Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Realities of Annie

 By:  Shannon Ivey

Last night was “Foster and Adoption Awareness Night” at ThePlayhouse’s production of Annie in downtown San Antonio, Texas.  The house was filled with foster children and foster families, as well as child advocates from The Department of Family ProtectiveServices (DFPS), The Legacy Ranch, and Adoption Angels.  It is an understatement to say that Annie was viewed from a far deeper perspective than that of a typical audience member getting their fill of seasonal theatre fluff.

Annie is a musical based upon the popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie, with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan.  The story is set in 1933 New York City and centers around an infectiously optimistic orphan named ‘Annie’ – played by powerhouse belter, Marissa Ramon.   The Playhouse cast does a fantastic job of singing their way through the depression-era woes, with standout performances by: Elise Lopez in the role of the drunk and surly Miss Hannigan; Sara Brookes as the ever-feminine Grace Farrel; and Oliva Silva as the ridiculously cute and lisp-ridden orphan, Molly.
Olivia Silva, 8, playing Molly, right, performs with Tess Acosta, 16, center, and Ava Schweninger, 13, playing Pepper, during a dress rehearsal of Annie at The Playhouse on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012. MICHAEL MILLER / FOR THE EXPRESS-NEWS Photo: Michael Miller, Freelance / © San Antonio Express-News

The New York Times estimates that Annie is produced anywhere from 700-900 times in the United States during any given year, at any given theatre.  This is a show we all know well.  Or, do we?

The inciting incident, or the event that moves the plot forward, is when Annie is pulled from the “Municipal Girls Orphanage” to spend Christmas with billionaire businessman Oliver Warbucks – played by the refreshingly vulnerable, William McCrary.  In today’s world, trying to place children so they do not spend the holidays alone is a very real, very dire problem.  Texas is the second most populated foster-to-adopt system, narrowly following California.  With an estimated 30,000 children from ages 0-17 running through our system each year, safely placing “orphans” in certified foster homes is a REALLY, REALLY BIG problem.

Unlike Annie, most real world orphans get pulled from their biological families because of physical/sexual/emotional abuse, neglect, sex trafficking, their parents are incarcerated, and/or they are born addicted to drugs.  Anyone who has worked within the system for any length of time will tell you that the stories of these brilliant innocents never cease to shock, and never seem end.  That said, and regardless of what heinous event placed the children into the system in the first place - most of them, like Annie, have a deep-seated longing to reunify with their birth parents.   

Oliver Warbucks (who for all intents and purposes is a Foster parent) exposes her to the riches of life and wants nothing more than to give Annie her heart's desire and launches a nation-wide search for Annie’s biological parents.  The foster-to-adopt process is far less glamorous.  The stories vary from case to case, but to provide an example:  Many foster families know the birth parents of their precious kids well, since they have to monitor visits that may or may not happen.  Exposing them to the “riches of life” may include much-needed therapy, access to food, shelter, education, a bed, and most importantly, stability and unconditional, unwavering love.  

After vetting the thousands of vultures claiming to be Annie’s birth parents, only to find that most of them are simply after the $50,000 reward, Annie meets a couple who seem to have concrete evidence of their child’s birthright.  Unfortunately, like Annie, sifting through potential foster families who aren’t after the state-funded stipend (which isn’t much!) is difficult and foster children must often go through several foster families before they land in a “forever home.”  This is a painful, heart breaking, and unavoidable part of these children’s journey.  Thankfully, child advocates like Stacy Palm, Lori Cervantes, and Sondra Ajasin from the Legacy Ranch (who were in the audience) are working tirelessly to minimize this pain and place each and every child they encounter.

In the end, and after a long journey, Annie is “placed.”  She finds that her birth parents died long ago and accepts the adoption proposal from her foster father and re-labels him the now famous, “Daddy Warbucks.”  The "end" for children in care is often just the beginning.  Around a quarter of the children within the system get “adopted out.”  Many of them reunify with their birth parents.  Many of them find their way back into the system.  Many of them drop out of high school.  Many of them will end up in jail.  These are all children with a “Hard Knock Life” who want nothing more than love and for the “Sun to Come Out Tomorrow.” 

Ramon and McCrary play Annie and Daddy Warbucks. 

Stacy Palm, Compliance Business Manager, Family Link/Legacy Ranch, said after last night’s performance, “I am really fond of this tale, as it gives children in care a "princess" of their own.  Children in care do feel as though they are alone in the world and it's important for them to have someone they can relate to. Every day I see miracles occur when we place kids, who have been through worse than I can imagine, into loving homes that focus on helping to heal that child.  These kids need someone to love them, to believe in them, and to show them a better life.  We get calls every day asking if we have a home for every race, gender, and sibling group size.  We do not have enough homes to place all these kids.  Consider opening your heart and home.  I always hear from people, "Oh, but it would hurt me too bad if the foster children have to leave."  Well ask yourself, how hurt do you think that child is every day that they don't have a home?”  

The ONLY way the sun will ever come out for these children is for the adults of our world to be brave enough to look this problem dead in the face, courageous enough to get involved, and vulnerable enough to be loved by a broken child. 


Ah, yes!!  That’s the part that sneaks up on you. . .the love.  I promise, the minute that  you allow these children to enter into your life to flourish, to shine, and to grow – their love is so overwhelming that you too will be singing, “I don’t need anything but you!”   

Please consider supporting this ageless tale in its final weekend of performances.  For more information, please visit:  http://www.theplayhousesa.org/  

**Special thanks to The Playhouse for donating 150 tickets to the foster children and their families from The Legacy Ranch.  The Department of Family Protective Services.  The Adoption Angels.  Texas Lutheran University.  The cast and crew.  And most of all,  the audience who was committed to Theatre for Social Change!  May this be the only one of many poignant and inspiring events in the San Antonio Theatre Community!***

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