Fueled by an urgent need to get producers and investors interested Helen, I stayed up past my bedtime last night creating an invite to send to industry professionals for our September teaser. Bright and early this morning I was completely consumed with writing personal notes and sending the invite off to colleagues who I thought would be interested and helpful with Helen's development. I was so in the Helen zone--getting the right people in the seats for our reading seemed like a life or death matter.
And then I taught a class. The group of students that were visiting the Paley Center today came from a homeless shelter. They had called us back in June and asked if we might be able to offer them a program at no cost. Fortunately, as a non-profit institution, we were able to do so.
I tore myself away from my desk, stopped sending invites, hid my iPhone in my pocket so I could check for any RSVPs, and went down to greet my group. And when I was faced with this group of kids and parents who have nothing, who don't even have a roof over their heads, I started to cry. Well, I proceeded to hold back tears and sniffle while we headed up in the elevator to our screening room. I obviously didn't want them to know that I was crying. They need a lot of things, but one thing they don't need is my pity.
Why was I overcome with this wave of emotion? If you didn't already know this about me, I've spent the majority of my adult live working with kids in some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in this city. Seeing those kids faces today, brought me back to my first job in Bed-Sty working with fourth graders on the musical Oliver, which then became the subject matter for the play I wrote for my graduate thesis at NYU. A play not as grand as Helen, but equally, if not more so, as important.
It brought me back to the first time that I worked with Robby six years ago. We were assigned to teach music theatre at a community center where the kids were mostly pulled from the projects across the street. We taught them "Mama Will Provide" from Once on this Island, and "Everybody Wants to be a Cat," from the Aristocats and they were so excited about the program that on the last day, they made us a huge "thank you" banner and wrote a song for us. And you know where I was that day? I was sitting on the set of "Law and Order" waiting to shoot my "featured" extra scene, only to be told that I was recast, because, and this is a direct quote, "The director wants someone black." Which brings me to the real emotion that I felt this morning--guilt.
I felt guilty for being so wrapped up in the this show--this luxury--and for forgetting how some people don't even have their basic needs met, let alone the ability to develop a musical and send out producer and investor invites. Suddenly, my little world of Helen and the New York City theatre "industry" that was so important a mere hour before, seemed so...well, small and kind of silly.
Now that's not to say I won't continue to dive into this process as much as before. It's just that I'll do it with a conscious awareness of how lucky I am to have the time, ability, talent, means and support to invest in a project like this. And, you can trust that when Helen does get to Broadway, I will be advocating and making sure that every child in New York City, no matter what neighborhood they come from, will have the opportunity to experience our show onstage. A show that directly speaks about struggling to make ends meet, dreams deferred, raising a child alone, having a single parent, and about the redemption that can come through the arts and a loving community.
So, I'm not going to worry about those RSVPs, and I'm not going to worry about Helen. Helen is good, and she's got a bright future ahead of her. And if I have to single-handedly produce Helen all by myself by reaching out to the astounding group of supporters and fans we have built in just two months, I'll do it. You know I will.
I just hope that if it comes to that, I still have time to teach classes like the one I taught today.