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The Ghosts All Around Roosevelt Island

Hidden in an alleyway right across the street from The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, it’s a place you wouldn’t notice at first. However, it is valued and treasured by the local residents and is one of the hidden gems on Roosevelt Island. The place I’m talking about is my community theater, known as Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance (MSTDA), a hidden gem on Roosevelt Island. The pandemic hit New York City badly in 2019 and 2020, but MSTDA managed to enrich local residents’ life and continued to bring joy through songs and performances. The theater was able to bring a community together when it was tough and helped bring something colorful to the pandemic. One of the shows that we performed during the pandemic was Ghosts All Around You.

Kimbirdlee Fadner is a NYC-based actor, producer, arts administrator, director, voice coach, and community builder. She is also an artist of Asian descent and a mom of two boys. She was my director for two shows, Beauty and the Beast and Wind in the Willows. When looking through the rules for the New York Times Profile Contest, I thought that Kimbirdlee was the best person to interview. She has helped out the community a lot through musical theater and MSTDA.

The Ghosts All Around Roosevelt Island

By Louise Wang

What do you get when you bring together Charles Dickens, Nellie Bly, a single mother and her children living on Roosevelt Island, and a modern-day Christmas Carol? You get the brand new musical, The Ghosts All Around You, also known as GHOSTS.

GHOSTS is an interracial and multi-generational musical produced by Kimbirdlee Fadner and her husband, Jonathan Fadner.

Every year since her husband William died, the struggling yet optimistic single mother Cheryl Makepeace reads “A Christmas Carol” to her three young children, hoping to teach her kids goodwill and kindness. When situations get tough for Cheryl and her family, four ghosts bond together to help her. In GHOSTS, Ms. Fadner performed as Cheryl Makepeace and Charles Dickens.

Q.-Why did you decide to write a holiday musical that revolved around Roosevelt Island and Charles Dickens?

A.- I believe that it is important to honor the past while forging a new path into the future. I was aware that while Charles Dickens holds the torch for the all-time holiday classic, his visit to Roosevelt Island made that connection make sense. Roosevelt Island has a rich, though sometimes grim, a history that truly evokes spirits of the past and sparks the imagination. The conversation about making a modern Christmas Carol began 3 years ago. I envisioned a new holiday musical tradition for a new era.

Above all the lore was the desire to spotlight the present day. We did that by creating a fictional family based on reality – a single mom who is a woman of color, raising her three children and grappling with modern-day challenges, who, perhaps with the help of ghosts, perseveres with strength, love, and faith.

Q.-What did you want to accomplish from The Ghosts All Around You?

A.- I want to create great roles for historically underrepresented actors. Being a woman of color in a caucasian male-dominated industry has taught me a lot about how the theater world can be a place of equity and diversity, and the world is ready for this evolution in the arts. It is, in fact, happening now and that is very exciting.

I also wanted to tell a meaningful story that becomes far-reaching and will become a beloved holiday tradition and a historical marker for theater over time. So many historical gems are coming from Roosevelt Island, and the way the island evolved over the years is fascinating. It is a microcosm of our society and the perfect setting for GHOSTS. 

Lastly, I simply wanted to have fun writing and performing something that totally rocks, makes people laugh, cry, and connect with one another in a meaningful and memorable way!

Q.- Because this show was written and performed during the pandemic, were there any hardships you had to overcome?

A.- There was a myriad of new and ever-changing challenges to make the musical reality. I am so proud of everyone’s incredible dedication and passion that overcame the hardships we faced! The real question is how we were able to actually perform the piece in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic. But we persevered through the shutdown and continued to create and push the piece forward by being inventive, flexible, and very careful to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Furthermore, all the Covid safety protocols took time and money from our already thin budget. We were thankfully awarded the New York State Council grants on the Arts and The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, specifically from the office of Ben Kallos, in both 2020 and 2021, specifically to support The Ghosts All Around You, which was a huge blessing.

Q.- What is special about GHOSTS?

A.- The outstanding element of GHOSTS is the story. The musical is set on Roosevelt Island, featuring landmarks like the Smallpox Hospital and The Octagon. In the end, circumstances arise to reveal inequalities and painful pasts, which lead to self-examination, redemption, and valuable life lessons, as the ghosts of the past try to breakthrough, and a memorable story is told and sung.

On a personal note, the most special thing for me is performing with my family, my own kids, and my theater family. The GHOSTS “family” is a beautiful mixture of my actual family, students, colleagues, mentors, and best friends.

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