Hilarie Burton (One Tree Hill, White Collar) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead, Supernatural) held a fundraiser to support Astor Services, an organization that works to support children and families with emotional and psychological challenges. The fundraiser was called “Ghost Stories III” as it was the third anniversary of this event, which consists of Burton and Morgan calling on friends to read ghost stories on stage. This year, the friends they had included Paul Rudd (Avengers: End Game), Mary Stuart Masterson (Blindspot), Clayne Crawford (Lethal Weapon), Tyler Hilton (One Tree Hill), and Michael Raymond James (Once Upon a Time).
This year, the show raised over $140,000. The fundraiser originally began after Burton became interested in the organization and was introduced through members of the Families for Astor Committee. “They were discussing the work we do to impact children and families and she was immediately interested,” said Jim McGuirk, the CEO for Astor Services. “A site visit was arranged and the rest is history.”
The funds raised go to additional renovations and other improvements for the children at Astor Services. Burton and Morgan are much more involved than one might initially expect, particularly Burton, who is in charge of everything involved with both the renovation and the fundraiser. “Hilarie and Jeffrey are very involved and hands on, on every level,” said McGuirk. “Jeffrey spends his time working directly with our children. He comes in on many occasions to do so.”
The kids at Astor Services enjoy their interactions with the couple. According to McGuirk, the kids do recognize Morgan from his show and a few recognize Burton from her shows. “The kids are always excited to see them both,” McGuirk said. “What is wonderful is that because Hilarie and Jeffrey are staples at Astor, the kids react to them as if they are family and not movie stars.”
When it comes to the renovations, Burton leads the way. “Hilarie is the captain!” McGuirk said in reference to the renovations. “She designs, sources, arranges volunteers and donors, as well as being on site for the entire project! She comes in first thing in the morning, and many times is the last one to leave each day.”
In fact, the entire concept for the Ghost Stories fundraiser came straight from Burton. “Hilarie is once again the captain!” McGuirk said. “She does the entire production. She sources materials, actors, etc. Hilarie loves everything haunted and ghostly, so it came directly from her.”
Even the first year, Astor Services followed Burton’s lead in putting together the fundraiser. “She wanted to help raise funds and came to us with this idea,” McGuirk said. “While we had not done anything like this before, we totally trusted her foresight.”
Staging the production has gotten easier each year, but according to McGuirk there was a learning curve. “We have never engaged in a production of this sort, so we were quick learners,” McGuirk said. “Hilarie engaged her friends and they are truly her friends. So, while the show expanded to seven performers this year, it was seamless. They were all a delight to work with!”
Astor Services is important to Burton and Morgan because it is close to their Hudson Valley farm near Rhinebeck in upstate New York. The first two years the event was held in smaller venues, which sold out. Morgan opened the show with a comment on this success: “The last two years we sold out and it got bigger and bigger.” He then commented on the fact that the venue this year, the Ulster Performing Arts Center, the biggest venue yet, had also sold out.
The show opened with Tyler Hilton performing “Get Down” from his new album City on Fire.
Burton talked about what went into the show, speaking about the props on the stage. “Just so you know, 90 percent of the stuff comes from my house,” Burton said. She explained that when she had lived in Wilmington while filming One Tree Hill, she had lived in a haunted house, and the furniture being used in the show came from that house.
“Yeah, it’s all Hilarie’s crap,” Morgan quipped.
Two audience members were chosen to sit on stage for the duration of the show. Volunteers were also brought onstage to be recognized for their work. Morgan commented on his own contribution, joking, “I made them, like, a bad sandwich one day.”
Throughout the event, audience members were included in the show, which Burton told the audience had not been rehearsed, giving the audience authentic reactions when the actors received funny things to read. This led to many mishaps of sorts, such as when Clayne Crawford and Michael Raymond James both read the part of “Not Eugene” at the same time, demonstrating evident confusion on who was playing which character. Paul Rudd created his own sound effects, Clayne Crawford created voices for the characters, and Morgan brought their son on stage to acknowledge him for all his help.
There was also a “funeral” created for a volunteer from the audience. The script for the funeral was created with a mad libs style, during which Paul Rudd read a eulogy as the departed woman’s “side piece” and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as her Mother-In-Law.
Astor Services has been helping Hudson Valley residents for over 65 years. The organization helps families find strength, healing, hope, and trust, through behavorial and educational services in a caring environment. To help Burton and Morgan in their efforts to support Astor Services, make a donation by visiting their web site here.
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