Cindy Says: Casting for a Cause

Cindy Says: Casting for a Cause

I am headed to AMLE, the Annual Conference for Middle Level Education (the mother of all conferences for middle level educators) to help remind teachers that putting on a show in their school community is an incredible vehicle to make arts accessible for ALL students. I'll get to chat with teachers from all over North America about their musical theatre programs. Their stories are often heroic, heart-wrenching, and hilarious. These conversations tend to share one common theme: how students blossom when they discover their creative voice, and how that discovery has a positive impact on everyone. This is always the moment when a big smile radiates from the teacher's face, and I never tire of it.

How can your student's performance to benefit a cause or special charity? Lots to consider for sure.

In the launch of one of the Educational Theatre Foundation Jumpstart programs in Frostburg, MD, I met a remarkable director who had done just that. Mark Ashby and his wife Jennifer, as well as a dedicated team of volunteers, began the youth theatre Acting Out for ALS Research in 2013 out of a desire to spread positivity. Following the passing of Mark's mother Sharon at age 67 from the incurable neurodegenerative condition ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease), they began Acting Out to continue Sharon's legacy as a teacher, and to instill in young people a love for performing as well as using their talents to help others in need. Through proceeds from their productions and fundraisers, Acting Out has raised over $55,000 in support of those battling ALS in western Maryland and eastern West Virginia.

If this has unearthed thoughts about a cause that you are passionate about or is personal to you, consider the lessons you could instill in your students. Generosity is contagious as is the joy that children can experience by helping to make a positive change.

Here are some excellent points from Mark Ashby to help you get started:

Register with the IRS and your state as a tax-exempt non-profit organization . Even before you hold your first auditions, set your organization up to take advantage of all possible tax breaks. It's not as hard as you think.

Make your mission something that is locally meaningful. Your cast and audience will be more inclined to help if they know exactly who in the community will receive the money and why, rather than donating to a larger, but faceless, national organization.

Pick well-known productions that have expandable ensembles. You might really want to stage something different that's never been done in your area before, but if the potential audience doesn't know it, they're less likely to come see it. On the flip side, the more kids you have in the show, the more family members and friends will attend, sometimes multiple times, which means a larger donation.

Find ways to pay for your production outside of box-office receipts. Perhaps require participation to be tied to a donation or to selling a certain number of items in a fundraiser. Partner with businesses and apply for grants. That way you can give most of the box office proceeds to your intended recipients. Make sure you keep enough back for planning the next show!

• Manage your growth. No need to save the world all at once. Start off with modest expectations; then if you consistently meet or exceed them, expand in a controlled fashion to improve the chances of longevity. You can't help people if you're burned out.

Instill the sense of volunteerism in your crew, cast, and parents. The more they are reminded that they're making a difference in someone's lives while they're having fun performing, the more they will become ambassadors for your cause, even in between productions.

The rewards of performing for a cause are limitless. Hats off to Acting Out for ALS and defeating Lou Gehrig's disease one performance at a time. - CR

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