“A Gathering — 30 Years of AIDS” tonight at the Winspear

Come together

The Dallas arts community is coming together for a spectacular One-Night-Only performance commemorating 30 Years of AIDS. An unprecedented collaboration between some of the finest arts organizations in Dallas, A Gathering: The Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS will feature eleven Dallas cultural institutions coming together and sharing their talents to create a powerful evening of entertainment. With a cast of more than 200 singers, dancers and actors, A Gathering promises to be a soul-stirring performance, and a night to remember.

All the organizations involved are donating their time and talent for this unique performance. 100% of the proceeds will directly benefit four of Dallas’ leading AIDS service organizations. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to be a part of an extraordinary night of song, dance, hope and solidarity.

Participating organizations: AT&T Performing Arts Center, Booker T. Washington High School of the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance Project, CharlieUniformTango, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, Texas Ballet Theater, TITAS and Turtle Creek Chorale

—AT&T Performing Arts Center

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. 7 p.m. $12–$100. ATTPAC.org/Gathering

—  Rich Lopez

Spirit of Giving: A Gathering to remember

The benefit gala commemorates 30 years of AIDS and its impact on Dallas, North Texas

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RAISE YOUR VOICE | Gary Floyd, right, directs singers, from left, Damon K. Clark, Rachel Dupard and Denise Lee during a rehearsal for ‘A Gathering.’ (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Arnold Wayne Jones  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Charles Santos was having breakfast at Lucky’s with Jonathan Palant last summer when the now-former artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale mentioned that the chorale was born in the time of AIDS. This year, Palant told him, marks 30 years since the first cases of what was first known as

“Gay-Related Immune Deficiency,” or GRID, were reported.

The comment got Santos thinking how deeply the arts — in North Texas and across the world — had been affected by the pandemic.

Some people might have spent time reflecting on how their lives and the world have changed; others might have felt compelled to discuss it with friends.

Maybe some might have written an op-ed piece of the “lest we forget” variety.

But Santos had a different idea.

As executive director of TITAS, which has brought art and music performances to Dallas for decades, Santos was in a unique position. He had access to the Winspear Opera House and a Rolodex that included every major performing arts leader in the region.

More than that, he had a passion to produce a show. And he wanted everyone within earshot to participate.

Santos started by gathering a core group of area leaders, including the Dallas Theater Center’s Joel Ferrell and Kevin Moriarty and AT&T Performing Arts Center external affairs director Chris Heinbaugh. They and others came up with the beneficiaries, how to approach arts organizations, the structure of the show.

“We wrote it, and it’s pretty remarkable, unlike the other events I have done,” says Santos. “We talked about what the pieces were and what we wanted to concentrate on.”

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GETTING READY | Charles Santos, right, and Millicent Johnnie, assistant professor of dance at SMU’s Meadows School of The Arts, second from right, look on during a recent rehearsal for ‘A Gathering.’ (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

The idea of the staging will be like a deconstructed musical that lays out three emotional “arcs” to be covered in two acts: First, loss, heroism and fury; second, faith, family, friends and caring; finally, action and change.

Thus was formed A Gathering: The Dallas Arts Community Reflects on 30 Years of AIDS, a one-night-only concert and fundraiser being held at the Winspear Opera House on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Ultimately, about a dozen performing arts groups signed on, as well as many vocalists, musicians and other leaders. All told, more than 200 individuals will be taking part.

The ground rules for participation were simple: With the exception of certain unavoidable costs (unionized stage hands, licensing fees for music, etc.), everyone involved had to volunteer their time — every penny raised will benefit equally four local charities: AIDS Arms, AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Services of Dallas and Resource Center Dallas.

“Everyone’s been great,” Santos says. “ATTPAC donated the theater and waived all the ticket fees; a printer donated the programs and posters.

“I have been very clear that this is all being donated. When I was talking to one of the orchestras, they said they wanted to participate but couldn’t donate their time. I said, ‘I totally understand but I can’t use you.’ There are no comps — everyone is buying their own tickets. All the performers are buying tickets for their loved ones.”

