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Theater for Charity blends altruism and comedy in student productions

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MARCH 13, 2014

I watch from the corner of 150 Dwinelle Hall.  Accompanied only by my laptop, I sit alone in a cramped desk, surrounded by empty chairs.  Front and center is a group of 30 people yelling, “shake, shake, Kool-Aid!” Even their vocals are choreographed. A fly on the wall, I recede further into my already secluded corner of the classroom. One of the members reaches out to me, “Join us! It’ll be fun!,” but I find myself too shy, too sheepish to step out of the safety of my comfort zone.

In the limelight of center stage, there stands more than just a group of actors. It is Theater for Charity, a UC Berkeley campus organization that harnesses its love for theatrical performance as a means to achieve a unique and selfless end.

Theater for Charity (T4C) is an entirely student-run troupe that brings together the elements of drama and altruism. Founded in 2003, the group set out with one goal in mind: to produce and perform original student comedy theater works, while donating all of their proceeds to local charities. Over the past 11 years, the group has held true to this mission, donating over $4000 to four different charities of choice every academic year.

“We want to bring theater to the campus community and give students the opportunity to write, direct, produce or act in their own original works,” said T4C president and 4th year Sociology and Peace and Conflict Studies student Katie Schiff. “We want to bring joy and laughter to the community…and donate 100% of our proceeds directly to charity!”

Because all of their proceeds are given to the charity of choice, T4C’s performances have adopted a low-budget, minimalist style, incorporating few, if any props. Each show that the group performs is dedicated to one charity organization. “Members nominate organizations that they want us to donate to,” Schiff explains. “Then we look at the organizations that have been nominated and try to figure out where the money should go and where we can make the most impact. We consider which groups can use the money most effectively.”

Over the past three years, T4C has donated to a number of on and off campus organizations, including the Berkeley Free Clinic, Heal the Bay, Camp Kesem, the Suitcase Clinic and The Music Connection, to name just a few.

If one thing is clear from seeing the group in action, it’s that members are not afraid to express themselves in the most unorthodox of ways — be it counting to eight at the top of their lungs, sighing in high-pitched falsetto voices, or screaming “I am a mother pheasant plucker!” — all in unison, of course.

The president calls the meeting to order. “Now we’re going to begin today with a fun warm up game,” Schiff instructs. “Get into a circle!” As members try to scramble across the room to find a place in the ring, facetious shouts of disapproval are heard. “We look like a disembodied amoeba!” someone shouts. “More like Saturn’s rings, less like a bologna sandwich!” screams another.

“This semester, Theater for Charity presents…‘Save Blockbuster’!” Schiff announces. “Featuring six one-act original plays!”

The playwright’s process, however, is much more laborious than it appears on the surface. “At the beginning of the semester, students submit their original scripts for sketches they want to see performed in the show, after the show’s theme is announced,” explains external relations director and 4th year anthropology student Tom McClure. “After that, we’ll have casting, then rehearsals until the performance.” In line with this year’s ‘throwback’ theme, “Save Blockbuster” will run from April 4-6 in 145 Dwinelle Hall.

T4C does much more than just provide a comic outlet for the UC Berkeley community.  For the members of this dedicated theater troupe, it’s all about finding the crossroads between what they love, and doing good for others. For T4C, it is truly about finding passion through service.

‘Save Blockbuster’ will run from April 4 – 6 in 145 Dwinelle.

Contact Nick Cotter at [email protected].

MARCH 13, 2014