Grania McKirdie has helped organize the annual AIDS benefit for the Chicago Academy for the Arts (CAA) since she was a freshman at the high school for performing and visual arts in River West.
This year, the Oak Lawn resident is the director of the two-day benefit, which runs Sept. 20-21 at CAA, 1010 W. Chicago Ave., and features a variety of student performances.
The event enables the school to raise money for a good cause, but for McKirdie, it’s a chance for the student body to come together.
“One of the things we’re always talking about here is we don’t have a homecoming, and so this is kind of our homecoming,” McKirdie said. “It’s the first main event of the year. Anyone can be involved, and we encourage everyone to be involved in some capacity.
“As young artists, we’re definitely looking to create change in the world. AIDS being such a closely related issue to the artists community, it kind of goes hand in hand.”
All proceeds will go to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, with CAA hoping to raise $10,000.
The Sept. 20 show will begin at 7 p.m., and the Sept. 21 show will begin at 3 p.m. Both performances will be about 90 minutes.
Tickets are $24.39 for adults and $13.90 for students.
CAA first hosted the event in 1997, when musical theater department alum Justin Tranter, who is now a songwriter for pop artist Justin Bieber and the band Fall Out Boy, organized a student-run variety show.
McKirdie, who is a caddy at Beverly Country Club, helped operate the sound system when she was a freshman, then again in her sophomore year. Last year, she was assistant director, and that role takes on the director position the following year.
She will host a variety show, she said, where “anyone can do anything,” whether it’s singing or dancing.
“There’s lots and lots of collaboration,” McKirdie said. “You can present original work. You can sing your favorite song from your favorite artist. There really is no limit.”
McKirdie’s mother, Katie, works for St. Rita High School and Mercy Circle, a retirement community in Mt. Greenwood, and studied theater in college.
McKirdie has been involved in theater since she was 4. Her older sister, Nora, attended CAA, and she followed in her footsteps. She majors in theater now and plans to continue studying it in college.
“The academy offers something really unique. It puts equal emphasis on the academics and the arts,” McKirdie said. “So, I’m being held to the same standards in my arts classes that I am in my academic classes. It’s not just something I do as a hobby or an extracurricular anymore.”
McKirdie said her arts classes connect to academics—and real life.
When preparing for a performance of the “Somonyng of Everyman,” a 15th-century morality play, she was studying the Middle Ages in her AP European history class and the play “Beowulf” in AP literature, both of which take place during that time period.
When she was preparing for a performance last year about the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, the shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Attending a school for performing arts, she said, has been healthy for her mind and soul.
“I think it has just let me become a more critical thinker,” McKirdie said, “and a more empathetic person.”
As director of the benefit, McKirdie hosted auditions in early September, choosing performers who can make “the most well-rounded show.”
She is also seeking donations of silent-auction items from businesses around the city.
Matthew Lachance, associate officer of development for the Glaser Foundation, will be a guest speaker at the event, and, for the first time since McKirdie has been a CAA student, T-shirts are for sale. Now the school can enjoy a “spirit week” of sorts, similar to homecoming.
Last year’s show was “very successful,” McKirdie said, but she hopes her final show is even more memorable.
“My goal is just to make it the biggest one yet,” McKirdie said, “and maybe have some of the new things I’ve created this year become tradition for it.”
McKirdie said past benefits have surpassed their goal of $10,000, and she hopes the 2019 event will achieve an equal impact.
“It’s just going to be a really, really fun night,” McKirdie said, “of just trying to make the world a better place and making a difference.”
To purchase tickets, visit the website for the Chicago Academy for the Arts.