The outpouring of support from the community has been reminiscent of the town of Bedford Falls helping out George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life — a fitting metaphor during the holiday season. And while Santos has been grateful for the generosity, he says it really does not surprise him.

“One of the things the gay community learned during the early days of the AIDS crisis was that we had to take care of our own — we had to change the world. What a remarkable thing it was,” he says.

And it’s that spirit that has driven A Gathering.

“To my knowledge, this has never happened in this community, this many arts organizations collaborating on one event. Everyone has been so generous.

That’s why I’m interested to see what comes of it. I hope it generates more collaborative projects in our community. If these groups all say, ‘Let’s do another project, maybe in our own seasons,’ that would be excellent. In this economy, we are in a real period of wearing collaborative clothes.”

This kind of benefit wasn’t really new to Santos, though it had been a long time coming.

“When I was a dancer, I did shows like this,” he explains.

He put a performance fundraiser together in Austin that became an annual event. But since moving to Dallas in 2001, “I was focused on TITAS and didn’t do any more AIDS work. I haven’t done an AIDS benefit in years, so I’m really excited.”

It is perhaps for that reason that Santos threw himself head-long into producing this show with only three months of prep time.

“It’s a massive amount of work — I force myself to spend time on it every day,” he says. “Chris [Heinbaugh] has been great about keeping my thoughts grounded and relating it back to Dallas.”

Maintaining the focus on North Texas, in fact, was a key decision made early in the process.

“We all jointly made a decision to keep it local,” Santos says. “We all had the contacts to bring in headliners like Kristin Chenoweth and Bill T. Jones, but then that becomes a different animal. This is about our community.”
(The program will include a photo montage of locals who have died of AIDS.)

Nevertheless, Santos’ plan for A Gathering was a scope that extended beyond our borders — both Dallas’ and the gay community’s.

“One of the discussions I’ve had with everyone is that it doesn’t all have to be about the gay community and doesn’t have to be literal. We all know the impact on the gay community, but this is a global issue — gay, straight, single, married. It is a human issue.

“As we’re talking about a particular emotion, we noted that something taken out of context can be very helpful — it doesn’t all have to be Rent and The Normal Heart and Angels in America. There will be a microphone close to the audience where people [including former Mayor Laura Miller and various TV news anchors] will do readings.

“We include facts that deal with the impact of AIDS in Africa, so we have a piece of choreography that’s a tribute to [ composer and activist] Fela Kuti, who died of AIDS. We have a statement about discrimination. The opera is sending us a countertenor to sing for us. Some of the AIDS quilt panels will be flown in and be on display.”

While some tickets have been set aside for clients of the AIDS organizations served by the benefit, Santos’ great hope is that the entire community turns out to participate and reflect on AIDS.

“I hope the community comes out for it. It will be an amazing show, a real spectacular,” he said.

Participating organizations include the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Bruce Wood Dance Project, CharlieUniformTango, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Dallas Opera, Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School for the Arts, Texas Ballet Theater, TITAS and the Turtle Creek Chorale. Vocalists include Gary Lynn Floyd, Damon K. Clark, Denise Lee, Patty Breckenridge, John Holiday, Rachel Dupard and Cory Cooper.

Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. $12–$200. 214-880-0202.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Applause: Chris Heinbaugh: Act 3

Former TV newsman Chris Heinbaugh left the mayor’s office to return to his roots in the arts community

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Being near the stage (including the iconic Wyly Theatre) is nothing new for the former mayoral chief of staff; Heinbaugh once made his living as an actor. | Photography by Arnold Wayne Jones

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Applause Editor

Chris Heinbaugh will not soon forget his first day working for the AT&T Performing Arts Center as its external affairs director. A “patio session” live music show preceded the opening night of Billy Elliot at the Winspear, the Mavs hosted one of their home games on the way to the NBA title, and there was an after-party at Jorge’s where he needed to make an appearance. All without an assistant. Jorge’s is where he is sitting now, margarita in hand, after work.

All that might sound like the kind of first day that might also be your last, but for Heinbaugh, it was completely manageable. As the openly gay chief of staff to Mayor Tom Leppert (and briefly Mayor Dwaine Carraway), Heinbaugh was a fixture in the media, at council meetings and throughout the community; Day 1 at ATTPAC was just another example of doing what needs to be done.

