On a weekday at noon, it's lunchtime for the 444 students of Castilleja School. But down in the dance studio, the teenage members of this year's Dance Production Workshop (DPW, for short) sit huddled around their laptops on the hardwood floor, working away, their shoes and backpacks piled beside them. In the center of the studio, cast members from the upcoming show spend precious minutes of their lunch hour going over their moves and sharing tips on dance technique. At the side of the room, another member of DPW stands beside a rack of costumes wielding a hot-glue gun.
They're all preparing for "HumanKIND," a dance show with a purpose and a message.
When the curtains rise on Feb. 6, they will do so on the 11th annual production of Arts with a Heart, a performing-arts program at Castilleja that combines dance and philanthropy. This year's show draws together more than 120 students in grades 6 through 12 from the private, all-girls Palo Alto school, most of whom will appear on stage.
Program founder and faculty member Georgianna Shea oversees the annual production, but Castilleja upper school students enrolled in the DPW elective have a significant share of responsibility for the show. Each of them has a title -- Head of Cast Communciations, Chief Financial Officer, Head of Public Relations, Creative Producer. Between them, they do everything from selecting the music, choreographing dances and running rehearsals to fundraising, promoting the show on social media, managing the website and tracking ticket sales. Once the show is up and running, they coordinate performers and props backstage, work the sound booth and lighting board and call the cues. In short, they're a full-fledged production team.
Lining the dance-studio walls are posters from past seasons of Arts with a Heart. Sweeping a graceful arm through the air, Shea recounts a few of the organizations and causes they've chosen to support in the past: education for young women in the Dominican Republic (The Mariposa DR Foundation), giving thanks to American servicemen and servicewomen abroad (USO), an anti-bullying campaign (No Bully), and environmental awareness (Collective Roots). Last year's Arts with a Heart production, "Girl Power," raised $26,000 for girls in the Dominican Republic through ticket sales and online donations. Each year, the members of DPW review applications from nonprofit organizations and select the recipient for the following year's Arts with a Heart program. In choosing a cause, they girls are doing more than deciding to whom proceeds will be earmarked. They're agreeing to educate themselves about a social issue, to consider how art can address social change and to integrate their findings into the production.
Though Shea has been at the helm of Arts with a Heart from the beginning, she credits Castilleja students for helping launch the program.
"The first year, two students came in and wanted to do something with Eastside Prep School for Save the Children," Shea recalled. "I liked the idea of them having a purpose and not just dancing to dance -- dancing for something bigger than themselves."
In past years, Arts with a Heart has often chosen to contribute to causes far from home. This year, all proceeds from "HumanKIND" will go to a truly homegrown organization: Ada's Cafe, the Palo Alto nonprofit established in 2008 to hire and train people with disabilities in a commercial food-service environment.
Ada's Cafe founder Kathleen Foley-Hughes started out running vocational education programs for students with disabilities at Terman Middle and Gunn High schools, where her son Charlie was a student. Once he graduated, she expanded the program to the larger community, employing adults with disabilities and running Ada's as a catering business because retail rents were prohibitive. Finally last month, Ada's Cafe moved into a dedicated space at the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center. Ada's is open six days a week, serving breakfast, lunch and light dinner. The cafe's mission is to serve high-quality food, to bring people together who may not have the opportunity to connect otherwise and to empower its associates -- as well as the volunteers and customers who interact with them.
"We're part of the Castilleja family," said Foley-Hughes as she sat in the office adjacent to the school's dance studio, watching the girls rehearse. She was referring both to the many students who volunteer at Ada's and to her business' partnership with Castilleja's Center for Awareness, Compassion and Engagement, or ACE Center, which partners with regional nonprofits and community organizations including Ada's.
For the dance-production team at Castilleja, creating a show they know will directly support the work of Ada's Cafe brings meaning to all those working lunches and long weekend rehearsals.
"I've been in the shows for many years, but being behind the scenes you really see how much it takes," sophomore and DPW member Wallis Hess explained. "It's meaningful to know that we're contributing to the community."
Senior Clare Maloney-McCrystle agreed.
"Not only do I love to dance, but I love the idea of using the arts to benefit others," she said.
For the first time this year, members of the show's benefiting organization will actually join the cast on stage. Eleven of Ada's Cafe associates have been attending Saturday rehearsals at Castilleja. Asked whether they were having fun in rehearsals, Ada's co-workers Charlie Hughes and Krissy Ferkol were adamant: "Uh huh!" they cried in unison.
"Do I yell a lot?" asked Shea teasingly. Hughes and Ferkol sat in complete silence for a moment then burst into laughter.
Among the 14 acts that make up "HumanKIND" are "Heroes (we could be)" set to music by Swedish DJ Alesso and "We Are More Alike," which incorporates text from Maya Angelou's poem, "Human Family." Also in the soundtrack is "Human Together," an original song written specifically for the show by Castilleja alumna and USC senior Leila Milkie. The show incorporates a range of dance styles, from ballet and lyrical to hip hop and contemporary, with a little documentary film and singing thrown in for good measure. The show is appropriate for audience members of all ages.
Shea said it's gratifying to see her students dancing alongside adults with disabilities and getting to know them better.
"For me, it's important that they learn something," she said. Foley-Hughes shared the sentiment, noting that for Ada's associates, the exposure to people and situations they might not otherwise experience was invaluable.
To Peter Hughes, director of communications and human resources at Ada's (as well as son of Kathleen and brother of Charlie), the best thing about Arts with a Heart is the way it unites people.
"In a time when community is not always at the forefront of people's minds, it's nice to see everyone come together in this way," he said.
What: "HumanKIND," a production of Arts with a Heart to benefit Ada's Cafe
Where: Castilleja School, 1310 Bryant St., Palo Alto
When: Friday, Feb. 6-Saturday, Feb. 7, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 8, at 2 p.m.