My little brother tragically took his precious life one frigid evening during my undergraduate rogue years. I won’t indulge the associated horror, but an interesting thing happened. I burst out the front door, running past a cherub statue, then a broken birdbath, and stood beside the naked dogwood in my parents’ front yard. The part of my soul that conjures butterflies sunk in agony. There was nothing I could do but open my mouth and let a wail of objection rise to Heaven. God heard me.
Charlie’s Port is named after my little brother. He was a beautiful boy throughout his short life. He was different according to most people who knew him. It was certainly surprising that he committed suicide, despite being one of the most popular kids in school. When he was a toddler, he carried a stuffed Basset hound named “Port.” No one understood why he named it “Port,” but that dog served as his comfort and security at dinner tables, car rides, and any old where. After Charlie died, we couldn’t find Port and eventually stopped looking.
Our little organization serves as a security net and springboard for children and young adults who are also different. I don’t appreciate the negative connotations of that word. As founding artistic director, I cultivate healthy collaborations with artists of all ages, cherishing the sacred obligation to ritualize philosophy. I lost count of how many times people have asked what I do. There are really no boundaries concerning the media Charlie’s Port utilizes. Most of our projects are literary based, but we love to create visual art, film, and theatre. It is true that most of our associates are children, but we also work with adults.
What unites our uncommon feats is that children are part of the equation in at least one fundamental aspect. Sometimes they are the illustrators, writers, or actors. Sometimes they are the missionaries. And sometimes they are the audience. We’ve published a hilarious middle grade comedy penned by a ten year-old Chinese girl. We’re publishing a young adult novel about a kid with Asperger’s syndrome whose prophetic paintings foretell a series of murders in a small town. We even created a short film about a fifteen year-old trying to get in touch with Al Pacino because he looks just like his father who was fighting Lou Gehrig’s disease. Let’s just say… our art is different.
Charlie’s Port is an organic phenomenon poorly planned but brilliantly blossoming. Since I became a theatre director in 2003, I have worked with a couple thousand children in various educational and professional arenas. As I developed relationships with some of their families, special projects would sprout and evolve. If you peruse our website, that evidence is clear. When people ask me to describe the essence of Charlie’s Port, it is quite simple: Balancing polarity.
God has a tendency to turn depravity into righteousness and horror into beauty. Mankind’s most evil injustice was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which God flipped into glory. The Holy Spirit has most definitely touched our organization, despite most of our projects being secular with many odds stacked against us. Two months ago, I was frantically researching literary metadata, miraculously creating interior and exterior book files, and desperately trying to upload them into a complex distribution system with no prior experience. This week, I submitted an adorable paperback to the National Book Award committee. Its author was ten. She made history.
There is something greater guiding us here. We somehow produce great theatre with virtually no resources when grandiose visions are chiseled into quirky events that play on the audience’s five senses. The shattered dream of a fourteen year-old writer is somehow reassembled at twenty-two when we publish the paranormal thriller of her youth. A career is somehow born for an autistic boy, when we create a book series about talking numbers in a wormhole that reveal God’s existence. That is Charlie’s Port.
I am always seeking children with extraordinary talents, wild ideas, brilliant writing, or the God-given call for social ministry that can change the world. We entertain the high minds of small geniuses, so please submit their work to us. I am blessed to have endured such an array of both safety and violence in my life. Without bi-polarity, Charlie’s Port would not be different. It wouldn’t even exist. Thanks for being curious about us.
Mary Claire Branton