June 9, 2019

The Birmingham Music Club Pinafettes

I’ve been a Gilbert and Sullivan aficionado for decades (due to the heavy influences of my mother who grew up in a very British household), but this was the first time I’d ever had a chance to perform one. They knew how to have fun with a men’s chorus. We didn’t have a lot of trained dancers on the stage (they don’t tend to come out for operetta), so we went for more of a Keystone Kops effect of bumbling, good natured, but not terribly precise sailors and that, combined with the general silliness and more preposterous aspects of the plot led to a good time being had by all on stage and in the audience. I hope it was enough of a success that the company does some more G and S in the future. I adore the score to the Mikado but do realize that it needs to be rethought some in this day and age so as not to come across as semi-racist with its Oriental tropes. The English National Opera got it right thirty years ago when they set the whole thing in a Brighton seaside hotel as a Marx Brothers movie jettisoning all the Japanese trappings. The satire and humor are all about Victorian England anyway and has essentially nothing to do with Imperial Japan. I have a DVD of that production somewhere. I should get it out and watch it.

In some ways, the production was a bit of a full circle. The very first adult theater production (not that kind of adult theater, get your mind out of the gutter…) I was taken to as a child at age 5 was the D’Oyly Carte company’s tour of the original production of HMS Pinafore. I remember it vividly and its probably at least part of the reason I became enchanted with theater. I still have the program for whatever reason, likely my packrat tendencies, so I broke it out for the cast and staff to look at. The mid 60s advertisements were hysterical.

Then give three cheers and one cheer more…

Birmingham Music Club needs to be commended for keeping the operetta tradition alive locally with their annual production. This is my third with them, the other two being The Desert Song and Die Fledermaus. The principals are cast with real singers who can do the material justice and they spring for a full pit orchestra rather than a couple of synthesizers and it’s so much more fun to sing with that kind of accompaniment. We’re also not miked. They do cheat a little with some ambient stage mics, but we really do have to project.

The experience would have been better had I not developed a backache rather suddenly the day after first tech. I put it down to bouncing around on stage in shoes I don’t usually wear but it continued to nag me. Hot showers, ice packs, anti inflammatories, anti spasmodics. Nothing much was helping. I was laying down on the floor of the green room during off times trying to stretch it out but even that wasn’t much use. It just made other things hurt. I was also feeling slightly under the weather, but I figured that was just tech week with late hours and catch as catch can meals. On opening night, I did the show and changed out of costume. My skin was fine. A few hours later, I was home, getting ready for bed, took my shirt off and there it was. A huge band of vesicular rash around my right side. Shingles. Well, at least I now knew what I was dealing with. (That second year medical student piece of me was gearing up to have to go in and get a CT scan to discover my renal cell carcinoma). Off to the pharmacy the next morning for valacyclovir and prednisone. There are some advantages to having an MD. You can skip the step where you have to go sit in the urgent care for hours. I’m on day two of the rash. It’s blistering up and the area aches a bit, but I was still able to do the remaining Pinafore performances and my church obligations this weekend. (I thought about posting a picture of my lovely rash, but then decided that might be TMI…)

It’s also Pride weekend locally. I wasn’t really able to participate this year due to Pinafore performances and the shingles and need for some pain meds really precluded any late-night revelry. Like a lot of gay men of my generation, I have a bit of a love/hate relation with pride and pride parades. I went to my first one in Seattle in the mid80s before I was out, scared to death that someone I knew might see me. I knew I was gay, but that fact just didn’t fit into the vision I had for my life and future at the time, so I remained firmly in the closet for a few more years than I should have. I remember watching the parade and being titillated but a bit disappointed. Where were the people like me? I was tall, skinny, not especially attractive and the young men were all these gorgeous little twinky boys in speedos. The older men seemed to be leather queens or drag queens, or some other stereotype and I didn’t see myself fitting into any of those groups. Because I wasn’t out, I had gay acquaintances, but not a lot of gay friends to talk to. Then there was a float with health care workers on it. It was the height of the HIV epidemic. They looked like me (I was in medical school at the time). It was going to be OK.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham contingent at the 2019 Birmingham Pride parade

A few years later, after I got together with Steve and officially came out to the world, the two of us would go to pride wherever we happened to be. We went to San Francisco Pride (a bit overwhelming but I got a great T-shirt that I still wear every pride season), Los Angeles Pride, San Diego Pride, New York Pride, Seattle Pride and, of course, Sacramento Pride at various times over the years. I have my anodized aluminum pride rings, all sorts of rainbow paraphernalia, short shorts, and various other tchotchkes so I’m more than ready when it rolls around every year. Tommy wasn’t big on pride celebrations. He was a strict assimilationist and hated the fact that all the press would go to the drag queens and topless lesbians and not to mass groups of gay accountants or bankers. We’d argue every year about whether to go or not and I would make my points about the need for the community to hang together and to just be visible and he would make his points about the straight world seizing on the more outrĂ© elements. Then we’d go to dinner and sometimes he would win, and we’d go home and sometimes I would win, and we’d go people watch.

Last year’s pride happened shortly after his death and I found it suddenly very important that I go and be seen. My life parallels the gay rights movement in this country. I was much too young for Stonewall and the early days but Steve, at fourteen years older than I was a member of that generation and I got a good feel for it from him and his surviving friends. The HIV epidemic coincided with my medical training and I saw more young men of my generation die than I want to remember. I came out just as people were starting to be open in medicine in fields outside of HIV care. To my knowledge, I was one of the first UAB clinical faculty recruits who was out at the time of hire. (They weren’t exactly sure what to do when I arrived with a husband rather than a wife). My time at UAB has been a transition from being denied access to any benefits to ease my position when Steve was sick and dying to now working in a division where six of the faculty are openly LGBTQ+. If the shingles, the grey hair and the white beard didn’t already prove it, my need to tell my story and be there for the younger generations to have an easier time and not fight the same battles confirms my status as an eldergay. We’re starting to pull together a community group locally dedicated to issues of aging in the LGBTQ+ community and I’m doing a meeting/Q and A with them this next week.

What else? I was going to keep things low key over the next couple of weeks before I leave for Europe (seventeen days but who’s counting?) but the calendar seems to be filling up anyway. Opera Birmingham annual meeting on Monday where I officially join the board. Meeting over the future of CenterStage productions (the theater company that I have been placeholding for a decade waiting for someone with more time and energy than I to take it on). Discussions on a Politically Incorrect Cabaret activity (we have a couple of ideas that could be put together relatively quickly with minimal rehearsal). I also have to finish the book chapter I’m half way through, start the next one, and write a couple of MNM columns. And of course, there’s the usual work schedule plus being quasi doped up on meds while the shingles run their course. There is no rest for the wicked. #illsleepwhenimdead

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