Category Archives: Volunteer Work

GLAAD Gala 2017

Saturday I was a volunteer again for the annual San Francisco GLAAD Gala. Like last year, I teamed up with Carrie to do guest check-in. We also pitched in wherever they needed us. I made sure to catch most of the presentations and speeches, and I had fun mingling at the after party.

This year’s guests/presenters included Sam Altman, Nancy Pelosi, Julia Michaels, CNN’s Don Lemon, Van Jones, Blair Imani, Leila Ireland, Zeke Thomas, Riley J. Dennis, Prince Shakur, Kat Blaque, Royce Mann, Katherine Langford and Tommy Dorfman. Ross Mathews was the charming host. Everyone was so inspiring!

Can’t wait til next year!

Me and Carrie

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Filed under Actors, Real Life, Volunteer Work

When We Rise: The San Francisco Premiere

As a volunteer with GLAAD, I received an invitation to attend the February 20th premiere of When We Rise, Dustin Lance Black’s new ABC miniseries chronicling the LGBTQ rights movement, focusing on the lives of several San Francisco activists. I invited a friend as my plus one and submitted my RSVP, although I wasn’t sure about an 8 hour marathon or the “first come first served” seating. Then my friend got sick, and the day arrived with heavy rain and 60 mph winds expected by the evening. Still, I braved the elements alone and headed to the Castro Theatre.

When I arrived in the Castro at 1pm, the doors to the cinema had just opened. At first I got into the wrong line, where the production folks were checking in. One of the young actors turned around and was very helpful pointing out the right line. I wasn’t sure any of the cast would be there, so this was a happy omen. My line went down the block and just around the corner of 18th Street. After I got there, many more folks arrived behind me. A friendly young woman with an ABC7 cap came by to explain what to expect. She assured us we’d all get in at that point in the line. We’d be checked in and given wristbands, which would allow us to come and go during the breaks. Everyone attending would also get a ticket for a free drink and a bag of popcorn.

I chatted with the guys around me, and there was some confusion about how much of the miniseries would be shown. Dustin Lance Black tweeted that we’d watch the whole 8 hours, but the numbering of the episodes is confusing. IMDb says there are 8 episodes, Wikipedia says 7 parts, but it’s being shown on 4 nights. Anyway, the ABC7 woman assured us we’d be seeing the entire miniseries, in four segments, with two 15 minute breaks and one 2 hour dinner break. The program would start at 2pm and end around 11:30pm.

There were still plenty of seats on the ground floor when I got in, but I headed to the balcony for a front row seat above. You don’t get a crick in your neck looking up at the screen there. Since we’d be spending a lot of time together, I introduced myself to several of the folks in my section. The young guy behind me worked as an extra in several scenes, so it was fun to hear to his stories.

Dustin Lance Black went up onstage with a microphone to introduce the first segment, saying that many of the activists depicted in the series were in the audience. He also pointed out that without the commercials, each segment was shorter than two hours. Zeke Stokes of GLAAD also spoke, and later in the day Roma Guy, Cecilia Chung, and Cleve Jones got up onstage to address the audience. We also had a song performed by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

During the screening, the audience cheered a lot—when familiar names were said, when well-known landmarks were shown, and when serious truths were spoken. The SF Chronicle says we booed the villains, but I only heard hissing.

Because When We Rise doesn’t air on ABC until next week (February 27th, then March 1st-3rd), I can’t share much about it yet. I never give plot spoilers anyway. I will say that the lesser-known young actors are terrific. These include Jonathan Majors, Adam DiMarco, Rafael De La Fuente, Fiona Dourif, Nick Eversman, Kevin McHale (familiar from Glee) and so many more. Austin P. McKenzie as the younger Cleve Jones had my heart from his first moments onscreen. I also really connected emotionally with Emily Skeggs as the younger Roma Guy. This kind of connection is crucial if the viewer is going to stick with these characters through a miniseries. I can’t count the number of shows I’ve seen where I appreciated the quality but didn’t care enough about any one character to keep watching.

During our first break, I met Emily Skeggs. It’s great to watch someone onscreen for the first time (whether it’s their first time or just yours), and then be able to tell them right away how much their performance has touched you. This is one of the reasons Twitter is so addictive, but doing it in person is so much more satisfying. I’m certain that many more viewers like me will be looking up these young actors and following them on social media. I was already doing that at the dinner break.

