Preview: Project Love ATL benefit draws Atlanta’s best talent for a one-night-only show

Rogers, shown with Christian Clark, in Atlanta Ballet's Romeo et Juliette. (Photos by Charlie McCullers)
Rogers, shown with Christian Clark, in Atlanta Ballet's Romeo et Juliette. (Photos by Charlie McCullers)

Project Love ATL returns for its second annual benefit performance Monday night at Park Tavern, gathering together some of Atlanta’s premier dancers, musicians, actors and spoken word artists.

Organized by Atlanta Ballet company dancer Alessa Rogers, Project Love ATL made its debut last October with a wide variety of artists and a silent auction. Last year, the show benefited Partnership Against Domestic Violence. This year’s organization, Lost-n-Found Youth, helps homeless teens with a focus on LGBT kids.

Rogers talked to ArtsATL about the inspiration for the event, the challenges of going from performer to organizer and this year’s mix of talent (whom she refers to as “Lovers”).

ArtsATL: This is the second Project Love show; what sparked the idea to do this?

Alessa Rogers: Project Love was initially created by a couple of students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where I went to high school. The show brought together students of various artistic disciplines in a show to raise money for a local charity. The show was so beautiful and inspiring and a unique testament to the power of art and collaboration, that I knew one day I would put on a Project Love on a larger scale, using professional artists. It took me 10 years to get to the place in my life where I felt, “Yes, I am ready to do this now.” I needed to have arrived at the place I am professionally, and to have carved out a career of my own before I was able to have the credibility to produce a show. Last year Project Love ATL raised more than our goal. Between that success — and the many performers and audience members asking when the next Project Love would be — it was a clear indication that Project Love had hit upon something good and needed to continue.

Rogers is in her eighth season as an Atlanta Ballet company dancer.
Rogers is in her eighth season as an Atlanta Ballet company dancer.

ArtsATL: What are you most excited about in this year’s show?

Rogers: Every one of the Lovers is an outstanding talent in their field, and I am grateful and humbled to be working with each of them. I am excited that this year there is more collaboration amongst different artistic mediums. When I invite an artist, I tell them they can do whatever it is that they feel compelled to do as long as it is under eight minutes long and not derogatory, and that they may invite friends of theirs to join if they desire. Many people took me up on this “bring a friend” offer. Therefore, there is a world premiere being created between Atlanta Ballet’s Kiara Felder and Staibdance’s Emma Lalor. Fly on a Wall dance collective is doing an excerpt from a show with Dad’s Garage improv troupe. SO13 consists of a phenomenal soprano from The Atlanta Opera being accompanied by a jazz pianist while a visual artist paints in response and we’re throwing Devon Joslin into the mix to do some improv dance moves with them for good measure. Collaboration! Melding of the art forms! I love it. We are greater than the sum of our arts.

ArtsATL: This year’s show benefits Lost-n-Found Youth. What attracted you to that organization?

Rogers: I heard about the organization around the time I was putting on the first Project Love last October, and I knew immediately that it would be the beneficiary of Project Love 2016.  I have so many LGBT friends but I hadn’t realized what a big issue homelessness is to LGBT youth. The statistics are staggering — 25 percent of LGBT kids are kicked out of their homes by their own families when they come out (and many studies cite it even higher). A third of them experience physical assault from a family member as a result. It’s mind-boggling. To think of how hard it is to be a teenager in the best of circumstances — trying to fit in at school, hoping someone asks you to prom, wondering about your future career — they shouldn’t also have to worry about where they are going to sleep at night because their families rejected them. Also, it is a cause that is very relevant to Atlanta as the big, comparatively liberal city in the Southeast; many LGBT teenagers and young adults flock here when they have nowhere else to go. Lost-n-Found helps these people, and any homeless youth. They help a lot of straight homeless kids as well.

ArtsATL: You have an eclectic mix of creatives, from actors to poets to musicians to dancers. How have you gone about recruiting people to donate their time to the show?

Rogers: Part of the reason I felt ready to make this show happen last year was that my social circle had grown in 10 years as a professional dancer to include a lot of other professional artists as well. I started there, asking fellow dancers and orchestra members I knew, opera singers I’d done gigs with, that sort of thing. The other half of the performers I didn’t know at all. Those were the people I’d seen in shows and thought were fabulous, or read about, or knew their reputation by awards and word of mouth. I started sending emails and Facebook messages to artists in Atlanta, and got resoundingly positive responses back. Artists are hungry to give back and to be able to use their talents to do so. I even had many Lovers last year thank me for letting them be in the show. I was like, “No, no this is backwards; I’m supposed to be thanking you!”

ArtsATL: With Project Love, you go from performer to producer. What was the biggest challenge for you in organizing a production as opposed to appearing in one?

Rogers: Working with people that I don’t know — it requires a pretty hefty dose of faith and trust. In ballet, I am generally focused only on myself and my form. Even when I dance with others, they are people I have been dancing with a long time and I know them so well and so intimately that I trust them implicitly to do their jobs. Last year, I didn’t even meet one of the performers until about 45 minutes after the show started.

I actually find that producing Project Love takes as much or more creativity than dancing does. In ballet, we make shapes and movement that other people tell us to do. Putting on Project Love requires me to make a ton of decisions on my own — from tiny things like font on the fliers to big things like programming and wrangling people. Being on the computer a lot is hard — I like to move around and spending hours sending emails is difficult for me. Also having to be annoying — like asking people for their head shots over and over again, and shamelessly self-promoting — is something I don’t particularly love doing.

A lot of people ask me how I have the time to do this. If you care about something enough and you know why you are doing it and you are sufficiently motivated you find the time. I don’t go home at night and watch Stranger Things. Instead, I make this happen. This is my stranger thing.

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