Department struggles to staff new performance venues

The Department of Performance Venues has experienced serious understaffing problems after the opening of the much-anticipated Ronald Tutor Campus Center, according to department officials.

Make it work · Drake Smith, a sophomore majoring in jazz studies, hands out programs to attendees at Bovard Auditorium. - Chloe Stepney | Daily Trojan

Within the entire division — which manages Bovard Auditorium, Ground Zero Performance Café, the new campus center and other outdoor events — there are only six full-time staff members managing more than 400 students and more than 2,000 events per semester, according to Director of Performance Venues Brandon Operchuck.

“We’re feeling people’s frustration because we’re slow to respond to requests and telephone calls,” Operchuck said.

Before, USC’s Commons was not staffed enough to indicate the demand the department was going to experience with the addition of the campus center, Operchuck said. Staff members are scrambling for enough time to get everything done.

“We knew it was going to be big. But the demand of the building clearly overshadowed what the expectation was and what it would take to operate. We’re working hard to get to the point of appropriately serving our community,” Operchuck said.

The understaffing dilemma poses two problems: The department is weeks behind on its paperwork, and many events have to be rebooked because of a sudden change in the capacity limits implemented by the fire marshal.

As part of signing off on the campus center, the fire marshal lowered the anticipated capacity from 1,283 people to around 980. What might seem like a small change, Operchuck said, forced the department to reconfigure scheduled events to abide by the new limits.

“For the first couple of weeks, all the phone calls we received were not about new events, but it was more about working with people and making their already-planned events happen and dealing with their frustration,” Operchuck said.

The most demanding jobs are understaffed, according to part-time staff member and lighting director Steve Farquhar, a senior majoring in computer science.

Even with the understaffed office, both Farquhar and Operchuck said the part-time student employees come to the job eager and energized and that their desire and passion to help students is evident.

“These 400 students are brilliant. They’re USC students, they’re really smart kids and they work really hard and they’ve given us all they’ve got,” Operchuck said.

The appropriate amount of time needed to train these students is missing, however, which limits the amount of responsibilities new employees can take on, Operchuck said.

“We can’t be asking students to work 40-, 50-, 60-hour weeks. More [student employees] requires more management, more paperwork and all of those things require someone to really be managing them,” Operchuck said. “Our full-time staff is really struggling to manage that to be able to train our wonderful students.”

Farquhar said he has had to take on responsibilities, such as changing lightbulbs and moving equipment, that could be done by other staff members if there was enough time to train them.

“I have a lot of responsibilities for projects — large projects and small projects — that I can’t get to because I have to do these other lower responsibilities,” he said. “More knowledgeable people and more people who have the time to spend would help me do the projects I’d like to get to do instead of the things I have to do now.”

All of the venues that the department oversees are booked every day this fall, except for the Grand Ballroom, Operchuck said.

“We’re very, very busy. The demand and the excitement on the [Ronald Tutor Campus Center] has been tremendous and people have been jumping on this opportunity to improve their events from previous years,” said Lisa Carley, scheduling and event coordinator for Bovard Auditorium, Ground Zero Performance Café and outdoor events.

In previous years, the department didn’t experience as much commotion or as many problems as it is experiencing now, even when it had fewer staff members, Farquhar said.

“In the past we’ve been pretty comfortable. But recently, with the opening of the new campus center and the opening of these new venues, we’ve had all of our usual productions responsibilities plus the responsibilities of opening a new building,” Farquhar said.

With every new building, unexpected problems will inevitably arise, Operchuck said. Despite this, even with the lack of staff, the department is happy with the progression it has made within the last two months.

“We are making it work and we’re doing a pretty good job with all the resources that we do have. It’s not a horrible situation that we’re in right now,” Farquhar said.

With two months down and seven to go until the end of the academic year, Operchuck said the big shock has passed and all he really asks from the community is patience.

“It’s tough to really understand the logistical complexity of managing so many things and different styles of events,” Operchuck said. “This time next year, we will be better in serving the people. It’s a moving target. Everyone is doing their very best to make this possible.”