Tony Award winning Broadway star Laura Benanti performs a stripped-down, acoustic version of “Sucker” by The Jonas Brothers, which features the talented students she’s met through #sunshinesongs – a movement she started to give students whose spring musicals were cancelled a platform to perform during the coronavirus.
When she realized that quarantine meant not only the closing of Broadway shows, but also the cancellation of countless school musicals and concerts, she wanted to do something about it. She posted a video inviting kids to share their songs via Twitter and the rest is history: The video went viral, and the #SunshineSongs movement was born.
“I thought I would get like 20 videos and we’ve had over 5,000 videos,” she told SheKnows in an exclusive interview. “My original post has been viewed almost 4 million times. And we continue to get hundreds a day.”
“This song and the accompanying video are meant to celebrate the deep goodness we have witnessed in so many during a terrifying period of isolation,” Benanti tells PEOPLE in a statement. “I wanted to create a time capsule of sorts, highlighting our desire for connection, our willingness to reach out and help our neighbors, and most importantly to honor the bravest and most selfless among us risking their lives to help others.”
Dark times for all. Trying to find some bright spots. If you were meant to perform in your High School musical and it was cancelled please post yourself singing and tag me. I want to be your audience!! Sending all my love and black market toilet paper. 💛 pic.twitter.com/BVYR4t3dJE— Laura Benanti (@LauraBenanti) March 13, 2020
SheKnows: Tell us more about what sparked the idea for #SunshineSongs — having high school kids (and ultimately grown-ups) sharing their songs and the performances that they didn’t get to do with you?
Laura Benanti: My mom is a voice teacher and she was sharing with me how disappointed her students were not to be able to do their musicals — especially the seniors — and I just was thinking about how meaningful my school shows were to me. They were the one time of the year that I felt really seen by my town, like I mattered. I was able to show that I wasn’t just a weird kid, but a talented kid. And this generation self-identifies as more anxious than any previous generation in our history. So to me, the combination of what’s already a difficult and trying experience, plus the disappointment of having the one place that you feel really supported taken away from you — and then being in isolation? That’s just a mental health disaster. I thought, if I can offer some support to these kids by being their audience, that would make me feel like I’m contributing in a positive way to our general well-being as a society.
And, you know, not only have the kids expressed how meaningful this is for them, but the people searching the hashtag and enjoying their performances also say it’s bringing light to what is otherwise a very dark time. My grandmother is 95 years old and she hasn’t seen another human being in three weeks. That’s not healthy. So it’s really important to get these talented kids to the people who really need them the most.
SK: Is there one performance that stands out for you, or has moved you the most? I’m sure it’s hard to pick when there are so many…
LB: What I love about this movement is that it hasn’t turned into a competition. It could have easily turned into, “who is the best and brightest?” And I really don’t want it to become that. I love all the videos and all the kids have so much heart and talent, so I just really couldn’t cho
SK: You say this project has helped you as well as others. What else is helping you through this time?
LB: Well, I have a three year old, so I’m up at 6:00 every morning with a person who’s like, ‘All right, entertain me.’ My daughter’s number one, number two is trying to be of service. And then the third thing I’m doing is, I’m really not watching the news. I check the World Health Organization website twice a day just to see if there’s any new information I need to know. But I think that our constant diet of news is not a great thing right now.
I’m really trying to remind myself to practice mindfulness. If I start thinking about, ‘What is the world going to look like? Is this forever?’ if I start to trip into the future that much it’s not a happy place to be. So I’m also trying to just be where I am. If I’m with my daughter, I put my phone in the other room and I’m with my daughter. If I’m working, I’m doing that. I’m doing my best to just stay present. And meditation helps me with that as well.