Just days after returning to his beat as the police department’s community outreach officer, where he gets to know the local homeless population on a personal level, Corporal Jason Farris will step into a different role.
He is one of a number of performers in “Stories of Home,” the June 16 Seven Degrees fundraiser for the Friendship Shelter, which provides area homeless with secure temporary housing while helping them to rebuild their lives and move to self sufficiency.
Farris’s participation dovetails with the shelter’s goal, which is to raise community awareness as much as it does money, according to associate executive director Mark Miller.
The nonprofit debuted Stories of Home last fall with the help of Word Theatre, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to staging performances of actors reading literary works.
While that event was a hit, Friendship Shelter leaders decided to use the do-it-yourself approach so as to mix in more homegrown flavor, which they hope will encourage the local population to embrace their mission. It is “as much about the process as the outcome,” said Miller. “It’s about using a unique, specific and creative tool to talk about an important social issue publicly.”
Except for a recent six-month absence to complete training, Farris has served for several years as the city’s point man on the issue even as the city wrestled to create a temporary overnight shelter after its policies were challenged in court. Farris, who has built bonds and respect among people in a post others might run from, recently earned the American Legion’s recognition as the county’s community service officer of the year, as well as garnering him state-level recognition for the same.
Miller knew Farris through his close work with the Friendship Shelter. The officer readily agreed to join the fundraiser line-up, where he will read a story about 9/11. He’s a veteran of public speaking and practiced at telling stories to his four children.
Farris attended the initial Stories of Home event last November at the request of his oldest daughter, who had studied one of the featured stories. He was entranced by the style and nuance each performer brought to the stories and looks forward to breathing life into the one he’ll read.
Reaching out to another sector of the community, Miller, a former stage actor and director, recruited high school drama students for the show. Earlier, Friendship Shelter residents attended a preview of the high school’s musical at the invitation of theater department director Mark Dressler. When Miller called asking for help, Dressler jumped. “It’s a great way to involve my kids to use their talent for a really worthy cause,” said Dressler, who, in addition to directing some of his students to read a story or two, will also help direct some of the less-experienced performers.
Others also recruited performers. Executive director Dawn Price tapped Rev. B.J. Beu of the Neighborhood Congregational Church for a reading, impressed by his dramatic readings in the pulpit as well as his portrayal of Judas on Palm Sunday.
Another group layering the event with meaning and color, literally and figuratively, is the Artists Collective. Currently comprised of four artists, Darryl Gober, Randy Morgan, Cat Saxon, and Terrell Anansi, all former Friendship Shelter residents, the group meets twice a month and is led by Karen Redding, a social worker and psychoanalyst with a practice in Laguna Beach who is also a photographer.
“The Artists Collective is a place where we give support and collectively empower each other as artists,” said Redding, who participates both as a therapist and an artist. From an experimental start a year ago, the group’s members have developed caring bonds that foment inspiration and collaboration.
The artists, included Redding, each created four pieces interpreting “home,” whose images will be projected behind performers as they read. Anansi has also written a story that he will read for the show.
Shelter supporter and local resident Barbara McMurray recruited Linda Gehringer, a television actor and Laguna Beach resident who performs at South Coast Repertory. Proving Miller’s point, Gehringer knew little of Friendship Shelter before agreeing to join the event, but happily donates her time for a cause she now understands and embraces.
The rest of the slated performers include television actor Richard Burgi, of “Desperate Housewives,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “In Her Shoes,” whose sons and their mother are Laguna Beach residents; Jonelle Allen, a Tony Award nominated actor and No Square Theatre’s instructor; Lisa Mansour, a veteran of local “Lagunatics” community theatre; and Melissa Denton, actor and program director for The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company in Los Angeles.
The full slate reflects the resonance of Stories of Home, “pulling together all kinds of professional people from the community to raise funds to help people down on their luck,” said Dressler. “This seems to me to be a truly Laguna thing to do.”
The event begins with cocktails at 6 p.m., performances at 7:30 p.m., and a panel discussion at 8:45 p.m. Tickets are $65 per person. For info call 949-494-6928 or visit http://www.friendshipshelter.org.