“You hit the ground running in both jobs,” he says with a sly smile. “People ask me, ‘Do you miss City Hall? Do you miss the politics?’ There’s still politics in what I do, interacting with the city, the chambers [of commerce], other arts organizations.” He shrugs and takes another sip of his margarita.

Now, instead of working for the man who runs a huge city, he work for an entity that manages, operates and programs the Wyly, Winspear, Strauss Square and Sammons Park (there are no plans for ATTPAC to operate the City Performance Hall currently under construction, “though we are supportive of what they want”) — also a breathtakingly expansive job.

But working for an arts organization isn’t as far a cry from Heinbaugh’s prior life as it may seem. Before he started working for Leppert, Heinbaugh was on-air talent for WFAA-TV. Although he was hired to be a political reporter, Heinbaugh says he made it a condition of his employment that he got to dip his toe occasionally in arts coverage to “keep my creative juices working.”

“Ray Nasher was one of the first stories I did when I moved here,” he says. “He got me a full tour of his house and he was so passionate about every piece — every piece had a story. And the [performing arts center] was something I started covering immediately. It was a great way to get to know the arts community.”

That was back in 2000, and Heinbaugh ended up in Dallas almost by accident. After 18 years in television journalism, he was ready to quit and start a different career when WFAA tapped him. The flagship station of the Belo Corp., being asked to work for Channel 8 is to TV journos what being called to the majors is for a minor league pitcher:The juiciest plum in his profession. He couldn’t turn it down.

But even journalism was a second career in itself. In a prior life, Heinbaugh received his college degree in theater from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and made his living (barely) as actor for more than a decade.

“That was a long time ago,” he sighs. “Although there’s an episode of Divorce Court out there with me in it. Every so often I still get a residual check for two bucks.” (He also appeared as a bachelor on The Dating Game and won the vacation with the bachelorette, though it was platonic and they stayed in separate rooms.) Eventually Heinbaugh craved the regularity of a steady paycheck and went back to school to study journalism.

Now all those careers are behind him, though his position at ATTPAC didn’t come as a surprise to him, or even feel like much of a change.

“The job was something on my radar,” he admits. Even before Leppert’s sudden resignation as mayor so that he could run for U.S. Senate, Heinbaugh planned to switch careers, and something in the arts seemed a natural extension of both his theatrical and political lives.

“I loved all the things going on in the city, from the Calatrava bridge to the Performing Arts Center, so now I just get to be an advocate.”

Heinbaugh works for ATTPAC, which is a separate entity from the Arts District neighborhood, headed by Veletta Lill.

“I work closely with Veletta,” he says. “I’ve known her since I’ve lived here and she has such a great appreciation for the arts community and the gay community.”

They work together in trying to turn Downtown into its own destination, with sunset movie screenings, outdoor concerts and festivals. Something is working.

“When I moved here there were maybe 200 people living Downtown; now there are 7,000 to 8,000,” he says. “Museum Tower is coming. It’s just a matter of time.”

But he also know what really will serve the ATTPAC is the programming at the halls.

“What’s the real challenge for the resident companies is, they have this tremendous space and the question is, what do they do with it? I think [Dallas Theater Center artistic director] Kevin Moriarty has pushed the envelope, and that’s good for the arts. That’s what’s really exciting. And we’re getting the word out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

All THIS, THAT and the OTHER

SPOKEN WORD | As the artistic director of Fahari, Harold Steward helps celebrate the queer-identified black arts community of Dallas with monthly programming like the spoken word event Queerly Speaking. (Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice)

Dallas’ black gay arts scene gets a future as Harold Steward refers to the past

RICH LOPEZ  |  Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Sometimes with death comes a birth — or maybe an outing.

When acclaimed author E. Lynn Harris died in the summer of 2009, Harold Steward, along with the rest of the gay black community and Harris’ fans, felt shock and sadness.

But with Harris’ death came the inception of an idea that is changing the face of arts in the Dallas African-American LGBT community.

“There had been nothing planned to memorialize him, so I approached View of Dallas [book club] about this idea,” Steward said. “I brought in the dance and poetry people while they read excerpts. We had about 30 people come … and Fahari was kinda outed at that point.”

