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Hundreds Answer Call For Volunteers

Volunteers at the Gallo Center for the Arts will not be guaranteed free seats at shows, but they will be eligible for prizes.

"If there's something you really, really want to see, buy a ticket," customer service director John Turchon told about 300 people who attended volunteer orientation at Modesto Centre Plaza on Monday night.

Some people at the meeting had hoped that they could attend shows for free.

Although that may happen occasionally, Turchon said a more certain benefit is the chance to win monthly prizes. Those who exhibit excellent customer service will be rewarded with perks such as a weekend getaway, dinner for two or a free dessert.

The center, which opens in September, hopes to recruit 400 volunteers who will serve as ushers, ticket takers, greeters, coat-check staff, tour guides, office workers and docents.

Everyone will have lots of work to do. There are expected to be 140 to 150 "curtains" (performance dates) at the center's two theaters through May. Events will include touring Broadway shows, classical, pop, Latin and world music concerts, and dance programs.

"To quote one of my favorite songs, the joint is jumping," Turchon said.

The orientation attracted a variety of people, from teens to seniors. Everyone who talked to The Bee was a Modesto resident.

Rachel Terry, 21, used to work at a downtown restaurant and enjoyed watching the progress of the center's construction. She is excited to learn more about the venue's offerings.

"All areas of the arts interest me," she said.

Obera Sawyer, 64, plans to retire in a few years from her job in Martinez in the health field and is looking for something positive to do in her spare time.

"While you give, you receive," she said.

She wasn't the only Bay Area commuter in attendance. Tracy Rojas, 38, who works in the telecommunications industry in San Ramon, said she was happy that she won't have to drive to San Francisco anymore to see performances.

She and others at the meeting learned the requirements and expectations.

They aren't easy.

Turchon wants everyone to attend 10 one-hour training sessions and to commit to at least a year of service.

Ushers will be required to wear a uniform of a Gallo center vest, white shirt, and black pants or skirt and will have to pass dress inspection every day they work. Turchon said that's because he wants all center associates to present the best image possible.

Prospective volunteers had many questions about everything from the number of bathrooms (36) to whether they would get flashlights (yes) and if there would be late seating (depends on the artist's wishes).

Many applauded when they found out that latecomers will be able to watch performances on flat-screen plasma TVs in the lobby.

People left the meeting in good spirits.

Douglas Wu, a 40-year-old E.&J. Gallo Winery employee in grape and wine supply, said the arts center will be good for Modesto.

"I think from a business perspective, it will help attract a different type of employee — employees looking for a little more nightlife and things to do."

To sign up as a volunteer for the Gallo Center for the Arts, call 338-2100 or register your e-mail address at www.galloarts.org. The center is to hold its grand opening Sept. 27. It has two theaters: the 1,251-seat Mary Stuart Rogers Theater and the 444-seat Foster Family Theater.

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