Behind the Scenes: In Writing The Skit For “A Prairie Homo Companion”

Behind the Scenes: In Writing The Skit For “A Prairie Homo Companion”

A Praire Homo Companion Skit

Six years ago, my Husband and I moved here from Minnesota, where Prairie Home Companion takes place and Garrison Keillor lives. I have seen the show live twice, and I listen to it most Sundays on my way home from church. Minnesota has embraced Prairie Home Companion as its own; there is a Lake Woe-Be-Gone State Park in central Minnesota; near our house in St. Paul was a bar called Chatterbox Pub; the show is broadcast live annually from the Minnesota State Fair. A radio variety show, which seems anachronistic, makes sense when the winters nights and the summer days are long, and the jokes about Lutherans and hot-dish (called casseroles by the rest of us) are funnier when you have spent significant time in Minnesota. When Billy announced that our spring concert would be a parody of the show, I began to wonder what I have to offer to our concert.

I am excited in the way we at OEBGMC will both honor and parody the show with our own gay stylings. The music we are singing in this concert, called “Prairie Homo Companion”, could easily be on a radio variety show. We are singing fun songs, big songs, gay anthems, a song based on the words of President Obama, a musical setting of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, a piece by Verdi, and a song from the musical The Student Prince called “Let’s All Be Gay, Boys.” Although we definitely bring our own Oakland-East Bay point-of-view, these songs could easily be sung on the famous Minnesota-based radio show; we just need some skits to break up the music and draw the show out—skits that remind us of the radio show if it were just a bit more gay.

When Billy suggested that one of the skits could be a mash-up of the Garrison Keillor cowboy skit and Broke Back Mountain, I volunteered to write it. “The Days of our Lives of our Cowboys,” stars Rusty and Hefty, who just can’t seem to quit each other. As they approach retirement, Rusty and Hefty must decide where they will settle down, and where they might take the cattle they have been herding all these years. Rusty and Hefty decide to take the cattle to the Cow Palace, because, well, don’t the cattle deserve to live in something called the Cow Palace? With an invitation from their long-time female friend, who recently came out, Rusty and Hefty visit their home in the East Bay Hills, and decide to settle down with a view over the hills and pastures of the East Bay, staying visually close to cattle. They realize that they may be more than friends, and they can finally be the Broke-Back Mountain cowboys they’ve secretly fantasized about.

In writing the skit, I thought about how our culture looks at men. While some in our culture laugh at the intimacy of men (for example, the buddy movies of the 50s and 60s poked fun at gender and sexuality by caricaturing men who desired to be around other men), art and advertising use the hyper-masculine stereotype of cowboys to sell products like cigarettes, trucks, and alcohol. And then there is the homoerotic art that uses the cowboy type as a fantasy man. What is it about men of the land, the Marlboro Man, camping and fishing with other men, rodeos, and men working together to rope and herd cattle that both captivates our culture and creates some discomfort in us? Although it very dirty, sweaty and dangerous work, it’s also hard, active and athletic work. That may be what lends the romantic air of rugged individualism to being a cowboy. Roping cattle and riding horses is almost the ultimate definition of masculine (butch) gender expression and sexuality. There is also this gay fetish/fantasy around uniforms, pointed to by The Village People, which placed a Cowboy along with the (politically incorrect) Indian, Policeman and Construction Worker, all of whom objectified the gay culture’s fixation with uniforms that reflect our ideals of men as objects of desire. And, then there is Broke Back Mountain, which played society’s view of the masculine cowboy against the stereotype that men who love men are somehow soft.

Garrison Keillor himself understands this; his cowboy segments are parodies of both older cowboy radio shows and the buddy films. One cowboy is grizzled and rough while the other is well-read and perfect-mannered, and he gets teased by the rougher one for being a bit too soft for the trail. There is a sense that the two cowboys deny any male intimacy; yet because they share time and space with another man as 24-7 coworkers, intimacy cannot be overlooked. Like Garrison, I had fun playing with that notion.

I also had fun thinking about the segment and how it is always bookended by a fake commercial. I chose Sharon’s Sure Shine Saddle Soap and Shoe Polish as the sponsor, to also play on the leather scene within the gay community. The tag line is “Wear your harness with pride to Pride, when you shine it up with Sharon’s Sure Shine Saddle Soap and Shoe Polish.”

In writing this, I am reminded of the saying, “The sincerest form of flattery is parody.” I hope my parody flatters the original by honoring it while making it our own brand of gay. I hope you like our version, our Prairie Homo Companion!

Tony Clark, Second Tenor

New Member Story | Joey Raven

New Member Story | Joey Raven

by Joey Raven 4/13/17

New Member Story | Joey Raven | Oakland-East Bay Gay Men's Chorus

I’m proud to say that I’ve been with the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus for over seven months, about to perform my second set of concerts. It has been an amazingly rewarding experience, and for some time now I’ve been thinking about a way to express how important this chorus has been to me.

