By David Dixon
In order to get through the aftermath of tragedy, some people are compelled to share their experience with others. Missy Schaaf, who currently lives in Orange County, is doing just that with “An Evening for Life,” scheduled for June 24 at the Horton Grand Theatre.
A dancer and aerialist, who performed in Las Vegas for over a decade, the San Diego-born Schaaf and her husband suffered a tragic loss last June when she gave birth to a stillborn baby. Unable or unwilling to move on from this tragedy, and following a conversation with her therapist, Schaaf eventually came up with the idea for the event.
“My therapist recommended that I put love somewhere, in order to memorialize and honor my daughter,” she said. “I realized that I could put up a benefit show, since it’s in my wheelhouse.” The sequences in the hopeful show are themed to different subjects such as love, shock, anger, and friendship.
She chose to put on “An Evening for Life” in San Diego, mainly because of her local ties to the city.
Schaaf, the co-director of the project, is collaborating on it with many talented people, including singers, dancers, aerialists, and artists involved with Cirque du Soleil. Given her artistic background and ties to San Diego, it comes as no surprise that she has drawn a variety of talented entertainers from the county and Las Vegas to work with her on this “philanthropic theatrical show.”
Schaaf picked Natalie Walstead as the co-director of the project. The two of them have a long history of working together and have choreographed several dance pieces in Las Vegas and around the world. Since they’ve shared many experiences and success together, Schaaf loves to work with Walstead.
Another San Diego-based artist involved with the project is music director Vanessa Dinning. She became involved after talking to Schaaf’s stepfather, photographer Ken Jacques, who is known for photographing arts events in San Diego.
“Schaaf outlined what she was looking for, including music that requires particular voices, including a male tenor and female vocalists,” she said. “When Schaaf told me what her vision was, and what she needed, it became something enjoyable to put together.”
Proceeds from the event will go to Empty Cradle, a pregnancy and infant loss support, education and remembrance nonprofit organization located in Santee. Empty Cradle helped Schaaf in her time of need, and she contacted its president, Rachel Redhouse, to see if the organization would work with her on “An Evening for Life.” “When Schaaf asked if people from Empty Cradle would like to be involved, and I said absolutely,” Redhouse said. “I’ve been helping a little bit, but Schaaf is the big planner, [and] is doing a great job,” Redhouse said. She is aiding Schaaf by providing some items for the silent auction that will take place before showtime.
Schaaf is happy to be partnering with Empty Cradle. “It is support for women and families who have lost children,” she said. “They are educating the public at large about grief and loss.”
Dinning, Redhouse and Schaaf all feel that the night will be moving and meaningful for a lot of people. “It will be a cathartic and freeing evening,” Dinning said. “I’m in awe of what Schaaf is doing.”
“I think it’s not just going to be an event for people who have experienced a loss,” Redhouse said. “It’s for those who surround those people, like family and friends.”
“It’s going to be a beautiful production,” Schaaf said. “I really hope that people will come and enjoy it, while being surrounded by their community… I hope they help support Empty Cradle and the arts.”
— David Dixon is a freelance film and theater writer. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.