Only 28, Steward speaks with the eloquence of a mature soul. In conversation, he throws in quotes from his heroes, and he often ends a thought with his go-to mantra: “All this, that and the other.”

But it is a wealth of passion and history that marks Steward as a visionary.

As the cofounder of the Fahari Arts Institute and the performing arts administrator at the South Dallas Cultural Center, Steward is in prime position to shape Dallas’ appreciation of its queer-identified African-American community and the arts that come out of it.

The road to Fahari began via his work at the SDCC. Queer artists constantly approached Steward about using the center as an outlet for their talents. In turn, arts organizations asked for references of artists to include in their shows or exhibits.

As the accidental conduit, Steward began looking for a solution.

“There was this disconnect. I wondered if I could be satisfied as a consultant and place people where they needed to be,” he said.

“There had to be a better way for this, but that led to me asking myself ‘What does a black, queer, LGBT arts organization look like?’ There couldn’t be much out there since I hadn’t heard about it.”

As it turned out, he was wrong — and gladly so.

In Steward’s research, he uncovered an entire culture of art and artists that overwhelmed him. He found movements that equated to a new renaissance.

A domino effect of research happened as he learned about one dancer that led to a singer that then led to writers, and so forth.

This not only nurtured the seed of an arts organization, it spoke to Steward himself.

“Finding so much history was affirming for me as an artist, and if I’m having this kind of experience finding these works, other people would too,” he said. “At the same time, I’m very comfortable in my position at the SDCC, so making Fahari happen wasn’t at the forefront.”

Steward grew up in the Singing Hills neighborhood in Dallas’ southern as the seventh of eight children. Instead of spending all his time playing on Sega or Nintendo like other kids, he spent his time demonstrating his artistic talents by drawing on the bathroom wall with his mother’s lipstick. And his parents encouraged his art — or he recalls it that way.

“First of all, I am a product of public schools when they worked, and I had teachers who cared,” Steward said. “I used to cover the whole wall with my imaginary thoughts. I think they [his parents] believed in me, even if they didn’t vocalize it, because they saw their child’s imagination at work.”

Steward didn’t discover his sexuality until middle school athletics, and despite moving over to the embracing arms of  Booker T. Washington arts magnet high school — where Steward found a mentor in his teacher, Vicki Washington-Nance — he struggled with being gay until his early 20s.

He had always been fascinated by his black culture, but hadn’t resolved his place as a gay man.

“I had a certain level of understanding in reading black literature. It was always a conscious thought to immerse myself in that,” he said. “Gay culture is something relatively new to me, but I saw a lot of parallel in my experience with the community.”

LADIES IN HIS LIFE | Steward pals around with his South Dallas Cultural Center director and boss, Vicki Meek and mentors Marilyn Clark and Vicki Washington-Nance. (Photo courtesy of Harold Steward).

When Steward began his research, all of his personal influences and heroes, such as James Baldwin, Langson Hughes and Alice Walker, were gay. When he discovered Haitian gay poet Assotto Saint, Steward found what he needed to proceed with Fahari.

“Saint talked about the importance of building cultural institutions and publishing houses and making sure they are not self-serving and they should out live you as a person,” Steward said. “He said we had to do this.”

Enter J.W. Richard.

Steward and Richard were acquainted because Richard had interviewed Vicki Meek, the director of the SDCC, on his Mandrake Society Radio program. Richard was in tune with the arts scene, as was Steward, but in varying degrees.

While Steward participated in the arts more, Richard highlighted and reported on them via his podcast. But Richard was more involved in political activism.

“When he [Steward] talked to me about the idea, it was on a learning curve and it still is,” Richard said. “I had not directly worked with anything much on the arts level even though I am an artist myself. This was such a unique opportunity.”

One thing was hanging on Steward’s mind. After the Harris memorial, he was intent on naming the still-forming idea of this nebulous arts organization. Perhaps giving it a name would give it weight, but he knew it needed to express so much in minimal fashion.

