The Louisville-based nonprofit organization Kids Acting Against Cancer has come a long way since two girls, Whitten and Jaclyn Montgomery, put on shows in their basement to raise money for cancer research. They started taking acting classes when their mother was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and their first show was “Annie.”
“They would sing over the original soundtrack,” says former classmate and now-artistic director Remy Sisk. “It was very rag-tag, a fun way to raise awareness among their peer group. The first show raised $200. Since then we’ve definitely grown. We’re not doing shows in basements anymore.”
And they’re not kids anymore – Sisk and co-founder Whitten Montgomery, now the development director, have finished college, and the company has started holding open auditions instead of casting shows from a pool of friends. Incorporated ten years ago, the performing arts organization now stages three theatrical productions a year to raise money for cancer-related charities.
The group has raised more than $300,000 for pediatric cancer research and treatment so far, and they’ll formally change the name to Acting Against Cancer this year.
“We hope to have programs in schools around the country. We have a few developing ideas in Nashville an Indianapolis to have off-shoots called Kids Acting Against Cancer in schools. We will pay for the rights for them to do shows, and they will give us their ticket sales, which we would then donate to the organization we happen to be supporting at the time,” says Sisk.
“Kids Acting Against Cancer will still exist in some form, just probably not with us doing these very R-rated shows like ‘Spring Awakening’,” Sisk adds with a laugh.
The company started branching out from light-hearted musicals to tackle more mature work. Their new production of the eight-time Tony Award-winning “Spring Awakening,” a risqué coming-of-age musical drama with significant adult themes and sexual situations, opens Friday.
Growing up often comes with growing pains, and Sisk says the company’s forays into mature roles in acclaimed non-musical plays took some figuring out, and the 2013 season had ups and downs as a result. Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” was “our most successful show ever,” says Sisk, but productions of Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning dark comedy “God of Carnage” and David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Rabbit Hole” didn’t quite pull in the crowds.
Fine for artistic satisfaction, but not so great for a fundraising mission.
“We had attendance, there was never an empty auditorium, but there was nothing like our past success,” says Sisk. “So with ‘Spring Awakening,’ we thought, let’s get back to our musical roots. What can we do that will really get us noticed? Because right now we really want people to learn about who we are.”
Proceeds from this production will benefit the pediatric oncology care center at Kosair Children’s Hospital.
“We’re going to really have specific goals as to what our money is going toward. Instead of writing a check and saying do with it what you like, we’re going to actually work with the hospital to buy things that improve quality of life for inpatient care,” says Sisk.
“Spring Awakening” runs January 17-26 in the MeX Theatre at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The organization advises audience discretion; the show contains sexual situations and adult themes.