Aerialists, trapeze artists, and jugglers will descend upon Union City in a few weeks in an effort to raise money for Puerta Abierta, an afterschool program that serves students throughout the North Hudson communities. The evening of “death defying” entertainment will feature aerialist Guinevere DiPiazza, a Weehawken resident, as well as trapeze artist Elie Venesky, stiltwalker Billy Bedlam, and clowns Audrey Crabtree and Jeff Seal.
The Donovan Ensemble is currently collecting clothes to be used for their set design.
Donovan Ensemble’s artistic co-directors, Joe Kolbow and Jonathan Niel, are aiming to double their money with this second annual fundraiser.
Free, bilingual afterschool program
The Puerta Abierta afterschool program is hosted by St. John’s Episcopal Church and has provided free, bilingual care for area youths from low-income families since 1988.
Many of the program attendees are first generation English speakers.
But with state and local grant funding constantly in jeopardy due to budget cuts and a shrinking church membership, Kolbow said it is more important than ever for the community to come together to help the program continue.
“It’s just an amazing, unique program for students,” said Kolbow.
Last year the group held a circus-themed benefit performance and gala at St. John’s that attracted nearly 100 people and raised over $2,000 for the church programs including Puerta Abierta.
This year they’re hoping to double that and bring in $4,000 for the afterschool program.
“We knew from the response last year that this has a lot of potential to bring the community together and raise money,” said Kolbow.
In addition to 100 percent of the ticket price going directly to the program, they are also soliciting donations for items to be auctioned at the event, and selling ads in the event program (which will provide two additional income streams for the donation this year).
“We’re trying to grow the event so we can continue doing it for many years to come,” said Kolbow.
Fracturing fairytales, schooling sustainability
This year’s show, “Preposterosity: Tall Tales from the Enchanted Forest,” is what Kolbow described as a “fractured fairytale” and features favorite characters from those childhood tales performing circus tricks – even Old Mother Hubbard gets in on the act as a clown.
“We are transporting the audience into a magical forest,” said Kolbow.
Merril Garrick and Emmet (the comedic duo played by Kolbow and Niel) also join in on the fun as the heroes who save the day.
Known for their creative set designs (last year’s event featured colorful canopies draping from the ceiling to create a “big top” atmosphere), the Donovan Ensemble is creating the magical forest for this year’s show out of recycled clothing.
Kolbow said the inspiration came when they saw a group of Cuban artists in Florida use clothes to make set creations.
For Preposterosity, old clothes will be transformed into a giant tree and a leafy canopy that surrounds the audience.
Students from Puerta Abierta will help build the set, which Kolbow hopes will teach a lesson about the importance of environmental sustainability.
“We’re excited to have that be a theme going on in the background of the production,” he said, adding that as much clothing as possible will be re-donated after the event.
The Donovan Ensemble is currently collecting clothes to be used for their unique, recycled set design. Items can be dropped off at St. John’s Church Monday through Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. until May 26.
On the road again
In addition to their philanthropic effort for St. John’s, Kolbow and Niel also hope to help their community by being a world-class showcase for the arts.
Founded in 2005, the Donovan Ensemble’s mission is to create and perform theater “full of fun, joy and mischief” in Hudson County and share it with the world, which they helped fulfill last summer by touring their show in Canada.
“It went really well,” said Kolbow. “We had a really great response.”
This year, Kolbow and Niel are headed out to the road again, taking “Super Spectacular,” a two-person comedy show, to Kansas City and Minneapolis.
They’ve also created a brand new show, “The Hypnotist,” which premiers in Brooklyn this weekend.
How you can help
“Preposterosity: Tall Tales from the Enchanted Forest,” the second annual circus themed benefit performance and gala for St. John’s will be held at the church gymnasium, located at 1516 Palisade Avenue in Union City, on June 9 at 7:30 p.m. A mixer with refreshments will follow the event. All ages are invited to attend.
Discounted tickets are available when purchased in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/172966 or by calling (800) 838-3006.
Discount advance ticket prices are $12 for kids, $19 for seniors, and $27.50 for adults. Ticket are also available for purchase at the box office before the show at full price: $16 for kids, $25 for Seniors, $40 for adults.
Financial donations can also be made directly at www.indiegogo.com.
To volunteer or donate items for the auction, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit DonovanEnsemble.com.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at email@example.com.