“I had been thinking about the program and titles are so important. And it is so easy to get tripped up on the right name,” he said. “We had names like Rainbow Connection but stuff like that is so played out. Fahari means ‘pride’ in Swahili. I wanted it to have a connection to our African community and it was perfect for, you know, all this, that and the other.”

Two guys, one idea — now came the hard part.

While Richard and Steward figured out what Fahari should offer, the answer unfolded amid Steward’s love life. He was dating a poet ,which drew him back into that scene of spoken word and slam poets, but it wasn’t one he liked all that much.

“It had become so sexist and misogynistic and that environment isn’t right,” Steward said. “So I wondered what a same-gender-loving-affirming event would look like?”

Queerly Speaking, a monthly event held on the fourth Friday, grew into such a success that it moved from its original home at the Backbeat Café downtown into the more accommodating SDCC. The growth was symbolic of a hunger for something more, whether it was in the gay community at large or in just a slice of the whole.

Fahari was onto something when the crowds showed up that were also unfamiliar to Steward and Richard. The impact began immediately.

But Steward acknowledges one important thing: He wasn’t the first. In Dallas’ history, many black organizations were making strides for their LGBT communities, such as the Legacy of Success and the DFW Senators. Without them or his heroes, Fahari may never have come into existence.

Steward expounded at length as if he felt the need to put his gratitude and sense of indebtedness out into the universe.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “The work they did set a platform, and if I’m able to be here, being interviewed about this work, it is a direct relation to their efforts.

“One of my things is to get black people to arrive and be known for our value. What would America and the world look like with no Alvin Ailey, no Color Purple, no Harlem Renaissance? Take all that way and people will understand who we are and what we bring,” he added. “I am standing on their shoulders because it is my responsibility.”

Steward didn’t realize that Fahari would hit the ground running although there was some personal frustration behind it. He tried to reconcile why Fahari had to happen now.

“It should not have emerged in 2009 as an entity in Dallas when it’s had such a history,” he said. “It is troubling when we’re the ‘first black’ this or that. When are we not going to be the first? But the stuff others and we are doing now is easy compared to what those before us did. See? It always ties to the history.”

Fahari’s other monthly event is the Queer Film Series every third Sunday that works in association with Black Cinematheque.

Local filmmaker Q-Roc Ragsdale was trying to start a film series highlighting queer directors. When Steward mentioned Fahari to her, the wheels turned. She became a key member, joining Richard and Steward to finish out the troika that pushed Fahari forward.

“It really was a marriage made in heaven,” Ragsdale said. “When the film series came to the point where I turned it over to Fahari, I knew it would be great. I still act as the curator and now so many black queer filmmakers will get some needed exposure.”

Born from that, two film festivals were added to its special programming: “The Marlon Riggs Film Festival” and “Short and Sweet.”

The latter is intended to open this summer featuring short films. The Riggs festival is a three-day event that had a successful run its first time out in February 2010.

The Fort Worth-born Riggs had profound impact with his revolutionary films giving black queer culture an identity, and that made an impression on Steward’s mission.

“I have these moments where I’m watching his film Black Is Black Ain’t and Riggs is on his deathbed due to complications from AIDS,” Steward said. “He says, on his deathbed, ‘as long as I have work, I am not dead.’ I couldn’t crucify or kill him all over again by not bringing his work to the forefront. AIDS wasn’t the end of him because in the end, his work will live on. I have to take up that personal charge.”

For Ragsdale, Steward symbolized something beyond the work he’s doing at this moment. This is more than just about Dallas’ black gay culture, it’s about the bigger picture.

“I really value him as a leader because he has extraordinary vision and great purpose,” she said. “The thing I love is how he makes sure Fahari is inclusive and so he actively invites lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders and allies to the events and to the table.

“I foresee him being a leader in the overall queer community.”

Just don’t tell Steward that. If it were up to him, he’d likely return to his research, spending his late nights soaking in the history he so loves.

“I struggle with stuff like that, but I think of George Washington Carver. He said to start with what you have, make something of it and never settle,” Steward said. “I don’t know why it’s me in this position. There are days when I wanna throw my hands up, but I have to remember somebody paid the price for me to be here and so with that reason I do ask, ‘Why not me?’”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright