A woman in New Orleans says she’s just "paying it forward." The Cedar Rapids theater community will be getting a bit of a financial boost from a cabaret owner in "the Big Easy."
A cabaret club in New York City threw a benefit concert back in September of 2005 and sent the money to employees of the Le Chat Noir cabaret in New Orleans. The club shut down for six weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit. While the facility was dry, New Orleans was a ghost town after residents fled the city.
Barbara Motley, owner and artistic director of the New Orleans night club, says each of her employees got a check from the proceeds of that New York City benefit. "They helped them keep their insurance current or pay a month of rent or, you know, maybe replace some of their belongings. People used it for different things," Motley says. "It was that little bit extra that they needed to say, ‘OK, I can make it back in New Orleans.’"
While the checks to each individual weren’t all that large, Motley says her employees were touched. "That was such a wonderful gesture," she says. "It was such a great hand up."
Motley hopes to raise as much as $7500 on Thursday night and one of the beneficiaries may be "Theatre Cedar Rapids" employees. The 75-year-old landmark in the heart of downtown Cedar Rapids was not expected to flood, so artistic director Leslie Charipar says they did little to prepare. "We lost a lot of lighting and sound equipment. We lost the first six rows of our house. We lost our stage floor," she says. "We lost our entire costume stock and it wrecked all of our dressing rooms."
The fix-up bill for those flood damages is $2 million. Charipar says this Thursday’s New Orleans benefit concert for Cedar Rapids is "probably one of the coolest things" she heard in the wake of the flooding in her city. "There are a lot of great stories that are coming out of a really bad situation," she says, "but the idea that New Orleans which is still recovering from Katrina would be so generous to think of us and to rally to support us — I just think it’s pretty awesome."
The money raised by Thursday’s concert in New Orleans will be placed in a relief fund for Cedar Rapids-area artists and performers. F. John Herbert is executive director of Legion Arts, a nonprofit group in Cedar Rapids that helps put on productions. He’s managing the fundraising and distribution of the money to area artists. Herbert began raising money to help artists flooded out of the New Bohemia neighborhood in Cedar Rapids.
"It’s sometimes a little challenging because sometimes after a disaster like this when many people are really trying to assemble the necessities of food and shelter and health care, sometimes arts can seem like an afterthought," he says, "but in fact I think that, when pressed, people really sort of understand that the arts are what bring a community together and allow it to express its values and its sense of connectedness." Herbert’s working with the Greater Cedar Rapids Foundation to establish an advisory committee that will award grants as the money comes in.
An actor forced from his downtown Cedar Rapids condo by the flooding says the Cedar Rapids theater community is not relying solely on the kindness of others. Just two weeks after the waters receded, Jim Kropa staged a performance of "Moving On" — a musical he wrote about the flood. "We’re not sitting around and waiting to recover. We’re going to go ahead and move forward with making art and doing our thing," he says. "At ‘Theatre Cedar Rapids’ their season for next year had just been announced…They’re going to have to find alternative venues for some of these productions, but the plan is to keep moving."
Le Chat Noir’s Barbara Motley says there is reason for optimism that the arts in Cedar Rapids will be prosper after the flood. Her cabaret had an 18-month-long box-office boom when it reopened after Hurricane Katrina.