Playing the part

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Social entrepreneur blends childhood dream with community volunteering

By James Feichtner

The path of an entrepreneur is filled with risks and uncertainty. Some are fortunate to reach their goal of earning a profit through their endeavors, however for one category of entrepreneurs the goal isn’t financial gain, but to give back to the community. Donna Wing falls into this category, the category of a social entrepreneur, and today she continues to give back to her community while following her childhood dream of being an actress.

Since she was a child, Wing had wanted to be an actress, but like with many childhood dreams, life got in the way.

“As I grew up, [acting]was just something that wasn’t encouraged in my life. So I studied nursing,” Wing said. “I rubbed the field and got my bachelor’s degree and got my master’s degree.”

Wing used her nursing education to become a teacher in Tulsa, Okla. But her aspirations of being an actress still reached out to her. While she volunteered with her son’s performing arts program, she realized that she needed to make a change.

“I was helping back stage and getting involved and really enjoying it,” she said. “In ’99 when my son had graduated, I decided I really needed to do something else.”

With her husband working in Indianapolis at the time, Wing decided to move the rest of the family here, where she began rekindling her dream.

“I started pursuing theater, trying out for auditions, getting into plays and just enjoying it and just realizing that this is really what I want to do, but I didn’t really want to do it as a job, per se. So I started volunteering,” Wing said.

After spending time playing roles in various volunteer based venues around central Indiana, Wing decided she wanted to do more with her passion of the performing arts.

“In 2002 I started realizing there are some things I would like to do a little bit differently. I was just wanting to be more than the actress auditioning and wanted to have an impact on the community.”

As a history buff, she set her sights on two historical buildings with what she saw as wasted potential. One was the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site downtown where she went on to start the Candlelight Theatre. The other was Oaklandon Unitarian Universalist Church located in the Geist area.

“[Oaklandon] was actually rebuilt with a stage and in the 1950’s it had become boarded up and not used. I saw that stage just sitting there and the building was in need of certain upgrades, so I went to the board of the church and said I would like to artistically direct theater here completely as a volunteer. I would get absolutely nothing in return and sometimes even my expenses are not reimbursed.”

In 2002, Wing opened Oaklandon Civic Theatre, a community devoted theater that uses its show’s profits to give back to the public.

“We have the actors and pretty much all the directors and crew are all volunteers, and then after the direct expenses of the play, anything that’s leftover, usually which is a nice amount, goes back into a donation or to keep the building. It just goes back into the community.”

Since then, four of Oaklandon’s plays have been accepted into the Spirit & Place Festival, with Wing winning an international award for her portrayal of a Vietnam nurse in “A Piece of My Heart.” Her success with Oaklandon and Candlelight has even brought her to Harvard Business School where she presented her theater projects to around 80 students.

While Wing is still in charge of the plays she presents, she manages to follow her childhood ambition of playing a physical role in the plays.

“The social entrepreneur part is like the businesses that I’ve started and that I basically run and coordinate. But it’s not just funding things or having the idea; I’m performing. Of the four plays I do a year, I perform in three of them, I work backstage in one, I get the directors, I get the actors, I get the costumes.”

About Donna Wing

Family Members: David (husband), Ryan and Chris (adult sons)

Education: BS in Nursing, University of Tulsa; MS in Nursing, University of Oklahoma; Doctorate in Education, University of Tulsa in collaboration with the University of London; Post-doctoral Fellowship; Harvard University.

Favorite Vacation Spots: Waitsfield, Vermont and Grand Cayman

Favorite Play: “A Piece of My Heart”

Favorite Hobbies: Hiking, scuba diving and skiing.

What I like about Geist: The beauty and wildlife. For a small community Geist has a reservoir and a protected forest. I love seeing the deer, birds and various wildlife.

Other volunteer work: Visits refugees in Japan affected by the tsunami in 2011. Helps at Lawrence food bank monthly. Helps husband with a Coral Reef advocacy program in Fla.


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