An interview with Lauren Gismondi, director and founder of Theater for Good.
TfG will be performing benefit readings of shows that relate to a current social issue. All proceeds from each reading will be donated to a non-profit that relates to that social issue.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Lauren Gismondi. I am an actor and coach in NYC who just started a little theatre company, Theater For Good.
What is this benefit for?
The money gained from the proceeds goes toward mounting our first production/staged concert, Urinetown. We are looking to take ticket proceeds and donate them to cause or charity that is thematically similar to the concert's main focus, be it access to clean and safe drinking water for everyone, closing the gender pay gap and equality in the work place, or healing tensions among people who do not see eye to eye.
What inspired you to start this benefit?
I describe it as the single greatest kneejerk reaction to what was going on around me. I occasionally wish I could be ignorant or so self-absorbed that I could remain unaffected by the changing political and social climate. But if you're asking about a specific moment, I was riding the R train in Brooklyn the day after the presidential election results came in, and the city felt much like it did the weeks following 9/11.
It was a dismal and gray day. Most everyone was looking a little sad, strangers were hugging each other, a few more were crying, just trying to come to terms with what had happened, and even more so what was going to happen moving ahead. I was sitting somewhat grief-stricken, when these three men walk into the train car and are about to start singing.
Something I simply was not in the mood for. But what caught my attention were the lyrics of their song, "don't let the bad man grind you down," and that got a lot of us laughing! I knew I simply could not sit around and wait for things to get better. I had do something, and kept asking friends what it was we could do! To use my skills and gifts to shine a light on issues that are important, and do it in a way that is helpful for other artists and brings people together for a common cause... I naturally want to help others (it's ingrained in my personality), and this feels like the right way to do it. I am mixed with feeling incredibly excited and scared out of my mind. That's how I know I am doing the right thing.
Why a cabaret?
I equate the cabaret to an appetizer sampler you may get a restaurant. We are offering up two to three songs from each musical we are proposing to do: Urinetown, 9 to 5, Cabaret, Parade, and The Last 5 Years. It gives the audience an opportunity and sneak peek of what we have in store for them. It's a great way to get the word out there, and allows for a springboard to launch us into the next big steps.
What has the process been like?
Really quite lovely. I am grateful both my General Manager, Jeremy Terry, and my Resident Music Director, Shoshana Seid-Green, have stuck with me since day one. I am also lucky in that I have many friends who are both very giving of their time and talented. It has been a culmination of people I love doing the good work.
Even with the ups and downs that comes with starting a small theatre company in a place like NYC, it feels like being a newborn baby learning to walk. That's part of the fun of it- we're all discovering together what works and what does not. On a practical side, because it is a concert, there is some ease in the work I have to do as a director. The stage at The West End is meant to be a cabaret stage, and lets the performers be intimate with the audience in their storytelling.
What were some of your biggest challenges?
Outside of scheduling and managing ten people, it has become apparent at some point I will need to bring an assistant to help me keep my head on straight and priorities properly kept in line and managed. Eventually, I would like us to find a more permanent home, but that isn't until farther down the line. Money will always been an issue with almost any arts company. Who has it, where can we get more, and what do you mean we blew the budget? We are currently working through those issues, and hope the funds we gain from this concert puts us a little bit at ease. Thankfully, most of the big challenges won't need to tackled head on for a while.
What do you hope people will take away from this?
I am hopeful the big takeaway is that we are group making a little difference in the world with the work we are doing. Come see what we're all about, and maybe find your own way to make a difference in your own community.
The first production of Theater for Good will be a cabaret raising funds to offset the costs of the benefit season.
Tuesday, November 14th 9:00-10:30pm.
955 West End Ave New York City, New York 10025
Check out the Facebook page for future dates!