Whether it's peeling potatoes, pinching perogies, or parking cars, a successful church fundraising meal all boils down to one main ingredient: the help of many willing volunteers.
Recently, Juno award-winning composer Danny Schur cooked up his own version of that recipe by writing a musical comedy about the challenges of running monthly church basement perogy dinners -- as a fundraiser for his own parish.
"It is comedy laced with real world social messages," the Winnipeg-based composer of Strike! says of his most recent work, aptly titled The Perogy Supper Miracle. "And I love that comedy can be the pill to swallow life's lessons."
Featuring a seven-member cast made up entirely of the ranks of Holy Family Ukrainian Catholic Church, with priest Rev. Mark Gnutel playing himself, the hour-long original musical premieres 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6 at Centro Caboto.
"We cast clergy in this fundraiser about this problem with the fundraiser," says Schur, 44, of the event which is expected to raise at least $10,000 toward an elevator for the 50-year-old building at Grant Avenue and Harrow Street.
"It's specifically written to the talents of people we've cast and written in such a way the burden doesn't fall to any one participant."
Perogies are definitely on the menu -- and in the script -- in an experience which Schur describes as theatre with dinner. He's tight-lipped about the plot and won't reveal the rest of the cast, who will be mixing with the dinner guests until they take to the stage.
He does say the musical is loosely based on Holy Family's past issues of recruiting enough certified food handlers and other volunteers from the congregation to run their monthly perogy suppers.
Backed up with a recorded soundtrack, and bursting with catchy Motown-style tunes and mouthwatering lines such as "If your heart's set aflutter, smelling onions and butter, is one more perogy so bad?" Schur promises the musical is a lighthearted take on the challenges religious institutions face when recruiting folks to run their programs.
He says the underlying question is how parishioners can balance the speed and demands of family life with often labour-intensive church volunteer jobs, something he faces himself as he squeezes in rehearsals for this production into a schedule already filled with his paid work of collaborating with playwright Rick Chafe on a musical about Louis Riel.
"What are we as individuals willing to do to make our organizations function?" asks Schur, who regularly peels potatoes before his parish's perogy dinners.
"We can't commit any more time, but a connection to a spiritual community is what we actually need."
Regular church community meals are often a way to build connections between people from all walks of life who might not otherwise meet, suggests Gnutel, who left Holy Family in summer to take over the pulpit at St. Anne Ukrainian Catholic Church in North Kildonan
"The perogy supper is a fundraiser, but most importantly, it's a ministry of hospitality," says Gnutel, who reprises his role as priest of Holy Family on Nov. 6.
"The parish sees it as a chance to welcome the community into the church basement."
For Schur, a perogy supper stuffed with good food and a hall full of hungry folks might just be a metaphor for the church and how it includes everyone, even the guy who always shows up but never pays for his plate of potato-and-cheese dumplings smothered in onions.
"A lowly perogy supper in a church basement, in addition to raising money, can't be overlooked as an important social function," says the father of two.
"We're so individualistic, we're so lost in the world."
Schur was surprised when others expressed interest in the musical. His sister in Saskatoon jumped on the idea as a fundraiser for her parish, and eight days after the Winnipeg debut, The Perogy Supper Miracle opens for one show in Saskatoon. The production by Saints Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church will feature Bishop Bryan Bayda of Saskatoon in Gnutel's role.
"Two things really resonate: the idea of making perogies as a fundraiser. We do that," explains Carolyn Schur, chairwoman of her parish council's fundraising committee.
"That problem with getting people with those (food handling) certificates really resonates with us."
As for the miracle of the musical, Schur isn't saying, but the chairman of Holy Family's elevator committee has his own interpretation of what that might be. Faced with raising $400,000 for an elevator and accessible washrooms, Jim Antonick says he'll be happy once the project gets off the ground.
"Getting the community behind it and getting this thing done. That's the miracle in my mind," he says.
And another miracle might just be the musical itself. After hearing repeated calls for help, Schur volunteered his time and talents to his church to do what he does best: write catchy tunes about real life problems and entertain a whole lot of folks along the way.
Check out http://holyfamilychurch.wordpress.com/ for Got no time, a song from the musical about the frantic speed of everyday life. Go to Song from The Perogy Supper Miracle on the website.