Before I started singing with OEBGMC, I didn’t know many gay people (aside from myself). I found it pretty easy to feel disconnected from society. Watching the news, or seeing the inescapable political threads on social media, sometimes makes me dispassionate, like the world caters to interests other than my own. It’s frightening, to set out into that world as a young person carrying the feeling that I won’t be accepted for who I am, that there are people out there who hate me for something I cannot and would not change.

Perhaps the intolerance I was feeling was internal, ingrained in me as much as the rest of society. Either way, it drove me to seek shelter from a storm. I decided to find a group of people that, at least in this one way, were like me—somewhere I could feel safe. It didn’t take me long to find the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus.

It was as difficult as anything I’ve ever done, writing the email to schedule an audition and showing up in a room full of strangers to sing. Everyone from the chorus was of course incredibly welcoming and helpful, and the audition itself was more about placing new singers in their proper vocal section, but even so, I was completely terrified. I had no choral experience whatsoever, didn’t know how to read sheet music, had never sung in front of strangers before.

Something about the experience, a feeling about what it might become, compelled me to stick with the chorus for a time, even though my nerves begged me not to. I stumbled through my first few rehearsals feeling very much like the music was over my head and that I had just found yet another place that I didn’t belong.

But then something started to change. I put in some solid practice a few times a week, and I started to get the hang of some of the songs. And when that happened, I realized I was starting to read music. The chorus offers a ton of help to its singers, rehearsal tracks to practice to, a compendium of information and a strong, connected presence online. My chorus mates were all so fun and friendly and made me feel at home.

By the time our concerts rolled along, I was absolutely in love with my new family. I realized at some point, gearing up for our winter shows, that we weren’t just weathering a storm together. We weren’t walling ourselves off from the world, making a safe haven for ourselves to block out intolerance and cruelty; we were stepping out, smiling, singing, loving, connecting, and facing the world while wearing silly hats. Our concerts were full of laughter and tears and all that good stuff you want a concert to be filled with. And the joy it brought me to be up on stage with my friends, literally watching happiness spread through our community, was indescribable.

As I was considering how best to express what this organization has meant to me, I decided that this thing I’m writing really had three points. The first, to convey my deepest, eternal gratitude to OEBGMC and each and every one of its members for making me feel like I have a place in the world. I have no doubt that this is the most wonderful group of men in the universe and I am honored to be a part of it.

The second, as a message of encouragement to anyone thinking about joining this chorus, or any other group like it. As I was going into my second concert season, I realized something that, to me, was pretty significant: in the beginning, nobody knows what they’re doing. No one that I’ve ever met walks into a rehearsal, looks at a piece of music for the first time and nails it on the first try. We are all stumbling and bumbling together, and we all put in an incredible amount of work and we all somehow manage to put on a terrific show at the end of the season. While the chorus is filled with amazingly talented people and is privileged enough to work with some truly talented musicians and soloists, it’s really our passion for what we do that makes our shows so amazing.

And the third, as an example of the impact this organization can have. Joining OEBGMC quite literally changed my life, added to my purpose and continues to this day to make me feel more whole. The passion that we all have for our music, the drive of our group, isn’t something we keep to ourselves. Not everyone in the chorus had the same experience when they first joined, to be sure, but the love and dedication for what we do is something we all share, and it’s something we bring with us each time we step out into our community.

Easter Sunrise Service | Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunrise Service | Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

Back in 2009, Reverend Laurie Manning of the Skyline Community Church invited the Oakland East-Bay Gay Men’s Chorus to join her congregation for a rather spectacular event: Easter Sunrise Service at the top of Skyline Ridge. The only challenge was to convince a reasonable number of gay men with a fair distribution of voice parts to make it up that hill by 5:30AM. Oh yes, with an accompanist and an Artistic Director, too!

Thus began an annual tradition, satisfying in so many ways to this UCC congregation, their guests, and the OEBGMC singers involved. Early on, our pastel dress shirts were identified as the Easter Egg outfits, and after coffee upon arrival in the dark, the singers learned to yearn for the Hot Crossed Buns that would always follow Services. Warmth and friendship develops this way, and the tradition gains momentum year after year.

Easter Sunrise Service at Skyline Community Church with OEBGMC

A word about the weather: that perfect light upon which these services depend is not always exactly as anyone might expect. Perched high in the Oakland Hills, a huge expanse of glass frames the view East into Contra Costa County. Sometimes right on cue, the sun rises over clear green hills, nearly dazzling the celebrants; sometimes mist and mystery swirl, presenting a subtle experience of growing light.

