Though he’s reluctant to take credit for any of these things, Reed Sandridge is the subject, star, and co-author of A Year of Giving, Rockville Little Theatre’s entry into the 2012 Capital Fringe Festival. The play is the latest chapter in the remarkable story that began when Sandridge had an unusual response to finding himself unemployed during the worst economic period the country has seen since the Great Depression: He decided to start giving money to strangers, ten dollars a day, and to blog about the experience. He recently took time from his jam-packed schedule to answer a few questions.
Kevin: When were you first approached to turn your story into a stage production?
Reed: Patrick Miller from Rockville Little Theatre reached out to me in August of 2011 about discussing the idea. Frankly I don’t think we got around to sitting down to brainstorm on it until October or November.
How involved have you been in the adaptation of your story into a play?
Well, that depends on how you look at it. I have been involved from the very beginning on the concept and how we wanted the story to be told, but I was not that involved with the writing. I’m credited with being one of the writers and I guess that makes sense since our goal was to keep the voices of the subjects of the play as true to real life as possible. Melanie Papasian undertook the first draft of the play and combed through hundreds of pages of material on the blog looking for compelling stories to share. I got the script in May and have worked with the rest of the team on some of the dialogue and helped give context to some of the events and characters. I’ve done some theatre in the past but I’m no dramaturg.
What do you hope Fringe audiences will take away from A Year of Giving?
A Year of Giving is a story of stories. It touches so many universal themes that I think everyone will identify with at least one of the characters. I tell people all the time that after having embarked on this yearlong journey I believe that almost everyone is inherently good. But all too often today we feel disconnected from some of the fundamental values that create community. I hope that some of the passive thoughts of kindness that we all carry inside us might be unlocked by seeing the show and that people will realize how big a small act of kindness might end up being.
What is your current employment situation?
Thanks for asking. I am happily employed now! I spent 285 days out of work and can tell you that it is a difficult job market out there these days. Giving the $10 away every day, although it may sound counterintuitive, was certainly a factor in me keeping my sanity during those hard times.
What would you do if a stranger offered you $10?
I’m waiting for that to happen…organically that is. Sometimes friends offer me $10 as a joke, but I would love that if on the Worldwide Day of Giving, which is every June 15th, a complete stranger gave me $10! That would be something. As for what I would do with it, I’ll tell you when that day comes.
Tell about your three favorite stories from the project. Who moved you the most and why?
People ask me this all the time and it’s one I struggle with because how do you choose? It’s like asking a parent who his favorite child is! Each experience has been unique in its own way.
One of the most memorable encounters I had was when I met Katy on Day 111. A New Yorker visiting friends in DC, she accepted the money and we sat down to have a cup of coffee and discuss the Year of Giving. At some point in the middle of the conversation she suddenly decided what she was going to do with her $10. She ripped it up right in front of me and sprinkled it in her coffee like sugar. “The money didn’t matter to me,” she said. She believed that by doing anything else with the money—using it to buy something, investing it, passing it on to someone else – gave the $10 a value, when to her the greater value was the overall message of kindness that she took from the project. Whether you agree or disagree with her, it’s an interesting choice.
One of my favorite people that I met through the journey was Anthony on Day 67. Homeless since 2005, his life has had its challenges, including a couple stints in prison. He works for Street Sense, the newspaper that supports those experiencing homelessness. He brightens the day of so many people who walk by his corner. He’s become a good friend over the past two years.
And one person that really touched me was Jen, who I met on Day 362. When I would give away the $10, I would ask people to tell me about themselves and try to find a few interesting tidbits and then share them in my daily blog posts. There was nothing out of the ordinary with Jen’s story until I asked her, “Are you married? Do you have kids?” Her demeanor changed instantly and her lips quivered as she told me that she was a widow. She was so young, no more than 30, I thought. It turns out that her husband, Army 1st Lt. Todd J. Bryant, was killed in Fallujah, Iraq, when an IED hit his Humvee. A graduate of West Point Military Academy, Todd’s death came just 52 days after being deployed or as Jen put it, “55 letters later.” They were married a week before he left for Iraq. Her story really affected me; I think about her and Todd all the time.
She shared with me the moment that she learned the news. “I was teaching at my school,” she began to say, “when I was visited by an Army general and chaplain…”
There were so many people who did thought-provoking things with the money:
Day 8: Kevin told me he was going to give the $10 to someone he felt was truly deserving of the $10. He gave it back to me.
Day 103: Matt took my $10 and added $90 of his own money and sponsored ten kayakers for a fundraiser to save the James River.
Day 109: Alex used my $10 to buy baking supplies to make cookies, which he distributed to people “we don’t often acknowledge – the guys who hand out the Washington Post Express, the people who work at the Metro stations, and the cleaning people and receptionist in my building on K Street.” He gave each person two cookies and said they could have them both or share one with another person.
What is it like to play yourself on stage? Is it more or less challenging than playing others?
Oh man, there are days that I wish I had never agreed to play myself! It’s very weird. We’ve worked hard to make the script reflect my way of speaking and mannerisms, but it’s tough. And the other hard part about playing this role is keeping the focus on the other people we meet through my journey when I have by far the most lines.
The stories of the people Sandridge met in that incredible year hit the stage for the first time last Saturday.
Read our Fringe Preview with Patrick Miller, where you can watch a video from CNN on Reed’s story.
Venue: Goethe Institut – Gallery
Purchase tickets by clicking on the performance you want to see or go to A Year of Giving Capital Fringe show page: