Published Dec. 13, 2023
BY GRAYDEN MILLER
Members of Monterey Peninsula Musical Theater, a nonprofit program that grants community service hours, have fundraised for orphanages and traveled to Vietnam and Costa Rica, performing for locals abroad and learning about different cultures.
After months of fundraising, MPMT kids spend 10 to 12 days immersing themselves in local culture while performing four to five times during the course of the trip. Dancing their way through service projects and enjoying the fruits of their labor, the participants contribute to communities while honing performing skills and gaining a new perspective.
“We’re bringing something to the country,” notes Kieri Coombs, the musical theater dance instructor at The Dance Center. “We’re not just showing up to be tourists. We’re showing up to offer ourselves.”
While they might be traveling and performing 20 shows annually on top of a handful of holiday shows, MPMT hasn’t always been so expansive. Coombs explains that the program started with local shows in 2019. After a COVID-19 fueled hiatus in 2020, the following year the team successfully auditioned to perform a set at Disneyland, which they’ve been doing ever since. In 2022, the drama group made the leap to global travel and took a trip to Costa Rica.
Bella Taylor-Shaw, another active member in MPMT, explains one of her favorite memories from the trip to Costa Rica where they painted and cleaned up at an orphanage.
“Getting to hang out with the kids at the orphanage and play with them was so much fun,” notes Taylor-Shaw. “Watching their faces light up and smile when we were performing was so beautiful.”
In Vietnam, the musical theater group performed for an orphanage with plans to teach dance lessons, but ultimately ended up in a tango of showing-and-telling dance moves due to the language barrier.
In order to pay for their summer trip in June, which can cost north of $90,000, or $3,000 each for 30 kids, MPMT fundraises in two ways: their Dance-a-Thon and their spring dessert auction, where volunteer services, such as lawn mowing or car washing, are auctioned off.
The team most recently fundraised through their annual Dance-a-Thon on Nov. 11, where they danced for 24 hours straight, from 10 a.m. to 10 a.m., and sponsors donated a certain amount for every hour they danced. A 10-minute break is granted each hour for bathroom breaks, food and water.
Richard Spencer, vice president of MPMT, recounts the Dance-a-Thon as one of his favorite memories as a member of the group.
“Since we were up dancing all night, everyone was helping each other making sure they were able to make it through,” says Spencer. “MT is such a supportive community.”
But among all else, the most impressive part about the group is their sense of family. Coombs explains that while some are members of the group because they yearn for Hollywood, most join because of the community.
Tristen Harris, vocal director of the group, explains that musical theater was a chance for her to find people when she first moved to Carmel.
“When I first moved here I didn’t necessarily have a place to fit in,” says Harris. “That was until I met Kieri Coombs…. I am in MT not for my own personal benefit, but because I love both the people and the experience I get to keep and hold for years to come.”
Coombs adds that musical theater teaches skills beyond the stage.
“The performing arts is a place where people can learn life,” says the longtime musical theater director. “It’s not an individual endeavor. It’s working with a team, putting yourself out there, being brave, trying new things, setting goals.”