Week 46 & 47: An Invisible Horse and some Visible kids

Project: Horse Farm St. Jude card recycling (Week 46)

and speaking at a high school (Week 47)

Actual Time Taken: 1.75 hours

Week 46

Our first week here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I had every intention of getting up at 8:00 am to help clean stables at a horseback riding therapy charity. But life had other plans for me.

I woke up to a cold, snowy morning and a flat, flat tire. Whomp whomp.

So I had to cancel with these very nice horsey-type people. All I managed to get done for that week of volunteering was recycling all of my various plastic gift cards and forgotten hotel keys, and recycling card covers for St. Jude’s Hospital.

These two projects are super easy, and since the holidays are coming up where you’ll most likely get lots of both holiday cards and gift cards, here’s where to send them when you’re ready.

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Gift cards, hotel keys, keychain cards, oh my!

Why recycle those little plastic cards, you ask? Well, according to Earth911.com, these plastic cards are made up of PVC material, and the website states that 75 million pounds of PVC material enter the waste stream every year! While this material is infinitely recyclable, not many public recycling plants take them, so here’s what you can do!

When the gift cards are spent, wrap them up in an envelope and send them to :

Earthworks c/o Halprin Ind.
25840 Miles Rd.
Bedford, Oh 44146
As for all of those holiday cards, they are remade into new cards by the kids in the St. Jude’s hospitals and sold to “support our programs and services for abused, neglected and homeless children, young adults and families.” You don’t have to limit the kinds of cards you send to just holiday cards either- they take cards for all occasions and currently they specifically need birthday and thank you cards.
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I managed to get a few birthday covers in there too!
So rip off the fronts of all those cards you were just going to throw away after the holidays and send just the pretty front covers to:
St. Jude’s Ranch for Children Recycled Card Program
100 St. Jude’s Street
Boulder City, NV 89005

 

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 The end result

I did all of this in under 15 minutes, so I didn’t quite make my hour goal this week… but there’s still a few weeks left in this year to hit that mark!
Week 47
This week we got to speak at a performing arts high school here in Milwaukee. The kids were all super stoked to ask us all sorts of questions, as most were seniors about to go off to various arts schools. Most already knew they wanted to have a career in the arts, and at the end one guy came up to us and shook all of our hands saying “I’ll be seeing you in two years.” with all the confidence in the world.
I love it. And I don’t doubt it.
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As professional as we always are…
~ ~ ~
Thanks to Earth911.com for the info on recycling gift cards!
Thanks to St Jude’s for the info on the card recycling!
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Week 33: DC Children’s Hospital Visit

Project: Children’s Hospital visit for the Lion King

Actual Time Taken: 1 hour

 

What do Chris Pratt and I have in common?

 

Probably a lot. 

 

But one thing that we both did a few weeks ago was visit Children’s Hospitals! (Granted, he went as Star Lord from Gaurdians of the Galaxy and I went as “That Little Asian Dancer in the Lion King Tour,” but still…)

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This post is Chris Pratt approved. (I assume.)

And I know it sounds strange, but I legitimately get excited to visit a Children’s Hospital. There are so many sad stories, difficult situations, and sick kids that it’s hard to imagine being excited to visit such a place. But every time we as a cast get a chance to visit, I look forward to it.

 

I’m excited to see the smiling faces of the kids facing seemingly insurmountable odds. I can’t wait to sit and talk to the weary parents and connect with them on such a human level though such a surreal theatrical show such as ours. I always hope to find someone who not only knows our show (as most everyone we meet as at least seen the animated movie once) but who is also passionate about dance, music, theater, or any of the arts.

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 2.53.38 PMMy cast mates making a difference! Love my co-workers!

This past visit did not disappoint. We arrived early in the morning (9:45 am is the crack of dawn for us night-owl entertainers!) and were ushered into a small arts and crafts room. Some of the patients were already coloring away on the lion masks that Disney had sent ahead, and stopped outlining the mane of the mask in purple and pink long enough to shoot us quick, shy smiles.

 

We navigated our way though the rolling IV stands, shin-high chair and table sets, and wheelchairs to meet the many mini-smiling faces on their level. One beautiful little girl I sat with was busy coloring in her hospital  gown, and finally placed her aqua and purple colored lion mask on her perfectly bald head with such pride that I couldn’t help but smile.

 

Another young girl I met was also going though some kind of treatment (we tend not to ask and try to keep it on the positive stuff- less diagnoses and doctors, more music and laughter helps to heal, me thinks.) talked to me so openly and happily about her love of singing and music. She said she needed to work on her dancing a bit, and once she was released from the hospital and free of her wheelchair, she would get right on it, to which I encouraged her to keep persuing her dream of being on stage no matter what.

 

But to be honest, my words felt so hollow. What inspiration could I give this strong, brave, beautiful girl who is battling her disease and yet still dreams of a life on stage? I feel like sometimes I get excited to go to these Children’s Hospital visits for a completely selfish reason- because these children always end up inspiring me in the most deep and profound way. People say that us visiting with them our stories of life on the road, giving out Lion King swag, and showing the videos of our show brings so much joy to the children and families dealing with serious illnesses, but the truth is the light that they bring to my life far eclipses anything I could ever offer them.

 

So thank you to the Children’s Hospitals, the Lion King, and the young children and families who are fighting for their health, and still allow a moment of joy to pass between us. These visits always affect me in the most profound way, and I am already excited for my next visit.

