Volume I, Issue 5: April 2009

Setting the stage for hope

by Kathryn Bold, University Communications

Michelle Spooner
Daniel A. Anderson / University Communications
Behind the scenes of "Greek Songfest," students like Michelle Spooner work hard to support young adult cancer patients.

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Kerrin Piche Serna / University Communications
VIDEO: "Greek Songfest" gives students a chance to shine in a Broadway-style revue.

In the lounge of a UC Irvine Greek house, a dozen students from Alpha Phi and Sigma Phi Epsilon practice a number from "A Chorus Line," gamely trying to stay in step, sing in harmony and avoid bumping into the furniture.

For months, they've been rehearsing for "Greek Songfest," a Broadway-style revue starring more than 150 students from 18 fraternities and sororities, which plays at the Bren Events Center 7 p.m. Friday, April 24. A 30-year campus tradition, Songfest has evolved into a major musical production and one of UCI's largest student-run philanthropies.

Previously, Songfest has supported local retirement homes, homeless shelters and an African village. This year, they're raising funds for UC Irvine Medical Center's Young Adult Cancer Program (see related story and video).

"We're bringing the two campuses together," says Michelle Spooner, executive producer of Songfest. "We like the idea of giving back to our UCI community and our own age group."

The students have worked all year on behalf of young cancer patients. They partnered with UCI Athletics to sell "'Eater Nation" T-shirts at sporting events; they've held "Change for Change" coin drives during game breaks, hosted blood drives and volunteered at the cancer center. They recently organized Young Adult Cancer Awareness Week.

"Even more important than the money they're raising is the awareness," says Dr. Leonard Sender, director of the Young Adult Cancer Program. "UCI students are drawing attention to a neglected, underserved group, and they can relate because they're the same age."

Spooner says, "Our age group represents a relatively small percentage of cancer patients, so we're often overlooked. Dr. Sender wants them to get attention, and we want to help."

Spooner oversees every aspect of Songfest to make sure it meets the $25,000 fundraising goal (last year it netted $15,000). She's got a packed schedule of meetings, rehearsals and donor outreach efforts.

"This," she says, tapping a thick binder of Songfest paperwork, "is my life. I want us to uphold our promise to the medical center."

To save money on the production, students do it all — procuring props, making and buying costumes (usually thrift-store finds), and building sets.

The show gives students — some of them drama majors — a chance to perform. It also exposes prospective students to Greek life, encourages alumni to return to campus, and connects campus and community, says Rameen Talesh '89, associate dean of students and a current show judge who performed in Songfest his senior year.

"We did 'Les Misérables,' and it was one of the highlights of my university experience," he says. "We raised money for an Irvine retirement home and brought a lot of the residents to see the show."

For Spooner, working behind the scenes has proven a valuable experience. After she graduates with her bachelor's in psychology and social behavior in June, she hopes to work for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation.

"Songfest opened the door to a career in philanthropy," she says, "and put Greeks in a favorable spotlight. It's a way to represent the Greek community in a positive way — to highlight the good that we do."