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Local Fundraiser Plays Along To Benefit Mental Health

Wednesday November 7th, 2018, 12:00pm


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Maureen Stewart (K&M Photography and 519 Magazine).

Moving to the music, a local fundraiser is putting the spotlight on mental health.

Taking place at 7pm on Friday, November 9th, Cabaret For A Cause has been in the works for awhile. Planning the second annual event, hosted at the Capitol Theatre’s Pentastar Theatre organizer Toni Bruner knew there would be room to grow — the thought has been on her mind since planning started the day after last year’s event.

Benefitting Canadian Mental Health Association Windsor-Essex County (CMHA,) the goal was to make it even more of a success.

“It went really well for our first year, but it also allowed us to expand on ideas we had,” said Bruner. “It let us come up with what we could do to make it more than just the one night only performance. We also knew we needed some more monetary sponsors to help us cover expenses while we raised the most funds possible.”

That assistance has come from several local businesses including The Man’s Shop & Barbershop Bar, Jen Gurniak Photography, Families First, En Route Productions, Culmone Law, Hussein Khalil Insurance Agency, The Spitfire Pub, Enlighten Counselling Services, Farrow, MARDA Management Inc. and Ken Knapp Ford.

As for the show itself, it draws people together by using  mental health.

“This year’s Cabaret tells the story of a coffee shop and its inhabitants,” said Bruner. “Our overall story is that everyone is connected by mental health. Each of us has a character that we have created and our stories will intertwine throughout the show.”

Those who attended last year can expect to see more movement as well: It’s one of the things that informed shuffling to a different stage  inside the Capitol Theatre.

“We also knew we wanted more dance in this show and so we are in the beautiful Pentastar Theatre at the Capitol, instead of last year’s Kelly Theatre,” said Bruner. “The stage, the surroundings, the theatre itself is overwhelmingly amazing and I can not wait to be in there.”

Beyond the theme, a cabaret gives  performers more freedom. Enticing many to take part, selecting their own solos has drawn people to the event: 10 contacted Bruner following last year’s show and while some performers have returned, most of this year’s cast is made up of new faces.

Even those who couldn’t perform were so passionate that they volunteered their time in other ways. It’s allowed Bruner to turn Cabaret For A Cause into what it is.

“I can not do any of this without the support of our amazing team,” she said. “Everyone is volunteering their time and I am so grateful. The best thing about theatre to me is making friends who are so supportive and who have just been with me every step of the way. Chris Fazekas is my assistant director and has helped me put together the entire show. Amber Thibert is our producer manager and is also on the marketing team with Kim Buckley and Andjela Ilic, all of whom are going above and beyond each day for our production.”

A new partnership is also kicking off with the performance. Funds from this year’s cabaret will stay with the CMHA and help launch arts therapy workshops. Starting in January 2019, the public events will be a collaboration between mental health experts and people in the arts industries. Those involved have already donated their time to host the workshops.

It’s something Bruner is excited to be a part of.

“Each month will hold a different focus like dance, visual arts, entertainment tech, acting, writing, etc,” she said. “Our workshops will be held weekly for the month. I’ve been blessed with friends and professionals who are so enthusiastic about this project that I believe we will be so ready when we launch in January 2019.”

While freedom has attracted performers to Cabaret For A Cause, perhaps it’s no surprise that many are also helping for other reasons. With mental health being a focus of the show, several people have their own connections to it.

This includes the event organizer as well. Hoping to raise $5,000 for the January workshops, she’s optimistic it will encourage more conversation about mental health.

“There are cast members who have mental illness but above that, they each have their own connections to why mental health is important to them,” said Bruner. “The cabaret was born out of grief; last June I lost my cousin to suicide and I needed an outlet. I still think there is a large stigma with mental illness, even though many people in Windsor-Essex have some form of mental illness. Some people aren’t willing to talk about what they are going through – and that’s okay. By no means should you feel pressured to talk about your own situation if that’s not what you want. I just truly believe that the conversations need to be happening. That we, as a community, need to be more open minded.”

In terms of planning, Bruner tried to steer clear of other events. Pushing Cabaret For A Cause back from September to November, she wanted to be as collaborative as possible with other theatre groups in the area.

If it weren’t for them, the organizer knows this event wouldn’t be happening.

“We would not exist without the support of our local theatre community,” said Bruner. “Many directors of productions including David Burrows, Michael Potter, Taylor Lavigne and Mike Karloff and a few others I am sure I am forgetting, have been so great at cross promoting our production with theirs. Post Productions and Scarehouse Windsor have donated rehearsal space, along with Nancy Pattinson’s Dance Studio and Migration Hall is sponsoring our microphone donation. As performers, we have collaborated on rehearsal schedules and don’t schedule conflicting nights. Dylan MacDonald is a fantastic Improv performer and teacher and assisted us with three fantastic fundraising nights at The Man’s Shop Barbershop Bar in July. Almost every single performer is juggling multiple productions at once and it is all about working together.”

Admission to the 7pm event is $20 and doors open at 6:30. All funds stay in Windsor and will go towards the upcoming art therapy workshops. Further information is also available at Cabaret For A Cause’s website, including a direct link to purchase tickets.

“We have so much different music and there are so many great performers that you should come out,” said Bruner. “You can say that you had a hand in changing lives …The CMHA has some fantastic programs in place and the more programs, the more conversations that are taking place, the more we can shape and dispel the stigma.”

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