“You must have friends”, as Bette Midler sings.
So the Emily List Fund for Performing Arts Therapy recognizes four of her longtime friends with 2022 grants to use theater, music and dance to enrich the lives of their participants.
Three of these grant recipients – Whole Children in Hadley; the Sci-Tech Band, “the Pride of Springfield” and Born Dancing in New York – also received “Staying Afloat” grants from Emily’s fund to help them through the pandemic in 2020 and 2021.
Whole Children’s Director of Development and Communications Valle Dwight said the group “definitely plans to return to action with a theatrical production in the spring of 2023.”
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, Whole Children, which helps teens and young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, was forced to cancel its show, “WonkAvengers,” which was a mix of “The Avengers” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” a few weeks before the performance date. The theater program was back in person in 2021 with the help of another of Emily’s grants, but the performance was restricted to families for reasons of security.
Now in 2022, Dwight says a new theater manager has focused on acting and improv skills, and the actors hope their show will be open to the public.
This is exactly the kind of work Emily’s Fund was created to support. The fund was launched in 2012 in memory of Emily, actress, dancer and performing arts enthusiast, who lost her life at age 26 to a rare form of pediatric sarcoma. Since its founding, it has donated $70,000 to 25 mostly local performing arts groups.
This year’s winners, like Whole Children, are all emerging from a year or two of isolation for what they hope will be another year of dynamic in-person public performances.
Another friend over the years has been the Sci-Tech Band, the “Pride of Springfield”. Over the past two pandemic years, as band manager Gary Bernice and his co-managers have created an online music program and delivered over 400 instruments to students at home, Emily’s Fund has helped the band keep going.
“Our students never gave up,” says Bernice. “Student leaders continued to rise up and take ownership of their group.” Fifty students have applied to be band leaders next year. About a third of Sci-Tech’s 1,500 students are in the group, and those students are three times more likely to stay in school than their non-group counterparts.
The pandemic put the band on Zoom for most of the 20-21 school year, but members were able to perform publicly last year at the Springfield Community Jam and World’s Largest Pancake Breakfast, both downtown. of Springfield, as well as their 15th annual Spring Winterfest and ArtsAlive concerts.
These public performances will continue and grow this year, thanks in part to the continued support of Emily’s grants.
Another longtime friend is Melissa van Wijk and her Born Dancing troupe in New York. Born Dancing offers high level dance lessons for students with physical and mental disabilities. These classes are transformed into shows in which the students perform with professional dancers.
Born Dancing’s work was also isolated until last spring, when he traveled to Queens for two programs teaching dance at special schools and four “Inclusion in Dance” programs at Friends Academy. .
The company is planning a large-scale production with professional dancers and young people from its educational programs for December 13-18 at the Alvin Ailey Theater in New York. “Fingers and toes crossed,” Melissa said.
Finally, the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit will use its second grant from Emily’s Fund for another program pairing cancer patients with their doctors for a night of confidence-building and entertainment.
Karmanos received a grant in 2019 for “Dancing with Our Docs,” a program in which cancer patients danced with their oncologists. After a 2020 pandemic hiatus, the program returned its 2021 grant as the program had to be canceled due to the continued threat of COVID, especially for immunocompromised cancer patients.
But the event is back as planned in October with patients dancing and lip-synching with their oncologists, primary care doctors and support staff for an audience of a thousand people. According to Pat Keigher, Regional Director of the Karmonos Institute, these programs inspire and empower patients, as well as others affected by cancer.
All of these endeavors would resonate with Emily, who devoted most of her 26 years — her “wild and precious life,” as poet Mary Oliver might describe it — to acting, teaching and revising acting and dance.
She believed with all her heart in the transformative power of the performing arts, and she would be so proud if Emily’s Fund helped others benefit from it as much as she did.
Karen List is Emily’s mother and a professor in the journalism department at UMass. To learn more about Emily and her fund and how to apply for a grant, visit emilylistfund.org.