A tip for those folks looking at the cast lists online—at this point, the IMDb page is incomplete. Kevin McHale and Rafael de la Fuente, for example, are not yet listed. Wikipedia includes them and several other actors not listed on IMDb, but it’s not complete either.

At the end of the screening, all the folks involved with the production went up onstage. I left the balcony and came down to the front in time to video a bit of the song Oh Happy Day, and then it was done. I said hello to Dustin Lance Black and Tom Daley, then met Austin P. McKenzie and Kevin McHale (such a charmer, that one!).

I came out of the theatre to find that the rain had stopped, but the wind was blowing hard. I rode the bus home with a couple of fellow viewers, and we talked about our impressions of the miniseries. I got home tired but still wired from the experience.

I’m looking forward to watching When We Rise again next week. It will be interesting to compare the difference seeing it on a small screen, without an audience, and with the ad breaks.

This miniseries will hopefully inspire viewers to read more about the activists and the history of this struggle for equality, understanding, and respect. There’s so much more to learn. The book When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones is a good place to start.

Thank you to Dustin Lance Black and everyone involved for making this miniseries. Thank you to GLAAD and ABC for the privilege of attending this amazing event. (This is a video of the premiere from local ABC7 news.)

Tom Daley’s video of the premiere:


Filed under Actors, Real Life, Television, The Internet, Volunteer Work

Happy Birthday, Castro Theatre!

Folks have been asking where I’ve disappeared to recently.  I’ve been at the Castro Theatre, which is celebrating it’s 90th birthday today.  It opened on June 22, 1922.  This week, it’s one of four Bay Area cinemas playing host to the 36th annual Frameline Film Festival.  I’m a volunteer captain for the festival, organizing ushers and ticket takers and generally making a nuisance of myself.  As soon as it’s over and I’ve recovered, perhaps I’ll have the energy to write a full report.  In the meantime, here’s to one of my favorite movie palaces.  Happy birthday!

Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Castro Theatre, San Francisco



Filed under Movies, Volunteer Work

GLAAD Media Awards 2012

Last Saturday, I was a volunteer for my fourth annual GLAAD Media Awards in San Francisco.  Once again I was a talent escort, making sure my assigned presenter had everything she needed throughout the evening.  I won’t go into detail about that, since I’ve covered it in previous posts in 2010 and 2011.  As always, working with the GLAAD team and being a part of this special evening was a wonderful experience.

The GLAAD Awards recognize outstanding representations of the LGBT community in the media.  This time around, the host was Dianna Agron of Glee.  Presenters included John Gidding (HGTV designer and host of Curb Appeal), Mario Lopez (Dancing With The Stars), comedians Chris Frangola and Fortune Feimster, actor Adam Palley (Happy Endings), Rita Moreno (you name it, she’s done it), and actor Sean Maher (Firefly).  Well, there were lots of others, too!  Up-and-comers Guillermo Diaz and Katie Lowes joined Kerry Washington (all from ABC’s Scandal) to present the Golden Gate Award to creator Shonda Rhimes. (Rhimes is best known for Grey’s Anatomy.)  Wells Fargo Bank and Facebook were also honored.

Each year, I get to see some amazing folks up on that stage.  Jennifer Tyrrell is the Ohio scout leader who was removed from her volunteer position because she’s a lesbian.  She gave a heartfelt speech, surrounded by her lovely family.  It was very moving.  I was proud that I’d already signed her petition, and I encourage everyone to sign, if you haven’t already.  It’s at I was also moved by activist Zach Wahls, the young man whose speech in Iowa for marriage equality went viral on YouTube.  Another inspiring young activist was Brittany McMillan, founder of Spirit Day, who presented a special recognition award to Facebook.

The performers from Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere were stunning.  When one acrobat did a one handstand on the other acrobat’s head, I was able to get a photo of the big video screen.  Wow.  Just, wow.

Last year, host Naya Rivera auctioned off a couple of kisses.  Dianna Agron did the same this year, begging the audience to bid so her mom and brother didn’t have to.  Rita Moreno joined in the fun, auctioning off a party in her home.  Sadly, I’m not going to be one of those lucky party guests, since the winning bid was $15,000.  Go, Rita!

Be sure to check out the great photos at since my little digital camera doesn’t do the evening justice.  All the 2012 Media Awards around the US are linked here.

A great time was had by all, and I’m already looking forward to next year.

