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By Rachel Rizzuto
UNCSA's annual student-run benefit performance
UNCSA students in Project Love 2011. Photo by Sarah Megyesy, Courtesy Project Love.
Prior to the spring of 2005, Celia Rowlson-Hall was virtually unaware that she possessed three extraordinary abilities: one, that she could fundraise like a champ; two, that she could galvanize an entire student body to altruistic action; and three, that she could inspire her peers to continue on such a worthy quest in her absence.
During her junior year at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem, the dance major learned of a nonprofit committed to helping rape victims that was in need of funding. She immediately saw an opportunity to merge her passion for dance with making a difference.
“I loved the idea that myself and others could act for the good of something,” says Rowlson-Hall, who wanted to channel her creativity into a larger cause. So she created Project Love, an annual performance showcase that would be entirely directed, produced, choreographed, and curated by students. Each year, the money raised would go to a different charity of the students’ choice.
Now in its eighth year, Project Love has become a sweeping campus-wide event. Each January, the curators hold an interest meeting and view submissions in a rehearsal setting. They encourage collaboration and often find themselves recommending that two pieces join forces to create a new, multi-dimensional work. John Bowhers, who was in charge of the project this year, fondly remembers a dance piece from 2011 that featured giant puppets and live musicians.
Bowhers, a scenic design major, got drawn into Project Love when a friend already involved asked him to create posters. “Now I’m designing T-shirts for the show and printing them out of my basement,” he laughs. “I started out making posters and ended up helping run the show from backstage that first year.”
Rowlson-Hall also seems to have benefited from the collaboration factor: A Bessie Award–winning performer who’s danced for both Faye Driscoll and Monica Bill Barnes, she now directs dance films and choreographs for music videos. But it’s probably her time-management skills that contributed most to Project Love’s success—virtually all of her free time was devoted to the project.
Over the years, Project Love has begun to operate like a well-oiled machine. Well, sort of: The show now happens the Monday after the university’s spring break, so that participants are not yet entangled with the rehearsals and projects that inevitably pile up at the end of the semester. Bowhers describes this as “the day of total chaos,” packed with technical rehearsals for each piece leading up to the show that night.
In keeping with Rowlson-Hall’s wishes, the charitable aspect of the show is still its strongest component. This year’s chosen organization, Hydrating Humanity, is based out of South Carolina and journeys to Africa to create safe, working wells for communities with poor drinking water.
Bowhers, who’s been grooming students in various disciplines to take over after he graduates this year, has some big plans for the future of Project Love. “I’d love to expand the show to a two-day performance. That way, we could have one performance exclusively for the Winston-Salem community, and one just for students at UNCSA,” he says. In the past, they’ve had to turn away community members because so many students were in attendance. Bowhers also hopes to initiate a Project Love “aftershow,” a late-night cabaret in a smaller theater that would include some of the more unusual acts that were originally turned away.
Regardless of where Project Love is headed, it seems clear that Rowlson-Hall’s original vision has endured. “I really wanted to put more love into each other and the community and even the world,” she says. “There is nothing better than doing something for the good of the community while simultaneously creating a sense of community.”