Disneyland isn’t always the happiest place on Earth. When you look around, you’d be hard pressed to find someone not enjoying the magic, but that doesn’t mean they left all their worries behind. For low income families, getting to the park is much harder than it seems.
Some may be struggling but others may not — no one knows the difference.
On Nov. 1t, New Beginnings will host their annual fundraiser at 7:30 p.m. at The New Vic, this year hoping to change stigmas of homelessness with a one-night stage-reading of “Food and Shelter.” Written by Emmy-award winner Jane Anderson, the play follows a homeless family on their trip to Disneyland, highlighting subtleties of homelessness not many think of.
“There are things in the play that will happen like where to sleep, how to get a meal, or where to shower,” said Michael Berton, New Beginnings development manager. “When I was reading, I was surprised to see insights into homelessness I’ve never expected.”
Established in 1968, New Beginnings provides psychological counseling and supportive services to not only the homeless, but also veterans and low income families. In 2018 alone, the nonprofit served 1,733 people in the Santa Barbara community, according to New Beginnings’ annual report.
Proceeds from this event will go towards New Beginnings’ broad range of services, like their Safe Parking Program, which offers overnight parking to those living in their vehicles. While this event proves to be New Beginnings’ largest fundraiser each year, they are hoping the stage-reading will provide something different.
“We changed our fundraising model,” said Mr. Berton. “We used to do big galas, but people are sick of them. We want to create unique experiences for donors and for new people to access our work.”
Last year, New Beginnings held a gala with Harrison Ford to celebrate their 50th anniversary. Since then, they’ve looked for different donation opportunities, marking a new era in fundraising and education.
“It’s easier for people to understand stuff through art than listening to the evening news,” said Jenny Sullivan, director of the production. “The play’s an artistic experience — it reminds us that we’re all in the same boat and that some are having a harder time than others.”
When New Beginnings approached Ms. Sullivan about their project, they didn’t know what direction to take their fundraiser. Fortunately, Ms. Sullivan knew Ms. Anderson was looking for a way to bring ‘Food and Shelter’ back to life.
“Jane wrote ‘Food and Shelter’ in 1992,” said Ms. Sullivan. “When she wrote it, she had anticipated that the homeless situation would get under control, but it hasn’t. Jane said it feels good to explore the play again, while addressing an important issue.”
Although not a full production, the stage reading will have an intermission and incorporate music. Familiar with the art of music stands and stools, Ms. Sullivan has worked with nonprofits for years. Still, New Beginnings is a unique experience for her.
“I do a lot of benefits to keep theater alive and open,” said Ms. Sullivan. “This is more about helping other human beings. With everything that’s going on, we have to do that one small thing and hope it impacts just one other person.”
Personally, this process has made Ms. Sullivan more aware of homelessness. Ms. Sullivan lived in Santa Barbara for 30 years but moved in 2008. Now, this project has brought her back, opening her eyes to a decades-long problem.
“If there’s a particular subject matter I’m dealing with in a play, I find myself observing the world in a different way,” said Ms. Sullivan. “I see everything is a much more empathetic way, which is hard for homelessness because it’s everywhere I look.”
New Beginnings hopes to leave this kind of impact on those who attend the performance. Executive Director Kristine Schwarz encourages people to attend, no matter how hesitant they may be.
“This isn’t a depressing, preachy lecture about what people need to be doing,” said Ms. Schwarz. “We know that people learn by engaging and experiencing as opposed to being talked at scolded.”
Ms. Schwarz worked in the entertainment industry for 13 years, where she learned a story is more than words on a page. What connects her work then to the work she does now is the narrative of commonality.
“We relate to other people through shared history, belief, experience, and understanding,” said Ms. Schwarz. “The play talks about not being able to pay for food in Disneyland, but we all can relate to times when we’ve been embarrassed or ashamed.”
“That’s how we learn and connect to other people,” she said. “The narrative helps us do that. It’s an opportunity to have a different perspective.”