by Michael Rizzo
Usually the singing heard at the Immaculate Conception Center (ICC) in Douglaston comes during Mass in the chapel or when seminarians living there practice their hymns.
But not this month.
During July, the center’s auditorium has been temporarily re-named the “ICC Theater,” and performers from in and around the diocese are putting on a show that’s not aimed at winning a Tony Award but rather helping a worthwhile cause.
This production of “Fiddler on the Roof” is the work of The Josephine Foundation, a charity that uses the proceeds to award grants to groups working in the arts and organized sports.
Recipients have included the St. Francis Prep music program, Fresh Meadows; St. Andrew Avellino parish, Flushing, and the Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians drama guild, Woodside. The foundation has also performed at ICC to raise funds for the diocese’s senior priests in residence and is planning another event for them next June.
Volunteers say they have an interest in pursuing a performing career, but this is not just a stepping stone towards stardom.
“It’s not something I do just for myself,” said 18-year-old Shannon Connolly of Our Lady of Grace parish, Howard Beach, who performs with her 21-year-old sister Rachael and 19-year-old sister Joanna, all of whom portray sisters in the play. “Because it’s for a cause, I see this as me giving of myself. If I was a professional actor, I’d feel pressure to just do a job, but I’m doing this for others.”
The Josephine Foundation mixes professionals, who either donate their time or are reimbursed for expenses, with amateurs who go through six weeks of rehearsals.
“We’re a teaching organization putting on Broadway-quality theater,” said Andrew Koslosky, the founder and chairman of the foundation, who is originally from St. Malachy’s parish, East New York, and has performed on Broadway.
“We’ve done this for 15 years and given away $2.5 million,” he added. “We give eighth graders to adults a chance to learn from professionals and then allow them to perform.”
Performing in front of up to 400 people per show at ICC, the members of the troupe prove from the opening number that they can indeed sing, dance and put on a quality production.
“It’s a family,” said Monica Barczak of Our Lady of Hope, Middle Village, who plays Teyve’s wife Golde. “Very rarely do you get the bond that you get from these productions because it is so family focused.”
Pat White is the foundation’s musical director and oversees the five- piece orchestra accompanying him for the play. He’s also the director of music at American Martyrs parish, Bayside.
“Giving a thousand or two thousand dollars to a group doesn’t sound like much, but in many cases it helps them survive,” White said, describing the grants the foundation distributes.
Anthony Pavan of St. Andrew Avellino parish is an accountant for New York City by day and then volunteers to be on the stage.
“I enjoy doing this, but it’s not my life or passion,” he said. “I learned about the foundation’s work after I started performing with them. By me helping out to help them raise money, I feel I’m making a difference.”
Teresa Maher is a parishioner of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament, Bayside, and sees something deeper in having her 11-year-old daughter, Brianna, appear in Fiddler.
A Broader View
“Being part of this helps kids see something larger than themselves,” she said. “It makes them more Christian, more well-rounded.”
And when the show is over and the standing ovation dies down, what does it mean for amateur performers who have put their skills on the stage for all to see?
“This reminds me of how important and touching music and performing can be,” Shannon Connolly said. “I saw someone this morning who was spending the day at the beach. Being here is my day at the beach.”