Why Give to Us? There Are Sooo Many Things to Give To
Let's face it, there are a lot of great & worthy causes to give to. Every time you turn on the TV you are bombarded with all the things you should or could support. (Let me just go on record here: Whenever I hear Sarah McLachlan start singing during a commercial break, I don't even look up. I immediately find the remote and change the channel. Wow! I even think there are dogs out there saying, "Sarah, tone it down a little! This is just too sad and heart breaking. Woof!') But it's true there are literally thousands of worthy causes to give to. And guess what... we're not here to compete. As a matter of fact, we give to quite a few of those worthy causes.
Worthy Causes Don't Make Money &
Many Times Goodness Does Not Make a Profit
As I type this there is an ad on the TV for St. Jude's Hospital. This is a cancer treatment center for children. They are asking for our dollars as well. This is a more-than-worthy cause that does not make money. They desperately need our cash because what they do is beyond the scope of the "bottom line" in the financial sense. Their bottom line is goodness. And many times Goodness does not make a profit. Our government recognized this years ago. That's why we receive tax-deductions for giving to Good causes.
There are people out there doing things that bring light, joy and beauty to our world. Some of those have happened upon a way to do that PLUS make a profit. But they are in the minority. Most of the people in our communities who do the most worthy things can not make a profit. After school tutoring, feeding the homeless, teaching the under-served in our city, providing healthcare for those who cannot pay, those who live their lives to bring community and reconciliation to their city. In a consumer-driven society we nearly always want physical, tangible payback for physical, tangible money. So sometimes it takes some coercion or Sarah McLachlan to wake us up and let us see that there are those "items" that take physical, tangible money but the payback is spiritual, intangible and emotional. We give to these causes because they are doing things we believe in, things that need to be done and things that we cannot do ourselves.
We Believe In It, It Needs to be Done & We Cannot Do It Ourselves
This is the basis of giving to nonprofits. And as I look at what we do here in the community of Greensboro I believe we meet all those criteria. So let's go over them one-by-one.
We Believe In It
In today's world of cyber-friends and frenzied lifestyles, we can all agree that there is a void in our lives which used to be filled by our community. Not even families stay together or do things together anymore whereas in decades past one found safety and peace in family and in their community. We need community. We believe that people are more stable, courageous and healthy when connected to a loving community. But like so many other things in life, we don't have the time or the ability to make it happen.
At City 616 we are doing what we can to make that happen. We host dinners, concerts, meetings, movie nights, book clubs and more to bring community to hundreds of people.
It Needs To Be Done
Don't really need to say much here. How many of us have experienced desperate loneliness, even in the midst of a crowd? How many feel like they have no friends? In today's world ISOLATION is a horrible disease that afflicts millions. We have a need for someone to rise up and provide the community and friendship we long for.
We at City 616 have stepped forward to provide that community. We are providing a safe place for strangers to meet together and then leave as friends.
We Cannot Do It Ourselves
This is why many of us give to Wounded Warriors and Compassion International. We do not have the time, resources nor the expertise to know how to help that wounded soldier. We do not have the money to fly to Africa and take care of our "adopted" child. But there are organizaions who can take our few dollars and maximize their spending potential by applying those dollars within their system that knows how to best help these people.
This is what we do with your dollars. We apply your dollars within our organization which is set-up to do what so many others cannot do. We provide the space, the time, the expertise, the manual labor, the creativity and the energy needed to provide community for our city.
'You Guys Are Like R&D for the Church"
Finally, a word to our Faith Family. The above quote is what a good friend told us last year. Of course, the Church as a whole needs more than R&D (Research & Development) but we thought he was right. It is no secret to most of the people who come into our sphere that we are Christians. But how do they know that? Is it because we shout out our political views and draw a line in the sand between Us vs. THEM? Is it because we preach and harass people with Bible banging? Is it because we only invite the "good, right" people into our home? Or is it because we have spent the past five years experimenting and attempting different ways of loving others?
"All men will know you are my disciples by how you love one another" — Jesus
As the R&D wing of the church, we are truly seeking new and better ways to bring the love of God to our community by loving them first. In this regard, I think the Catholics have had the right idea about the "rule" of the parish priest. A priest moves into an area and he considers all those in that area (parish) to be his parishioners whether they are Catholic, Protestant, Atheist or Agnostic. In other words, he sees all the souls in his parish to be his flock, whether or not they ever come to his church.
