Donor Spotlight: Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Daedalus Project HIV/AIDS Benefit
“We started this because we all had friends and family who were suffering. We are connected in so many ways to so many people. Daedalus is about remembering those we have lost. This applies to those we have lost everywhere. Daedalus is about 'us' in a larger sense.”
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is one of the oldest and largest professional non-profit theatres in the United States. Since being founded by Angus L. Bowmer in 1935, OSF has grown into a Tony Award-winning theater performing hundreds of shows on numerous stages every year. One annual show is the Daedalus Project, which supports organizations addressing HIV & AIDS around the world, including Africare. We spoke recently with OSF Associate Producer Claudia Alick to learn about the creative, passionate ways OSF and their community approach their work.
Could you tell us about how the tradition of the Daedalus Project began?
Daedalus was founded in 1988 by OSF director and actor James Edmonson in response to the AIDS crisis that was affecting our company members, audience and community. The company's response was to put on a show, raising money to support community members in need. The Greek myth of Daedalus is that he created a way out of an impregnable labyrinth. The Daedalus Project is rooted in the belief that we will find a cure and a way out of this maze. Rex Rabold, who passed away in 1990, directed the first shows. Daedalus was really an organic response from the whole company. From top-down and from bottom-up everyone gets involved. Our former executive director even performed in our tap dance number. Over the years, so many people have volunteered their time and talent, and the show and its production value have grown as has the number of people the event has helped.
How long has the Daedalus Project been running?
Daedalus has been going on for over 20 years. The first show was held in 1988. That year the proceeds supported the Cascade AIDS Project, an organization based here in Oregon. I joined OSF in 2007. Actor David Kelly had been working closely with the event for many years and directed the event in 2008. Since then Terri McMahon and Miriam Laube have joined to direct the event as well.
You said that Daedalus has grown every year, and we know that Africare is one of many organizations supported by the show. How do you decide which organizations will receive proceeds?
We do our research and study organizations' strength and efficacy. We speak to people directly connected to them for a personal connection. The applications we receive are inspiring. We wish we could support all of them. We began with organizations based in Oregon and have expanded over the years to reach national and international communities.
It sounds like when Daedalus began it was more locally-focused. How did it come about that OSF decided to support Africare?
For us, “community” doesn’t mean just local community. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is a destination theater with audience and artists from all over the country. We started this because we all had friends and family who were suffering. We are connected in so many ways to so many people. Daedalus is about remembering those we have lost. This applies to those we have lost everywhere. Daedalus is about “us” in a larger sense.
The project’s success enabled its expansion. Company members were aware of the HIV/AIDS crisis worldwide, and wanted to reach more people. The work Africare does is vital. It fills me with a lot of joy that by putting on a show or bake sales we can help you do that work.
What is the Daedalus show like?
The main event is a 90-minute to two hour variety show with acts from company and community members held on the Allen Elizabethan stage. There are dance pieces, funny skits based on our plays, opera songs, musical theater pieces and more. The show always includes a speech from the recipient of the Rex Rabold acting fellowship. The curation is based in what people offer so we've had everything from rapping about Shakespeare to an epic puppet piece. This year we had a Sister Act piece with hundreds of singers from the community and company. Everything has joy and is full of energy. We end the show with a candlelight ceremony in remembrance to honor those we have lost.
But Daedalus is more than a variety show. There is a play reading, where actors have scripts in hand. These can be even more touching than full-fledged productions, and we choose stories that resonate with the day’s theme. It’s also a bake sale, a lemonade stand run by children, an arts & treasures sale where things like original books of poetry or a round of golf with a company member are auctioned off. For the week in advance we are selling t-shirts and hand-made flower pieces for people to wear in their hair. We have held 5K races and late nite shows in addition to the variety show. This year there was a Daedalus Film Festival in collaboration with the Ashland Independent Film Festival. It’s "Stone Soup" producing.
What do you mean by "Stone Soup"-style producing?
"Stone Soup" is a story about a man who comes to a town and says he has the most amazing soup recipe. He places stones in a pot of boiling water and asks for a little carrot to make it even more delicious. Eventually everyone in town is adding bits and pieces to the soup, and it feeds the entire town. This is how Daedalus works. One person donates a graphic design, someone donates stage management expertise, another just gives us a great idea. Everyone gives a little, and the results are amazing.
My job is to find people who have passion and tell them, “Yes!” and support them in their work. There are so many people who do a huge amount of work and have a lot of vision, and every single person is volunteering their time. Two in particular this year were Miles Fletcher and Eduardo Placer. Eduardo was fascinated by the story of the wings Daedalus made for his son Icarus that melted when they were too close to the sun. Eduardo wants us to have wings that will last, so this year we made the Wings of Daedalus, huge wings made of metal with paper feathers folded by hand. For $5 you could sponsor a feather, and we had people all over the world folding feathers. It was an online crowd sourced piece of fundraising that created a physical piece of artwork through international collaboration.
Members of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the local Ashland community perform with the Wings of Daedalus to support HIV & AIDS projects world-wide. Photo: Jenny Graham
So Daedalus is a collective effort, company and community coming together. Everyone that wants to be involved can be, and everyone that wants to be involved is inspired to do so. You’re involved, and you speak passionately, so you must be inspired to work for Daedalus as well. Can you speak to what inspires you in this work?
I have a personal passion for the project. I’ve always done bike-a-thons and been the kind of person to be involved with things like that anyway, and with Daedalus I’ve found something personal. I have family members directly affected by this illness. I’m grateful to work at an organization with a mechanism to connect artistic expression to social activism.
Ms. Alick, you’re a wonderful conduit for the passion of OSF and the members of its community around the world. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has donated more than $45,000 since 2000 to Africare’s HIV & AIDS projects. Not only is your dedication evident in the magnitude and history of your generosity, it is obvious in the unparalleled creativity and enthusiasm of everyone involved. Bravo!