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Filed under Actors, Volunteer Work

BATS Improv

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an improv show called Spontaneous Broadway, performed by the BATS Improv Main Stage Company.  I searched all over their website to find out what “BATS” means.  It was kind of buried, but it’s Bay Area Theatresports.  This improv troupe is based at Fort Mason, and they perform in the intimate Bayfront Theater.

BATS Improv at Fort Mason

BATS Improv at Fort Mason

When we arrived at the theatre, we were given golf pencils and slips of paper to write down our titles of “songs that have never been written.”  These were collected and placed in a bowl.  Six actors came onstage, three men and three women, with actor Ben Johnson playing host as the other five (Diane Rachel, Barbara Scott, Corey Rosen, Jenny Rosen, and John Remak) grabbed a handful of slips from the bowl.  They sorted through the titles and selected the ones they wanted to use to improvise a song.  The host explained that the audience members were theatre investors being presented with songs from musicals in development.  Then each actor was called up to sing their song and tell us the title of the musical it was from (also invented).  Sometimes the actors performed a solo, but they were also able to recruit as many other performers as they needed.  Even the host got to participate.  A drummer and a keyboard player accompanied the actors.  They went around twice, so most of the actors got to create two songs.  At the end of the first half, the audience members were asked to choose which song they wanted to see developed into a 40-minute improvised musical after the intermission.

I’m still not quite sure how they did it.  As I’ve said many times before, I’m not in the least bit musical, so I have no insight into how you make up a song on the spot.  The musicians may have had a preset list of tunes, known by the actors, because I don’t know how else they could have accompanied the songs.  The songs rhymed, and they were mostly very clever and funny.  Barbara Scott did one dripping with innuendo called “Toasters Are Better Than Toast” from the musical Stayin’ Single.   John Remak had us shaking with laughter singing “The US Geological Survey” from the show 9.6.  Journalists brainstormed stories in Newsroom with the song “A Pencil and A Prostitute.”  Diane Rachel railed against her ex’s new squeeze in the song “Wassup Motherf**ker.”  My favorite was “The Pub’s Closed, Get Out” from the musical Jolly Old England.  This was the song the audience chose for the second act musical.

Because I’m such an anglophile, I was delighted that they were doing a British musical.  The show that the actors improvised probably should have been called Fishy Old England.  It was set in a fish market and a fish restaurant, starring fish sellers and fish chefs.  The British accents were pretty inconsistent, but that just added to the humor.  Diane Rachel seemed to have the most fun stretching out her vowels.  I really liked Corey Rosen, because he had a mischievous twinkle in his eye, and he was so committed to holding his invisible basket of fish.   The show could have had a lot more English references and a lot less fish, but it’s easy to be an armchair critic, not to mention an armchair improviser.  It’s one thing to sit in the audience and think of things you would do, but a different story when you’re on the stage on the spot.

Last Saturday, I went back to the Bayfront Theater for another BATS Improv show called The Life Game.  I got to see things from a different perspective, because this time I was a volunteer.  It’s been years since I worked backstage as a techie, and it was so much fun to be running around a theatre again.  Visiting the lighting booth and going backstage brought back lots of memories.  Three of the actors from Spontaneous Broadway were back for The Life Game, plus another four from the Main Stage Company’s group of nineteen regulars.  Veteran actor Barbara Scott gave each of the volunteers a welcoming hug, and we were invited onstage for introductions with the actors.  I was assigned to concessions, where I sold bottled water, beer, wine, cookies, and candy.  I had a great time.  Not only did the volunteers get to see the performance, we also got a voucher to see another show for free.   This was a particularly good volunteer experience, so I’m doing the improvised Elvis Musical tomorrow, and I’ve also signed up for Warp Speed, an improvised Star Trek.  Sorry, BATS, it looks like your stuck with me now!

Fort Mason, San Francisco

Fort Mason, San Francisco


Filed under Actors, Theatre, Volunteer Work

Frameline Film Festival 2011

San Francisco’s Frameline35 Film Festival by the numbers: 35 years of history and eleven days of over two hundred LGBT feature films, documentaries and shorts shown at four different cinemas.  A dedicated staff plus over four hundred volunteers make it all happen.  This was my third year helping out.  It was my first time as a volunteer captain, which had me supervising ushers at the historic Castro Theatre.  I wasn’t sure I had the skills or the stamina to do the job well, but I survived all my shifts and made an appearance at the closing night party.  I even managed to see a couple of films!

