Drawing on the theatrical form of a cabaret, featuring original songs and stories laced with a bit of magic, two islanders, David Mielke and Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma, have written and will perform the premiere of their innovative show, “Gaybaret,” on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, November 22, 23, and 24 at Vashon Center for the Arts’ Kay Hall.
After sharing their lives for close to a decade, last year Mielke and Pruiksma took the traditional steps to sanctify their partnership through marriage. Their wedding, however, was anything but conventional. As professional performers, storytellers, musicians, and writers, the couple told the story of how they met — honoring friends, teachers, and experiences that led to their meeting and readiness to commit to a life partner — and they did so using a cabaret-style form of story and song. They called it “Gaybaret.”
“‘Gaybaret’ sounds campy and frivolous,” Mielke said, “but at the wedding, it quickly became not just that as the guests’ emotions started being tapped into. The best part was afterwards, when so many people wanted to talk about what came up for them that had nothing to do with gayness or LGBT stuff.”
That’s when the duo realized what they had created might be meaningful to a wider audience. Because the first iteration concluded with their marriage, they had to write a new ending, adding other elements, to fashion a stand-alone performance. While the show is based on their lives, Pruiksma said, it is not just a work of nonfiction; it is also a work of art.
“The artfulness opens it to other people,” he said, “so it is not just a show about LGBTQ experience, rather the art allows the specific to become universal. It is both a work of art and how art changes us and helps us grow into who we are, along with people and mentors who help us.”
Though the show is like a cabaret, it also includes ritual. With Pruiksma on piano, each performer alternately tells their own story and sings songs — about letting go of old shame and acknowledging the mystery of life. As with many rituals honoring what is known but unseen, the show bows to the joyful play of what seems to be serendipity.
“There’s a thread running through the show of openness to wonder, to the poetry of lived life,” Pruiksma said. “Our experiences may appear to be chaotic and random, but often there is some more mysterious pattern we can see or help to create that leads to unexpected gifts.”
To metaphorically, visually, express the notion of these gifts, the performers construct a bridge. When the cabaret opens, random pieces of driftwood lie scattered about stage, each symbolizing a different life experience. As the show progresses, the duo fit the pieces together, eventually forming a bridge.
“It’s a bridge that connects us,” Mielke said. “The idea is that we could see our negative experiences as stumbling blocks to trip over, or we can find a way to reimagine them, turning them into something positive to serve as steps toward where we’d like to go. If nothing else, it gives us compassion.”
That transformation, Pruiksma said, has a healing power. It leads to changes in perception of ourselves and our world, which leads to taking new actions “and living more fully in line with our deepest hopes and highest intentions.”
A deep hope and intention of the couple is to keep offering the show to others, to take it on the road.
“It is a celebration of the gifts we’ve been given by cherished friends and works of art, so it is the passing along of the gift. The gift is given by passing it along,” Pruiksma said.
“The energy of this piece is different, like it has a life of its own,” Mielke added. “Again, it is the mystery of it. I try not to analyze but just say ‘yes.’ Where there is the presence of grace or the muses, it is so juicy. You are in the flow.”
That flow also brings unexpected things, Pruiksma said, like the opportunity to hold a preview panel discussion. Pruiksma applied for and was awarded a 4Culture grant, which together with VCA and the Vashon Heritage Museum exhibit, “In and Out: Being LGBTQ on Vashon Island,” will sponsor “Prelude to a Gaybaret: A Historical Panel on the Art of Transformation.”
Five panelists panelists — Jami Sieber, Latosha Correll, Leo MacLeod, Matt Baume, and Timothy White Eagle — will discuss the art of transformation: how art helps us know ourselves more fully; how rituals like a marriage or theater offer possibilities of healing; and how we make sense of historical change in our own lives, acknowledging both the curses and blessings of the past.
The production is also hosting a drawing for an all-inclusive “Night Out on Vashon,” with a pair of tickets, dinner at May Kitchen + Bar, and luxurious accommodations at the Lodges on Vashon. Learn more and enter by November 15, 2019, at driftwoodbridge.com.
“Gaybaret: An Offering of Story and Song” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22 and Saturday, Nov. 23, and at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at Kay Hall. Tickets are $10-$23.
“Prelude to a Gaybaret” will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Kay Hall. Tickets are free for youth age 18 and under, with a suggested donation of $10 for adults. All proceeds benefit the Vashon Heritage Museum
West Seattle, Washington