Our parish always held Festival the last two weekends before Lent. So Ash Wednesdays always reminds of those Festival Days! Now one small disclaimer, it has been over 20 years since Festival was part of my life, so some of the details may be a little foggy. It's been a long time. Onward, nevertheless, back to our story!
Because our audience came from all over the Chicago area, there were usually about 2,000 people a night! The whole thing was worked out like a science with traffic patterns calculated, and maps and information staff all over. And the audiences loved coming each year and looked forward to seeing their favorite performers from previous years!
In addition to the "small" room shows which were true "Cabaret" shows, the school had a gymnasium (full-size), and that became designated as the "big" room (we were a clever lot ) ;) Several long rows of tables were set up, with tablecloths, candles, and folding chairs. When there was a big crowd (almost every night), that room would hold about 500 people! There were several bars and food stations set up and waitresses would serve all through the show.
Because of its capacity, the big room show would be longer and strove to be more professional with flashy costumes, large scale production numbers and a full orchestra. Those shows were around an hour long. They usually did 4 shows a night, sometimes 5 if it was very crowded. That show usually had little or no storyline, it was more along the lines of a TV variety show (i.e., Carol Burnett, Dean Martin, etc.) Now of course, we didn't have a big name star and about 95% of the performers were amateurs, but there were a few people that were pursuing a professional career. We were all volunteers and were not paid. The only ones who were paid were....you guessed it.... the musicians! (Musicians ALWAYS get paid. They're funny that way; no money, no music!)
There was one more element to the make-up of Festival, a very important element! FOOD!! The Parish Hall was in the school's lower level and that is were the food was prepared and sold. There were usually Italian beef sandwiches, brats and sauerkraut, and one or two other main dishes, beverages, and dessert! The food was sold for multiple purposes....raising more money, encouraging people to stay longer, and to help offset the occasional problem that goes along with selling alcoholic beverages! Even after all the shows were finished for the night, the last of the party animals stayed until the Hall was finally shut down around 2 or 3 in the morning! A lot of that late night crowd was made up of the performers and and others who had spent the night entertaining all the people who came through. It was sort of the party after the party!
Festival was a major factor in my life, and because of Festival I met and sang with lots and lots of very talented people. Most precious and important to me were the two women who joined with me to form a trio (which we called a variety of names over the years). We sang together for over ten years not only at Festival but at other events as well. Singing with them was one of the best gifts in my life. They are among the treasured few great friends I still have. They are still in Chicago, but we are getting together in April for a few days. I can hardly wait! But I digress....
I was part of Festival for almost 10 years, until the parish pastor was transferred and a new pastor brought in. For whatever reason, (I never knew fully what they were) the new pastor didn't like the concept so, he wouldn't allow it to go on. It was heartbreaking to all of us who had spent so much time and effort and enjoyed it so fully. I know though, that things run their course and Festival had a good long run of years and brought a lot of parishioners together in a common activity, perhaps it was time for it to go. The last year for Festival was 1990 or 91 (can't remember for sure).
I have no idea if any of the other churches continue to do so. It is a huge undertaking and requires an enormous amount of effort to do year after year, but Oh, it was Grand! Most everybody who came or participated LOVED it. I miss it to this day!
Oops, just one more little detail I forgot to mention that you might find interesting, the money raised! The money rose each year and in the peak year (1988, I think), the Festival Committee was able to write a check to the parish in the amount of..........(are you ready??)
(wait for it....)
(drum roll, please......)
(what do you guess?........)
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is $93,000 good ole U.S. dollars -- NET not Gross!! After all expenses had been paid. And the other years (after the first 2 years) the net amount was NEVER LESS than $79,000. That kind of helps explain why it went on for so many years!! It's pretty hard to turn down that kind of money!
$93,000....Man, that's a lot of cupcakes and crocheted TP covers, ya know!??!
♪♪...."Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb,
It isn't that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum,
Only a Cabaret, Old Chum,
And I LOVE a Cab-a-ret!" ♪