UI Theater Department hosts benefit to aid Japan

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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Colorful paper cranes dangled from the ceiling as disastrous scenes from Japan projected on a stage behind them. A woman stood nearby, playing a somber melody on the violin, before performers took the stage.

More than 60 people attended the "Iowa Love for Japan — Love Through Performance" benefit on Monday in the University of Iowa Theatre Building. The benefit featured 11 performances by musicians, comics, and dancers, and it accepted donations to help aid those in Japan in the aftermath of the disastrous tsunami and earthquake that hit the island nation on March 11.

"There's so much love that can be expressed through the arts," UI junior Jessie Traufler said. "It's such an awesome venue."

For her, the events in Japan hit home. The 22-year-old was born and raised in Japan, and her parents still live there. Though her loved ones are safe, she said, she felt "helpless over here" and wanted to do something to help.

After spending her spring break "reflecting" on the disaster and contemplating her next move, Traufler said, she shared her idea of hosting a benefit with others in the Theater Department. Within days, she had a full team.

"It started off as my project but became something so much bigger," she said.

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Though admission to the event was free, donations were accepted. All donations will go to ShelterBox, an international charity that helps people affected by disasters.

ShelterBox delivers boxes of aid to those in need nationwide. Each box includes a durable tent, a stove top, pots and pans, blankets, and children's toys. One box is made to support one family and costs about $850.

The "Iowa Love for Japan" campaign has received $500 as of Monday, and Traufler said the goal is $5,000. Organizers created a website for online donations, and it will be open until the goal is achieved, she said.

Planning the event was fairly easy, said Kizzy Marco, who graduated from the UI with a theater degree in May 2010. The "spirit, love, and community" in the department made for a smooth show, said Marco, who was the stage director for the benefit.

"Anything a student starts, people [in the department] support," she said.

The benefit wouldn't have been possible without the students, Marco said. Students helped with planning, organizing, and marketing the benefit, she said. And many students also performed.

Performances included juggling, gymnastics, dance, improv, and comedy.

"Everybody is so busy," Marco said. "To just give their time and their energy is incredible."

Kelly Maginnis performed standup comedy for Monday's benefit. And though her set focused on "how ridiculous" her parents and family are, she said she can't imagine going through what those in Japan went through.

The 20-year-old UI theater student said she was "totally on board" with the benefit from the beginning. She said she knew two people who were studying abroad in Japan.

"You can joke, but in the end … things like that can happen," she said.

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