A young producer speaks about her worthwhile work
At just 23 years old, Tiffany Schleigh has found a job that influences countless lives. She's combined her love of theater with charity and the result is benefitting young people all over the nation. The show she produces, "Cabaret for a Cause," enlists children- singers from Broadway and television, and dancers from the reality show "Dance Moms" - to use their talents to raise money for youth organizations in need of support.
Schleigh is always impressed with the enthusiasm and commitment she sees in her mini performers. "You get in the room with them and ask, 'Do you know what this charity is?' and every single one of them will tell you everything they've learned about it."
Each cabaret show benefits a different charity, with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital as a frequent recipient. Proceeds from their August 11th production will go to Story Shifters, a program that takes theater to public schools for children with disabilities.
How did "Cabaret for a Cause" first come about?
It started about five years ago. My friend was working at a restaurant on 8th Avenue and he was trying to get more people to come in because it was newer. It was called Rachel's, where Patron is now. A couple of my friends had just left Broadway shows and were like, "I'm bored and have nothing to do." So I was like, "Great, let's put on a show at his restaurant." So we would open up all the windows so that people walking by could see it. We did it on a weekly basis for a while. When we realized it was getting so crazy, we had to start charging people and we didn't know what the money should go to. My friend who worked at the restaurant donated to St. Jude every year for his birthday, so we did that. Then, a woman who volunteers for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital came to see one of them because a friend of hers was singing in it. And she was like, "I want to meet with you and do this, but bigger."
How did the children's involvement start?
That happened early last year when a friend of mine wanted to do a fundraiser for her theater company and the play had adults that were playing children. So I thought it would be funny to have children singing adult songs.
There are 38 kids in your next show. How do you get them all to participate?
There's a handful of Broadway kids I use all time and then they all introduce me to each other. And sometimes kids will come to the show and say, "I want to do the next one." As far as the reality TV people, I had spoken to Melissa Ziegler from "Dance Moms" on Twitter, and she was like, "My daughter would love to do this." So Maddie came and did it last year. And then another mom reached out and it became gigantic by accident.
Do you have a funny behind-the-scenes story?
Sophia Gennusa, who is now ten years old, starred as Matilda in "Matilda" on Broadway. After she finished her run in the show, she was doing one of my cabarets and told me she started taking voice lessons after starring in a Broadway show for over a year.
Do you go and see the kids in their Broadway shows?
Two of my cabaret kids are in "Violet," and it's a really beautiful show. "Matilda" is sensational. I've seen all the kids in all their shows.
You also produce "Spotlight on St. Jude." Explain what that is.
That is an annual event I produce with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. It's a cabaret-like event where we have speakers and vocal numbers. We have an entire committee, and Caroline, who is the head of the committee, came to one of my shows and asked me to do it. We've done two shows and raised over $150,000 dollars for the hospital.
You graduated from Marymount. Did you always know you wanted to pursue theater?
I was into theater as a kid and thought I wanted to come to New York and pursue it, but I went on a few auditions and decided it really wasn't for me. I would see the same people at every audition and thought, "I don't really want to do this and wait in line every morning." I didn't really know that I wanted to produce until I started doing these shows all the time. And I said, "Well, I guess I know what I'm doing somehow."
You left Ohio to come here for college. What was that like for you?
My town was really small and conservative. There was not a whole lot to do there. I remember I went home for Christmas after my first semester of college, and I went to my friend's house, and he was like, "Do you want to go hang out at Walmart?" I guess I wanted to go somewhere so completely different than where I was. And I knew I wanted to be involved with theater and this was the place to be for that. It was kind of a culture shock at first because I wasn't used to it and I was terrified of the subway. During my first week of college, I remember telling my mom that I was going to Central Park with my roommates, and she was like, "Oh, don't go there, you'll get mugged." And I said, "It's the middle of the day and I'm with six people." [Laughs]
You just moved from Astoria to Midtown. What are your favorite restaurants in your new neighborhood?
Blossom has the tastiest tofu scramble. I used to work near Thalia and had lunch there almost every day. And I've been going to Hourglass Tavern ever since I moved to New York City. They have the friendliest staff. I had my birthday there once and the owner, Beth, brought us the most delicious chocolate cake in the entire world. She still won't tell us what's in it or where it's from.