Nightlife

GAYFEST 2011 :: Inspiring Hope through the Arts

by JC Alvarez
Friday Mar 18, 2011

In a year mired in grief and loss over too many of our gay youth who've succumbed to suicide, and with the economy taking such a deliberate turn, states across our country have had little choice but to target educational resources, specifically in the arts by forcing decreased spending for music and theater programs that enrich the lives and quality students. Now the responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of theater producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman and the efforts of their annual fund raising gala GAYFEST NYC. This year's theme couldn't be appropriate: Spring At Last! The two have been working tirelessly to bring together a charitable affair that benefits the disenfranchised student body of the Harvey Milk School.

They have succeeded in coordinating a gala featuring a remarkably super-charged line-up of celebrities lending their attendance to this worthwhile cause. Headlining with the incomparably dynamic comic talent Wanda Sykes - Entertainment Weekly named Sykes in 2004 "one of the 25 funniest people in America" and we've proudly anointed Wanda one of the leaders in the continuing fight for marriage-equality. Acclaimed stage and television actor Michael Urie, who is currently appearing in Angels in America and was in the ground-breaking hit series "Ugly Betty" will also be hosting GAYFEST NYC, and is particularly proud of his participation in this year's gala.

Michael Urie who set the bar high in his stand-out performances appearing in Jon Marans' The Temperamentals has breathlessly continued to perform in roles that have challenge stereotypes and redefined roles for actors portraying gay related material. "The Harvey Milk School is something I've always wanted to be able to get involved with," the actor revealed. "This opportunity came up, and I couldn't resist." Urie admits that musical director Lance Horne, who is also participating in this year's gala encouraged him to join the roster of celebrities to appear at GAYFEST NYC on Monday night, March 21 at the Loews Regency Hotel.


Urie...The True Angel

The enormity and responsibility of his current role in the iconic Angels doesn’t escape the actor. "There’s something about a play [like Angels,] that is so popular, so legendary," says Urie, "there’s a lot to take on stage with you every night. I find myself thinking I never want to stop doing this play. It’s so great." Urie is also excited that the kids at the Harvey Milk School will also soon be catching a performance of his in Angels. "It’s one of the great programs that GAYFEST NYC provides to the students at the school, through their playwriting program," he says. Through funds raised by GAYFEST NYC, students are able to attend live theater and participate in Q&A sessions with the actors, directors of shows currently in production. "What a better play for them to see," Urie suggests, "and what a better way for them to learn to tell their stories."

The gala event itself is part of the GAYFEST NYC Theatre Festival produced by Harris and Batman which is dedicated to not only inspire and perpetuate the arts for the students of the Harvey Milk School through programs which provide and encourage playwriting, but also through GAYFEST NYC new artists are discovered from across the country. The importance of continuing to support this curriculum exposes and cultivates the students’ creativity and gives them a foundation with courses in writing and stagecraft, as well as providing them with professional mentorship from members of the LGBT community who are working in the field.


Supporting Through Art

As Jack Batman explains, "GAYFEST NYC was founded in 2006. If was founded with a dual purpose: to find new voices in the American theater that would represent the LGBT community, and the second part of our mission is to support the kids of the Harvey Milk High School - we needed to do this in a way that would benefit those beyond the theatre community." Bruce Robert Harris added, "What really was interesting to us was finding material for the festival that spotlighted the LGBT community. Jack and I had always had a very difficult time finding plays about our subject matter." LGBT material was often very political or just did not work in attracting mainstream appeal. "But what we’re finding is that the writing is getting better and the subjects have been very relevant to our world."

Which lead to the highlight of last year’s GLAAD Media Award nominated This One Girl’s Story. The musical book by Bill Wright with music and lyrics by Dionne McClain-Freeney and was directed at the GAYFEST NYC 2010 festival by Devanand Janki. "We’ll find material submitted for the festival that just jumps at us, and we have to just produce it - this is why we do the festival."

Of course at the core is the fund-raising effort to ensure that the students at the Harvey Milk School are provided with the tools necessary to succeed beyond their experiences in high school. "Everything we make on the festival -¬†anything we make from GAYFEST NYC goes back to the kids," Batman encourages. Since the conception of GAYFEST NYC, the money generated by the gala and theatre festival has been able to provide graduates of the Harvey Milk School with the start-up funds to get into college and independently excel, through scholarships that secure lodging, books and meals to the future generations of LGBT leaders. ’We’ve been very proud that we’ve been able to find so much support and sponsors to continue our mission," Harris concluded. "It’s kept us going."


Let’s help to give the Harvey Milk High School students the same opportunities and privileges that continue to set the example of leaders like civil rights activist David Mixner, who will be honored this year at the gala with the GAYFEST NYC Community Service Award. Join hosts Wanda Sykes, Michael Urie and more, as well as event producers Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman in what is certain to be a grand opening to the season - Spring At Last!

The GAYFEST NYC Annual Gala will be held on Monday, March 21 at the Loews Regency Hotel, New York City. Tickets are still available at Gayfest.com website or at TheaterMania website or call (212) 352-3101.

Native New Yorker JC Alvarez is a pop-culture enthusiast and the nightlife chronicler of the club scene and its celebrity denizens from coast-to-coast. He is the on-air host of the nationally syndicated radio show "Out Loud & Live!" and is also on the panel of the local-access talk show "Talking About".


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