“There’s Daddy” I overheard the little girl shout as the images of soldiers, airmen, and marines projected on the screen filling the stage during the finale of A Christmas Carol. I knew at that moment that this was an event that will continue for years to come. It was the first year of Geva Theatre Center’s Home for the Holidays event– a special free performance of A Christmas Carol solely for Gold Star Families, Blue Star Families and veterans. That little girl happened to have lost her Daddy just a few months earlier and was attending the play with her mother and her grandmother. To see the pride and strength exhibited by these three ladies created a moment I will never forget and an event Geva will continue far into the future. For those of us sitting around them who knew of their loss, it was impossible to keep the tears at bay.
I had joined the Geva staff little more than a year earlier. As a 10-year military veteran, I recalled how families in Germany and other places I was stationed would open up their homes to service members to thank them during the holiday season. My Geva family felt that we should do something to recognize the sacrifices made not only by the service members but also by the families left behind. Rochester is located close to Fort Drum and many of the reservists based there live and work in Rochester. It was our friends and neighbors being sent off to fight these wars and we knew we had to thank them somehow. The support we received from both the Western New York community and the entire Geva staff to create this free performance was more than we ever anticipated.
(Geva Theatre Center’s Executive Director Tom Parrish giving a pre-curtain speech at the 2013 Home for the Holidays.)
We are now starting our fifth year of Home for the Holidays. It has grown into a Western New York tradition and we see attendees from all over the region. In addition to the free performance, these families are treated to free snacks, beverages and gifts donated by the local community. For the first time this year, our ticket office took phone calls direct from Afghanistan. Two different soldiers, hoping to surprise their families with a holiday visit, called to book their seats to A Christmas Carol and keep their own special home for the holidays a surprise to their loved ones. It was another AHA moment that the ticket office staff shared with joy. On December 27th at 7:30, I will once again be proud to attend this special performance with my wife and daughter.
Kevin Sweeney is the Director of Marketing at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York. He served in the United States Air Force for ten years as an Russian Linguist/Intelligence Analyst with assignments in West Berlin and at the NSA. His passion in the arts was the result of a wonderful teacher in his junior year of High School who took the class to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Charles Street Playhouse in Boston. This ignited a spark that has kept Kevin as an avid theatre patron, actor, director, producer and later marketing specialist for close to four decades. He decided to give up a lucrative career in sales to join the not-for-profit theatre and has never looked back.