Tuesday, March 8, 2011


As you may (or may not) know, tomorrow (Wednesday) is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a time of sacrifice, fasting, and prayer, for many Christian churches, including Roman Catholic churches.  Over the centuries there has been a tradition of a lot of "partying" just before the beginning of Lent, such as Mardis Gras in New Orleans (or Carnivale in Rio).   It's sort of one last fling before the 40 days of abstinence before Easter.

Also as you may (or may not) know, Chicago (my home town) has an enormous Catholic population, because of the large German, Polish, Irish, and Hispanic neighborhoods in the city and its environs.  This has resulted in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago being comprised of  (and this is an exact figure) a GAZILLION Catholic Churches, most of which have a Catholic Elementary School attached. 

Lastly, as you may (or may not) know, most churches of any denomination have one thing in common....they are in debt up to their altar rails!  The debt usually is comprised mostly of large mortgages and other loans which funded the building of the churches, church halls, parking lots, and in the case of most Catholic and many Episcopal and Lutheran churches, elementary or high schools.  Although most of the congregational donations are as generous as the parishioners can manage, the money gathered NEVER equals the money needed.  Until those mortgages and loans are finally paid off, by and large churches are always in financial difficulties.

Thus, churches are always looking for ways to raise money....bake sales, Christmas Bazaars, raffles, Bingo, school fairs, and such abound in church communities to give the parishioners a break from sermons from the pulpit continually asking for money.  At least with a Christmas Bazaar you go home with a crocheted TP cover to make up for your empty pockets!

Somewhere in the early 70s, someone at a Catholic church in a NW suburb of Chicago, came up with the most brilliant (and successful) fundraising activity ever conceived. 

As witnessed by any Karaoke Night in any town across the US, there are an enormous number of people who are talented to varying degrees and are more than willing and eager to share their talents with others.  Some are actually on their way to a professional career as an entertainer and others are just wannabees, but there are lots and lots of them.

OK, you with me so far?

Well, what that church decided to do was, in essence, hold Cabaret shows in the schools, with some of the talented parishioners and sell tickets to raise funds.  Please understand it was much more than just a little church talent show.  Oh my yes, MUCH more!  And the idea was copied, modified, and spread to several other Catholic Churches, where it grew and grew and grew!

By the time Mikey and I became involved in our Church's effort it had grown to a parish-wide activity involving more than 800 people (singers, dancers, comedians, musicians, cooks, bartenders, lighting and sound technicians, seamstresses, parking attendants, coat check staff, waitresses, ticket sellers, crowd control, clean up crews, raffle sellers, and more.  To say nothing of the administrative types who had the ultimate responsibility for oversight and problem-solving.   Yep, it was huge!  It took months to put it all together and there were about a dozen different churches that did it every year for 10-15 YEARS!

At this point I'm sure you have no real idea of what I'm talking about, so I will try to explain clearly enough so that you can understand the scope of what I am talking about.

Our parish called its event, "Festival".  There was an overall chairman found each year (some even did it twice!!) who would contact individuals and coerce....uhhm....convince them to become the "chairman" for a "room".  There were usually anywhere from 5 to 8 people willing to volunteer to chair a room.   Each of those room chairs would put together a group of people made up of singers, dancers, comedians, and musicians, to create and present an original "show" with a theme, songs, multiple costumes, a small set, some sort of a story line (usually).  The resultant 5-8 shows were each assigned a classroom where their show would be presented.

The school at our parish had several classrooms with removable dividers to make some rooms into double classrooms for various and sundry events  This made it easy to create several double rooms where a stage was built, a section designated for a band, a minuscule "backstage" for the performers to enter and exit, and the rest of the space was for seating and was filled with about 50-75 folding chairs.  In addition there was a "holding room/bar" in the room next door, where audience could sit prior to a show and have a drink and some nibblies while waiting.

There were 2 weekends (4 nights) of performances and the school kids took their Spring Break during the week between the 2 weekends.  Because school was closed for the week and all of the desks had been put into storage, each room was able to leave their stage and set-up in place for the week until the 2nd weekend.   Each room's show was unique and changed every year.  The shows generally ran 30-40 minutes and were repeated several times a night. 

The purchase of a ticket would allow entry to the building and the audience member to see ALL of the shows depending on how late they were willing to stay!  On performance nights the doors opened at 7:30 and the shows ran as many times as they had an audience!  They usually did anywhere from 4 to 6 shows a night depending the size of the crowd.

It was a great idea and it worked!  I'll tell you more about it tomorrow!!

♪♪....What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come, hear the music play.....♪


  1. What a great idea! Fortunately, I belong to a church that is withing $45,000 of being mortgage free, so the extra fund raising is usually moot, yet we raise thousands to support missions all over the world. We are a mission oriented church, always have been.
    For years, I belonged to a singing group, not affiliated with any church. We performed all over the state for different functions, and we even had the opening act for the group "Sha-Na-Na" once. We held several cabaret shows over the years to raise money for some charity or another. Some of our members were cancer survivors, so that was a good cause to raise money for. Those shows are a lot of work, especially when there were only 12 of us and some of our spouses doing the planning and production, but we persevered, and were successful, and had a lot of fun doing them. I miss being on the stage. I guess I got bitten by the bug that goes with being in the floodlights and entertaining. I still sing, but with a much quieter crowd.

  2. That sounds like so much fun!

  3. This is my first visit here and am finding your entry profitable...great one for funding raising activities specially for church projects. More of the stories, I'm following you.


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