Gay Men’s Chorus Makes Plans to Tour Red States
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is getting festive in a rainbow of colors during their upcoming performances. This fall marks the Chorus’ 39th season and for the holidays, the guys are going pink.
Babes in Joyland, their wildly popular holiday show, dashes into the Nourse Theater (275 Hayes St.) on Friday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. On Saturday Dec. 10, there are performances at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Conductor Tim Seelig said tickets are selling out quickly.
“It’s like a Cirque du Soleil of the gays. Wait, that’s redundant,” said Seelig with a laugh. “We turn Christmas pink on stage. Pink, pink, pink.”
Soprano Marnie Breckenridge will join the Chorus for Joyland.
Eleven Bay Area shows are planned during the final weeks of 2016 with stops in Santa Rosa, Walnut Creek, Livermore and Berkeley.
As an annual tradition, the Chorus will join together on Christmas Eve at the Castro Theatre for a joyous night of music and heartwarming festivities. On Saturday, Dec. 24, Home For The Holidays will be performed at 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. In 1990, the Chorus gathered for their first Christmas Eve show at the Castro Theatre.
“We don’t all fit on the Castro Theatre stage,” said Seelig. “The singers are divided up by the shows with about 150 chorus members at each.”
The show will run without an intermission.
Pink isn’t the only hue in the group’s upcoming repertoire. For their 40th anniversary, the Chorus is planning a unity tour through the Southern red-voting states. “It didn’t take a minute for us to decide this feels right,” Seelig said, “and we’re going to tour the South.”
Brainstorming for the 40th anniversary began a year and half ago and details are still tentative. This anticipated sweep through the South has been named the Lavender Pen Tour.
In 1977, Supervisor Harvey Milk sponsored a gay civil rights bill, which Mayor George Moscone signed with a lavender pen. The pen remains a powerful symbol of laws being written in favor of LGBTQ rights.
“We are lucky to sell out shows in the city. People outside of San Francisco don’t ordinarily travel into the city and they like to stay where they are,” said Seelig, who has lead the Chorus for six years.
The group just finished their 26th year performing a holiday benefit with Face to Face, an HIV/ AIDS organization that offers community services in Sonoma County.
“We have invitations from every town in the Bay Area for a holiday concert,” he said. “We’re going to Livermore for the first time.”
In summer 2018, the Lavender Pen Tour will crisscross significant areas of the United States in which there has been an observable spike in anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including Al-abama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee with other stops pending. Seelig said the plan is to do six states in nine days.
“The 300-plus members of the Chorus have, along with the entire LGBTQ community, been navigating our collective way through feelings of shock and despair [since the election],” Seelig said in a press release. “We hope our presence and our music will encour-age our brothers and sisters, educate others and challenge those communities to think differently.”
But there is still much to be determined, he told Castro Courier.
“We are working with national LGBTQ organization to identify areas of most need.”
Seelig said the Chorus will be reaching out to GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and Southern Poverty Law Center, among others.
“We want to partner with those who already have organizational structures in each of those states,” he said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”
Touring has been part of the Chorus since its 1978 conception. They visited nine cities in 1981 sparking inspiration for other gay choruses to be formed as a result. Today, hun-dreds of LGBTQ choruses exist worldwide.
“We get to tell the story and history,” said Seelig. “We’re going to perform in affirming churches for the people who like us.”
He said their goal is to sing for legislature and on the steps of state capitols. The Chorus is taking lavender pens with them as a symbol of protesting laws that are discriminatory and will encourage law makers to make it right.
“We’ll even photo bomb people,” Seelig said, laughing.
Seelig said the Chorus’ plans to have a big kick-off performance in a major city and a big finale in a different city. For the in-between cities, he said the Chorus will divide and conquer.
In addition to high-production ticketed events, the group sang for GLIDE Memorial Church this season. They will perform an outreach for DropBox and do private shows for hospice care. They participated in the Castro tree-lighting ceremony at 18th and Castro streets in front of Bank of America on Nov. 28.
“We have a very small, but powerful administrative staff,” Seelig said. “We do more than fifty appearances a year.”
This is Seelig’s 30th year to “conduct the gays,” he said. Before conducting in San Fran-cisco he lead the Gay Men’s Chorus in Dallas, Texas for 20 years.
Last August, the Chorus moved their administrative office from SOMA to the 500 block of Castro Street, just one block from Castro Theatre.
For tickets to upcoming performances, visit www.sfgmc.org.
Supervisor Scott Wiener attends his last Castro tree-lighting after being elected to the State Senate earlier in the month. The annual event drew an eclectic mix of local leaders and fun-loving residents. Photo: Jessica Webb
Annual Tree-Lighting Evokes Neighborhood Spirit
A small crowd of around 150 people gathered in front of the huge cone-shaped Christmas tree in front of the Bank of America’s Castro branch as the Gay Men’s and Women’s Chorus sang well-known carols. The carolers looked like elves with their red hats trimmed in white.