We have taken that attitude here in Greensboro, but especially in the South Elm Street area. We consider it our responsibility to bring the Kingdom of God to our area whether or not everyone believes like we do or not. We experience such joy and meaning in this life in Christ, we find we must share it. But we don't "share" in a traditional sense. We like to say that we want to bring the Kingdom of God so close that folks may touch it.
So when people walk up our stairs, come to dinner, stop by for coffe, drop-in for breakfast or attend a movie night — this is our intention and our prayer. That they might come so close to the joy & wonder of the Kingdom of God that they may touch it and be touched by it.
We Depend On You
Well, I hope you have an idea of who we are and what we do. And as you can see what we do is a bit elusive and intangible... but it is so badly needed. The ONLY way we can do what we do is through the gifts of our supporters.
Won't you please consider supporting us financially throughout 2014? If you believe in what we are doing, if you see the Need of what we are doing and if you are not in a position to do the same things yourself, then please come onboard with us & help us make this world a better place. Thank you.
What do you guys do when you're not performing?
Yeah, we wonder the same thing sometimes. But we did want to take a few minutes to try and give you an idea what it looks like to be Charlie & Ruth (and no, the photo above is not them). First, let us say that there is not a normal day, a normal week, a normal month. You might say our lives are a bit peculiar.
What You Believe is What You Do
You cannot separate what we do from what we believe. We believe that Jesus came to earth to die and bring salvation to humankind. And in turn, it is up to His people to love their neighbors like He loves them. And guess what? Love is terribly ineffecient. Love means taking time to listen. Love means going places and doing things that aren't really pragmatic but will give someone a smile or support or encouragement. Woody Allen once said, "Ninety per cent of life is just showing up." That is true for those attempting to live a life of loving others.
Christmas Show Activity
I tell you these generalities about our lives because it is difficult to list or even remember what we do from day to day. So I will cover some events in recent days to give you an idea. On the first of November, we turned our attention to our annual Christmas show. Auditions were sent out. Several evenings set aside to meet with those wanting to auditon. Once audtions were set there was the task of finding a pianist who would be available for auditions. We then began the process of rewriting our show to match our objectives for this year's production, i.e. a script for a cast with some diversity. Writing for me, Charlie, has become less cumbersome and less dreaded than in past years. But it has not become faster... so I slowly come up with a new script. In the meantime, Ruth is scouring the web and stores for new Victorian music, poems and stories to add to our show. A tentative rehearsal schedule is drawn up for those coming to audition.
Auditions take place on two evenings and a cast is almost chosen. We have most of what we need but we really need a very strong voice to "carry the show." We start calling, emailing and cajoling everyone who might have a clue where to find our "voice." Once the "voice" is found we begin rehearsals three nights a week and on Saturday. Towards the end of the month this changes to every night and Saturday. During the days, we must design and print flyers for the show. We meet with a local paper about advertising. Downtown Greensboro, Inc. contacts us to see if we will be doing anything for "Festival of Lights" — our city-wide Christmas celebration and lighting of the Christmas tree. We meet on what we can do and how to produce it for the city. Ruth begins hauling boxes out of the basement for Christmas decorating — which will be an 8-hour a day job for the next three weeks. The website is changed and re-designed to advertise the Christmas show. Rehearsals are now 6 days a week, lasting to 11 o' clock at night many nights. In the daytime, I begin work on the Christmas fundraiser "The Evangelically Correct Christmas Gift Catalog." This is a major time-consumer and takes days to complete. (By the way, if you did not get one this year, financially we had to curtail this mailing which in the past has cost about $4000 to print and mail. So we only sent Catalogs to the top 500 givers. We did all the printing on our copier. We folded and stuffed the envelopes ourselves rather than send them out to a mail house.) During this same time we were attempting to launch a Kickstarter fund raising campaign, including video, copy for the webstie, etc. This is still in process.
Finally the show begins. Every night we invite 50-60 guests into our home. We prepare hors d'oeuvres, cheese plates, cookies, mulled cider, hot chocolate and literally dozens of other treats for each evening's guests. The guests partake of our treats, watch the show, they leave, then the cast leaves and we are home alone by 10:30 or 11:00. We go to bed and rise to start the process over again the next day starting at about 10:00am.
