Brook native lends talents in Katrina recovery

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 22, 2007

New Orleans is surely rising from the ashes of the HurricaneKatrina devastation. But in a large part this is only possiblethrough the help of those who try to find beauty in thoseashes.

One such person is Brookhaven native and Broadway performerRandy Redd, who is helping to spearhead a project called After TheStorm.

After The Storm is a non-profit organization dedicated tohelping children affected by environmental and economic disaster.Under Redd’s guidance, the organization aims to work with childrenaffected by Katrina and to get them involved in musical theaterevents to raise and distribute money within the community.

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“I feel like there are kids that can really use the project tosort of heal their lives. They have so much to say, and no way toget it out, no way to repair their communities,” said Redd, the sonof Gordon Redd and Mary Lu Redd, both of Brookhaven. “We’ve metkids that have had to make all new friends and start all over, andthat’s something they all have in common. We see there is anopportunity for kids to connect in this way.”

Over 80 percent of the children in New Orleans are stilldisplaced, whether it be to different schools or differentcommunities.

The project, which also aims to help them establish newrelationships in the face of what is still such devastation, beginsthis month, with a production of Lynn Ahrens’ and Steven Flaherty’smusical, “Once On This Island.”

“They’re still so devastated and still in shock. Their schoolsare just now coming back. There just seems to be such a need forthe kids to have some sort of stability in their lives,” saidRedd.

Auditions were held the weekend of Jan. 6-7. Producers areaiming for a late February play opening.

Redd said auditions were an exhilarating yet exhaustingprocess.

“We were there for five hours both days with these kids. We feltthat if that was all we did, we’d accomplished something already,we had already brought these kids together,” he said. “We gave thema chance to tell their stories, and it was exhausting for us. Wehad to stop after every kid and regroup, then move on.”

Redd said there was a definite mix of children who attended thetryouts, pointing to a need for hope and stability on everylevel.

“We’re meeting kids from all different walks. The kids who hadit all together are just as torn up as the kids who had nothing,”he said. “So you have the kids at the one end of the hall who camefrom the performing arts school and the kids who just read about itin the paper together.”

There will also be a documentary made based upon the youngactors from New Orleans as they work on the play. The film willthen be used as a tool in conjunction with the play to raise moneyfor the After the Storm Foundation. The film takes something of a”Real World” angle, following the children into their everydaylives.

“They’re filming the kids and literally trying to get as much ofthis down as they can, and it will be put together in the film,which is on the making of this musical. Our days will be spentgetting to know the kids outside of rehearsal and going into theirlives and at night they’ll be going to rehearsal.”

As a Mississippi native, Redd definitely feels a burden toaddress the needs in his own home state as well as those in NewOrleans. He said that New Orleans was a good starting spot becausethere were more resources available, but there are no plans to stopthere.

“One thing that keeps coming up is ‘What about Mississippi?’There’s a little resentment for how much attention New Orleans isgetting when the coast is still destroyed. The idea is that when weget done with this project in New Orleans, the next step is to goon to the next community,” he said. “We’re already talking aboutdoing the musical ‘Big River’ with kids on the Mississippi GulfCoast. We’re looking to support kids everywhere. It’s a foundationfor kids who are affected by any disaster in any community.”