Saturday, January 28, 2017

Jim Helsiner discusses Angel Action Wings


In Abraham Lincoln's Inauguration speech, he said   “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”This quote inspired Jim Helsinger to create Angel Action Wings after the Pulse tragedy. As he said, "Moises Kaufman wrote 'The Laramie Project', about the reaction to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming gay student Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, what could I do?" When members of a Baptist hate group said they would protest at funerals of the victims of the Pulse shooting, here in Orlando, Jim had to act.

The Orlando Shakespeare Theater and the Angel Action Wings Project teamed up to create massive PVC frame, and white linen angel wings in the hopes of blocking the 40-member "church" group and their hate-filled signs, the dumbest being "God Hates Fags." Thanks to donations, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater built each of the angel ensembles in their costume shop.  There was much confusion on social media about weather the hate group would actually show up, but Jim went with a gut feeling and had the wings built anyway. At a funeral, singing and the angel wings blocked the protesters who did get a permit to protest.

After that initial success some one suggested that 49 Angel wings should be built. Although he as in Colorado, he spearheaded the effort from there. Volunteers from Disney filled the Shakespeare scenic shop completing the wings with incredible speed. After a Pulse theater community event at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts the 49 Angels marched outside the theater surrounding the large memorial that was in the plaza. A light drizzle accompanied their somber candle light march, but when they stood in silent vigil the rain stopped and a light breeze aired their wings. People exiting the theater where overwhelmed be the sight.

Theater has a way of framing grief. When in a dark theater surrounded by an audience, we realize that we are not alone. If others survive then I can as well. We do not live in a vacuum. 20 years ago Orlando was a conglomerate of corporations. In the last fire years, little theaters and restaurants have found a home here. Orlando's reaction and response to the Pulse tragedy is something to be proud of. We as a community will embrace gays, Latinos, and immigrants.

Jim grew up in Ohio and has shot guns. He believes in the second amendment, but if an individual is on a watch list, or has been denied a flight license, then why can he buy an assault rifle? In Newtown a young boy could walk into an alimentary school and shoot children. Nothing has changed. People need to accept their differences. There needs to be religious and racial tolerance. We need to change the culture of violence to a culture of love.

The 49 wings were just transferred to the Center which will decide how and when the wings will be used in the future. This will allow Jim to refocus his energies on running the Shakespeare Theater. They were just worn in the recent gay pride parade, where thousands cheered as the angels glided down Orlando's downtown streets. The angel wings need to keep flying.

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