Castro Theatre, San Francisco

Castro Theatre, San Francisco

It all began with the volunteer orientation meeting.   These meetings are really entertaining.  The first time you volunteer, all the information and staff are new to you.  After that, it’s interesting to see the changes from year to year.  What will the volunteer tee shirts look like this time?   Who’s doing the same job this year, and who is new?  Which volunteers will you see from before?  I always look forward to the new crop of interns, especially the ones who come from overseas.  The volunteer coordinator is Lares Feliciano, and she’s a lively, outgoing person who always makes us feel appreciated and important.  She leads the meetings, and her tutorial on composting is one of my favorite parts of the evening.

Volunteers at the guest services table

Volunteers John and David at the guest services table

My first year at Frameline, I tried a number of different volunteer positions.  The best fit for me was staffing the guest services table at the Castro Theatre.  The Castro is the largest of the four cinemas where the film festival takes place, with about 1400 seats.  It’s a real movie palace, built in 1922.  I love just being in the building.   At guest services, the hospitality team takes care of the visiting filmmakers and representatives from other film festivals.   It’s where guest welcome packets are picked up, questions are answered, and tickets to the screenings are handed out.   This year the team was led by Alexis Whitham, with interns Lianne and Clemence, who came over from France.  I guess I like hospitality the best because I get to meet the filmmakers.  This year, I was particularly charmed by the two young Brits who made the short We Once Were Tide.

We Once Were Tide filmmakers

We Once Were Tide writer Matthew Kyne Baskott and director Jason Bradbury

It was also a thrill to meet Witi Ihimaera, author of The Whale Rider and a producer of the film made from his novel.  He was there with the producer and director of Kawa, a movie based on his recent book Nights in the Gardens of Spain, about a married Maori man with two children who comes out to his family.  This was one of the films I got to see, and it was beautiful and very moving.  I especially liked the two young actors playing Kawa’s children.  One of the other actors, Dean O’Gorman, is playing a dwarf in the long-awaited movie The Hobbit.   Before and after the screening, Ihimaera and his filmmakers went onstage to sing in Maori and talk about their film.

JB Ghuman Jr and Des Buford discuss Spork

J.B. Ghuman Jr. and Des Buford discuss Spork

I also saw Spork, a film about a girl-identified 13 year old with an intersex condition.  She lives with her brother Spit in a trailer park and copes with the horrors of middle school.  The young cast was brilliant, and the script was funny and irreverent.  The writer and director J.B. Ghuman Jr. answered questions during the Q & A, and he was as delightful as his movie.

Volunteer Captains Kim and Coyote with House Manager Ed

Volunteer Captains Kim and Coyote with House Manager Ed

Along with my shifts at the guest services table, this year I tackled the job of volunteer captain.  After shadowing an experienced captain who showed me the ropes, I was put in charge of the volunteer ushers for six different screenings.   Wearing a very attractive radio headset that did wonders for my cowlick, I communicated with the house manager and other staff members.  Once my volunteers arrived, I assigned them duties and gave a brief orientation.  Then I supervised them before and after the screenings as they took tickets, did line control, passed out ballots, and cleaned the theatre.   The most important lesson I learned is that things that are supposed to happen often don’t,  and things that aren’t supposed to happen often do.  As a volunteer captain, you just have to stay calm and roll with the punches.  I mostly rolled, and I certainly learned a lot.  Will I do it again next year?  I don’t know, I guess if they let me!

Closing Night Party at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

Closing Night Party at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

The closing night party was held at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, a cool modern structure with all sorts of interesting architectural details.  The special Gertrude Stein exhibit was open for the party.  I really enjoyed the old photographs and the portrait of Stein made from “pixels” that were colored spools of thread.  Another highlight of the party was chatting with Lisa Haas, who starred in the film Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same.  Tomorrow is the Volunteer Appreciation Party, which promises to be relaxing and fun.  I’m already missing the festival, so it will be nice to see everybody one more time.

A journalist for the Castro Courier, a small neighborhood monthly newspaper, interviewed me for an article about volunteering for the festival.  It’s coming out in a few days, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.  (Here’s the link!)

So, that was Frameline35, or at least my little corner of it.  I really enjoyed myself this year, and I learned so much from the staff, the interns, and the volunteers I encountered.   Now I just need to recover, and then I’ll start counting the days until next year!

My thanks to:

Frameline Staff:  Lares, Alexis, K.C., Des, Sarah, Daniel, Jenn, Frances, Alex, Jennifer, Trista, Richard, and Texas.

