In 2014, staff at the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care were brainstorming ideas for a fundraiser. They already hosted a gala and run/walk event, and were hoping to come up with something different when they alighted on the idea of a spring talent show.
“We always do a lot of fundraising at the end of the year, and then our client numbers go down with the really cold weather, so January/February and even December are kind of hard months for us in terms of income,” said Casey Rozanski, vice president of marketing and fund development for the center. “We looked around and really we couldn’t find a lot of talent shows in the area. We saw an area with no competition. We thought it was a great way to not only raise funds but to spread the word about what St. Ann’s is to new people.”
Two years later, the Center Stage Talent Show is not only a robust fundraiser for the center but has also come to embody its mission of intergenerational engagement. Members of this year’s 10 competing acts, chosen from close to 30 submitted audition videos, range in age from 6 to over 70. They will take the stage Tuesday, March 1, at Turner Hall Ballroom to compete for the $1,000 first prize and $500 second prize Fan Favorite award.
St. Ann staff is also pleased that this year’s event has doubled its revenue from last year, raising more than $10,000 to date, a surge Rozanski credits to new sponsors that include Waterstone Bank and Managed Health Services, who join longtime sponsors Turner Hall Ballroom (which offers its space free of charge to St. Ann), BMO Harris Bank, Zimmerman Architectural Studios and Sargento Cheese.
Lineup is ‘microcosm’ of center
The lineup reflects the diversity of the St. Ann client base, said John McGivern, a guest judge at the event.
if you go
The Center Stage Talent Show will be held Tuesday, March 1 at Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. 4th St., Milwaukee, 6:30 to 9 p.m.
“It’s all over the map as far as age and what they do talent-wise – it’s really like a microcosm of St. Ann’s Center,” said McGivern, who said he chose to participate in the event because of his great personal respect for St. Ann president, Franciscan Sr. Edna Lonergan.
Sr. Edna founded the then-St. Ann Adult Day Care in the basement of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi health center in 1983; 33 years later, the organization has grown to include two campuses that provide intergenerational care, including adult day services, overnight respite care and day care for children.
“She’s kind of remarkable, what she’s done with this center,” he said. “She doesn’t ask for the Catholic card to give service, you know what I mean? If you read the Peace Prayer (of St. Francis), that’s exactly how she lives her life, and she’s the ultimate sort of example of Gospel. I kind of adore her … and she’s so pretty!”
McGivern added that he also has a deep appreciation for the mission of the center.
“They look after those that need looking after, and they support, spiritually and physically and monetarily, and activity-wise, people who wouldn’t have that sort of outlet, and anyone in any sort of walk of life should support that.”
All proceeds from the talent show will support the St. Ann’s Care Champions program, which provides wellness services, therapy, meals and entertainment to clients who cannot afford to pay.
Advance admission for the Center Stage talent show is $20 for adults, $10 for children and $50 for a family pass.
Tickets at the door are $25 for adults and $15 for children.
Fundraiser brings awareness of center’s mission
Rozanski said that in its three years, the Center Stage fundraiser has been successful in bringing attention to the center’s mission from the various fan bases of its contestants. Last year’s winner, teen singer Erica Lofton, was recently honored by the White House for her non-profit Girls in Action, Inc., which promotes leadership among young women.
She even used half of her prize money to purchase and distribute bracelets that preached non-violence. The other half she donated back to St. Ann’s Center.
This year, Lofton will join McGivern and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel TV critic Joanne Weintraub on the judges’ panel. Former WISN news personality and current Sargento Foods PR manager Portia Young will emcee the show.
Intergenerational talent to perform
“I think we have some amazing talent this year, and people who have been doing stuff for a while … and a really good intergenerational mix, which reflects what we do here,” said Rozanski.
On the young end of the spectrum is 12-year-old Alicia Obiakor, a Shorewood seventh-grader who has been singing since she was 18 months old. There are also 14-year-old pianist Benjamin Nelson, a high school freshman and Chopin Devotee, and 17-year-old Ella Curran, a senior at Shorewood High School who plans to study vocal performance in college.
The Band Hennes is comprised of four sisters from Hubertus who, despite their youth, have a mature dedication to the performing arts. Meguire, 13; Kylee, 11; Olivia, 9; and Taressa have been performing classic rock together for two years at church picnics and other family-friendly gatherings; this will be their first talent show.
Family music is in their blood – their father, Michael, and his siblings performed as the Hennes Band until 2003.
“A lot of the songs that we play my dad’s band played, so we kind of took it and made it our own,” said Meguire, who plays keyboard.
“They were a lot of songs that we heard on the radio and we were like, ‘I think we can do that,’” said KyLee.
So do the girls ever get stage fright in front of those big crowds?
“We’ve gotten accustomed to it,” said KyLee, who plays guitar. “We’re very devoted to (performing).”
That’s not surprising as Meguire and Kylee have impressive theatrical resumes that include performances with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Fireside Theater, Northwestern University Theatre Program and the Lyric Opera in Chicago, and now attend school online to be able to devote more time to performing. Olivia, who plays drums, and Taressa, who plays bass, are students at St. Gabriel School, Hubertus, but hope to follow in their sisters’ footsteps.
The sisters’ goals for this year?
“They want to be good enough to be on ‘Ellen,’” said their mom, Dawn Marie.
Other competitors include Warped Dance Company and LocoMotion Dance Company, organizations that promote dance opportunities for youth. Warped Dance Company includes professional dancers and youth who audition to be part of the troupe, which focuses on concert dance; LocoMotion Dance Company is a nonprofit that offers instruction to local youth in all dance forms, from ballet to hip-hop to African dance.
56-year-old bellydancer to perform
Another dancer in the lineup is 56-year-old bellydancer Dimitra Anderson. The Greek native and former stay-at-homehomeschooling mother of two boys, now in their 20s, Anderson began bellydancing 10 years ago.
“It was something I had wanted to do since I was in my 20s, so I could bellydance for my husband one day – I didn’t have one at the time!” she said. Now her husband, Rick, a retired firefighter and EMT, is her manager, and Anderson has performed at dozens of shows and pageants including Summerfest and State Fair. Formerly a self-described “shy and timid” individual who never wanted to dance at weddings, Anderson has a wardrobe of more than 60 handmade costumes and incorporates fire and swords into her routines.
“Let this be a lesson that it’s never too late to do something that you love,” she said. “I’m almost 56 now, and competing and doing splits and doing cartwheels and all kinds of things.”
Also competing will be The Clarinet and Accordion Guys, featuring Rich Regent on clarinet and John Dudzik on accordion, playing a wide repertoire of music. A capella troupes also make a strong showing in the lineup – the well-known Midwest Vocal Express, an all-male chorus based in Greendale, will perform. The group, who prides themselves on “storytelling through song,” ranked among the best 15 barbershop choruses in the world in last summer’s Barbershop Harmony Society International Competition.
All-female a cappella singers, The Meladies, are excited to compete in their first talent show after forming four years ago on the Marquette University campus. The group began by meeting in dining halls and held their first concert in an academic hall. Now, the 18-member chorus is selling out the Varsity Theater for the annual Christmas concert, just one of three performances they do each year. They recently competed in the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella quarterfinals in Madison and are planning to release their first EP.
The group performs a varied set list, including oldies, R&B, pop and ballads. For their Center Stage performance, member Natasha Mraz said they plan to do a mash-up of some popular tunes by artists including Sam Smith and Justin Bieber.
“The mission for St. Ann’s Center really works perfectly with our values at Marquette University,” she said. “We’re a Jesuit university so we’re all about community service.”