By Vashon Center For the Arts Staff
For The Beachcomber
Drawing on the theatrical form of a cabaret, woven with original songs and stories laced with a bit of magic, islanders David Mielke and Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma will perform the premiere of their show, “Gaybaret: An Offering of Story and Song” at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, at Vashon Center for the Arts.
After sharing their lives for close to a decade, last year Mielke and Pruiksma took the traditional steps to seal their partnership through marriage. Their wedding, however, was anything but conventional. As professional performers, storytellers, musicians, and writers, the couple crafted a ceremony that 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 afterward when so many people wanted to talk about what came up for them that had nothing to do with gayness or LGBTQ 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 about art itself.
“Art changes us and helps us grow into who we are, along with people and mentors who help us,” Pruiksma said.
“Gaybaret” also has rituals wrapped inside its song-and-dance veneer. 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.
“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 express the notion of these gifts, the performers construct a bridge. When the cabaret opens, random pieces of driftwood lie scattered about the stage, each symbolizing a different life experience. As the show progresses, the duo fits 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.”
The couple hopes to take the show 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.
Mielke added, “The energy of this piece is different, like it has a life of its own. 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 for “Gaybaret” on Nov. 21.
To herald the premiere of “Gaybaret: An Offering of Story and Song,” there will be a panel discussion at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Vashon Center for the Arts.
The talk, “Prelude to a Gaybaret: A Historical Panel on the Art of Transformation,” is a co-presentation of VCA, 4Culture and the Vashon Heritage Museum in conjunction with the museum’s current exhibit, “In and Out: Being LGBTQ on Vashon Island.”
Panelists will include activists, artists and cultural influencers who will reflect on the subject of 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 the most of both the curses and blessings of our lives.
• Jami Sieber, an electric cellist, vocalist, and composer. She is a pioneer of her instrument and known for her passion for the environment, social justice and healing arts. Sieber has performed her original compositions around the world, collaborating with a spectrum of dancers, actors, poets, visual artists, improvisers, vocalists, and instrumentalists.
• Latosha Correll co-founder of the Mistresspiece Theater, an LGBTQ-centered community performing arts organization. In 2017, she started volunteering with the City of Seattle’s LGBTQ Commission and was soon appointed to serve as a commissioner. Correll also volunteers with the Washington Technology Industry Association’s Ion Collaborator program and works with the Alphabet Alliance of Color.
• Leo MacLeod, a lifelong islander who currently attends the University of Washington, double-majoring in marine biology and oceanography. He was instrumental in the efforts of the Queer Spectrum Alliance at Vashon High School in establishing a gender-neutral bathroom at the school. He plans to use his experience to support queer individuals within STEM and make science more accessible for everyone.
• Matt Baume, the co-creator of the podcast and live show “Queens of Adventure,” the LGBTQ interview show “The Sewers of Paris,” the YouTube pop-culture series “Culture Cruise,” and the LGBTQ news show “Weekly Debrief.” His book, “Defining Marriage,” chronicles the personal stories of people who fought for marriage equality over the past forty years.
• Timothy White Eagle, who was born in Arizona to a mother who was White Mountain Apache. He was given up for adoption at birth and raised by a working-class white family in Washington state. Eagle graduated from the University of Utah with a BFA in Theater and has worked for more than two decades exploring Native American, pagan, and other earth-based spiritual practices. In 1995, he began an ongoing mentor/protege relationship with Shoshone Elder Clyde Hall and has also collaborated with the photographer Adrain Chesser and the performer Taylor Mac.
The panel is free for youth, with a suggested donation of $10 for adults to benefit the Vashon Heritage Museum.