Rarely have I been to a benefit that so perfectly captured the spirit of an organization, stirring the hearts of those in attendance, than the third annual Writers Guild Initiative Gala.
(Yes, I’m biased. The work I do with my colleagues at the WGI is just about the most rewarding work I do all year. That said — if I’d gone to the gala and it hadn’t captured the spirit of what we do all year, you’d just be looking at a page of pictures right now. )
The evening began with remarks by Michael Weller, recalling the history of the group and welcoming everyone to our mission, and Beau Willimon, who spoke movingly of the effect of our workshops. Then, the spotlight quickly shifted to the heart of the WGI – our workshop participants.
Writer and Workshop Mentor Ryan Kelly, along with participants Miyoko Hikiji and Trista Matascastillo, spoke movingly of what the workshops and the WGI meant to them and their fellow veterans. Each shared about the power of finding words, structure and form for their stories and how the simple routine of writing, reading, coaching and discussion has a profound effect on the lives of our attendees and produces some amazing work.
Which then brought us to the work. Producers Richard Dresser and Willie Reale put together a simple, and direct presentation, which allowed the work to speak directly to the audience. Director Jonathan Bernstein brilliantly staged a reading of writing by our participants. The work included stories of enlistment, battle, violence, homecoming, reunion and even the experiences of a service dog. I won’t even try to summarize this work. (You can read some of it here on the site.)
The pieces unflinchingly captured the experiences of our veterans and caregivers. I looked around as the actors performed — even the waiters and staff were riveted.
We were honored and privileged to have Alfre Woodard, Brian Dennehy, Colby Minifie, Heidi Schreck and Ben Shenkman bring those words to life.
The evening concluded with Laura Cantrell performing “Momma’s Tools,” with lyrics written by attendee Linda Szcubelek and music by Rob Reale.
It was an evening of humor, heartbreak, life and death, and gratitude — much like the weekends we spend in our workshops.