Interns: Clemence, Lianne, Sam and Nissa.

Volunteer Captains: Holly, Cheri, Kim, Coyote, Andy and Edric.

House Managers: Gyllian, Molly, Ed, Jill, and JC.

Volunteers:  The 2 Johns, Penni, David, Lambert, Joseph, Johan, Katie, Lori, Ralph, Scott, Deb, Maeve, Siofra, Jesse, Mandy, Dan, Donna, Paul, Ellen, Christine, Catherine, Renee, Carolyn, Nikki, Ezgi, Nan, Richard, Guy, LauraLee, Theo, Leigh, Madison, Heather, Roberto, Kurt, Noam, Kent, Derik, Kathleen, William, Steve, Mark, Allen, Ed, Chad, Drew, and Michael.


Filed under Actors, Movies, Photography, Volunteer Work

The Blessings of Food and Music

I’ve been writing about London too much lately, so I decided to get a little more centered—to focus on what’s right here in the Panhandle/Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco.  I moved to this neighborhood two summers ago, seeking peace and sanity after a traumatic roommate experience.  Finding a church where I felt at home was a top priority.  I knew immediately that St Agnes was the right place after hearing cantor Scott Grinthal and the choir sing, led by music director Frank Uranich.   I don’t know why church music is so important to someone who is so unmusical, but it’s crucial to me.  Not that I sing along.  I move my lips, but I’m actually just listening to all the beautiful voices.  Last September, I volunteered to help out two mornings a week  in the church office for the food bank.  It was supposed to be temporary, but I enjoy it so much, they are now stuck with me.  

The food bank gives out 500 bags of food a month.  About 300 bags are weekly lunches, given to the mostly homeless people who live in Golden Gate Park and on Haight Street.  These food bags contain things like granola bars, fruit cups, cans of tuna, juice boxes, and other food that doesn’t need a kitchen to prepare.  We also distribute about 200 monthly bags to people with kitchens, filled with staples like pasta, beans, rice, soup, peanut butter, and canned vegetables.  Parishioners of St Agnes donate both food and money, and it continues to expand.  There may come a point when we have to turn folks away, when the food runs out before the end of the month, but we do what we can with what we are given.  The actual “food bank” is a row of storage cabinets in a wide hallway at the back of the rectory.  When I’m not organizing and re-stocking the cabinets, I’m putting together the bags, as many as I can manage so they won’t run out before the next volunteer come in.  Folks ring the front doorbell, and we mark their names in a card file and give them their food.  We get some fanciful names and some colorful characters coming to the door.  Now when I walk down Haight Street or through the Panhandle, I recognize a lot of the homeless people, and I think they recognize me, too.

Scott Grinthal

Scott Grinthal

     Volunteering has given me the chance to get to know cantor and church secretary Scott, since we chat over coffee breaks.  He and I had similar goals back in high school.  We both had dreams of working on Broadway.  He wanted to perform, I wanted to be a stage manager.  It all began for Scott when he auditioned for The Music Man.   He tried out for Harold Hill, and he was cast in the ensemble.  Not bad for someone who’d never taken singing seriously before.  After years of playing trumpet in school bands, he realized that girls are much more impressed with guys who sing and dance.   He was hooked, and by senior year he was playing lead roles and getting lots more attention from the girls.  Then came college.  His parents urged him to do a “sensible” major, but instead, he majored in voice and minored in drama.  He spent ten years singing and performing for a living, doing everything from equity roles to singing telegrams.  Not all of it was glamorous, obviously, but you do what you must to pay the rent.  I asked Scott if he ever thought he’d be a church cantor.  Laughing, he said it wasn’t something that you plan in high school.  He’d been away from the church for a while when he applied for the job at St Agnes in 1996, but he was surprised to find he still knew the music.  He now leads two masses a week, although sometimes it’s as many as four.  In addition to working in the office and leading us in song, Scott is also a substance abuse counselor, working two to three evenings a week for his certification.   If that weren’t enough, he also sings in a wedding band.  They perform less often now than they once did, since everybody is so busy.  I honestly don’t know where Scott finds the energy to do it all.   He’s an inspiration, and he’s also a pretty fun guy to be around, as long as you don’t mind being teased mercilessly!

Cantor Scott Grinthal, Frank Uranich and St Agnes Choir

Cantor Scott Grinthal, Frank Uranich and the St Agnes Choir

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Filed under Actors, Music, Real Life, Volunteer Work