Helping the homeless — and themselves

Nov. 28, 2005, midnight | By Alexis Egan | 14 years, 7 months ago

Teenage acting group collects donations through their performances

Every month, five hundred volunteers in D.C. help over ten thousand homeless and poor citizens through the D.C.-based Bread for the City program. Simultaneously, a group of Takoma Park teens practice and plan for their next theater production, a short locally-produced play. These two seemingly unrelated groups have been brought together by charity, caring and an urge to help the less fortunate.

Formed in April 2004, the Pine Players, whose name is derived from the street address of several participants, have completed three productions of four different plays. The teens, who perform at a Takoma Park café, Sangha, have collected donations for Bread for the City. Over the past year and a half, the plays have amassed nearly $2,500 for the program.

No good deed goes unnoticed

Bread for the City, located on Good Hope Road and Seventh Street in D.C., has noticed the Pine Players' help and greatly appreciates their contributions. Leslie White, Development Director for Bread for the City, is amazed by the Pine Players' social awareness. "Most teens don't have a way to give - no checkbooks, credit card," she says.

In an age where most adults feel that teens are ignorant and disconnected with politics and current events, the Pine Players challenge many teenage stereotypes. White feels that the Pine Players' generosity towards the less fortunate is astounding. "[The] Pine Players are remarkable and uncommon. For a group of young people to be so socially aware and to intentionally raise money for a cause beyond their own needs, is most honorable," she says.

Bread for the City relies heavily on donations from citizens, as well as volunteer assistance and money earned from charity walks. The program helps provide healthcare, legal services, food and clothing for the poor and homeless citizens of the nation's capitol. Founded in 1976, Bread for the City now helps thousands of people annually: Over one thousand people receive Social Service assistance, more than 160,000 pieces of clothing were given to the needy and more than 2,000 patients frequent the medical clinic. The Pine Player's aide helps Bread for the City provide even more care for the needy.

From the start

Senior Lizzi Albert and Katie Frank jointly brainstormed the concept of a socially aware acting company of teens who could help their community through productions. Since the Pine Players was created in 2004 by Albert and Frank, the group has produced a multitude of plays, collected thousands of dollars and donated it all to charity.

Drawing from a pool of actors from the Takoma Park-based acting group Lumina, the Pine Players rehearsed and performed their first play, "Crimes of the Heart" by Beth Henley, at the end of the 2003-2004 school-year. Pine Player member Junior Ellie d'Eustachio recalls the experience, noting that Albert and Frank "didn't expect [Pine Players] to keep on going." Since then, the Pine Players have performed "Ms. Firecracker Contest," also by Beth Henley, and "Diversions" and "Actor's Nightmare," both by Christopher Durang.

Work as one

Although the Pine Players started as a small acting company, the group now has around twenty dedicated, arts-loving members who are passionate about their work. The group requires a large time commitment with little recognition, but, to most members, the experience is worthwhile. Junior Michael Novello, who directed "Ms. Firecracker Contest," expresses his love for Pine Players openly. "We don't act for the profit, we act for the love of the theater," he asserts. Similarly, sophomore Maile Zox, who has participated in the most recent Pine Player play, says she sticks with the group because she is working "with everyone I love, doing a thing I love." The teens methodically read, select and produce different plays together in a collaborative effort.

Months of preparation, which includes designing costumes, booking the café and practicing for the play, go into each piece. Frank, the director of Pine Players' first play, says she underestimated the amount of work required in the production process. "You don't really realize all the aspects and details that go into the play," she says, listing all the different pieces that go into a production.

Not all fun and games

The logistics involved behind the scenes in Pine Players is more complex than meets the eye. Since the directors, designers and actors are all close in age, the directors sometime have a difficult time earning the respect of their colleagues. Sometimes it is "hard to get into the mindset where the actors look to you as an authority figure," Frank says.

The other members of the cast recognize the administrative problems and strive to correct them, explains junior Zach Eaton, who has participated in three plays by Pine Players and will be directing the group's next play. "We're all peers. Sometimes it's hard for the directors to keep in control," Eaton comments. Weekly meetings, monthly dues and an organized setting helps the teens focus on their next performance.

To some members of the cast, the closeness of the ages in the actors and the directors is an advantage, serving as motivation. "If you fail to do the assignment, it makes you feel worse," says Zox. Regardless of problems, the teens have managed to look past the age issues, ultimately producing plays worthy of recognition.

The Curtain Closes

The Pine Players have managed to donate all of their proceeds to the homeless organization. With plans for three new plays already in the works, the Pine Players hope to continue their contributions to Bread for the City. The classic "Of Mice and Men" and highly sexualized "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress" will soon be joining the collection of the Pine Players' accomplishments.

Even if the meetings are daily, the work strenuous and the practices stressful, the final performance is worth all the effort. To the actors, the opening night of a play has an undeniable allure, partially due to the release of pent up tension and the anticipation of the show. For some members, the peak of the Pine Players experience is when they "finally reach performance night and everyone is excited," relives Novello, "letting go of stress and watching the magic you created."

Visit the Bread for the City web site.

Alexis Egan. Alexis is a (very) short junior, who is very pleased to be writing for Chips Online with all her friends. Along with writing, her other hobbies are playing soccer, reading about Mount Everest and listening to any Irish music. Her favorite movie is The Princess … More »

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