Column: Troupe shows up even when audience doesn't

By SCOTT SAALMAN

The show must go on — even if the snow must go on.

That was my thinking on the day of the last-scheduled “Will Read (and sing) For Food” Community Food Bank benefit performance of 2013, the same early December day that carried with it the ominous weight of a winter storm warning.

I knew our show was doomed, its seating section destined for single-digit occupancy. By midmorning, the county was abuzz with talk about the impending new Ice Age. Grocery stores were unusually packed with customers experiencing Donner Party anxiety. Traffic was terribly tight and slow-paced, as if molasses instead of beet juice and salt brine had been used to pre-treat the anticipated ice-sheeted streets. A co-worker canceled a lunch meeting by emailing: “With the impending ”˜snow storm of the century’ on its way ;-) I cannot come to lunch today.” She sent this at 9:12 a.m., 12 hours ahead of predicted precipitation. All high school sports and other community events were canceled — all, that is, but WRFF.

Abbie Rumbach, our show’s funny girl, called me midafternoon.

“So, what are you going to do?” (Interpretation: “Surely you are going to cancel the show.”)

“The show must go on,” I said.

“No one will be there.” (Interpretation: “Including me.”)

“Sure they will.”

“No, they won’t.” (Interpretation: “You are an @&%.”)

“Yes, they will.”

You would think we were married.

She said, “My grandma, your mom and your dad will be there, but that’s it.” (Interpretation: “If you don’t cancel, I will read my essay about ”˜sharting’ just to make you uncomfortable.”)

“Three people! — sounds like an audience to me.”

I’m stubborn that way. After all, I scheduled the date first (Vincennes University Jasper Campus was the venue), months before Mother Nature was even thinking about what wrath she would be bringing Dec. 5. Weather, be damned — the food bank needs our support.

We typically draw decent-size audiences, half newcomers, half returnees. The good news: Hundreds have seen WRFF. The bad news: Thousands have not.

I admit that many who haven’t seen our show misunderstand what we’re about. The word “read” in our name is scary. I imagine them thinking, “They read? Forget that. More like ”˜Will Yawn For Food.’ Let’s stay home and watch ”˜Duck Dynasty.’”

In a nutshell, WRFF is a mixture of comedy and live music.

As expected, the size of our audience at our final show of the year registered an all-time low. Mother Nature kicked our butts. She has better PR than us — at least when people hear “winter storm warning” they know what to expect. The 11 musical servants and court jesters who volunteered their talents to perform this particular show almost exceeded how many came to see us — had Buddy and Billie Hart been able to join that night, we would have outnumbered the audience. Never passing up a chance to tell me “I told you so,” Abbie told me, “I told you so.”

It was OK to end our already stellar year on a less-than-stellar note. With 17 performances, 2013 was a good year for WRFF. Since October 2011, WRFF has generated $16,721 for area causes through the generosity of our very giving audiences.

In 2013, besides Community Food Bank, we did benefits for Crisis Connection, Friends of the Dubois Library, the Paul Michael Ash Endowment for Music and Arts, Friends of the Ferdinand Library, Tri-Cap, Tell City Catholic Charities, Shared Abundance food pantry and Anderson Woods.

No two shows are the same. We continually change content to keep things fresh. I never tire of listening to Abbie, Billie, Buddy, Ed Walston, Kris Lasher, Marc Steczyk and Kasha Schwartz Phillips do that thing they do.

We had great guest performers in 2013 who also donated their time: The Troubadours of Divine Bliss, The Sisters of Second Avenue, Margaret McMullan, Kathy Herndon, Jasmine Ruckriegel, Stan Levco, Marty Vaught, Jason Recker, Greg Eckerle, Rob Zaricki, Dr. Richard Moss, Bethany Boeglin, Danielle Lee, Hayley Beth Payne, Jim Showalter, Kathy Tretter, Eddie Rasche, Michael Cummings, Logan Ziegler, Aaron Ziegler, Alexa Wollenman, Darlene Kiesling, Bryan and Jaime Bolin, Travis McQueen, Phil Ohanian and Paul Vance.

My earliest inspiration for WRFF was the late, great Harry Chapin, who founded WhyHunger, an organization that champions innovative, community-based solutions to hunger and poverty. Not only did Harry encourage fans to bring canned goods to his shows, he also donated a healthy portion of his proceeds to help fight hunger. A concert clip on YouTube shows Bruce Springsteen recalling what Harry once told him, “I play one night for me and one night for the other guy.” Harry’s musician daughter, Jen, has maintained a lifelong involvement with WhyHunger and serves as my touchstone in our WRFF efforts.

Yes, despite the ice and snow that was about to bear down on us, our final WRFF of the year took place. Just before we started, I turned my back to the dozen spectators and told the WRFF players, “Let’s give them one helluva show” — which was unnecessary to say since that’s what they always do.

The awesome audience donated $100 and canned goods for Community Food Bank — that’s what it’s all about. Later on, Mother Nature did follow through with her fury.  

On behalf of WRFF, thank you for continuing to help us help others in our communities. Let’s do it again this year, starting Jan. 23, once again at VUJC where I vow to fill all the seats this time. The show must go on.




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