The annual Tree-lighting event at Castro and 18th streets took place on Monday, Nov. 28, the day that silver and red bows appeared on the Royal Palms that span the median of Market Street from Castro to Octavia streets. At about 6 p.m., on a cool evening, the Castro Merchants holiday promotion began.
The MC, Daniel Bergerac, president of the Castro Merchants, introduced a new supervisor, Jose Herrera, and congratulated Supervisor Scott Wiener, who was leaving his role as District 8 Supervisor to serve in State Senate. The mayor now faces a difficult task in appointing his replacement.
Donna Sachet, the famous drag queen and well-known community activist, took over as the master of ceremonies. Dressed as one of Santa’s helpers with blond hair that flipped up, she was sexy with her buxom chest underneath her red mini-dress. She wore high-heeled boots that came to her knees and had a feminine way of laughing with a light lift of her voice at the end of her sentences. She entertained the crowd and gave a blessing to Harvey Milk. At this ecumenical event, the crowd parted as Santa made his way to the front of the show.
By then, two other Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence arrived and led the group in singing “Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly” and “Jingle Bells.” One Sister asked the crowd to shake their keys when singing the “jingle” phrase. Then we sang a rousing “Joy to the World!” and she showed us how to swing our arms and push air with our hands as she sang “swish” to her hopes for the coming year.
It was truly a neighborhood event. Besides many friends and neighbors who knew each other, there were three short fairies wearing tutus over their pants. One girl said she and her friend “had graduated from the Harvey Milk Academy” and one pointed to the smallest girl and said, “She still goes to Milk.”
Fundi, a well-know author in the area, said he’d been to several of these annual events and “liked the feeling.” Rachael Grace had seen a sign while walking home after work that day and had enough time to walk back with her son Aaron. She said, “I think we’ll have a tree next year.” One man in his 60s who was casually dressed confessed, “It’s all new to me!”
Finally, Sachet led the group in “10, 9, 8…..3, 2, and the lights went on! The tree was magnificent! The big colorful ornaments were visible. It was a moment when we all felt a moment of good will. With her effusive smile and big gestures, she said, “Good-bye! Until we meet again!” as she rushed to the curb where a big black car whisked her away.
Classroom Volunteers Needed for Castro Area Public Schools
The San Francisco Education Fund is calling for Castro volunteers to spend one hour each week in a local classroom tutoring and mentoring public school students to ensure they graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college and beyond.
Even though the city is a booming economic center, too few students graduate from high school prepared to compete in today’s workforce. If just one in 13 San Franciscans volunteered at a public school, every student in the city would have a tutor or mentor, according to the San Francisco Education Fund.
“With just one hour, once a week, volunteers can make a big difference,” said Fund Executive Director Kimberly Wicoff. “We train and place volunteers in classrooms throughout SFUSD, but we focus a majority of our services in a set of high-need schools that have disproportionate populations of students in need of support.”
The SF Education Fund trained and placed more than 500 volunteers to serve students on a weekly basis during the 2015-16 school year and has set a goal of doubling that number this school year.
Focus Schools are in need of 15 more volunteers to help elementary school students with reading and 25 more volunteers to help middle schoolers with math next semester. By reading to a child, volunteers can help them develop stronger reading skills that will help make school more enjoyable, and by sharing their love of technology and math, volunteers can help inspire students to reach ambitious career goals.
The Focus Schools looking for volunteers closest to the Castro are Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academic Elementary School, Everett Middle School, James Lick Middle School and Mission High School.
Volunteering is also a possibility for people with full-time jobs, as one hour per week is really not a huge sacrifice, according to Jessica Pullano, director of development and communications at the Education Fund.
“We do our best to accommodate volunteers with busy schedules,” Pullano said. “Some people volunteer before they go to work, while others come in during their lunch break. Certain schools even have after-school programs which allow people to volunteer later in the afternoon after they get off work.”
Volunteers can choose which program is best suited for their skills. For example, the Literacy Program teaches students from kindergarten to third grade to read and the Math Program helps sixth through eighth graders with their skills. The College and Career Program helps 10th, 11th and 12th graders from low-income families plan a realistic academic and career path. The San Francisco Education Fund partners with the San Francisco Unified School District to engage community volunteers one-on-one with their mentee one hour a week.
To become a volunteer, applicants must attend a one-hour information session, complete the clearance process and receive a three-hour training session and tool-kit for the classroom. The Education Fund staff helps secure each placement and offers ongoing support, check-ins and site visits throughout the school year. Volunteers are also invited to supplemental trainings and other special events throughout the year.
