With the recession in full swing and its effect on the arts already devastating, benefit events seem to be a dime a dozen these days. Fundraisers, donations, charity drives and even those dreaded bake sales have been popping up left and right to help various programs, venues and performance groups try to stay afloat at a time when folks clearly don’t have much to spare.
The irony, of course, is that when people most need artistic expression — either through creating or experiencing the escape that live music and theater can bring — is also when they are least able to afford it or have the resources to produce it. Throw in the fact that the people holding the event don’t always need the funds as much as their patrons, and the whole “benefit mania” can get a little daunting.
In the case of one upcoming benefit, all the usual drama associated with fundraising is nowhere to be found. The reason for the event is about as righteous as they come.
Meet Julie Farrell. A 2008 graduate of Ventura High School, Julie grew up immersed in musical theater. A self-professed shy and anxious kid, her mom thought it would be a good idea for her to audition for a community theater production when she was just 10 years old. Julie begrudgingly went, got the part and immediately found her calling. For the next 10 years of her life, it would be nothing but plays, musicals, lessons, performances, recitals, workshops and anything she could cram into an already busy summer.
Through it all, though, her home base in the theater world was Ventura’s Rubicon Theater. The county’s only professional theater company, Rubicon facilitates various youth programs including the popular youth musical, which every summer puts on a full-blown production consisting of young performers. Julie appeared in two of the youth musicals herself. She also developed a close bond with the program’s director, Brian Macdonald, who acted as a mentor and helped her prepare for an audition at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, where she was accepted as a musical theater major. With its “It Takes A Village” campaign, the Rubicon has launched an all-out appeal to the community in an attempt to raise $1 million dollars. So far, they’ve received $236,637.
Back home after her first year away at school, Julie met up with Macdonald, and he expressed how the Rubicon was looking for ways to raise money for the youth programs, as the scholarships and classes it offered for students in need were being reduced or cut altogether due to the current economy.
With her summer open, Farrell brainstormed how she could help. She hatched a seemingly impossible plan: bring back as many past students as possible from the Rubicon’s youth programs for a one-night-only performance highlighting all the past shows.
After speaking to her friend Samantha Kaden, a former youth program member and current UCLA theater student who agreed to come on board and help with the project, Julie took the leap and started a whirlwind season as a first-time theater director.
Julie began the process of tracking down as many performers as she could. The response was overwhelming, as nearly everyone agreed to participate. In addition to the 25 students of this summer’s program, Julie got confirmations from 45 past students, all willing to help out a program that in many cases had a profound effect on their lives.
“Everybody has been beyond supportive,” gushed Farrell after a grueling day of rehearsal. “Many of the performers have gone on to prestigious art schools and are working on a career in performing arts. This program shaped us as performers and in many ways as people. Everyone seemed to have the same passion I did to be a part of this and give back to something that gave so much to us.”
The name of the event, Kids for Kids, couldn’t be more appropriate, as it actually is kids getting together to help future kids. No meddling adults to be found — anywhere. The oldest performer is only 27, and the youngest is just 12. The show will feature musical selections from the various productions the group has put on previously, including “Babes in Arms,” “Footloose,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and this summer’s production, “Godspell.” All the performers will return to the same stage to sing the same songs they did years ago, minus the costumes. (A 25-year-old understandably would have trouble fitting into something he or she wore when at 15.)
Having only been on the side of the stage, and days before the productions she’s spent her entire summer working on, Farrell is tired but excited, and insists the experience has been well worth it.
“I’ve learned so much in the past three months,” says Farrell. “Management, publicity, directing — I’ve always been on the stage so it’s been a learning experience for me. The response from the community has been amazing, though, and it’s what keeps me going. Schools, radio, businesses have all reached out asking how they can help. Theater enriches a community, and it’s one of the reasons Ventura is a such a great place.”
The Kids for Kids benefit show takes place on Monday, Aug.17, at the Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura. For ticket information, call 667-2900.