AWS’s Annual Holiday Benefit for Toys for Tots Continues the Tradition

The 2013 Annual Holiday Benefit for Toys for Tots concluded on December 7th. This marked the thirteenth year that AWS has put on a benefit performance. The event was an opportunity for writers, actors, and directors to create performances that would help grateful audiences get into the holiday spirit.

“I’ve attended the holiday benefit for the past few years, and this one was just as uplifting and entertaining as all the others,” commented David Shackelford.

The audiences’ generous donations helped to make the season brighter for many underprivileged children. “All but one of the performances had completely full houses; most shows had audience members sitting in the aisles and at the edge of the stage to get everyone in,” said Fran Montano, Artistic Director and Founder.

“Our main objective was to raise funds for charity by putting on an entertaining and professional show,” said Fran. He made a point to involve everyone who wanted to take part. “Many of our actors, writers, directors, and behind-the-scenes people all volunteered their time and resources to make it a success,” he said.

Every September, Fran starts the process for putting together the annual holiday benefit by sending out an email to all writers interested in submitting their holiday-themed short-plays. Each play is read and discussed by a panel of reviewers who eventually decide on the best works for the event. Fran then sends out a new email to all those interested in acting, directing, and/or participating behind-the-scenes. After receiving those responses back, Fran and his producers decide on the actors and directors for each work, and then the benefit production goes into full steam.

Thirty new short plays were submitted. Eight of those plays were selected. “We chose plays based on how they fit in with the other plays. So, a couple of my favorite plays weren’t selected because they weren’t the best fit for the event as a whole.” The selected works included: Cute Little Santa Outfit (Wendy Goodman Thum); Fakebook Friends (Paul Surace); Three Elves Sitting Around Playing Poker (Ron Burch); No Room at the Holiday Inn (Roy Battocchio); Roasting on an Open Fire (Tom Misuraca); Office Party (Jon Cellini); Sexy Santa (Paul Surace); and Snowflake for Christmas (Chris Karmiol).

AWS community members appreciate events like the benefit because they get to exercise their creative passions for a good cause. “My piece was directed and performed beautifully. Granted, the material was brilliant, so it would be hard to screw it up, but still, I loved it,” humorously remarked Chris Karmiol, Snowflake's writer. Rajiv Joseph, actor in Snowflakes, said, “I don’t have a lot of performing experience, so I learned a lot from participating and watching others in the production.” For several of the actors this production was their first time on stage in front of an audience.

Each show began with an Improvisation scene and was then followed by the eight scripted short-plays. Irene Muzzy, intermediate level teaching instructor, directed the beginning and intermediate level students in an improvised scene based on a fictitious reality chef contest for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Three two-person teams competed. Each team represented partners who had complicated and dysfunctional relationships with each other. The partners dealt with their explosive relationships while at the same time competing against the other teams to make an award winning dish – each team had to complete their dish during a timed preparation period.

“Working with audiences really pushes you to strive for the best inside of you,” said Eric McClure, actor in Oprah Winfrey’s Holiday Cooking Contest... Evolution of a Chef!

The resulting improvisations were hysterical looks inside the lives of partners fighting against one another while also fighting against their competitors in pursuit of the grand prize.

“The benefit was a large undertaking because we had 30 actors, 6 directors, 4 people behind-the-scenes, 7 writers, and 1 stage for putting on a production within a short window of time during the holiday season. But, we definitely met our objective and brought a lot of satisfaction to many lives in the process,” said Fran.