Musical to raise money for Haitian youth

Charity performance set for Friday, Feb. 27 at JDHS auditorium

Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2005

To raise money for a youth charity in Haiti, Juneau-Douglas High School actors and backstage staff will put on an extra performance of an upcoming musical.

The play, "Once On This Island," is a modern fairy tale set on an unnamed island in the Antilles that's clearly modeled on Haiti, director Ryan Conarro said.

In the play, a peasant girl nicknamed Ti Moune, or Little Orphan, is saved in a storm by a couple who will become her adoptive parents.

"She always sees herself as being saved for a reason," Conarro said.

As a teenager, she wants to know her purpose in life. Eventually, she rescues a city man, Daniel, whose car crashes near her village. It turns out that the gods of death and love are testing her. She promises herself to the god of death to save Daniel.

A hard-luck story, but not really worse than the daily lives of many children in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

JDHS drama teacher Bethany Bereman and Conarro decided to contact a charity that serves Haiti and ask the students to put on an extra performance, the proceeds of which would go to the organization.

"Everybody was just totally for it," student Kael Wanamaker said. "It really energizes you to go out and perform. You have a reason for it."

Searching the Internet, Bereman and Conarro learned about the Art Creation Foundation for Children. It's a grassroots nonprofit that teaches children art, feeds them, and pays for school fees, uniforms and materials.

Only four out of 10 Haitian children go to school, said co-founder Judy Hoffman, who runs a marketing research company in Lake Worth, Fla.

The center, formed in mid-2003 and located in Jacmel, operates on less than $20,000 a year, she said. It serves about 30 children ages 6 to 12.

Besides learning art in the mornings, which could come in handy as an occupational skill as adults, the children are fed.

"They are fed the hugest plates of food you can imagine a little kid could consume," Hoffman said. "Then they change into their school uniforms and the go to school in the afternoon."

Hoffman said she was "astounded and thrilled" to hear from the Juneau-Douglas High School drama department. She sent several pieces of the children's art as a gift. The center never sells the children's art because it would seem exploitive, Hoffman said. Conarro will incorporate the pieces into the stage set.

Wanamaker and student Zak Kirkpatrick interviewed Hoffman for the play's program.

"She talked about how most people see the art (in Haiti) and they view it as a beautiful island paradise," Kirkpatrick said. But the truth is it's dirty and poor, he said.

Hoffman described the center to them.

"She said the kids get everything totally free," Wanamaker said. "They'll come in an make art with the professional artists and get a free meal at the same time."

The charity performance will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27. Tickets from Hearthside Books are $5 for children up to grade eight; $8 for JDHS and university students and seniors; and $10 for others. There is a $30 family price. Tickets are $2 more at the door.

The JDHS auditorium seats about 1,000. A full house could significantly add to the center's funds.

People who don't attend the show but want to donate can send checks to Art Creation Foundation for Children, 108 Westwood Court, Atlantis, FL 33462.

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