In every case, the inspiration is magical. To be singing for such purpose, to be welcomed with such vigorous joy, to be guided through the resurrection experience; all these factors combine to make family and to raise songs of glorious celebration. Do join us this year; all are welcome!

 Join us Easter Sunday at 6:30 AM, Skyline Community Church 12540 Skyline Blvd., Oakland.

Easter Sunrise Service at Skyline Community Church with OEBGMC

Easter Sunrise Service at Skyline Community Church with OEBGMC

A Prairie Homo Companion – A Parody of Everyone’s Favorite Radio Show

A Prairie Homo Companion – A Parody of Everyone’s Favorite Radio Show

A Prairie Homo Companion Concert | Oakland East Bay Gay Men's Chorus | Alameda Berkeley

Join the Oakland-East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus for the whimsical and witty “A Prairie Homo Companion”, a parody of everyone’s favorite radio show.

Artistic Director, William Sauerland, crafts a show that highlights a diverse repertoire, from opera hits of Giuseppe Verdi and Sigmund Romberg to popular tunes of Anne Murray and Sandi Patty, along with some blues, bluegrass, and American folksongs.

Classic radio drama-parodies are sprinkled throughout the show, including “Gay Noir, Private Eye,” “Days of Our Lives of the Cowboys,” and “News from Lake Merritt.”

The chorus will be joined by two guest soloists, soprano Shawnette Sulker and songstress Annie Herring.

Even if you aren’t familiar with the timeless radio show that has inspired our spinoff, you will love the hilarity, bravura, and exceptional artistry of the Oakland-East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus! 

Our Retreat at Walker Creek Ranch

Our Retreat at Walker Creek Ranch

Early this March, the Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus took to the woods for our annual retreat, which has been held for the last few years at the beautiful Walker Creek Ranch in Petaluma. More than just a series of intensive rehearsals, the retreat is a way for the chorus members to connect, to welcome our newer members, and to become more bonded. For the weekend, we all lived together like a family.

The facilities were absolutely amazing. We all stayed in two-person rooms spread over three cabins across the ranch. We had everything provided for us, including three meals a day in their dining hall, and all the while could look out our windows at the rolling green hills, the dense woods, and even some of the creeks running through the area. It was a beautiful spot for a vacation, and made all the singing we did that much more enjoyable.

Oakland East Bay Gay Men's Chorus | Alameda Berkeley Walnut Creek

Oakland East Bay Gay Men's Chorus | Alameda Berkeley Walnut Creek

We spent a good portion of our days rehearsing for our upcoming show in April, Prairie Homo Companion. It was quite a change of pace from our normal Oakland rehearsals. In addition to our workshops like music theory and sign language, there were four practices that weekend, instead of our normal schedule of once per week, so we were really able to dig into the music in a new and deeper way. As we sang we would watch families of deer stroll by the windows, and we even seemed to summon a torrential bout of hail with our last song on our last day—fitting, somehow.

Sharing the Ranch with us was another group, the Moonlight Quilters of Sonoma County, whom we would see several times each day during our meals in the dining hall. These were some of the nicest people we have ever met. Twice they popped in to see us rehearse, they showed us their absolutely gorgeous quilting projects, and at the end of the weekend they gave us a quilted coaster for each and every member of the chorus (we even had enough for the guys who couldn’t make it to the retreat). It was such an amazing gift that we decided to sing them a farewell song during our final lunch together. What a blessing it was to be sharing the space with such a great group.

However, the highlight of the entire weekend was undoubtedly our talent show. Our three lovely hostesses, Melania, Kellyanne, and Michelle, added a much needed dose of hilarity to our weekend, and set the stage for our talented members brave enough to perform in front of a room full of performers. Beautiful songs were sung, amazing dances were danced, and it’s safe to say that we all felt closer after sharing our talents with each other. One member sang a wonderful song with piano accompaniment and included some expert tap dancing, another performed a mezmerizing rainbow flag dance (the word “wow” could be heard uttered from the audience about a hundred times during that dance), and three of our guys gave us a preview song from their upcoming cabaret show. It was a very special evening, and makes moving forward in this group bursting at the seams with talent all the more exciting.

Oakland East Bay Gay Men's Chorus | Alameda Berkeley Walnut Creek

All in all, this retreat was an amazing experience. This chorus continues to shine by utilizing the creative expertise of its members. From the writers who wrote out the hilarious skits featured in our spring concert, to our resident expert in sign language, to the incredible movement skills of our more agile preformers, this has come to be about so much more than the songs that we sing. Our sense of togetherness and love for each other and what we do permeates our live preformances, and indeed everything we do, and we are absolutely thrilled about our next opportunity to bring that love to our community.

Check out everything we’ve been working on at our next concert, Prairie Homo Companion, April 29-30 at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.

Written by Joey Raven for Then Oakland East Bay Gay Men’s Chorus.