Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Planet Connections Festivity Does Theatre for A Cause

Theatre festivals in New York City aren't a novelty anymore, so I am always excited when a festival comes along that takes a new approach to the genre. The Planet Connections Festivity, which holds forth for three weeks in June (starting on June 11), has added a twist that I'm really happy about: every one of the shows in this festival is committed to a charitable cause or organization. And I'm not talking about a nonprofit theatre company--I'm talking about some other community-service-type group, to which proceeds or some other benefit will accrue during the festival. So when you see a show in the Planet Connections Festivity, you'll not only be supporting nonprofit indie theater in NYC, you'll also be helping out some other worthy cause as well.

I think this community spirit is really something to admire, and I respect festival co-founders Glory Bowen and Frank Calo for making this an intrinsic aspect of their event. I thought it might be interesting and inspiring to share some of the participants' causes with you here on the ol' Good News Theatre Blog. So today and tomorrow, the blog will be given over to many of the artists in Planet Connections, who will tell you about the charities they are supporting via their shows in the Festivity and -- most importantly -- why. Happy reading!

(So, the questions I asked each of the artists are: (1) What's your name? (2) What's your show? (3) What cause are you supporting at Planet Connections; and (4) Why?)

Sergei Burbank, Wrestling the Alligator
Cause: City Harvest
Why: In my opinion, the most debilitating aspect of poverty is hunger. In the plenty of New York City, there are myriad opportunities, large and small, to ease the hunger of our less fortunate neighbors. I've been an individual supporter of City Harvest, and this festival's mission provided the perfect opportunity to pair a personal passion with my creative output to use my (very small) soapbox as a means to promote this organization's great mission.

Brianne Hogan, Truth...Or Consequences
WIN (Women In Need)
Why: Domestic violence against women is still very prevalent in our society, which I find very surprising because it's very barbaric and archaic in my opinion. As a woman, I feel it is important to support other women so that they know they are not alone, that they are not being judged, and that there is light at the end of the tunnel for them. We need to acknowledge this issue, not hide it. Too many of these battered women hide and instead, they need to be empowered. They need to know that they are not alone--there are other women like them in their own neighborhoods and there are women who are willing to support them. And they need to know that they can rise above their circumstances and seek a better life. They need to know their worth. I think it's very vital for women to know how much they are valued.

Jackie LaVanway, On the Square Productions, America: A Problem Play
Cause: We have decided to support the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership. This is an not for profit organization dedicated to help women become leaders in the work force by exercising honesty, compassion, courage, and respect. Woodhull strives to reach out to working women and encourages them to tackle today's issues in a "conscientious way" by "encouraging open debate." Why: The foundation of our play is Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. To give the play a modern twist, our adapter, Deborah Wolfson, has taken text from Naomi Wolf's The End of America and inserted it into the verse. The purpose of melding the two together shows how a society goes from an open one to a closed one. Ms. Wolf is the co-founder of the Woodhull Institute; and being that my co-producer, Rachel McPhee, and I are two working women striving to be leaders in our field, it seemed working with this organization was the natural choice. Their values complement our values, and the work that these ladies do is inspiring- we simply wanted to get involved! We embrace the opportunity to work with them and hope to collaborate with them again in the future.

John Kearns, Resignations
Cause: China Tomorrow Education Foundation
Why: Our show is about the grown children of Chinese immigrants and their struggles and it makes significant use of ancient Chinese culture. In China, the big cities are used as showcases for the outside world, while the rural areas remain incredibly poor. China Tomorrow promotes education in rural China.

Duncan Pflaster, Suckers
Cause: For Suckers, we'll be benefiting the New York Blood Center.
Why: New York Blood Center provides life-saving blood products and clinical and transfusion services to close to 200 hospitals in New York and New Jersey each and every day. Also, there was a nice tie-in because my play is about vampires, and so we thought some phlebotomy would be nice.

William Roetzheim, Dickinson: The Secret Story of Emily Dickinson
Cause: Safe Horizon Woman's Shelter
Why: Emily Dickinson was trapped in an abusive relationship. Safe Horizon helps women who are trapped in abusive relationships.

Bridget Bailey, Child of Hungry Times
Cause: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids
Why: Child of Hungry Times is a dark comedy about women living in Russia during the Soviet Union. The show is based on the writings of Soviet dramatist Ludmilla Petrushevskaya who wrote about the daily hardships of women during that era and has become one of Russia's most celebrated authors. The women of Child of Hungry Times tell of survival no matter what. Their stories tell about doing whatever it takes to protect the lives of their children and those they hold dear. During the Soviet Union women faced many obstacles in daily life and today there is a new challenge on the horizon. Women represent over two-thirds of officially registered adult HIV/AIDS cases in Russia. Many women there contract HIV from their husbands or steady partners who refuse to use condoms. Many times, women do not find the same care afforded to them by medical personnel and are often treated with disrespect and must rely on information from the mass media and each other. Socially and legally, HIV-positive women are expected to abstain from sexual relations with uninfected partners, resulting in additional secrecy and shame. The lack of counseling, confidentiality, and a viable women's movement also contribute to the isolation of women around HIV in Russia. Before we can take the fight abroad, I think it is first in order to raise awareness here in our own city. Too often it can seem that one must choose a life in social work/nonprofits or one in the "real world." I think the movement in the US and New York right now is to blend the two. BC/EFA has been doing so for years. Their commitment to HIV/AIDS awareness within and beyond the entertainment community is amazing. They recognize the power of inspiring an entire community to raise money and awareness for a cause that was hardly known just 20 years ago. Moreover, they not only have a commitment to raise HIV/AIDS awareness here at home but one to do so internationally as well. The Planet Connections Theatre Festivity is another example of inspired individuals thinking outside the box and bringing the idea of being socially conscious into the mainstream. It is a pleasure to work with their team. I feel so lucky to be a part of this movement--to able to do what I love and create theatre while at the same time raising awareness and funds for an organization that really changes peoples’ lives.

(Read more about Planet Connections in our exclusive festival preview on nytheatre.com)

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