Special Committee, Special Member

Olena designed postcard

Non-profit organizations and charities cannot exist without volunteers and most certainly cannot be successful without the assistance of not just volunteers, but incredible volunteers and Olena Ivashchenko is one such volunteer. And having chaired no less than 4 non-profit organizations or volunteer driven boards and organizations spanning more than a dozen years, I think I have some idea. I’ve come across some very dedicated and skilled members over those years, but few were willing to give as much of their time and dedication as I’ve seen from Olena, and at only 20 years old, certainly none so young.

Now with The Very Useful Theatre Company known for producing The Newmarket International Festival of One Act Plays, I came across Olena through another friend of the town, Kevin Clare, a big fan of the festival


who has had a hand in assisting dozens of Ukrainians settle into homes and jobs upon arrival here, and helps them to get acquainted with their new adoptive country – often lending space in his own home to start out from. But Kevin’s is a story for another day. This is about Olena.

The night I met Olena, Bruce Williamson, a two time N.I.F.O.A.P. best Director award winner and now V.U.T.C. Board member, and myself had actually been over at Kevin’s to discuss an idea that gave birth last September during the festival, to write a play that could give life to the experience of (young) Ukrainians arriving in Canada. There were so many dynamics to such a story, including the uncertainty of their futures and constant worries of folks back home, that it just made for a compelling story. Bruce had liked the idea and had come by to consider writing the play – which b.t.w. he is now writing!

It was during this discussion that I learned of Olena’s interest in theatre and arts and that she would be interested to volunteer. She was good at web design stuff and art and poster designs and such she had then offered. And having been the one that responsibility has all fallen to make so the last few years for the charity, I more than welcomed the offer. Further, if she could even give our overworked volunteer web guru Darryl Erentzen any assistance as well, I thought that too would all be wonderful. Darryl is an invaluable asset to the team and board as well with his seemingly endless knowledge of all things web, and as well broadcasts our live-stream of the plays to the world.

The first night we discussed the festival, Olena was already full of ideas and expressed interest to volunteer. When I mentioned we were looking to design a new logo for the festival and theatre company, she immediately reacted. Our group, meaning our board, had previously agreed to make the change, and we’d discussed the idea of incorporating the Old Town Hall in the design, the location the festival is held and which has such a rich history, and so I relayed the idea to her and Olena came back with a design for both logos within a few weeks, despite also working elsewhere, trying to get her GED online and trying to manage in a new country. Both designs were warmly received by The V.U.T.C. board and you see them now on all our marketing and communications media! And we now have plans to create a medallion for our awards from it as well!

Next up, she tackled redesigning our website, adding warmer colour tones and other subtle changes. I recall spending several half days and even a full day with Olena and Darryl as they worked on the website – both doing so on their own time and dimes. And trust me folks, as much as I love volunteer driven organizations, at the end of the day, its not the same level of accountability involved so it’s sometimes tough to get tasks done in a timely manner. People have other jobs and lives. And, of course, add too much pressure and you lose people which then falls on you to get done, so its a fine line.

To be successful in a non-profit environment, you have to, I believe, also be willing to sacrifice a bit, because in the end if you care, they care or so you hope. In Olena’s case, I believe she cares so much because she just wants to give back in some way meaningful. She appreciates what people in Newmarket and Canada have done for her and her family during such horrendous times in her homeland, and this was an opportunity for her to show that appreciation.

Next up, Olena asked about designing our posters and about assembling our playbill which is another time consuming task. It takes hours to assemble all the info needed – bio’s on Directors, Actors, Playwrights inserted onto pages along with pics. And as well back page ads spots have to be put together for the festival sponsors which means even more page designing and reassembling!

But she’s not done yet, in addition we are still to design drink coasters and placards and back splashes, all of which Olena will have some hand in. And Olena has a passion for making videos as well and loves behind the scenes (b.t.s.) stuff, and so will be creating those as well. She even recruited her dad, a technical wizard back home in the Ukraine to help out with our live-streaming!

Now I’m not going to sit here and say she’s a one person team, far from it, there are many more dedicated members of the organizing committee and board in addition to Bruce Williamson, who now sits on our board and is again directing a play in the festival, as well as acted as lead on our play-reading committee which took months to read, like Paul Bath, our Treasurer and past president, who is also a member of numerous community service clubs and promotes us at every opportunity he can. He additionally arranges rehearsal locations and recruits sponsors for us – very much needed since we have not received any government grants like most typically festivals do. Our sponsors are also phenominal.

Then there’s John Dowson who has been with the festival from the very beginning and who acts as the Artistic Director, charged with attending to our Directors’ and Actors’ needs, and who is forever tirelessly pushing us all to do more, despite his own advancing age while on the opposite end of that spectrum, is our Young Company Director and V.U.T.C. board member, Kira Rosenbloom, who has been leading our V.U.T.C. Young Company workshops that she first created during covid-19 lock-down – free to young aspiring Actors, Directors and Writers – and has asked nothing in return other than for us to keep providing the opportunity to keep it going. This year she added a special needs, deaf Actors element to the program that excites us all – all the while she was able maintain enough school marks to get offered to do her Masters at University of Toronto!

Rounding out the motley crew is newly recruited board member and former teacher and play Director, Joan Burrows, who is always busy but never too busy to do whatever she can for us and to offer us her important artistic input. And Kay Valentine, another local theatre Director, former Teacher, and now Directing one of our plays who has been attending our meetings religiously, offering up invaluable wisdom as we organize for the festival. There’s also now retired, Brian Steeves, who is ever reliable for meetings and input and who’s film experience has been adapted to capture the plays for streamlining. As well Brian produces compelling photos and promotional videos of interviews of everyone from the actors to directors to sponsors. He too has been an invaluable gem mine for us to glean from.

So each person plays an integral role in assisting in the organizing of the Newmarket International Festival of One Act Plays, all done selflessly for the good of the cause and community – and in Olena Ivashchenko’s case, her new community – and I for one am just glad to have been a small part of it all!

The Festival runs Sept 7-10 at Newmarket Old Town Hall. Tickets at www.newtix.ca . Come out and support these wonderful community members while being entertained by some of the world’s best one act plays. Break A Leg!

Olena in action designing our new logo

Darryl and Olena work away

Darryl and Olena Working Hard

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