HomeCommunity NewsDavid Laurell: Taletellers Come Together for JAM Creative Fundraiser

David Laurell: Taletellers Come Together for JAM Creative Fundraiser

With the eight candles of Hanukkah having already been gilded with the golden glow of flame to celebrate the Festival of Light, we now have three of the four candles flickering on Advent wreaths as we enter the final days of the Christmas countdown.

On Monday, as we enter the 12 days of Christmas that will run until Epiphany on Jan. 6, we also honor the traditions of a harvest festival held in various parts of West and Southeast Africa with the 57th celebration of Kwanzaa, which begins on Tuesday and runs through New Year’s Day.

While the four weeks of Advent, eight days of Hanukkah, 12 days of Christmas and 57 years of Kwanzaa represent special meanings to their respective observants, last week saw locals of all faiths and cultures come together to be a part of two other numbers that were a part of this season: 10 and 4,000-plus.

The 10 represented the group of nine taletellers and one tune-maker who entertained the full house gathering at the Colony Theatre for JAM Creative’s “Jingle Tales (& Tunes)” fundraiser event with their holiday-inspired stories and music. The 4,000-plus represented the dollar amount that was raised through ticket sales from the event that will benefit the Family Service Agency of Burbank whose mission is to address mental health issues, eliminate violence and suicide, and prevent homelessness.

Prior to the audience’s admittance to last week’s program, Suzanne Weerts, the founder and artistic director of JAM Creative, asked the evening’s 10 performers to join her on stage and share the story of the most special holiday gift each had ever received. While it would be extremely hard to beat the story of receiving a small vile of dirt from every Major League Baseball stadium as being the coolest gift, the acceptance and continual giving of the gift of a family’s handed-down traditions was the most touching one.

Weerts also asked Laurie Bleick, who serves as the executive director of the Family Service Agency of Burbank, to share the story of the gift of service the organization she heads has provided to local residents in crisis over the past 70 years.

Moments later, the audience began to file in for the evening that would include a selection of seasonal favorites and interludes performed by Abbi Berry of the NashBerry Family Band. The evening’s main event saw tales rendered, ranging from the comedic to the poignant, by Carlos Kotkin, Kevin McGeehan, Wendy Hammers, Susanna Curtis, Bella Mahaya Carter, Vickie Wippel, Alexandra Helfrich, Jennifer Hughes, and Burbank Cultural Arts Commission Chairman Eric Conner. Sharing his hysterical story of the unexpected difficulties a member of the Jewish faith encounters when asked to play Santa at a children’s event, Connor said he found himself most flat-footed by not knowing the reindeers’ names. 

Attending the Colony Theatre for JAM Creative’s fundraiser was Wendy Hammers, Susanna Curtis, Bella Mahaya Carter, Vickie Wippel, Suzanne Weerts, Alexandra Helfrich, Jennifer Hughes, Carlos Kotkin, Eric Conner and Kevin McGeehan.

“Let me be clear,” Conner said. “Being asked to play Santa is never a compliment,” he added, while patting his belly.

Over the following two hours the assemblage went from laughing to dabbing tears as Curtis told the tale of a hamster who joined her family for Christmas and eventually became a beloved family member. Hughes detailed a bit of Santa subterfuge she had to employ to ensure the holidays were magical for her children, and McGeehan admitted to once accidentally eating a Christmas ornament.

Helfrich explained the importance of her family’s holiday cookie baking traditions; Carter reminded people to slow down and not overdo it during the holidays; and Wippel took the audience on a journey through a fast-food drive-thru where, years ago, she and her twin sister began a collection of ornaments.

Kotkin revealed how he botched a wrapping job on a valued gift while working in retail, and Hammers equated the hundreds of holiday latkes she makes each year to those who each come into being with their own hot, greasy, messy and yet delicious life lessons to share.

“I love that [our] shows are not only a gift to theatergoers but that they also give us the chance to give a holiday present to Family Service Agency of Burbank,” said Weerts, whose JAM Creative shows have raised more than $39,000 for local charities over the years. “The holidays can be a difficult time for so many people, but to know that FSA is there for children, families, veterans, foster and emancipated youth, domestic violence survivors and anyone in our community facing mental health challenges is a great blessing and makes me and our whole cast so proud to be part of this meaningful and merry way to give back.”

Along with Weerts and her cast, last week’s show was also made possible by the evening’s sponsors, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, Schafer Electric, Ume Federal Credit Union and Chris Rizzotti Real Estate.

Providing the tunes between tales was Abbi Berry, one third of the NashBerry Family Band.
Eric Conner shared insight on the difficulties of playing Santa.
Wendy Hammers said her latkes come with delicious life lessons.
Alexandra Helfrich explained the importance of family traditions.
Kevin McGeehan explained how he accidentally ate an ornament.
Vickie Wippel let people in on her special ornament collection.
Carlos Kotkin revealed how he botched a wrapping job while working at Sears.
Bella Mahaya Carter reminded people to slow down during the holidays.
Jennifer Hughes told of how she had to employ some trickery to ensure her children had magical holidays.
Susanna Curtis revealed how a hamster became a beloved family member.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

First published in the December 23 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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