PUBLISHED: 9:04 PM on Wednesday, February 16, 2005
JDHS drama students connect with Caribbean charity through play
It is rare, if not unprecedented, that the Juneau-Douglas High School Drama Department schedules a performance for a Sunday -Ebut this time, even for students whose faith would normally keep them from working on a Sunday, there's a good reason for it. The Sunday, Feb. 27, performance of "Once On This Island" is for all intents and purposes a ministry to the needy -Esomething that has a biblical precedent deeming it acceptable work for Christians to do on a Sunday.

All proceeds from the Feb. 27 performance will go directly to the Haitian "Art Creation Foundation," a non-profit arts organization created for education and personal growth of needy children in Jacmel, Haiti. The foundation, which started by providing meals and simple art projects for Jacmel's homeless children, has developed into a school that educates about 30 children who would otherwise be uneducated. Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, where the average annual income is $125, has no free public education.

"It's exciting for us working on this show, that we can play a direct role in their lives," said director Ryan Conarro. "It's just the perfect organization for us to contribute to."

The Art Creation Foundation gives children a visual arts education.

"People might ask, 'why don't they teach them something useful?'," said Conarro, "but the fact is that Haitian visual artists make up sort of a middle class there; you can actually make a fairly good living being a visual artist in Haiti."

The Art Creation Foundation's website compares the social standing of a visual arist in Haiti to that of an engineer or accountant in the United States: "Their existence creates a trickle down effect, impacting up to 50 to 100 people in a community."

The Caribbean connection was a fairly obvious one. The Drama Department's choice of play -Ea late 90s musical written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty based on Rosa Guy's book "My Love, My Love" -Eis a modern fairy tale set in Haiti. The main character, TiMoune, is a poor peasant girl who falls in love with a rich boy. Traditional Haitian gods take an interest in the budding relationships and start betting on whether it's going to blossom or wither.

Maybe because of the fairy-tale connotations, the cast initially thought of the play as set in a distant past.

"But we researched," Conarro said, "we found what the reality is of poverty in Haiti today. We were reminded that this is today!"

Contacts have already been made with the Art Creation Foundation, and the foundation has even contributed some papier maché art created by children in the program -Eart that the JDHS project has incorporated into their set design.

Bethany Bereman, head of the JDHS Drama Department, said the way things have come together, it "just seems like this was meant to be." Bereman was first introduced to the material while having dinner with Juneau Symphony Director Kyle Wiley-Pickett and his wife.

"Once I started listening to it, I couldn't stop. I turned Ryan on to it, and things just began falling into place."

One thing falling into place was that Juneau already had a Afro-Caribbean dance choreographer on site in Zoe Hawkins-Wells, who directed a production for JDHS last year. Hawkins-Wells had planned on moving on, but Bereman made sure she got to hear the music for the planned production first.

"She started listening to the music, and said, "You're right. I can't go, can I?'," Bereman said.

The music reportedly rocks -- which is why Bereman had 125 students auditioning for a play they had never heard of. The students, Bereman said, had encountered the music in choir class or heard it around the school. The play has 55 students on stage, and an additional 20-some workin gbehind the scenes with costumes, state management, props, and other necessities.

The live band, directed by Patrick Murphy, consists of two percussionists, a woodwind player, bass, and synthesizer.

The cast has already helped raise $1,000 for Southeast Asian tsunami victims by participating in the benefit concert "Island Relief" last weekend.

Bereman said beside the drama experience, it's exciting to get to "capture the young people" and show them how to funnel their desire to contribute to the world and make a differenct into a tangible project.

Editor's Note: "Once On This Island" opens this Friday. The performance can be seen Fridays, Feb. 18 & 25, at 7 p.m.; Saturdays, Feb. 19 & 26 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 27, at 2 p.m. (the Sunday performance is the one where all proceeds will benefit the Art Creation Foundation). Tickets are available in advance at Hearthside Books and from cast members at $5 for children grades K-8; $8 for high school and university students and seniors; $10 for adults ($2 more at the door). For the Saturday matinee performances, family tickets (2 adults and up to 4 children) are $30 and available only at the door.