Jan Hartwell: How Does She Do It?

By day, Jan Hartwell is the assistant general counsel for a global company. But by night, she dons her production cap and leads more than 90 cast members and 120 volunteers in one of the most anticipated shows of the year—the Woman’s Club of Evanston’s (WCE) Annual Benefit Show.

The WCE is a group of more than 400 women from the North Shore and Chicago who raise money for the community and provide entertainment and education for its members. Last year, the Club contributed more than $100,000 and several thousand volunteer hours to social service agencies, many of which are devoted to women and children.

“I joined the Woman’s Club because I wanted to give back. And the fact that this show is in its 58th year is a real testament to the women members and to this club and what it offers the community,” says Jan.

Even though there may be nights that Jan drags her tired self to rehearsal, especially now that the cast is rehearsing almost every night, Jan admits that her job as producer rarely feels like work. “How often do you get to connect with your friends doing something you love?” asks Jan, who has a passion for performing and sings with a local band. Jan was a regular fixture in the variety shows hosted by her children’s school before grabbing a microphone for the WCE.

The WCE’s Benefit Show is no ordinary talent show. It’s hilarious! It features parodies of well-known songs dealing with topical issues and personalities. It raises approximately $25,000 to $30,000 for an organization selected by the Contributions Committee. This year, the YWCA Evanston/North Shore Flying Fish are the show’s beneficiary. The Flying Fish, the YWCA’s aquatic program, was selected because of its commitment to the health and wellness of the community—a platform that the WCE sought to support this year. The money raised will fund scholarships for children learning to swim who might not otherwise have access to swimming lessons.

Jan began reviewing submissions for this year’s show, “Not Tonight Dear, I Have a Haddock,” as soon as last year’s show was over. “It’s like community theater in the backyard when we audition acts for the show,” Jan says. “Reviewing the acts and writing the show is almost as fun as the show itself.”

According to Karen Singer, Executive Director of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore, most people don’t understand the time commitment involved in the WCE show. “I wish I could be more involved, but it just requires more time than I have right now. It’s amazing how committed the cast and volunteers are—and how committed they are to having us represented.” Karen says that the WCE filmed a video using the Flying Fish coaches so that they could be a part of the show, even though their schedules keep them from participating in the cast. “Jan and her crew have been phenomenal to work with—so flexible and accommodating—real partners.”

One of Jan’s personal mottos is “to leave something better than I found it.” When Jan agreed to produce the WCE’s show this year, she asked herself what she could do to make it better. “We had an immediate need for a rain curtain backdrop. I wondered if we might be able to find funding for it. I applied for a grant from my company and we received $10,000. With this seed money, we were able to raise an additional $14,000 to get the curtain we needed, rebuild our stage, replace lights and improve our electrical systems. We didn’t have to touch our proceeds to make these improvements—making the contribution we make to the Flying Fish and future beneficiaries that much greater.”

“Not Tonight Dear, I Have a Haddock” will run March 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, and 14. The show starts at 8 p.m. on all dates, except March 8, when the show begins at 6 p.m. “Our shows typically sell out,” adds Jan.

When asked if her performing days will end any time soon, Jan had this to say. “At some point, they won’t want an old woman on stage any more, but until then….” The show must go on.

To learn more about the Women’s Club of Evanston and/or to purchase tickets to this year’s show “Not Tonight Dear, I Have a Haddock,” click here.