February 2, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 32°F


Theater cabaret raises money for domestic violence victims

The Wheels 4 Women organization hosted its fourth annual cabaret fundraiser Jan. 25 in Ithaca College’s Clark Theatre.

The cabaret featured music and poetry from 15 theater arts majors at the college and raised money through admission, raffle and live auctions. The live auction included a pie baked by Studwell that sold for $30.

Senior Laura Brennan, the leader of the group, said they began preparing at the beginning of the school year, rehearsed once before winter break and once on the day of the performance. She said the cabaret, being exclusive to seniors, was well anticipated by her and her fellow performers for many years.

“We’ve known about this organization for four years, and we have all waited to be a part of this experience, so, to get to perform with my classmates and do it for a really, really great cause is a gift,” Brennan said.

Theater arts associate professor Kathleen Mulligan and her husband, David Studwell, began their journey toward creating Wheels 4 Women in the spring of 2010 while they were in Kerala, India, for Mulligan’s project “Finding Women’s Voices.”

They worked with a shelter for women suffering from domestic violence through the Sakhi for South Asian Women organization. Mulligan said she and Studwell spoke with Beena Sebastian, the director of the shelter, and discovered that the shelter needed vehicles. Studwell said he was quick to agree to their request and, not long after, Wheels 4 Women was created.

Wheels 4 Women raises money to purchase auto-rickshaws, three-wheeled public transportation vehicles, so women can get to the Sakhi shelter easily. In addition to purchasing vehicles, the money is also used to train women to drive the auto-rickshaws, so other women will feel more comfortable than if they were driven by a male.

Senior Maggie Thompson opened the cabaret with a reading of a letter from Bindu, the first woman to drive an auto-rickshaw donated through Wheels 4 Women. Senior Melannie Vasquez accompanied Thompson on the violin.

The others followed by prefacing their performances with an explanation as to why they chose the song or poem. The reasons ranged from having been inspired by another performance of the work to relating the piece to a New Year’s resolution to make choices influenced by love rather than fear.

Brennan sang “Way Back to Paradise” from the musical “Marie Christine.” She said she chose the song because its message relates well to the Wheels 4 Women mission.

“The woman in this musical, who sings this song…does not want to take any more garbage from any other man, and she has no problem saying that,” Brennan said. “I think the straightforwardness of the song is really something special.”

Freshman acting major Steph Seiden said she was inspired and excited by watching the performances, knowing she would one day be at the same level as the seniors. She said performing for a cause is particularly rewarding.

“Specifically for this, when you get to share your talent for something that’s doing good in the world, it’s like there’s nothing better than that,” Seiden said.

As actors, Studwell said he and Mulligan were able to see theater in a different light because of Wheels 4 Women.

“It’s actually made us really see beyond what we’re doing as professional actors and teachers into seeing theater and performing as a way to serve society, serve people, in a different way,” Studwell said.

While the annual cabaret is the organization’s main fundraiser, Studwell said people can also sponsor a Sakhi woman’s training and licensing for driving an auto-rickshaw either online at www.sakhi.org or at a Wheels 4 Women event.

He said Wheels 4 Women is the epitome of support for women.

“People throw around the term ‘empowering women,’ that’s kind of a catchphrase: ‘we want to empower women,’” Studwell said. “But what this does, it actually does empower them, literally by giving them something of vocation. They may not stay as auto-rickshaw drivers, but they may go on from this and go into some other business or learn a business.”


Maura Aleardi can be reached at maleardi@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @maurabugara