Name: Gretchen Van Lente
Position: Volunteer Coordinator
1. How did you first find out about BRIC and the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival? How many summers has it been?
I heard about BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn from my good friend Meghan Williams, who was the stage manager at the time. Meghan is a member of Drama of Works, the theater company in which I’m Artistic Director. She mentioned that they were looking for a Company Manager and I got the job. I went on to be the CM/Assistant Stage Manager as well as the Co-SM. I was backstage at the festival off and on for about 10 years until 2 years ago when I became the Volunteer Coordinator.
2. What have been your favorite shows from the past summers, and why?
OH! That’s a hard question. Music-wise I would have to say Trombone Shorty. I remember they were so good, but for the encore they were like, oh you thought that was good, well now we’re going to all change instruments and be just as good. Mind-blowing. Experience-wise I would say it was Balkan Beat Box. They really wanted to bring the audience up onto the stage, but it just wasn’t feasible to do it safely. Instead the entire staff ended up dancing on stage during the finale. So fun.
3. Tell us about your position as Volunteer Coordinator. What does your day-to-day job look like at the Bandshell? What are you working on now, as we're getting ready for the summer?
I get to the show between 30-60 minutes before doors. I assign duties to the volunteers and answer any questions about how the evening is going to flow. During the evening I break volunteers, answer audience questions, help the House Manager with a variety of things (accessible seating, incident reports, etc.) and make sure everyone is having a good time! Right now I am busy recruiting volunteers!
4. What is one thing you must have with you at the Bandshell?
A poncho for when it rains? A comfy sweatshirt for when it gets chilly? Last year me and the House Manager brought our roller skates a few times, but the ground is a bit too uneven for a good skate. Maybe my pink hair so that it’s easier for the volunteers to find me…?
5. What are some of your funniest memories from past BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festivals?
Definitely roller-skating around with former House Manager Cady Knoll. Oh – the looks we got! Also some of our late night post-chair-move pizza parties. Rachel Channof knew I was a big Red Hot Chili Peppers fan and totally embarrassed me when Flea showed up for the big Ornette Coleman rehearsal. She was literally pointing and gesturing to him. I was mortified. Ha! One year we found a bunny hopping around in the front of the audience area. He was a beautiful lop-eared black rabbit. Obviously someone’s abandoned pet. We put it in a bin that happened to be labeled, “Rags” – which became his name. One of the crew gave him a good home. Public service announcement: do not dump your unwanted pets in the park, please!!!
6. Who would be your dream linup for a show at the Festival?
Oh wow. Jeez. That is a hard question cause you could go so many different ways… Maybe a funk celebration with George Clinton and other artists hand-picked by him…? But you know, I better leave the programming to the experts.
7. Have you ever met anyone famous while working at the Festival?
Oh yeah. Lots. Too many to name. One of my favorite memories was from the Queen Latifah, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott benefit concert. I was standing around after with a few people, including the maintenance guy Wendell. I lamented how we weren’t allowed to get pictures with the artists and he said, I can – and grabbed THE Queen for a photo with the three of us. I am still kinda mad at Meghan for doing her job and keeping the secret that Prince would be making a guest appearance at the Maceo Parker show. I was out of town, but if I had known I may have stayed around! Maybe… ; )
8. What do you do when you're not working at the Bandshell?
During the school year I am a special education theater teacher. I work at an awesome school in the east village with kids mostly on the Autism Spectrum. I love making art, puppets and theater with them. I am also the Artistic Director of Drama of Works, a theater company specializing in visual and puppet theater. This coming April will be our 20th anniversary! (www.dramaofworks.com)
9. We always have a pretty diverse lineup at the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival. How well do you think it reflects Brooklyn's current neighborhoods and its habitants?
Very well. Working the last few summers as the Volunteer Coordinator has really allowed me to see firsthand who our audience is. I am amazed at the diversity at every single show. Seeing such a cross section of New York City dancing, singing, swaying and grooving along to the same music really reminds me that it truly is the universal language.