But this is not a normal month. We don't have this kind of project every month. But it does give you an idea of how we go about producing other shows about 3-4 times a year. And why do we do these shows? To make lots o' money? Not with a "theatre" that only holds 50 people per night. To be able to act? Well, we do like that but that is not THE reason. THE reason is to bring joy to our community. (See blog post on this year's Christmas show.) Whenever we produce a show, we always pray with our cast members (who are willing) that we would be aware that we are giving gifts to the community and that we are creating memories that people take away in their hearts and minds.
One thing that IS normal every month is the Greensboro Grub. The Grub is the most successful event of our time here in Greensboro. When I say successful, I mean
that it brings the most joy and is one of the most fun events that most people have ever been to. And it is the most unusual. Since moving here we have "collected" dozens of friends and acquaintances by talking to them at the market, on the street or at some social gathering. We give people our card with our emai address and a description of the Grub. We ask them to email us to get on the "Grub List." There are now over 500 people on that list and when a Grub invite goes out... it fills up within 2-5 hours. The Grub goes to the heart of our mission here: to create community. You can read more about that elswhere on the site, for now we want go over some of the details of putting on a Grub. In all, the Grub is a 5-day affair. Not necessarily 5 consecutive days but definitely 5 days total time in our month. The Grub begins with setting the date, usually a Friday towards the end of the month. Then we begin the process of trying to decide on an ethnic cuisine we will be serving. Once that is chosen, about a week out from the date of the Grub, we send out the email invitation. Once the guest list is full there are lots of emails and phone calls asking for extra seats or for special consideration. This is a great problem to have but it can be a hassle at times. Moving to the Monday or Tuesday of the Grub I get in my Mini Cooper and head to Charlotte where the closest Restaurant Depot resides. If it were not for Restaurant Depot or Sam's Club — the Grub would look very different. I spend two-hours going to Charlotte and then an hour or so at the Depot and then two hours back. Once back home comes the very laborious task of carrying hundreds of pounds of groceries up three-flights of stairs. Oh, my back. This is why I wish we had about 10 teenagers to help us each month. month. By the way, that is the ONLY time I wish I had 10 teenagers around.
The Wonder of it All
Part of what we do here is theatre. Good theatre. Quality theatre. But so often it goes beyond that. Far beyond that. It goes to the heart. It massages the soul and makes life a bit lighter for those attending. And that's what happened this year as we presented our Victorian Christmas Show for the fifth year.
As would-be audience members climbed the steps, I think for many, the thought was, "This better be worth it!" Once on the third floor, we greeted them with mulled cider and a maid to take their coat. As they walked down the spectacular hallway filled with Dickens diorama scenes, lights, Christmas trees and the aroma of cookies & hot chocolate, you could almost see the difference in their gait. They were allowing the wonder of Christmas to coax the inner believer into the joy & innocence of childhood.
The audience is seated and I (Charlie) walk onstage to give a bit of introduction to what they are about to see and do.They are about to enter a time in which people did not celebrate Christmas by opening gifts, eating too much and watching football. But rather it was a time when people prepared for the Christmas celebration for days or weeks or sometimes even months. They would practice and rehearse songs, stories, poems, readings or music to present to their friends and relatives. In other words, they brought themselves and their gifts AS gifts. It was a celebration of the holiday but also a celebration of one another.
The audience is intrigued by this but you can tell they remain a bit nonplussed. The play begins and everyone is entertained by the music and meeting each cast member as they make their way onstage. But what really "turns the corner" for those attending is the singing of "The 12 Days of Christmas." lThe lucky ones with cards on their seats learn what part they have in the song; a partridge in a pear tree or one of the 12 drummers drumming, etc. Everyone begins laughing & talking nervously thinking about having to stand and sing out their parts. Then it happens. The song starts and people rise to sing their parts as each is needed for the song. We are no longer actors and audience. We are a family of humans enjoying one another and playing like children. Christmas has arrived.
Joy in one another, even in strangers, takes hold and we are transported somewhere between the 19th Century and Never Never Land.
We are more than blessed to be a part of this minor miracle. We are amazed; we are humbled. This is what I mean about the way our theatre goes beyond just theatre. It is much more... it is a taste of community. A taste of joy and acceptance. We are also humbled as the audience files out after the show to greet us in the hallway. The comment heard most often this season: "You have MADE my Christmas. Thank you." Another popular comment, "Before I came I was not in the Christmas Spirit... now I am. Thank you." These short-lived victories are... well... short-lived. But it is magical to be there and experience such a wonder.
