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Benefit Turns Spotlight on Domestic Violence

Performance with classical vocalists celebrates anniversary and helps women.

Cody Jones is a survivor — not of breast cancer, but of domestic violence. It was 30 years ago, and she’s doing fine, but she doesn’t want other women to suffer the same pain that she did.

With the warm weather coming and men out drinking, she knows that women will be in trouble.

“In many countries ‘domesticating’ your wife is a way of life. In this country alone 1 in 5 women will seek medical care because of injuries caused by domestic violence inflicted on them by their ‘loved one,’” Jones said.

She also knows that as the artistic director for That’s Entertainment Productions that she can help. So she found a venue and she and the producer, Hugh Staples, put together a show to benefit women.

“That's Entertainment Productions has always felt strongly about using the arts to uplift people and we were guided to the Office on Women: Domestic Violence program. It was our idea to do a benefit concert and this just happened to be the 25th anniversary of the domestic violence program," Staples said.

“We have done programs like this before. In April we presented Poetic Reflections: an evening of spoken word artist to raise awareness of illiteracy in the D.C. metro area. We partnered with the Literacy Councils of Northern Virginia, D.C., and Prince George's County. The show was a packed house and it gave us a chance to distribute materials and ask for volunteers to teach adults to read. We will also be distributing material on the domestic violence program at the concert,” he said.

THE ONLY THING that Jones and Staples didn’t have was a recipient. Jones said that they went through the phone book and called the first place they found — the Office on Women in Alexandria. This agency had just had a meeting the day before trying to plan a 25th anniversary celebration.

“They were looking for something to do — this was meant to be,” Jones said. “Something like this doesn’t happen very often when it all comes together.”

“It’s just synergy,” said Susan Butler, commissioner of the Alexandria Commission for Women and chair of the fundraising arm. “They [That’s Entertainment] are a small company trying to make a name. they are real and credible. It’s a tough time — the grants are drying up and fundraising is front and center. It’s wonderful to have a partner.”

Jones said, “This show is dedicated to all those that are trying to escape, those that have escaped and for all the silent voices that did not escape and encountered death much too early. Feel the love, the dedication, and hear the voice of a 17-year-old girl who confused abuse for love ….. she escaped 30 years ago and feels blessed to be counted among the survivors.

“Enough already! This madness has got to stop. I understand your tears of sadness for the years of degradation you suffered. I feel the pain of your broken bones. I too suffer with you in your lonely isolation from society.”

JONES AND STAPLES decided that they wanted opera and contacted four classical vocalists that they had met some time ago. The four women: Toni Crowder, Lisa McNeil, Eleni Peyser and Winona Stanback, have never performed together as a quartet, but had appeared together in various opera companies.

“The Four Divas: Un Concerto Vittorioso" (A Victory Concert) is an evening of classical vocalists celebrating women’s struggles and triumphs in two acts with a 10-minute intermission.

Toni Crowder is a soprano and her recent performance of Mendelsshon duets with international soprano Lucy Shelton at the Fredericksburg Chamber Festival will soon be heard on National Public Radio’s “Performance Today.”

Another soprano, Lisa Marie McNeil, is a native Washingtonian who studied voice at Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts and music and ballet at the University of Northern Iowa. She has worked with the Washington National Opera Studio, the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the Heritage Signature Chorale.

Eleni Sarris Peyser’s career includes concert appearances in Greece, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and the metropolitan Washington area. Her opera experience include performances as Sylviane; The Merry Widow, Mad Margaret; Ruddigore, Tatiana; Eugene Onegin, Laetitia; The Old Maid and the Thief, Monica; The Medium, and the Mother; Amahl and the Night Visitors. She is also a soprano.

Winona Stanback, lyric soprano, is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in vocal performance. She is a creative and performing arts scholarship recipient and an Ulrich Competition winner.

ROUNDING OUT THE GROUP is Victoria Gau, who will serve as musical conductor for the performance. She is the former conductor and music director of the Richmond Philharmonic Orchestra and is known in the Washington D.C. area for her work as artistic director and music director/conductor of the Other Opera Company in Bethesda, Md., which she co-founded in 1992.

Tondalayo Royster, who will be the Dancer of Hope, began her dance journey at the North East Academy of Dance, in Washington, D.C. Her interest in the dance world includes tap, modern dance, ballet, jazz, and West African dance.

Susan Kidd, co-anchor of News4 at 5 p.m., will serve as the guest host. Jones had met Kidd about 12 years ago and was recently reconnected with her through a mutual friend. Jones thought she would be a good fit so she asked her to host.

“She is an advocate for women’s rights, so she was perfect,” Jones said.

Kidd is also the spokesperson for the station’s “Working 4 Children community outreach projects.” She has won three Emmy awards for special reports on children’s issues, as well as three Emmys for outstanding anchor. Kidd serves on the Board of the Washington Area Women’s foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to expanding resources and opportunities for women and girls in the Washington metropolitan area.

Jones and Staples are expecting a sold-out concert. There are 140 seats at the Lyceum and they are hoping to raise around $2,000 to donate to the domestic violence program.

“I was 17 then, but I’ve grown and am a lot stronger,” Jones said. “Once you’ve gone through something like this and survived, you need to talk about it.”