Harper marks fifth year as Festival audience services head - May 24, 2018
BY DENNY SCOTT
Lisa Harper is entering her fifth season as the Audience Services Manager at the Blyth Festival and the Blyth resident who grew up in Huron and Bruce Counties says she really feels like the village and the theatre are where she is meant to be.
Harper only left the area to go to school and returned soon after, moving into the village a year and a half ago.
She said that being a part of an organization that endeavours to tell the stories of Huron County is important.
“The Festival is the story of us as Huron County,” she said. “It’s bigger than that, though, it tells important stories.”
Harper previously worked at Community Futures Huron, previously known as the Huron Business Development Corporation, having been a part of that organization for 14 years. She also worked for a friend’s construction company and, during some time between jobs, saw the advertisement for a position at the Festival and thought it would be fun.
It wasn’t long until she was hired, despite the warning she received while being interviewed that people around the Festival could be a “little crazy”.
“I figured I could fit right in,” she said. “It’s worked out really, really well. A lot of people, when I told them the story of the interview, said it sounds like I would fit right in.”
Harper said being a part of the Festival isn’t just being a part of a theatre, it’s being part of a community-driven icon.
“It’s good to be part of something bigger than myself and it just feels right,” she said, adding that she helps out however she can.
Harper runs the Festival’s annual used book sale fundraiser, though it isn’t part of her job. She takes her vacation during the week leading up to the event and, instead of lounging somewhere, spends her time sorting and dusting books and board games.
She said that while her job title is “Audience Service Manager”, there really is a lot more to it than that.
“I handle volunteer co-ordination and, really, just whatever ends up on my desk.”
She’s also become part of the solution to the Festival’s ongoing housing problem. Each year, with more artists involved, it becomes increasingly difficult to find homes for them all. This year, Harper is opening her home to two artists.
Harper said that when it comes to the Festival and her job in particular, there are really two seasons: theatre season and preparing-for-theatre season.
“From October to April, there are six of us in the office, but from May to September there are 65 to 75 people needing space to get work done,” she said. “It’s like a living thing. The theatre kind of hibernates during those colder months.”
When asked to name the best part of her job, Harper, without missing a beat, said it is the patrons of the theatre.
“The people come through the door and, in all honesty, they have stories that may be as interesting as those on stage,” she said. “It helps that customer service is kind of my thing, my niche. I’ve always been in that role.”
While with the Huron Business Development Corporation, and even occasionally now that she’s at the Festival, Harper trained others in customer service, running an excellence program to help established and new businesses know how to deal with customers.
“Eighty per cent of my skills were learned there and I’ve brought them here,” she said. “They have definitely helped and given me something to teach to the rest of the box office [staff].”
Harper said the box office staff, most of whom are only employed immediately before and throughout the Festival season, are a great bunch of young people who usually make their presence a recurring event. She said having that kind of consistency makes for the best customer relations.
Harper can most often be found, throughout the season, either running the box office or managing the phones in the Blyth Festival office. She is also at the theatre during shows helping to make sure her numerous volunteers have what they need to get the job done.