Three Venerable End-of-Year Performance Favorites Go Virtual

San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (courtesy of SFGMC)

[At] Home for the Holidays

The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was only a few months old when then S.F. Supervisor Dianne Feinstein called on the group to sing at a memorial for Supervisor Harvey Milk after his 1978 assassination. Later, starting in 1990 at the height of the AIDS epidemic, the chorus began presenting the always upbeat Home for the Holidays on Christmas Eve at the Castro Theatre for all the men who could not go — or were not welcome — home to their families. And for its all-virtual 43rd season, the chorus is keeping that tradition alive. The performance is December 24 at 6 p.m. Artistic Director Timothy Seelig talks about the show.

Tell us about the show’s history?
Three of our holiday shows are the traditional, and now legendary, shows at the Castro Theatre, all on Christmas Eve. Those began more than 30 years ago and they were called Home for the Holidays because we are coming home to the Castro. We hope to film portions of the show from the stage — nobody really knows where you are until you see that iconic proscenium of the stage; it is pretty recognizable and we would love to do that.

How are you putting the songs together?
We are in the midst of making virtual choir videos and the guys are learning it pretty much on their own, then recording themselves, and it contributes to the large virtual choir. It’s really a different skill set; each of them are singing their parts by themselves to their screen. It’s nothing like standing onstage and seeing an audience respond. But there are two things: what we do and who we are. The “what we do” has been taken away. But the “who we are” as humans and as a community chorus is still fully intact.

Did all the restrictions on performance — especially singing — impact member interest this year?
Despite knowing that they would not be singing together and that this season would be virtual, 222 dues-paying singers signed up. After this virtual season, God willing, we can gather next summer for the next real season — that’s our hope and dream.

A Christmas Carol (photo by Kevin Berne)

A Christmas Carol

The legendary actor James Carpenter returns as Ebenezer Scrooge, joining Sharon Lockwood and students from the American Conservatory Theater’s Master of Fine Arts program to, for the first time in the San Francisco theater’s 44-year history, bring the ever-popular A Christmas Carol to life as a radio play. The show runs December 4–31, and tickets to the virtual event range from $40 to $60 and include bonus activities for a family of up to four. Associate Conservatory Director Peter Kuo talks about the program.

What prompted you to do a radio show this year?
Because we are not able to gather in person and in the theater as we normally would. We wanted to keep the Christmas Carol tradition that A.C.T. presents to the Bay Area intact and so we decided to adapt our stage production into an audio drama.

What is it like directing a radio show versus live theater?
I’ve been adapting the script a lot; our stage production is very big and visually based. Christmas Past comes in on this swing lit up with electricity and Christmas Future is this big black bird-like creature, but now we don’t have that. So I and some of my collogues went through the original Dickens novel and pulled out sections that have a little more of a narrative — this way we are getting more visual descriptions read out audibly. In this audio drama format, you have more ability to ignite the audience’s imagination in a really exciting way.

How does the program reflect our current times?
I decided to package the show as four student narrators who are in the middle of this global pandemic and have been socially podding together. As a result, they can’t go home and see their family and friends, so they get together and celebrate by reading A Christmas Carol.

Lisa Fischer (courtesy of GLIDE)

GLIDE’s Annual Holiday Jam: Rise Up for Change

An all-star cast, including India.Arie, Joan Baez, Lisa Fischer, Michael Franti, Goapele, Tom Johnston, Ledisi and D’Wayne Wiggins, will come together virtually this year to support GLIDE’s mission and bring some holiday cheer. The event, hosted again this year by Renel Brooks-Moon, will feature a mix of live-streamed and archival best-of performances, all in support of the organization’s mission to address some of society’s most pressing issues, including poverty, housing and homelessness, and racial and social justice. The show begins at 6:45 p.m. on November 19 and streaming is free, but donations are encouraged. We spoke to Marin’s Tom Johnston, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this month as a founding member of the Doobie Brothers, about the event.

Tell us about the 2012 clip they are going to use of you?
It was me performing with the choir; my daughter was there performing as well. It’s really fun to do. You see people you haven’t seen before and people you haven’t seen for a long time. It’s always a pretty cool event.

Why is it important to give your time and talents to GLIDE?
It’s damn sure a worthy cause; they are an incredible organization. The first time I met Cecil Williams [pastor emeritus] and got to know all those people, I thought that it was really impressive, I really did. You could tell that they believed in the cause, that there was a good reason for them being there. They weren’t doing it just to look good in the local papers; they were doing it because they really believed in what was going on.

Why is it important to support organizations like GLIDE?
Anything to help them get through these times that are hard for everybody, but doubly hard down there in the Tenderloin area and the areas where they serve. They reach a very diverse group of people; a lot of them need help and are homeless or having problems with substance abuse. And they also provide spiritual guidance — and with what we are going through with Covid, it just intensifies the need for what they are doing.