Of all the things I dreamed about when I would imagine what booking a Broadway contract would be like, volunteering was nowhere in the forefront of my consciousness. After I booked my first Broadway show and the excitement of red carpet openings and morning TV show appearances died down, one of my 2017 goals was to volunteer weekly, and I'll admit that I failed to keep consistent. But, I had found different ways of raising money: I produced a birthday cabaret from which all proceeds went to Doctors Without Borders, I ran a 5K to raise money for the Wildlife Conservation Society, and I danced in a burlesque show that benefited Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Lending a helping hand though my work and my hobbies became a "late bloomer" part of my self-identity.
When I booked my first touring show with Chicago the musical and got ready to head out on the road, one of the many things I feared losing was the opportunity to help those in need. The touring life has little structure, so the first month or so required skills of survival. Where to find healthy-ish food options, how to work out in hotel gyms with less-than-sufficient equipment, and how to simply maintain wellness of mind, body, and spirit to do my job to the best of my abilities while in three states a week became the challenges of this new experience. Keeping up with volunteering seemed so out of reach.
However, where there is truly a will, there is truly a way. After a most inspiring pre-show dressing room conversation with my huge-hearted colleagues when we discussed the desire to give back while on the road, I contacted Broadway Serves, with whom I had previously volunteered, inquiring if they might be able to set us up with some volunteering opportunities while we were away from NYC. Lo and behold, I discovered that Broadway Serves has a "To Go" department for exactly this. My Chicago colleague Evelyn Christina Tonn and I became liaisons between the Chicago tour and Broadway Serves. Evelyn became responsible for communicating directly with local organizations across the country and booking us time with them, while I communicated directly with Kimberly Marable, head of the "To Go" department at Broadway Serves, as well as rallying the troops from our company.
As our touring schedule can be inconsistent with one-nighters and two-nighters, it was decided that we would attempt to volunteer with a local organization in every city where we played for a whole week. Our first serving opportunity came in Victoria, British Columbia, where 12 company members spent three hours at Mustard Street Church and Food Bank organizing their donations for the holidays. In Louisville, Kentucky, 14 company members spent two hours at Dare to Care Food Bank where we packed 8,500 pounds of food into 281 boxes to be distributed across the community. In Columbus, Ohio, 16 company members filled so many bags with donated toiletries for distribution that we couldn't even keep count. If you notice, the number of company volunteers keeps rising; giving back while on the road is not just important, but incredibly rewarding and I think that's what keeps encouraging people to give their time to community service.
I had had this dream that, in every city we play in for a week, we would be of service to a local organization. In my dream, I imagined maybe three or four people per volunteering opportunity. The reality has far outshined this dream of mine, due to the efforts and dedication of all involved. As challenging as life on the road can be, some of the most rewarding experiences for the company of Chicago on tour have been those in which we have had the opportunity to volunteer under Broadway Serves.
My hope is that more touring artists will become aware of these opportunities. While we may not be able to help everyone, we certainly can, at the very least, provide someone in need with a toothbrush for the next month, or a bagel for their next meal. Every little bit helps, and we are so happy to "be the change beyond the stage" while also bringing our show to communities across the country.
Video shot and edited by Dylan Ratell
- Broadway Serves
- Chicago tour
- Dare to Care Food Bank
- Mustard Street Church
- community service
- touring show
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