But let's talk specifics of this year's show. First, for those of you who don't know, we (Peculiar People) made a commitment last year to include diversity in our casts. We want to involve people of all races in our shows. So when it came to Victorian Christmas, we had a bit of a challenge on our hands. How could we include people of diversity in a show that traditionally had "all white" casts. Let's face it the Victorian Age is known for many things but cultural diversity is not one of them! Well since I am the author of the play, I decided a rewrite was in order. We added a visiting soprano from Kenya, Kamali. And an African-American singer-song writer from Tin Pan Alley, Gussie Davis.
Our Cast & Crew
Kamali was played by Jaala Siler, a theater major at UNCG. We have known Jaala for a couple years and to hear the voice that rises out of this woman is amazing. She is also one of the most encouraging women I have met. In an emergency, she filled a part in last year's Merry Christmas & All That Jazz with great aplomb. She is a joy to work with and made so many rehearsals a joy. Thanks Jaala.
Our next star and talent is the incredible Mr. Van-Arc Wright who played the part of Gussie Davis. Van-Arc is a baritone with an operatic flair. He is getting his doctorate in Musical Performance from UNCG. We had never met Van-Arc before someone recommended him for this play. He is a delight to work with and does NOT suffer from ego-mania... even though we have met people with much less talent afflicted with this disease.Van-Arc has been performing with many groups and in many shows in his career. One night a few days before our last show there was a videographer here recording some footage and doing interviews. I happened to be walking by when the video guy asked how he liked being in a Peculiar People production. Van-Arc said that this was the most amazing cast he had ever been a part of. He said the love and care between the cast members was unlike anything else he had ever seen. He said usually in a show like this there was loads of "drama" and arguments but being in Victorian Christmas was different. We were so glad to hear this because our prayer for all of our productions is that first & foremost the cast would love another. That love will then translate to the audience. Go, God!!
The other great actor with us this year was Eamon Bryant. We have known Eamon almost since moving here. He and his wife came to see "Talent Show at Stinkin' Creek Church." Some time after that we had them both in an evening of One-Act Plays we
performed here. Since then Eamon has been our go-to guy for lots of projects. He was in our show Pilgrim, an adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress. He is one of the most talented actors we know. So happy to have him in our sphere.
Our youngest actor this year was Miss Hannah Osborne. We directed Hannah two years
in a row while teaching and directing some homeschool students at a Classical School, Faith Academy. Hannah's talent is much greater than her years would imply. She can sing, act and as we found out during rehearsals, draw! Her patience and the patience of her parents was really extraordinary as she had to wait for pages of dialog before each of her scenes. But when she did come onstage... it was wondeful. She was our little Christmas Cracker!!
In our community of actors, last but not least, we have Lisa Upper. We had directed Lisa's son Joey in a show
two years ago. When auditions came around for Victorian Christmas, they both came. We knew of Joey's talents but we needed a different type of vocals than Joey could supply. But his Mom really impressed us with her audition piece from "Fiddler on the Roof." So we hired the Mom but not son (yikes!) but there were no hard feelings. Lisa was an uncomplaining, hard working trouper and we so enjoyed having her in our show. By the way, the Uppers had us for Christmas dinner yesterday and it was sumptuous and the conversation most stimulating (as Chesterton would say).
Every time we do a Christmas show we are always wondering, "Who can we get to do the music??" Music is such an important part of any Christmas presentation. Few actors have both acting abilities and skill on a musical instrument.
This year we were truly blessed with the talents of one of the best pianists in the Triad area: Mr. Ed Limon. Ed is one of those rare musicians who knows his keyboard so well that all one has to do is mention a song and he begins to play it. As we ran through the show the first time, we came to the point where Van-Arc was to sing, "O Holy Night." Ruth said, "Oh, sorry we haven't got the sheet music for that yet." No sooner than the words were out of her mouth, Ed started playing "O Holy Night" and we used his rendition from that point on to the end of run... without ordering the sheet music!! His gifts and talents are amazing but his jovial spirit made the cast complete.
And now we come to the two stand-by actors, Charlie & Ruth Jones. Actually, that isn't right. Charlie is the stand-by and Ruth is the star. I have heard it for all the 26 years of our marriage. "Charlie you're good but Ruth is great!!" And she is. But that is really the least of her talents. If you could live along side us and observe this woman, you would be amazed at her heart, her compassion, her patience, her passion and her love for God. Let's face it... I am smitten.
Thank you to all who make our lives
such a Joy