Every year for the past 40 years, the Group Repertory Theater Company has put on a holiday party for foster children housed in group homes. The young people, escorted by their counselors, come to theatre for lunch, games, entertainment and a gift for each of them delivered by Santa. It’s a full day at the holiday decorated Lonny Chapman Theatre in NoHo, with spirited members and friends of the theatre company serving as elf hosts throughout the day.
We chatted with GRT company founding member actress/producer Janet Wood, who chairs the committee that puts on the annual Kids Holiday Party. Ms. Wood has been part of the event from its beginnings. We wanted to know about how the tradition of the party came about. In addition, we were wondering how they went about putting on a holiday party for the kids this year.
How did the Group Rep Theatre Company get involved in having holiday parties for kids in need?
We started out about 40 years ago. It was the brainchild of Lynn Rosen (Bright), a former member, and in those days 5 or 10 of us went to the foster facilities and brought gifts and entertained. We did games with the kids and they just loved it and clamored for more.
How long have you been a member of the Group Rep? What made you want to take on the role of chairing the annual event?
I am one of the Founding Members of the theater, one of 11 or 12 actors who came together to do theater and invite audiences to a little 34 seat theater over on Van Ness Blvd. When Lonny Chapman came in and became our Artistic Director, everything exploded. We did the play “La Ronde” and were an instant hit in town. I gradually took on the role of chairing the event every year. When Lynn left, Irene Chapman and I took over and produced the holiday show event for about 20 years. Then when Irene left, I took over the whole thing. But it does take a village. So many members and friends of the theatre company are involved in making it happen.
What usually happens at the annual Kids Holiday Party? What do the kids experience and enjoy?
The theater is decorated from top to bottom. The Group Rep members dressed in holiday attire serve as hosts for the day. The kids play games, see a magic show and entertainers perform. Lunch for 100 people is served, followed by holiday songs, and a play written especially for them. At the end, Santa comes out and gives each child a gift from Santa.
How did the party plans change due to the pandemic? What, if anything, was put together to make a celebration for the kids this holiday season?
I was very conscious of the fact that we could not have the party and was worried that the kids would feel we forgot them. And so, I decided to create a virtual party and send it to them! The one-hour virtual show “CELEBRATION!” included a Group Rep member Zoom audience wall, a magician, singers, jokesters, and a violinist. We ended the show with the finale of the previously recorded “A CAROL CHRISTMAS” (GRT’s Ovation nominated original musical written by Bruce Kimmel and Doug Haverty). All the hours of recording were brought together by the amazing editing of Doug Engalla, with graphics by our Artistic Director Doug Haverty. It was indeed a labor of love.
Dr. Jay Silverman & Janet Wood Kids Holiday Party 2020
Is there anything you wish I had asked about or would want a reader to know about the annual Kids Holiday Party?
When we started out, GRT members would donate a gift to give to the kids. As the years went by and the need grew, I decided to raise money for decorations, rentals, lunch, prizes, etc., including a gift for each child. That has continued to this day. Many people donate, including the Rotary Club. Plans are already underway for the 2021 annual Kids Holiday Party. If a reader is so inclined, donations would be most appreciated.
For more information about the Group Rep or the annual Kids Holiday Party, please visit thegrouprep.com or leave a message at 818.763.5990.