For the eight consecutive year, Eric Michael Gillett will headline a team of talented performers at this year’s Benjamin House Christmas Benefit.
The New York-based actor and director will also host the Christmas-themed show that raises both awareness and funding for Benjamin House, an assisted living residence facility for the mentally challenged in Elizabeth City.
This year’s show, “Do You Hear What I Hear,” will be held in the Museum of the Albemarle auditorium Saturday at 2 p.m.
Besides Gillett, performers scheduled to appear at this year’s show include: Ben Moss, Arthur L. Ross, Billy Shaw, Cookie Stark, Melanie Vaughan, Robin Westle and Marta Sanders. The show’s musical director is Daniel Lincoln.
Benjamin House was founded in Feb. 2006 by Ann Hughes, a retired educator, and her husband, Lennie, an attorney. The residence is named for the couple’s third child, Benjamin, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2. The couple have dedicated their lives to building a future for Benjamin, who is now 41 and a Benjamin House resident.
In a story familiar to all who know the Hughes family, they first met Gillett more than 34 years ago when he was a ringmaster with a circus. Ann Hughes recalls attending the circus with Benjamin and him telling her he wanted to meet the ringmaster. Hughes says she jotted down Benjamin’s request on a scrap of paper and handed it to a circus employee who she hoped would deliver it to Gillett.
Hughes and Benjamin were overjoyed when Gillett met with them. Gillett gave Benjamin an opportunity to participate in several circus activities, including blowing the whistle that starts a show.
After that day, Gillett and the Hughes family began a written correspondence that is ongoing.
For several years the family would visit Gillett when the circus visited in North Carolina or Virginia. Hughes said Gillett also offered the family a ride on the circus train, which created lasting memories for both her and Benjamin.
Gillett now lives in New York City where he is an accomplished actor, director and performer. He has appeared in numerous television and film productions including “Quantico,” “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Daredevil,” “The Mysteries of Laura,” “The Producers,” “Maid in Manhattan,” “Law & Order,” and “The Blacklist.”
Hughes said it was Gillett’s idea to host a Christmas production in Elizabeth City to benefit Benjamin House. Over the years, it has become an annual event with Gillett coordinating a production that features talented actors and performers.
Hughes said she always looks forward to the show, particularly its heartwarming Christmas songs and readings. She said Benjamin House residents and their families will be in attendance and are joyfully anticipating the show.
This year’s show will also include a visit from a special guest, Santa. Hughes said there will be an opportunity at 1:30 p.m., prior to the show, for attendees to get a photo with Santa.
Days before the show, Hughes said the cast of “Do You Hear What I Hear” will also be performing a benefit for Benjamin House in New York City. The show will be at the Laurie Beechman Theatre at 407 West 42nd Street on Monday at 7 p.m. The show will include all the performers scheduled to appear in Elizabeth City as well as Sidney Myer and Jay Rogers.
Hughes said the cast of the show performs without pay, donating their time to benefit Benjamin House.
Tickets to both Monday’s show in New York and Saturday’s show in Elizabeth City are $25. All proceeds go to Benjamin House.
“It’s our only fundraiser,” Hughes said. “We depend on it being successful.”
Hughes said proceeds from the shows go to support different programs for Benjamin House residents. Some of the funds help support the animals who live on the grounds of Benjamin House. Hughes said Benjamin House residents interact with the eight chickens and two goats — the latter named Lucy and Ethel after the famous “I Love Lucy” characters — and it’s not uncommon to see the animals follow residents along Benjamin House’s walking trail.
“We just love them,” Hughes said of the animals. “They eat right out of your hands.”
Hughes said if people aren’t able to attend the show, but would like to help, they can send donations. Address checks to Benjamin House, Inc. P.O. Box 757 Elizabeth City, NC 27907.
“It’s going to be a wonderful way to celebrate the season that is upon us,” Hughes said.
For more information, visit the Benjamin House Facebook page or website at https://www.benjaminhouse.org. Tickets may be purchased at Page After Page bookstore or the Benjamin House or by calling (252)340-4541. Tickets may also be purchased online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/do-you-hear-what-i-hear-a-holiday-benefit-for-benjamin-house-tickets-82367408135?aff=erelexpmlt.