“Volunteers help us zone in on exactly what students need,” said Nikki Thornton Street, a San Francisco elementary school teacher. “They become a part of our school family. I’m so grateful to our volunteers because I believe this work cannot be done alone.”
To learn more about volunteering with San Francisco students, visit: www.sfedfund.org/community
Since 1963, the Fund has placed more than 94,000 volunteers in San Francisco public schools and awarded more than $7 million in educator grants. The School volunteer program was founded in 1963 after Gretchen de Baubigny read aloud in a classroom in the Western Addition. In 2009, School Volunteers merged with the original San Francisco Education Fund, which was founded in 1979 in response to the decimation of public school funding brought on by Proposition 13.
The Golden Girls Return for the Holidays
Those lovable Golden Girls are up to their holiday antics again in the 2016 production of The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes, running from December 1st through December 23rd at the Victoria Theatre in the Mission. Blanche (Matthew Martin), Dorothy (Heklina), Rose (D’Arcy Drollinger), and Sophia (Holotta Tymes), have two new episodes to share with their ardent admirers in San Francisco. This year’s production may be new, but the show will be as much fun as it always is. It’s easy to see why the show sells out every year and has become such a beloved holiday tradition for so many. Heklina, who co-produces the show and stars as Dorothy Zbornak, took a moment to chat with the Castro Courier about what’s new in 2016.
Wendy: Congratulations on the 10-year anniversary of The Golden Girls: The Christmas Episodes! You’re doing more performances this year too, 15 rather than 12.
Heklina: The demand was so great last year that we added three Christmas week shows, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. We’re really excited; we love doing the show!
Wendy: While you’ve been doing The Christmas Episodes for 10 years, there’s always something new happening around it. This year you even have an ice cream flavor that’s been created in honor of your show, during the month of December at Humphry Slocombe.
Heklina: Yes! We approached Humphry Slocombe and asked them if they’d like to make a special ice cream in honor of the show. They came up with the chocolate cherry cheesecake flavor, which I’m very excited to try. We will be doing an in-store appearance this Saturday at their flagship store on Harrison Street. They’ll be giving away free samples during that time (4 – 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4th).
Wendy: You always have a beneficiary for the opening night of the show, and this year it will be Healing Waters Wilderness Adventures. It sounds like a beautiful organization. They take people living with HIV and their partners or caregivers out on outdoor adventure trips—river rafting, kayaking and camping, providing everything needed in a very thoughtful way.
Heklina: Yes, I did a benefit for them a couple of months ago and I thought it was such a great organization. They’re very underfunded so I’m glad to be helping them out.
Wendy: As always, you’ll be having some guest appearances. On opening night Jan Wahl will join the cast. Has she performed with The Golden Girls before?
Heklina: Yes. We’ve had her onstage three to four years ago. I’ve done a lot of stuff with Jan. I’ve been on her show a few times. I always enjoy working with her—she’s a lot of fun, big personality!
Wendy: Fernando and Greg will be your guests on December 2nd. They’ve definitely been your guests before. What is the name of their radio show?
Heklina: I think we’ve had them every year for at least the past six years. They host Fernando and Greg in the Morning. It’s on 99.7 radio, 99.7 NOW! I do a podcast with them every week, so I know them very well.
Wendy: What’s the name of your podcast and what’s it about?
Heklina: It’s called the Sideshow Podcast. I go in Wednesday mornings, and after they’re done taping the morning show we tape [the] podcast. It’s talking about current events, and it is kind of politically incorrect because it’s a podcast, so we can say things we couldn’t necessarily say on the radio. It’s pretty gay, overtly gay. We have Fernando, Greg and me as the gay guys, and then we have a straight guy, Jason, who produces the show. It’s really fun.
Wendy: Liam Mayclem is your third and final special guest, joining you all on December 3rd.
Heklina: I’ve hosted several events with him. He’s been on TV for a long time doing food stuff [as The Foodie Chap and on Eye on the Bay, both on CBS]. He’s like a gay Gordon Ramsay.
Wendy: You have two new episodes for 2016, “What A Difference A Date Makes” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun... Before They Die” You also have two other regular cast members, Tom Shaw and Manuel Caneri.
Heklina: Yes. Tom Shaw is our piano player. We need interludes because we have outfit changes and stuff, so we found the audience just loves it when he plays Christmas songs in between. Manuel Caneri is playing all the boy parts in each episode. He’s playing three male characters. It’s going to be really tricky in the episode “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun... Before They Die” because he’s playing two old men and some of his scenes are back to back, so he’s going to have to run backstage, change and come out right away. We have to act like it’s somebody totally different! (Laughs) It’s really funny.