Have you ever wondered what’s behind a curtain speech or poster expressing appreciation for the funding that’s made that performance or exhibit possible?
The upcoming collaboration between the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company — “Modern Dance Modern Funk” — provides an answer. The special event, slated for Saturday evening, June 3 at the Victoria Theatre, would not have come to fruition without grants from three funding organizations: The Ohio Arts Council, The Miriam Rosenthal Foundation for the Arts and the Dayton Foundation’s Allegro Fund.
The final concert in the DGMC’s season is part of the group’s annual Pride Concert. In addition to DCDC’s “Shed,” some toe-tapping standards and a new treatment of “Alleluia,” the program’s showcase will be an original piece entitled “Together We Must.”
HOW IT BEGAN
The seeds for the new piece were planted more than a year ago by the two artistic directors — DCDC’s Debbie Blunden-Diggs and DGMC’s Kathy Clark. “We thought that to have these two groups come together would be fantastic — not only for the community but for the arts in general,” Clark says.
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David Conrad Brouillard, a New Yorker who serves as creative consultant to the chorus, says he and Clark began considering what these two seemingly disparate organizations — a gay men’s chorus and an historically African-American dance company — had in common.
Brouillard, a Wright State grad who served as artistic director for the Zipper Factory Theatre in New York, says as the national political scene was beginning to heat up in the fall of 2016, it was clear to him that what was taking place on a national level should play into the piece that was about to be created here in Dayton.
“It became clear to me that the constituents of each group were minority populations in a mid-sized Midwest city,” he says, adding that what the groups had in common was the way people in their communities treated them, received them and viewed them. “I have always said to the guys in the choir that their being gay in Montgomery County matters so much more than my being gay in New York City,” he notes.
“In Dayton they physically represent a community and their presence matters. In New York I’m one of a community of thousands and thousands. In Dayton you can still be the ‘one gay guy’ or the ‘one black girl’ and people will likely treat you in one of three ways: equally, trepidatiously or as a novelty.”
THE BRAINSTORMING BEGINS
The creative process began on a July afternoon when members of both organizations gathered at a studio at The Loft Theatre to explore their own personal experiences.
“They came in with homework about being gay and black in Montgomery County and how — and if — it was ever an issue in their day- to-day lives,”explains Brouillard. “Stories were recounted of being watched too closely in the store by the clerk and being called a faggot at an Irish Festival. It was instantly clear that indeed people did treat them differently for just being who they were.”
Eventually personal stories, hopes, experiences and fears covered giant poster boards on the walls of the room. “I configured all of that information into five movements and by the time we walked out that day, our stories had taken shape,” says Brouillard. “They contained both music and movement and suddenly the ideas we walked in with were now alive!”
The day’s work was then turned over to Clark, who began to compose pieces for the choir. “I took down all the thoughts that were presented and written down and set about composing five movements using these ideas as lyrics and meaning,” she says. ” My hope is for the audience to think about these issues and realize that we are all just trying to live in the community, expressing ourselves as best we know how, and live with a sense of peace and togetherness. We must not stop trying to achieve all these things.”
These workshops also resulted in the tone for the movements of the piece — Debbie Blunden-Diggs and Crystal Michelle Fuller then got busy choreographing the work.
Brouillard says his session asked participants to look in the mirror to give shape to the project. “Kathy gave it voice. Debbie gave it movement,” he says. ” But only the audience will give it life.”
To turn the dream into reality and ensure that audience, funding would be required.
“It wasn’t until we secured funding from Ohio Arts Council that it began to feel like the piece had potential to see the light of day,” admits Brouillard, adding that the OAC backing made it clear to him that the idea was indeed a good one. “Support from the State of Ohio was just the springboard we needed,” he says. ” It’s just as simple as knowing someone else has faith in you and the OAC started that ball rolling for us.”
Next to come on board was the Miriam Rosenthal Foundation which ties its grants to specific projects or activities that involve innovation, outreach, collaboration, “and anything that has the potential to impact the quality of the art and/or the organization into the future.”
Richard McCauley, who has been chair of the foundation for the past 27 years, says when they began project-specific funding they encouraged the arts organizations to stretch themselves artistically, and to take some risks. “We wanted to provide the ‘safety blanket’ for the risk-takers, so that they knew they would be OK if the project did not completely pan out,” he explains.
By their own admission, he adds, the arts organizations make clear in their grant applications that without foundation funding, the projects will have to be scrapped.
Some recent examples of Rosenthal arts grants? The organization underwrote the “Lift Ev’ry Voice” concert at the Schuster Center that enabled church choirs from the African-American community to perform with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. “It gave the audience — many of whom had never been to the Schuster nor heard a full symphony performed — a chance to take great pride in the arts and in the community,” says McCauley. “Neal Gittleman worked over 10 years to build to this moment in time. The concert hall was filled, and the response was wonderful.”
His foundation also provided funding that allowed the Victoria Theatre to document its 150-year history on film. And those who enjoyed the Dayton Ballet’s “Daring Duets” concert saw more evidence of how special funding can enhance a production: the choreographers and dancers for each number were filmed during rehearsals, and video clips were presented to the audience before each work. “For the first time, perhaps, audience members were able to understand the thoughts that are in the minds of those that make the art,” says McCauley.
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He says his foundation took another leap with the upcoming DCDC/Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus collaboration. “Its intent is to explore themes germane to both the LGBTO and African American communities and the Foundation wanted to support this project for several reason,” McCauley says. “We wanted to recognize the artistic achievement and status of the DGMC; to applaud the collaborative nature of the project; to provide an arts vehicle whose focus is the current social, humanitarian and cultural topics for both communities. There is risk involved, but our dollars will minimize that risk.”
ICING ON THE CAKE
The Dayton Foundation’s Allegro Fund was another funding participant for the June 3 concert. Mike Parks, president of the Dayton Foundation, says it was pleased to support an innovative program that brings together two talented performing arts organizations.
“Creative collaborations such as the ‘Modern Dance, Modern Funk’ project further enrich Greater Dayton’s arts opportunities and help to continue the legacy of Josephine Schwarz, founder of the Allegro Fund which made this grant possible,” Parks says.
Drew Higgins, board president of the chorus, says his goal is to reach audiences that have never heard a gay men’s chorus perform and may not even be aware that Dayton is host to a 45-member gay men’s chorus.
“While the LGBT community has made some legal wins over the last several years, there are people who would like to roll back the civil rights so hard fought for,” he says. “I sing to show young people today that an out and proud gay man can be a valuable and strong member of our culture. There are far too many youth that feel questioning their own identify and sexuality is not an option.
“For that reason I stand up and sing. This collaboration explores in depth, my fight, and my dream of sexuality never being an issue, and merely being another part of who we are.”
Want to go?
WHAT: “DGMC Presents: Modern Dance Modern Funk,” a collaboration between the Dayton Gay Men’s Chorus and the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, June 3
WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton
TICKETS: Reserved seating from $23-$33. Purchase by phone at (937) 530-0642 or www.ticketcenterstage.com.