Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
After decades of writing for and performing in children’s theaters — and listening to the young actors and audiences — Rich Gray has a strong sense of how kids think.
So when he was asked to write a song thanking front-line workers, to be performed by children connected to youth theaters around the country, including the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Gray knew what he didn’t want.
“I didn’t want it to be a Boy Scout anthem, a ‘Thank you for your service’ song,” said Gray, an actor and composer who lives in Lynnwood. Nor did he want it to be “sappy, like a ‘We are the World’ kind of thing,” he said.
Most important, he wanted to write the song from a child’s point of view of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what is happening around them. He shared the lyrics with a couple of kids and asked, “Does this sound like something you would say?”
“It couldn’t be a song that seemed to be written by an adult from the mouths of kids,” Gray said. “You can tell those songs from a mile away.”
The result is “So Many Heroes,” a song performed by children from 16 youth theaters across the country that was posted on each theater’s Facebook page (and on YouTube) on Friday.
The project was led by Seattle Children’s Theatre’s interim artistic director, Kathryn Van Meter, who wanted to empower and amplify the voices of young people during the pandemic.
“We will be forever changed by our current events, and forever connected and bound together by our shared experience of isolation,” Van Meter said in a statement. “As we begin to redefine what it is to share space, there is hope in our future because we are resilient … just like the young people in our communities.”
Van Meter reached out to Jeff Revels, artistic director of the Orlando Repertory Theatre, and Gray to pull the theaters together and write the song.
Gray, who is an adjunct professor in the musical theater department of Cornish College of the Arts, has not only performed in, but written two children’s musicals: 1996’s “Little Rock,” about school integration in Arkansas; and 2011’s “Lyle the Crocodile,” which is still being performed around the country.
The song had to be written in three days, then arranged and orchestrated, then sent to the theaters so they could enlist the kids, who would then learn the song and record themselves with direction from Van Meter.
The whole process took just under three weeks.
There is no fundraising element, Gray said. The song is just out there to comfort everyone — especially children.
“This is a big thing for them,” Gray said of the pandemic. “It will be a defining moment of their lives.”
Gray wanted to be sure the song “had some joy in it,” so he included lines about being together for birthday parties and other things.
“Kids are human beings and they have had their hands up for a long time, saying, ‘We have something to say,'” Gray said. “So this is not an ask for money, it’s not publicity for the theaters. It’s just a chance for the kids to have a voice.”