and volunteer and we like to volunteer for that kind of stuff. Anywhere we can help.

Stormy Bell: That’s awesome.

Lauren Zenreich: It’s all creative and fun and we help people.

Stormy Bell: It’s fulfilling work.

Lauren Zenreich: Definitely.

Stormy Bell: That’s awesome. Well Lauren, thank you for coming on The Art of Volunteering today, I’ve really enjoyed our time. I’ve already spoken to you about this, I’m going to have your husband on because  he does mentoring, right?

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah he taught a lot of people how to work with Zoom. Through these various programs and stuff we’re able to do remote demonstrations all over the country and all over the world. A lot of people were able to transition during COVID where they were more suited than other people because they’d already been mentored by Alan and they know how to do it now and they’re making the living that way. It was much easier for everybody.

Stormy Bell: Well, I’m going to have him on and talk about that.

Lauren Zenreich: Yeah! It’s a good thing.

Stormy Bell: Thank you so much.

Lauren Zenreich: Thank you.

Stormy Bell: Thank you for joining in for The Art of Volunteering. We’ll see you next time.

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