 

Maybe next time I’ll go as Gamora for extra fun-zies.

 

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Often mistaken for She-Hulk, I’m sure…

Week 31: Acting for Actors!

Project: Extra Show for the Lion King

Actual Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Every once in a while, the Universe helps me multitask accidentally.

 

For example, last week I found myself simultaneously working and volunteering, courtesy of our Actors Fund performance.

 

Once a year, almost every show on Broadway donates the proceeds of one show to the Actors Fund. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure what the heck the Actors Fund was- it seemed like such a vague name that could cover so many bases. Is it a fund for teaching? Is it a fund for new shows? Is it a fund to teach kids to not go into the rigorous, cut-throat, give-it-all-you-got-all-the-time biz? Who knew.

 

So annually, I would lace up my lioness costume and do the extra show without really knowing what it was for, knowing that my joints would groan with exhaustion at the end of the week from doing nine shows in seven days. But I figured that it was raising funds for a charity that did something for us thespiantypes, and that was good enough for me. This year, however, thanks to this self-imposed volunteering thing I’m doing, I was determined to figure out what the heck we were dancing our butts off for every year once and for all.

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Not just for Thespians!

Turns out, The Actors Fund is a non-profit organization that serves as an umbrella for a series of incredible programs designed to assist everyone who works in entertainment (not just Actors, as the name implies!) who are in need.

 

From social work, to mental health services, to two nursing homes specifically for elderly entertainers and the like, The Actors Fund has us covered in every way possible.

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I can only imagine those senior center skit nights.

 

One of the most inspiring aspects of The Actors Fund is the work with the HIV/AIDS community. The Fund has numerous programs that are specifically for people living with HIV and AIDS, as well as “The Aurora,” which is a supportive housing initiative that helps not only HIV/AIDS patients, but seniors and low-income individuals in our theatrical community as well.

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Look at all this good that they do!!!

You name the need, and The Actors Fund probably has that covered. Reading the list of all of their services made my mind reel, and made me so thankful that we are a part of the program that gives this special place funds.

 

So you can go ahead and sign me up next year and every year after that for an extra show for the good of The Fund. Because I already love dancing in this show anyway, but if I know the profits are going to go to such a good cause, it will make all the exhaustion at the end of the nine-show-week so much sweeter.

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.

Week Five: Behind on Blogs, Recruiting More Writers

Project: Love Letters for the Elderly and Outreach for the Lion King

Actual Time Taken: 2:15

It’s only week five of 2014, and I’m already a bit behind on this blog.

At the beginning of the year, I would have suspected that the hardest part of the experiment of volunteering an hour every week would be finding the projects to volunteer for, but not so… I’m finding that the hardest part is finding the time to write about it!

This week, for example, I have two, count them TWO, volunteering opportunities, and can barely find time to hit the keys about them. Ironic.

The first project I’m continuing is the Love Letters for the Elderly project from dosomething.org, but with a larger goal. We made 35 cards last week, a paltry sum after realizing that the Meals on Wheels in Honolulu services about 500 people.

(We’re gonna need a bigger boat….)

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So I recruited the entire cast.

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We travel about 115 people in the cast and crew of the Lion King. I’m thinking that if we all just made just five cards, we could be done lickity split. But I can’t count on every electrician or singer to have an iota of artistic motivation, so I’ll beg some of my more motivated co-workers to make a few extra cards for the cause.

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Sue in the Puppets Department made her own heart-shaped stamps!! Crafty!

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Our Nala Nia Holloway gets into the charity Valentines Day spirit!

The second volunteering event was a question and answer session with a local school. Our Shenzi, (hyena in the show, Rashada Dawan) organized this outreach, and I always love doing this kind of thing. Getting out of the theater, meeting local people, getting to actually talk to them instead of dancing at them is really fun for me.

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A thank you card from an earlier outreach effort. So cute!

A few of my fellow cast members and I showed up at Governor Wallace Rider Farrington High School at 2:30 on Thursday to talk to the local drama club, The T-Shirt Theater. This group seeks out the most promising talents from three local high schools and trains them in drama, dance, singing, and even backstage crafts. After receiving fragrent lei’s and welcoming hugs, we found ourselves in a large circle with 30 of these young thespians. They invited us to participate in their daily opening exercise of saying their name and something positive that happened to them that day. (Mine went something like “Hi, my name is Selena, and seeing as I was a bit lost and about 10 minutes late, the good thing that happened to me was finding this place!”)

The kids were incredibly attentive and excited to ask us questions about what it was like to live and perform on a real-life Broadway tour. They had great questions, like “When did you know you wanted to be in theater?” and “What was it like to audition?” Thankfully no one asked those awkward questions, that I have actually been asked in Q&A’s around the country, such as “How much money do you make?” and “Can you put a good word in with casting for me?”

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These kids rock!

After two hours of chatting with the group, we taught them Circle of Life, complete with lyrics (The REAL lyrics, not the “pink pajamas, penguins on the bottom” that we all sang as kids…) and choreography. We split the class into groups; one big group of prancing zebras, one group of flapping birds, one group of baby elephants, and one group of leaping gazelles. After we taught them movement and lyrics, we forced them to combine the two at the same time, just like we do every night on stage. As we all dissolved into giggles, I was thankful that such a wonderful volunteering opportunity fell into my lap, and felt good about how I spent my hour giving back this week