Ben Winding probably did not realize he would be singing and dancing in a philanthropic musical every year when he first enrolled at University of Wisconsin.
Initially hesitant to perform, Winding’s older sister convinced him that joining UW’s Humorology would be a good experience.
Now, as a senior, he has participated in Humorology for four years and directed his casts multiple times. The thought that his involvement also helps thousands of children pursue their dreams continues to encourage him to do his best.
“It’s fun because you’re raising money for a really good cause, which feels really good in the end,” Winding said. “It’s been a great four years and I regret nothing.”
This is the impact UW Humorology — a part philanthropic organization, part juried competition — has had on not only Winding, but on more than 600 students who take part in its showcase every year.
More than just singing and dancing
In its 68th year at UW, Humorology or “Humo,” is one of UW’s oldest traditions, Claudia Shapiro, Humorology’s executive director, said. It is a student-run musical variety showcase in which different teams pair up to direct, write, produce and choreograph 20-minute musicals that culminate in a spring showcase that benefits local philanthropies.
Humo began as a nonprofit Greek organization that helped fraternities and sororities raise money for charities and complete their required community service hours, Shapiro said. Over the years, Humo has partnered with several different charities and organizations around Wisconsin and donates all the money it raises to them.
Each team is responsible for fundraising and the teams that raise the required amount of funds — and pass the audition in front of a panel of judges in November — get to be part of Humo’s annual showcase, Shapiro said. They can do anything from bake sales to partnering with restaurants to raise funds. Other fundraising activities like “Humolympics,” which is an Olympics-style competition for Humo teams, make the process more fun, she said.
Most of Humorology’s participants come from UW’s Greek community.
The teams and Humo’s 10-member executive board also work to get sponsors who can donate to the organization, Shapiro said. Many sponsors are family businesses and friends, which expands the philanthropic effort to the wider community, she said.
“We want to continue to make more money and do more good for the community,” Shapiro said. “[Humo] has the opportunity to grow and become bigger in UW’s community.”
The Boys and Girls Club of Dane County provides after-school programs for more than 5,000 children, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds. With donations from Humo, the club is able to provides kids with the opportunity to explore their performing arts interests for free, she said.
Karen Gallagher, Development for the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County vice president, said Humo is a great fit for the club’s Creative and Performing Arts program. Humo’s donations to the club go into expanding facilities like music studios under the program. This has given children a creative outlet where they can learn to play music, write their own music and produce their own shows, she said.
“This is a unique program that gives an outlet to kids that they normally would not have,” she said. “They’re learning something and having fun, and Humo has been so helpful in broadening the kids’ horizons.”
Since its first partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in 2014, Humo has raised more than $200,000 for the organization, Gallagher said.
Humo’s donations would help expand United Cerebral Palsy’s services and community outreach, Trisha Davies, Marketing and Development for United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Dane County director, said in an email to The Badger Herald. She said services such as respite care involve a waiting list and Humo’s donations could help move more families off the waiting list and seek the care they need.
Davies said UCP is honored to be partnering with Humo this year and looks forward to working more with them.
“It’s been inspiring to learn more about the work of this student-run organization and to see how much time and energy they give to their mission of promoting community engagement and philanthropic service,” Davies said. “They are our future leaders and they’re already doing amazing things right here in our community, all before graduating college!”
A way to grow creativity and friendships
Aside from its philanthropic efforts, Humorology is a way for many students to express their creativity. For Winding, Humo is a “cool, fun, creative and goofy” outlet for talents that he could not express anywhere else. It may have involved six hours a week of “learning dance moves that one should never be learning in the first place” with complete strangers, but he said it is worth it.
Tessa Coan, Humorology public relations director, said many of Humo’s shows are based on parody and have their own sense of humor. She said it is “organized nonsense” that is best understood if people watch the shows themselves.
Coan said she has “zero talent” but Humo gave her the outlet to express her creativity regardless.
“It’s great being part of this — to have a creative outlet in college and make friends without necessarily having to be so talented,” she said.
Likewise, Winding said Humo gave him the opportunity to interact with many talented people. Because each sorority and fraternity pair up as a new team each year, he said every year is a fresh start with more people joining and new friends to make.
Shapiro said Humo has been a “staple” in her college career since day one. She arrived on campus not knowing anyone and Humo gave her the chance to meet some of her best friends today.
“[Humo] has been the perfect outlet for me to continue my passion for musical theater and combine it with friends and philanthropy,” Shapiro said.
UW Humorology’s annual show will be held between April 7 and 9.