BWW Interview: Broadway Producer Van Dean Shares How to Help Newtown's 12.14 Foundation Through THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN
Following the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the 12.14 Foundation was created with the mission of building a landmark Performing Arts Centre in Newtown, Connecticut, in memory of those lost on December 14, 2012. The foundation aims to develop a premier Academy of the Arts with help from local, national, and international collaborations. Through the collective efforts and contributions of local craftsmen and artisans, respected business professionals and corporations, and renowned designers, 12.14 will create a remembrance that expresses respect, passion, resilience and focus on a hope for the future.
Now the foundation has teamed with the Broadway production of The Velocity of Autumn to give ticket-buyers an opportunity to contribute to the special cause. By simply entering discount code 'VA1214' when purchasing tickets to the play, $10 from every ticket purchased will be donated to the 12.14 Foundation. CLICK HERE to help the cause today!
Producer of The Velocity of Autumn, Van Dean, has also worked extensively with the charity, having organized 'From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert For Sandy Hook' and the organization's 2013 production- Seussical. Dean took the time to chat with BroadwayWorld about the foundation's great work, future projects in Newtown, and how Broadway audiences can help. Check out the full interview below!
How did you initially become involved with the 12.14 Foundation?
I put together 'From Broadway with Love', in the aftermath of the tragedy. It was a major undertaking that we put together in about 6 weeks - we brought in about a hundred Broadway stars and an orchestra and worked with about 350 kids from the community to be a part of the concert as well. That accomplished everything we hoped and more, but once that was over, it was like, "Well, what's next?"
I encountered someone named Michael Baroody on Facebook, which is how 'From Broadway with Love' came together - we used Facebook as a means of gathering people who wanted to help. I encountered and him and found out that he was putting together the 12.14 Foundation, and he had heard about me from my work with the concert. So I arranged a meeting with him to find out what he had in mind. His initial goal was to create a performing arts center in Newtown as a living memorial to those who were lost in the tragedy.
By the time the meeting was over, we decided the goal of the performing arts center was something we wanted to pursue, but more time-sensitive was doing stuff for the community in the meantime. It would take quite a few years to realize the end goal of the performing arts center - of course it's really just the next phase, because there's a whole slew of things that come from that. So we mutually agreed that we needed to start programming immediately to help the kids in the community. I brought Michael Unger with me to the meeting (who was the director of 'From Broadway with Love'), and we all agreed that Michael would be the ideal director for that programming.
So he's now the artistic director of the 12.14 Foundation, and in that capacity he picked the first show that we'd do with the kids, which was Seussical.
Yes, we followed Seussical as it was happening last summer!
That was a huge success in achieving what we wanted it to. Basically there were over 100 kids involved with it. We doublecast it so that we could get more kids involved, and we also had kids apprenticing with Broadway professionals so that they could learn from those folks. It ended up being like a 6-week Broadway summer camp. One of my goals with that was to have kids of all ages working together towards a common goal that would allow them to express themselves. It was a perfect show for that. It allowed kids from 5 to 18 to work together, which to me was really important. After the tragedy, the elementary kids were with the elementary school kids. The middle school kids were with the middle school kids. The high school kids were with the high school kids. They don't get to interact much in a structured environment. It was a beautiful thing to see, even in the first rehearsals of learning music, the 17-year-olds sitting next to the 5- and 6-year-olds.
It brought everyone together. I think that for a lot of the kids it was transforming. I know that there was one parent who had two kids at the elementary school who were deeply impacted by what happened. They went through all kinds of therapy and nothing worked, but she said that the first time they were really themselves again was when they went to this summer camp to work on Seussical. They started to get excited and be the kids that they deserved to be.
And things are only growing - I've read that there is a big summer line-up...
The challenge of course is: how do you follow up last summer? It really went so well! It got national coverage; everyone came to see it, including Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty; the production itself was beyond our expectations. We weren't just trying to necessarily put on a first class production...we were trying to help the kids. But we found that because we had cast one professional actor in it (John Tartaglia), it was inspiring to them, and it turned into a fantastic production. That was an added bonus.
So this summer, there's a rock music version of A Midsummer Night's Dream being written for them - the older kids are doing that. Then the younger kids are doing 101 Dalmatians. It's the regional premiere, and I believe that they are actually going to have 101 kids in it. They are all 5-13. It will be something special.
Now of course things are being taken to the next level with the involvement of a Broadway show like Velocity of Autumn...
With everything that I do, I'm always trying to think, "Well how can I benefit Newtown?" We decided to do this ticket offer, where people use this code, and for everyone that purchases tickets using that code, $10 would be donated to 12.14 Foundation. For me, that felt like a perfect way to marry my professional and commercial work with my passion for helping the community. We could bring more attention to 12.14 and help them financially.
Other than donating through the ticket code, how can people help?
Certainly by making a donation to the 12.14 Foundation! With theses summer programs, they are not cheap to run, and we are not charging the kids to be in it. Both summers have been free for the kids, and there are certain families who wouldn't have been able to do it if we had charged - and it really made a difference for their kids. So ticket sales only cover a portion of programs like this. Certainly, our Velocity offer is going to be helpful, but direct donations and people coming to se the shows if they are in the area is very helpful. And if anyone knows a company that would like to sponsor any projects that we are doing, that's obviously something that we are seeking now!
The Velocity of Autumn by Eric Coble stars Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons (Bonnie and Clyde, "Roseanne") and two-time Tony Award winner Stephen Spinella (Angels in America, Lincoln, "24"). Directed by Molly Smith, the show opens on Broadway tonight, April 21, 2014.
THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN swirls around Alexandra, a 79-year-old artist in a showdown with her family over where she'll spend her remaining years. In Alexandra's corner are her wit, her volcanic passion and the fact that she's barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with enough Molotov cocktails to take out the block. But her children have their own secret weapon: estranged son Chris who returns after 20 years, crawls through Alexandra's second floor window, and becomes the family's unlikely mediator. No sooner are the words "Hi, Mom" uttered than the emotional bombs start detonating. The Velocity of Autumn, written by Eric Coble and directed by Molly Smith, is a wickedly funny and wonderfully touching discovery of the fragility and ferocity of life.
For aditional information about the 12.14 Foundation, visit www.1214foundation.org.