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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Key fund-raiser says Carmen Ball is her 'swan song'

 •  Hawai'i women shopping for Opera Theatre ball
 •  Fashion Calendar

By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer

Events like the upcoming Carmen Ball don't just happen. They require months of work and countless volunteer hours.

But you would never guess that in talking to Jill Friedman, who, with Phyllis Lee, co-chairs this year's sold-out Carmen Ball, a benefit for the Hawaii Opera Theatre.

Friedman is among a small cadre of Hawai'i women who are sought after by not-for-profit organizations to make fund-raising events happen. Their ability at organizing, planning and executing events on a grand scale is constantly in demand.

Friedman, 52, the wife of educator Sanford Friedman and mother of two grown children, has a passion for the arts and began volunteering for arts-related organizations a couple of decades ago, when she was 29.

But she says the Carmen Ball "will be my swan song." Her 16 committee members, most of whom have worked with her on other events, don't believe her.

She's sworn off chairing major events before, and, in any case, they don't want to believe her. They love Friedman's approach to such efforts: "The key to a successful event is having a team able to think and play outside the box," she says.

The Punahou Carnival was an important training ground for Friedman. The event broke all records the year she was involved, 1992.

They even had more mango chutney than needed, though it was almost a tradition that the popular and tricky-to-make condiment would sell out mere hours after the carnival began.

But this particular year, Friedman and fellow fund-raiser Dotty Nitta drove all over the island "with our hands out, begging" for mangoes, Friedman recalled.

They went to Wai'anae, where they knew no one. With buckets in hand, they knocked on doors and asked if they could please pick mangoes. With the offer of a jar of the previous year's precious chutney as their calling card, no one could turn them down.

"We're shameless when asking for money for our causes," Friedman said with a laugh.

Friedman has also worked on the Honolulu Academy of Arts' popular Kama'aina Christmas event and The Contemporary Museum's Contempo benefit.

As chair for the 1999 "Butterfly" Opera Ball, Friedman and her committee again broke all record for tables sold and money raised.

She decided to tackle the 2001 ball "to see if the other one was just a total fluke," she said.

Planning for the Carmen Ball began immediately after last year's November event. The theme was based on the 2002 opera season, being billed as "the season of the wanton women." Experience had shown that using the heroines as the basis for a theme was a winning proposition.

Friedman conducted informal research among non-opera fans in order to find a theme that would be universally recognized. Everyone had heard "Carmen," so she chose that wicked woman as the heroine du jour. The theme will infuse everything from the entertainment to table centerpieces.

Meetings began in earnest in February, with all committee chairs required to attend. Monthly meetings, which are usually punctuated with gales of laughter, help keep everyone in the loop. In August, they reached their goal of 65 tables sold. Friedman and the committee decided to expand to 70 tables, those are sold, too.

The silent auction will include 160 packages, most of them Carmen-inspired. Among them: a Carmen Marc Valvo gown and tickets to the designer's New York runway show, a black Jaguar X-Type 2002, a guided tour to Madrid and Seville, Spain, a visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, a Seabourne cruise and use of a private mansion in Ireland.

All donations were acquired by Friedman and her volunteers.

This year there will be a special treat for all the attendees, and especially for Friedman. Her daughter, Lea Woods Friedman, an aspiring opera singer who lives in New York, will sing.

Is that why she spent a year working on the event? No, she says. It's a labor of love for Honolulu's arts community.

"I would never have chosen opera as a career for my daughter," Friedman said. "It's just too hard."