Casts of Chicago’s hottest plays send posters to support Parkland students after mass shooting | Bleader

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Casts of Chicago’s hottest plays send posters to support Parkland students after mass shooting

Posted By on 03.01.18 at 06:04 PM

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click to enlarge The cast of Wicked was one of many productions that donated a signed poster to the theater students. - COURTESY BROADWAY IN CHICAGO
  • courtesy Broadway in Chicago
  • The cast of Wicked was one of many productions that donated a signed poster to the theater students.

Following the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, student survivors wasted no time mobilizing their fight for gun control through the Never Again movement and capturing the nation’s attention. It turned out that many of the leaders were active in the school’s theater program, a fact that was “utterly unsurprising” to Alicia Senior-Saywell, the program director for the Belmont Theater District.

“When you hear them talk, a theater person—we know each other. We’re cut from the same cloth in a way. And the ideas that these kids have come up with—envisioning a fantasy or dream for the future, despite what anyone else says, making that a reality—that is theater,” says Senior-Saywell.

On Sunday, a friend forwarded her information about a national effort to send theater posters to the students at Stoneman Douglas as a show of support. That night, on her own, Senior-Saywell emailed nearly 30 theaters and theater companies. Many people either told her they were interested in sending posters or that they had already done so. Broadway in Chicago, the Goodman Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre Company, and Lifeline Theatre have all donated materials. Henry Wishcamper, an artistic associate at the Goodman who spearheaded the company’s efforts, says the cast of The Wolves quickly mobilized Friday and in 24 hours had sent a signed poster, a signed playbill, and a custom banner.

“The fact that these kids have done more in nine days than the rest of us adults have been able to do in ten-plus years is pretty insane,” Senior-Saywell says. “People in Chicago are excited to show these kids how much we appreciate what they’re doing and how proud we are of them.”

Senior-Saywell and Wishcamper say the idea started with Daniel Burns, who graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 2008. Burns, an actor now based in New York, has kept in touch with the school’s drama director, Melody Herzfeld, over the years, and he credits her as being a major reason why he decided pursue theater. When she told him she wanted to maintain her drama room as a home for the students, many of whom didn’t want to return to school, he felt it was his duty to give back and help.

click to enlarge The casts of the current Goodman productions The Wolves and Blind Date sent a message of support to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. - COURTESY GOODMAN THEATRE
  • courtesy Goodman Theatre
  • The casts of the current Goodman productions The Wolves and Blind Date sent a message of support to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Thus began his outreach last week to Broadway productions via Facebook, to coordinate sending posters and other materials that would adorn the drama room. His posts were shared by individuals in the theater community and Actors' Equity associations, who then shared it with their networks. Since then he hasn’t put his phone down; he’s responded to nearly 1,000 e-mails and Facebook messages. Every Broadway show and national touring company has promised to send material, as have regional theaters from across the country, some from as far away as Alaska. Even Blue Man Group has reached out, Burns says. He jokes that Herzfeld will need six more theaters to accommodate the thousands of packages heading the school’s way.

“These kids are finally given a platform to speak their mind and to express their opinions and to really enact change. And I think all of us as actors see ourselves a little bit in these kids and we remember what it's like to sit in that drama room and want to express ourselves,” Burns says. “If we can provide them a little bit of tangible support, if we can show them physically how much love we have for them. That is my one good deed . . . that outpouring of support has been overwhelming, to say the least. It is nothing short of incredible.”

Besides physical materials, Burns says he’s working with Kate Shindle, the president of Actors' Equity, to offer the students master classes and workshops taught by members of the Broadway community.

On Wednesday, students officially returned to school for the first day of classes since the shooting. Burns says a mother of a student he went to school with told him it was jarring to see it look like a normal day at school.

“My hope in doing this was that upon coming back to school they would feel the love and that this wasn't just yet another day back at school after this tragedy, that this was the start of an entirely different chapter. And it is a chapter full of love,” Burns says.

Senior-Saywell echoes his sentiments. “I think these kids are gonna get besieged. We’re going to drown them in love and support,” she says. “And theater posters.”

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