At the community theater where Sam started in AZ, our wonderful parent coordinator known as “Miss Audrey” to the kids, gave the same curtain speech to the kids in the audience for the many, many years that she volunteered there. She would tell the kids, if they were inspired by what they saw onstage that day, to come out and audition for the next show. “You might say to yourself, I can do that. And you might say, If I put on a costume, they would cheer for me.”
The most interesting thing to me about being on a national tour of a show, is that the most run-down downtowns have the most beautiful theaters. And even the most blighted of towns, either economically or physically, still bring out large crowds to see our show. Even when things are really bad, people still make time for the magic of live theater. Because our show is for families, we see our audiences packed with children of all ages. In many of these communities, the town will sponsor disadvantaged children or at-risk teens to come see our show for free. They also get to speak with the cast after and ask them questions. It is amazing to see the light in their eyes, especially in kids who you know had never been to live theater before that day.
Miss Audrey died too young, this past November. Shortly after she passed away, Sam and I hit the road for the tour. Being on tour has given me a lot of time to think, and my mind often goes back to Audrey. As we swing into town for one night, or for days at a time, I think about how she would have loved this. She would have loved this experience, and she would have loved to see Sam. After all, Sam was, at one time, one of those kids in the audience who heard her words and decided to give it a try. So, I wanted to do something for her, just like she did for the many children of Arizona.
And so, I am excited to announce the formation of The Audrey Johnson Theatre Education Fund. What it hopefully will be is a 401(C)(3) non-profit foundation. The paperwork is in the process of being submitted to the IRS, thanks to the generosity of my friend, tax attorney Marc Schultz, who is going to help me set it up pro bono.
What we are hoping it will be is a fund that will serve all of the children of Arizona. Audrey believed that every child should have the opportunity to either see, or be part of, live theatre. We are hoping that this fund will allow children to see live theatre all over the Valley. Because we have so many amazing community theaters in AZ, we know that we can achieve this. Also, we are hoping to fund children who want to be able to go to theatre classes or camps. We are hoping that this fund will, like the towns I have seen across the USA, help kids to see traveling Broadway shows and to perhaps meet the cast. Finally, we are hoping for a college scholarship component, to help teens who want to go to school for any aspect of theatre education.
When I sat down to think of who would help me, I had the most incredible realization. Audrey had thousands of friends, many of whom would refer to her as one of their closest friends. And she really did feel the same way about all of them. There were not just 2 or 10 or even 50 people I could call. There were too many to count. That’s the power of Audrey.
So, for those of you who loved her, I need your help. I need as many of you, from all over the world, who believed in her and supported her daughter Haley or accompanied her to shows. I need those of you who didn’t know her, but who believe in this cause. I am hoping to kick off this foundation by holding what will hopefully be an annual event: The Audrey Johnson Theatre Education Fund Costume Gala. Audrey loved costumes. She loved dressing up. The very last picture we ever saw of her was a few days before she died, sitting in a chair, without hair, and broken down from months of chemo and radiation, in a princess gown. I am hoping to hold this event shortly before Halloween of this year so that we can have the funds we need for those going off to college in the fall of 2014.
I won’t be home until July 1, and I can do a lot of this from the road, but I need all of you out there. I need a venue for the event, I need underwriters and sponsors, and I need donations. But mostly I need to know that you will be by my side as we undertake this new venture. With the significant cuts to the arts in the Arizona schools, we need to make sure that the kids of Arizona can still be involved in the arts in any way we can.
Theatre owners: I need your help too. If you want to donate some seats to your shows next year, we will take them. If you want to donate classes or camps, we will take those also. This will help all of you. We need to band together on this. During the last week of her life, she saw her “kids” in shows all over the Valley. Below is a picture of her embracing Sam after his last local show a few days before she died. There were 7 theaters in AZ that dimmed their lights the night she died. She went to all of your shows. She cheered and hollered for every actor in town. She had tickets for a show the night after she passed away. Her brave daughter Haley went to that show in honor of her mom. Audrey hated when there were empty seats during a show. There was no bigger theatre fan in AZ.
As readers of this blog know, I look for signs to make sure that what I’m doing is the right thing. Audrey has sent me many, many signs recently. One day I will do a blog just on this. No one would believe it. I know she’s up there, pushing me. I will, however, share this gem: when I recently met with two of Audrey’s friends, Shelly & Karen, to discuss this idea, a waiter came up to our table. “Excuse me? Do you guys remember me?” We all did. He was a young man who did theatre for several years with all of our kids. He started to talk about Audrey. “I’m in college now, for psychology. If it wasn’t for Audrey, I would not be where I am now. She helped me come out of my shell, to believe in myself. I am not going to become a professional actor, although I still do it on the side for fun. But doing theatre growing up gave me confidence to do anything I want to do in life.”
This is the power of theatre and the power of Audrey. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know if you are interested in helping under the subject line of Audrey Foundation (just so it doesn’t get lost in junk mail).
As Audrey used to say… “You know what to do.”