My name is Doug Mitchell – or, more formally, Douglas Lee Mitchell. I share that with you to let you know that I grew up being reminded that I was named for Douglas MacArthur – one of only five 5-star generals in the history of the US Army – and for Robert E. Lee … general of the Confederate Army. My father said that he chose those names because they were two of the greatest “military minds” in American history… and that’s probably all I need to say for you to know that my coming out was not without its challenges.
But, if I also tell you that both of my parents are Southern Baptist – and from Mississippi – you might get a better idea of the struggles that have accompanied my life’s journey. It is a journey that has included – among other things – working as a missionary in Japan, an obviously failed attempt at ex-gay therapy, and rejection by my family. Those are stories for another time, but I am happy to say that I have made my way through love and loss to find the joy of living as my authentic self.
I’ve just completed by 19th season with the Turtle Creek Chorale – and I’ve seen a lot of change during that time, but one thing that has remained the same is the “secret sauce” of a Turtle Creek Chorale concert. We call it “TLC – tears, laugher, and chill bumps.” Daryl Curry has already taken care of the chill bumps – and I’m going to leave it up to someone else to make you cry. That leaves me with the daunting task of trying to make you laugh. So, a priest, a rabbi and a Chorale member walk into a bar...
Seriously, tonight I’ve been asked to tell you a little bit about the humor of the Turtle Creek Chorale.
Many years ago, after reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I sat down to write a personal mission statement. Among the things I established as my life’s purpose was to add more music and more laughter to the world – I feel quite fortunate that the Chorale has given me ample opportunity to do both.
Our weekly rehearsals are almost always equal parts humor and hard work – and we have developed several humorous traditions over the years.
Some of you may find this hard to believe, but when you get a group of gay men together – and by that, I mean more than two – there is the possibility of… well, a little drama. When you get 200 gay men together, you have the potential for drama of epic proportion! For example…
In July 2006 – ten years ago this month – I was ending my first year as President of the Chorale. It had been an especially “dramatic” year – and the Chorale was struggling. Back then, the Chorale covered the cost of the end-of-the season awards banquet for members. It had always been a dress-up affair in a fancy hotel ballroom. But there was no money for that, so the 2006 event was held right here at the Round-Up Saloon and it was catered by – no kidding – Chipotle.
It had been a bad year on many levels – the Chorale wasn’t just losing money, we were losing our audience – and losing executive directors – and losing board members – lots of board members. There had been so much drama, it seemed like the only thing to do was to make fun of it. I thought we could all use a good laugh, so I offered up a humorous recap of the year’s events at the banquet.
Over the years – as board chairs, and executive directors, and artistic directors kept resigning – there was always something else to make fun of, so the tradition of “roasting” the year that had just ended was born. Last month I delivered the tenth annual Year-in-Review at our annual banquet – members now have to buy a ticket to the event – but, with no disrespect to the Round-Up, I’m happy to report that this year we were at the Park Cities Hilton.
One of the funniest traditions of the Chorale is the Miss Big Thickette pageant. It dates back to the early 90s and was founded as – and remains – an AIDS fundraiser. Contestants earn a point for each dollar they raise, but no lip syncing allowed. Contestants don’t have to sing, but their talent – whatever it is – must be performed live.
The first Miss Big Thickette, May Beth Blackhead, hammered nails into a wooden saw horse to the tune of The Star Spangled Banner. There have been lots of singers over the years, but in 1995 Buffy Forte – imagine a six-and-a-half foot tall Barbie doll – demonstrated how to pack a suitcase. In 2000, Stormy Weather – a woman who may or may not bear a striking resemblance to me – performed a liturgical dance to a medley of selections from the Chorale’s Psalms CD. In 2007, Cookie Baker frosted cupcakes. And this year’s winner, Lisa Condo, performed a fantastic ribbon dance!
But my favorite Miss Big Thickette moment ever had to the “Siamese twins” who were joined at the hip – they were contestants number 3 and 5 and they took turns standing there with their arms crossed, rolling their eyes while the other was performing.
No historical – or hysterical – record of the Chorale would be complete without mentioning The Strangerettes. The group was formed out of the love (some might say obsession) that Gary Williams has for the Kilgore College Rangerettes. In 1990, Gary – or Gussie Nell, as he is more commonly known – encouraged a group of about 20 Chorale guys to dress up as the iconic Rangerette drill team for Halloween. For the next few years, The Strangerettes would make an occasional appearance at the Halloween block party, but in 2002 Gary decided he wanted to bring the group back bigger and better than ever. He recruited a choreographer and more than 40 Chorale guys began practicing to march in the Dallas Pride parade. With uniforms that were nearly identical to those of the Rangerettes – only a few sizes larger – and a precision pompom routine with lots of high kicks, The Strangerettes were awarded best entry in the 2002 Dallas Pride parade. In 2003 they were named best out-of-town and best overall entry in the Houston Pride parade. In 2004, they wowed an international audience at the GALA Chorus Festival in Montreal. In 2005 they scored a trifecta by winning best out-of-town and best overall entry in the Houston Pride parade and best entry in the Dallas Pride parade. Rebranded as The Award-Winning Strangerettes, they made their last appearance in 2007 in the Austin Pride parade.
Of course, if you’ve been to a Chorale concert, you know that humor also happens on the stage. Sometimes things are funny when they’re not supposed to be – like whenever we try to sing and do choreography at the same time. But usually the humor is planned. We’ve had monks flipping giant flashcards with the words to the Hallelujah Chorus, so that they could “sing along” without breaking their vow of silence. We’ve had two hundred men in pink bathing caps performing a synchronized swimming routine to The Waltz of the Waters. And we’ve had some rather large men in tutus – we called them “ballerinos” – perform The Dance of The Sugar Plum Fairy accompanied by a tuba ensemble.
To capture a bit of the humor from our history, tonight I’ll be singing a song that I originally performed in February 2009 as part of a Valentine’s and food-themed concert called “Music Be the Food of Love”. I originally performed this number in drag – and trust me, I was gorgeous…