A (Not-So) Random Act of Kindness: Sunrise Rotary gives $3,800 to theater charity project


To lift the curtain for young people who might not otherwise be able to attend a theatrical production, J*Company Youth Theater offers a “Random Act of Culture” night. The next one was just guaranteed by the La Jolla Sunrise Rotary Club through a $3,800 donation to the theater company during the Club’s Oct. 27 breakfast meeting.

La Jolla Sunrise Rotary past president Mark Powell handed a check to J*Company artistic director Joey Landwehr to fund an upcoming production for the teen foster students at the San Pasqual Academy in Escondido.

“For every show we do, we have one ‘Random Act of Culture’ night where we bring children from underserved areas of San Diego, military families or families from Rady’s Children’s Hospital and welcome them to the theater free of charge,” Landwehr explained. “We were trying to find a way to reach beyond our walls because theater is life-changing and this is our way of changing our young people. We don’t want boundaries or hurdles to get in the way of that life-changing experience, so we reached out and thanks to generous donations, we were able to start this program and we’re really proud of it.”

Powell said, “Sunrise Rotary Club has essentially adopted the San Pasqual Academy. For years, we’ve donated to the Academy, including a recent gift of 13, $1,000 scholarships. I have personally witnessed how the exposure to youth theater can change a child’s life. Many of these students have never seen a live play, much less a play that was performed by youths or children their own age, so we thought this would be a great opportunity for them.”

Of Landwehr, he added, “You have champions who score the winning touchdown, and then you have the heroes — the rescuers who save lives, like a firefighter who runs into a burning building. I consider Joey to be a hero when it comes to education. He saves these kids’ lives and he gives them an opportunity to be more than they ever thought they could be. He’s a solid, kind person who knows how to engage students in the learning process.”

In 2006, Landwehr joined J*Company, which is housed at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. Since then, he has directed more than 40 musicals and plays and has won some 40 awards for his work with young artists in San Diego. Two years ago, he launched the ‘Random Acts of Culture’ program.

“The donations we receive defer the cost for us to put on the show, because while we don’t pay the (child) actors, we do pay the orchestra, designers and other professionals,” he said. “We have to keep the lights on.”

For a recent production of “Peter Pan,” patients at Rady Children’s Hospital were the guests of honor. “These kids, in particular, had just gotten cochlear implants so they could hear for the first time in their lives. So not only were they hearing for the first time, they were hearing our play. It was so beautiful. I get goosebumps when I think about it,” Landwehr said.

To be an Overture Sponsor — to provide a ‘Random Act of Culture’ night — requires a contribution of $3,600. “We’d like to grow the program in the future, and provide for the cost of transportation. Some of the young people who participate come from remote areas and it’s hard for them to get here,” Landwehr said.

Now, in its 24th season, J*Company accepts 400 young actors each year and hosts four mainstage shows, along with plays for young children (known as the “junior” productions, a la “Aladdin, Jr.”), staged readings and more. This season, J*Company has presented “Once On This Island,” “Annie Warbucks” and Disney’s “Mary Poppins.”

The 2016-2017 season concludes with “The Wiz,” Jan. 13-29 in 2017. The company also presents the RAW series of edgier works for older actors, which has included “RENT” and “Hair.”

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