FACETIME- Pape's desire: Building goodness... and <i>Streetcar </i>

Howard Pape

Howard Pape thinks about redemption all the time– but he won't say why. Whatever compels him, a lot of people have benefited from his urges.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, Pape already had an organization in place ready to take on rebuilding the town of Pearlington, Mississippi. He's a founder of Building Goodness, a group of volunteer-minded craftspeople who are now putting their skills to work closer to home instead of during regular forays to Haiti or Guatemala.

So far, they've put up more than 150 temporary shelters for people who lost everything. And in the next couple of months, they're breaking ground on a $1.2 million community center.

Pape's volunteerism also has a dramatic bent, at least behind the scenes. As the show's master carpenter, he's building the set for Live Arts' upcoming production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and the proceeds from the May 9 preview show will go to the Pearlington community center.

"This is not going to be like any other production of Streetcar," he promises. "To watch the play develop in the context of Hurricane Katrina has been amazing. It's had a significant impact on everyone involved."

The owner of Central Virginia Waterproofing, Pape, 54, got into the construction biz when he dropped out of college in 1974. "My dad wished me luck and said I was off the payroll," he remembers. He worked as a laborer for R.E. Lee construction and loved it– and learned to love delayed gratification.

"That's what most people who get into construction look for– something that's enduring," he says.

He did go back to UVA to get his degree in psychology, but the building bug stuck. "I feel most days that I put that degree to use," he says.

The impetus for Building Goodness sounds "high falutin,'" Pape admits. "It was a search for meaning." He explains that a lot of construction folks in this community wonder how much their labors are valued. But when he went to Haiti on a building mission with First Presbyterian Church, a light bulb went off. "There you're building something that means something to those people," he realized.

Now, Building Goodness has hundreds of volunteers. At a couple of recent gatherings, "I saw an awful lot of faces I didn't recognize," he says. "That was the best news."

"There's something about Howard's zen-like nature and understanding of human nature," says Live Arts director John Gibson, who notes that 20 carpenters showed up for build day for Streetcar– because of Howard Pape.

Pape points out that wood for the beautiful Streetcar stage came from Evan Almighty director Tom Shadyac's church– the former First Christian Church on Market Street. The spiral staircase on the set is from the Hardware Store restaurant.

"You cannot get attached to what you do," Pape says, knowing that in a few weeks the whole set will be in a dumpster. "There's a Buddhist aspect to this."

That's the zen of Howard Pape.