Weeks 29-30: The Hunter becomes the Hunted

Project: Lion King Talkbacks

 

Actual Time: 2 hours

To be honest, I’m usually scrambling weekly to find an hour of volunteer work every week in every city. It’s harder than you would think, given the fact that we travel full time. Most places want a month-to-month commitment, or lengthy trainings, or background checks, and for good reason. I wouldn’t trust transient strangers with my city’s children/elderly/homeless neighbors either.

But these two weeks, two opportunities literally fell into my lap.

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Outreaching in Baltimore

At the Lion King, we get lots of opportunities to give back to the community, if we so choose, though question and answer sessions after the show. Usually these are arranged by our PR department, but sometimes cast members arrange them on their own. This week’s particular session (Week 29, for those keeping count) was arranged by Russel Joel Brown, and featured 125 of his roommate’s church’s congregation members.

You read that right.

One hundred and twenty five.

Usually, large groups are accommodated by having them wait in their seats in the theater after the show lets out. Unfortunately, this arrangement is usually set up by the PR department, and since this session was set up by a cast member, having the hundred and twenty five guests stay in the house wasn’t an option.

So we trucked them all backstage, up an elevator (in groups of ten), into our rehearsal room, and into metal folding chairs. All onehundredandtwentyfive of them.

But the effort was totally worth it, as it always is. The group had wonderful questions and everyone was ever so thankful for the question and answer session, so as always, it was worth every elevatorherding, group-wrangling, metal-folding-chair-hauling moment.

The next week, (Week 30, as the moon follows the sun) was brought to me by our Shenzi, Rashada Dawan. 

She randomly ran into a former college classmate, Bresean Jenkins, at one of the numerous Smithsonian museums and, as it happened, he was currently running an arts camp at a local charter school. She offered to come talk to his students, and he jumped at the chance,  immediately booking her and a few cast members to stop by the camp.

Rashada, myself, and fellow ensemble dancer Leroy Church stopped by ConneXions Community Leadership Academy to lead a question and answer session for their first ever summer arts program and were promptly surprised by a full out performance! The kids had been working on scenes from “Once on this Island,” and performed with such enthusiasm, talent, and excitement, it literally brought us to tears.

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These kids were GIVING it!!!

It is always so humbling to see kids who just love to sing, dance, and move so excited to perform for us. They see it as such an honor for them, but to be honest, the honor is truly for us. Watching them and hearing their open and sincere questions after the performance reminded us of where we came from, when we were young students at summer arts camps, after-school dance programs, and theater intensives.

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Big Finish!

It reminded us of our younger selves– curious, hungry, driven, and passionate about art. When you dance this show six days a week, eight times every seven days, it can turn into a job that you punch into and out of very quickly. But seeing these kids and their passion reenergized all of us, and reminded us of how truly fortunate we are to do what we do every day.

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SANG Rashada!

So we told them how inspired we were, Rashada sang a few amazing songs, we answered a few questions, and were on our way. But the memory of these kids, their talent, their passion, is something I will never forget. I couldn’t believe how amazing their scenes were, even in the first year of existence of this arts camp. It was exhilarating to know that this was just the beginning for this incredible school and camp.

I can’t wait to see what they do in the upcoming years, and what special talents they foster and help to grow in the future.

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Silly faces!

After all, isn’t that what all of this volunteering, helping out , inspiring others and being inspired ourselves in turn… isn’t that what it’s all about? Changing our little corner of the world for the better?

Absolutely.

Weeks 26-28: Off we go, into the wild, blue yonder…

Project: Care Packages for AnySoldier.com

 

Actual Time: 120 minutes

 

Once again, I’ve managed to Tom Sawyer people into doing my volunteering for me.

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The first week (Week 26) of my Soldier Care Package project, I thought that I would just buy all of the supplies myself and outsource the thank you cards to the kids of the cast, a la Letters of Love, back in February.

 

But after one quick CVS trip, I realized that it may be a bit more cost prohibitive than I originally imagined.

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ouch.

 

At first, I thought I would go to the dollar store and pick up the supplies, but the specter of guilt, with whom I often hang out with, reared it’s uncomfortable head.

 

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“These people are out there, risking their LIVES for the protection of your freedom and in service to your country, and you are going to buy them stuff at a dollar store to save money?!?”

 

So I went to Plan B.

 

Guilting my friends into helping.

Cards

Ensemble Member/Simba Cover Extraordinaire Blaine Krauss, hard at work between scenes

 

(Actually, I work with such lovely, generous people, it took little to no guilting whatsoever!)

 

In Week 27, (which was, serendipitously the week of July 4th, so playing up the patriotism card was natural for me!) I set up a card table to make thank you cards in the hallway outside of our dressing rooms. As usual, the cubs were there every show, diligently cranking out tank-shaped thank you cards and multi colored flags of appreciation.

 

I also put up a flyer outlining the specific platoon’s needs, which I found though AnySolder.org. I had two wonderful cast members drop off gobs of supplies, and when I finally got it into a box for shipping, along with my original CVS purchases, it was almost too heavy to lift up to the post office desk!

 

Life Lesson: Chocolate bars are heavy!

 

Week 28 was my vacation week, so I spent the day before departing for Panama City Beach rushing around cleaning the house, packing my suitcases, and shipping huge boxes of our care package items off to our platoon.

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That’s a whole-lotta love!

It felt great to send that box of teamwork off into the blue. (I’m not sure exactly where they are stationed, but I’m assuming it is Afghanistan. The website is very confidential about the movements of platoons. Loose lips sink ships, and whatnot.)

 

So thank you to everyone I polled on Facebook for care package recommendations (I never would have thought to get them drink mixes! Brilliant!) and to everyone at work who helped color a card or buy some supplies.

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My friends are a wealth of knowledge!

Now, what can I trick my cast into helping me do next….