Week 48: Signing for a cure

Project: Broadway Cares Poster Signing 

Actual Time Taken: 1 hour

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Twice a year, Equity theater casts around the country band together to collect money for an awesome cause, Broadway Cares: Actors Equity Fights Aids.

Since 1988, this amazing charity has raised over $250 million for not only AIDS research and charities, but for women’s health, dancers charities, HIV/AIDS education, and so many more. My cast helps out the cause by going out in to the audience after shows with buckets to collect money, as well as a few items for sale, such as beaded animals from South Africa, swatches of costume fabric, and autographed show posters.

But to get these posters to the public to raise money, they first have to be signed…. by everyone.

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A typical poster signing party between shows. 

And there’s TONS of them. We usually sign over 1,000 per season. Talk about hand cramps!

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Posters a go-go!

So this week, I plopped myself down with a sharpie and a stack of blank posters to sign and sign and sign for charity. Granted, we get slightly compensated in that the charity buys us lunch so we don’t have to go out between shows to eat (PF Changs, yum!) but I also make sure to go out and collect, smile, and try to get as many pennies, dollars, and checks for the cause as I can.

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Kendra (Left) and I in our Lioness costumes (My favorite)

I love going out to collect after shows. We usually don’t have much contact with the audience unless they are waiting for us outside the stage door, so when we have a chance to get out there after a show (and in costume no less) it’s always a treat. They are always so nice, telling me how much they enjoyed the show, or how pretty my costume is, or how great it is that we are collecting- all things we don’t get to hear when we are shlepping home after a show out of the back alley stage door.

We are about half way through our Broadway Cares ‘season,’ so I’ll be putting in a few more (undocumented, here) hours for the cause… but I’m trying not to repeat too many charities for my One Hour a Week goal… so silently I will sign (and collect) on for the next few weeks!

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Week 41: The first Autism Friendly Show in Boston ever!

Project: Performance for Autism Speaks

Time Taken: 4 hours

Magic and Disney go together like peas and carrots. I have the unbelievable privilege to create magical moments every night as I step out on stage at my job as a dancer in the cast of the national touring cast of the Lion King.

But some nights are more magical than others.

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The lobby of the Boston Opera House

This week, we had the honor to perform for an audience completely comprised of adults and children who are all along the autism spectrum and their families. It’s the second time I’ve participated in this special show, and the third time our touring cast has hosted this special event. Last year in Pittsburgh, I was absolutely floored not only at the audience’s response to the show, but my own emotional reaction.

This year, I was determined to keep it together.

I didn’t even make it past the initial meeting.

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A Lion King fan. Ha.

We met earlier in the week as a cast to see the technical changes required of such a special show. Lights are brought up, there is no total black out, sounds are slightly muted, and certain special effects, such as our strobe lights and CO2 geysers, are cut all together. All of these adjustments are made to make our autistic guests more comfortable, as most of these effects and stage techniques can be startling or unsettling, but for the cast, it changes the show dramatically.

We are so used to doing the same exact show with all the same effects every night, six nights a week, 52 weeks a year, and in my case, for going on six years now. Any minuscule change in the show, whether someone flubs a line slightly, a musical cue is a little early, or a light doesn’t go on when it’s supposed to, is easily noticed by us backstage. So to change so many aspects of the show, the stage management team had to prepare us.

Ken Davis, our intrepid leader, gave a beautiful, moving speech about the effect our show had on a particular child in Pittsburgh, so was too afraid to come into the show until he convinced him to come see Timon and Pumbaa sing “Hakuna Matata.” The boy finally came into the theater and quickly forgot his fears, bouncing along with the song with abandon.

Cue my waterworks.

We got through the rehearsal and were ready for show day, and I pulled myself together, thinking that I would be stronger the day of the show. No tears would leak from these false-eyelash laden eyes, I told myself. (Tears quickly ruin a good pair of fake lashes, if you didn’t know.)

Before the show, I went out into the lobby, to see how we were preparing in the front for our audience that afternoon, and it was simply amazing. Quiet rooms, toys to occupy busy hands, and smiling volunteers were everywhere ready to help. The audience filled in slowly, almost apprehensively, taking their seats and apologizing for their child running down an aisle before realizing that they didn’t have to- they were among the understanding.

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Calming areas were found throughout the lobby.

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Fun toys for anyone who needed them.

I got ready for the show, enjoying the electric energy that this special show gives the cast. Only a few of us had experienced it last year, and we were looking forward to joy that flooded us a year ago coming again. Those that hadn’t experienced it yet were excitedly nervous, not knowing what the show would hold. Two years ago a guest tried to run up on stage- would that happen again this year, they wondered? (For the record, no, it didn’t. Although there was a story of a guest finding their way into the upstairs dressing rooms from the lobby somehow. A cast member saw them run down the hall with a volunteer trailing them. Exciting stuff!)

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Preparing for the show.

We got an official welcome from the mayor of Boston, as this was the first Autism Friendly show in Boston’s history. We didn’t get to meet him, but it was very cool begin introduced by him and knowing that we had his full support.

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Thanks Mayor Walsh!

I though the first act without a hitch, proud of how professional I could be when I needed to be, and still enjoying looking out on the bouncing, yelling, happy faces of our audience with joy in my heart.

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The inter lobby of the Boston Opera House

And then the second act started.

If you’ve seen our show, you know what happens. If you haven’t, I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but let’s just say that I get to go out and perform in the audience for one song, “One by One.” It’s one of my favorite parts of the show, as I get to make direct eye contact with our audience members, and even sometimes get to give high fives to willing kids. I don’t know why I thought i would make it though this scene without any kind of reaction, because the minute I stepped out into the buzzing audience, I felt the tears begin to prick the back of my eyes.

I ran into my assigned aisle and began to sing and caught eyes with a row of special needs kids with the happiest, beaming faces I had ever seen. They waved, giggled, smiled and laughed though the song, and I could help but give my biggest smile back. When the song ended, I gave them each a high five, receiving a few sticky hands in return. I didn’t even care.

I ran backstage to get ready for my next scene and the local makeup artist saw the tears I was holding back. “It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she remarked as she painted stripes on my face. “It’s just so amazing that you guys are doing this.”

I thought about what she said, and realized she was wrong. We aren’t the amazing ones. They are. The ones living their lives with autism, their friends and families who care for them- they are far more amazing than anything I can imagine.

Something else that our stage manager Ken Davis had said at the meeting popped into my head, and I realized the truth in these words as my tears streaked my face paint: “This is a performance where the audience are the real stars.”

And he couldn’t have been more right.

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Intermission at the Boston Opera House

All photos by Selena Moshell – All rights reserved –