Getting Creative for the Cause | Heroes Highlights

Ready, set, action! This group of OCRA Heroes has taken those words to heart by using their creative talents to make a concrete difference for the ovarian cancer community. In recent months, classical singers Phoebe Haines and Rachel Elezi, playwright/director Peter Schmidt, and gamer John Donzelli all harnessed the power of the digital medium to deliver entertainment with a dual purpose of raising funds for lifesaving research.

Phoebe Haines and Rachel Elezi

Created a Spring Serenade online concert to raise funds and awareness

“We wanted to take this opportunity to give back, and to raise awareness for a cause close to our hearts,” says Phoebe Haines. The British mezzo-soprano, who lives in London, teamed up with Virginia-based soprano Rachel Elezi to put on an online fundraiser for OCRA featuring a selection of opera duets and solo pieces. Their motivation for both the concert and the cause was a beloved American actress who died of ovarian cancer in 1999. “We were inspired by the legacy of the late, great Madeline Kahn, whose performances touched the lives of so many,” Phoebe says. 

Putting on an online concert enabled the two singers to perform together from two different continents, a feat that required them to get innovative and immerse themselves in technology. “Our aim was to make the viewer feel as if we were making music together in the same place,” says Rachel. In order to achieve their goal, these OCRA Heroes learned video editing and other new skills. They also tailored the performance for a digital audience by creating short breaks between the music in which they shared helpful context about their chosen pieces. The online premiere — which was broadcast on YouTube on May 8, 2021, in honor of World Ovarian Cancer Day — drew a global audience that included viewers from the United States, Europe and Asia. And the concert marked just the start for the singers, as Phoebe says they plan to keep up their efforts on behalf of OCRA. “We hope that we can continue to raise awareness for this brilliant charity.” You can see their performance here

Peter Schmidt

Peter Schmidt

Wrote and directed a musical play in honor of his mother, who passed away from ovarian cancer

“The play is loosely based on my own relationship with my mother, Carol Schmidt, who died of ovarian cancer in 2006,” says Peter Schmidt of “Sheep May Safely Graze,” which was performed as an online fundraiser for OCRA earlier this year. Interestingly, when Peter began writing the piece several years ago, he did not have a charity component in mind. He also wasn’t sure how well-received the play would be because of the specificity of the subject matter. “There’s always that feeling that no one will get it if it’s just that specific,” Peter explains. He put the draft away but picked it back up again last year when his wife suggested he return to it. In revisiting the script, Peter realized that he wanted to put on the play, which punctuates realistic scenes with cabaret numbers featuring mother and son. 

 “My mom sang with the Bach Choir of Bethlehem for many years—the title ‘Sheep May Safely Graze’ is the title of a Bach cantata—and I am a singer, too, so it was natural to fit music into the piece,” Peter says. However, he knew a virtual performance that involved so many musical numbers would be more challenging for the actors than a straight play—and that’s when the idea struck him to give them a goal of doing it for charity. This OCRA Hero knew he wanted to raise money for ovarian cancer research in honor of his mother—and he knew he wanted to work with a reputable organization. A quick search led him to OCRA and the fundraiser was broadcast on YouTube as a pre-recorded performance at the end of May. Peter wishes to one day put the play on in an actual theater but no matter whether audiences see it in person or via their computer screens, he hopes that they will come away with more awareness about ovarian cancer. “I’m hopeful they’ll think about it and the specifics of that particular cancer.”

John Donzelli 

John Donzelli Tamborine Panda

Video game streamer with worldwide audience who donated streaming sessions to fundraising for research

“When it comes to ovarian cancer, you don’t see a lot of people running around with teal bands and ribbons,” says John Donzelli, who decided to dye his hair as a way to drum up support for this cause within the gaming community. John, who uses the gamer tag Tamborine Panda, streams video games on the online platform Twitch (and previously Facebook) to an audience that spans the globe. “It’s really a unique experience when I’m streaming a game and someone from Australia comes in, or Japan … you know, Canada or Germany.” Through the years, John has been able to count on this community to pitch in for various charities whenever he has held a fundraiser through his streaming channels. But they completely surpassed his expectations when he chose ovarian cancer research as his cause. Having already dyed his beard pink at the urging of his supporters, he decided to go full technicolor and turned his hair teal to raise funds for OCRA this past February. 

“It’s the most I’ve ever raised as a content creator. The most I’ve ever raised for a charity in my life.”” says John, whose followers donated more than $5,600 in just two weeks. This OCRA Hero lost his mother to ovarian cancer at the end of 2018 and the fundraiser also served as a powerful reminder of just how many people have been impacted by the disease. Longtime followers and new supporters alike reached out to share their own personal connections to the disease. “It was eye opening,” says John. “Unfortunately, it’s such a nefarious reason for people to connect.” But the experience has spurred him to solicit more donations for ovarian cancer research. “If this is going to be the cause that I champion, then, hell yeah! Let’s go!” You can follow him on Twitch here

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