Today's world can be tough for members of the gay and lesbian community. But during the times of war in the mid-1900s, it was especially challenging for most gays and lesbians to feel connected to each other. Nonetheless, many gays and lesbians still found a way to keep a positive outlook and express their true feelings during a period when society was completely unsupportive of their lifestyle.
Desert Voices, Tucson's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and straight chorus, will recognize the struggles that lesbian and gay people faced in 1945 in Coming Out Under Fire. In the show, which will wrap up Desert Voices' 18th season, the choir aims to portray the positive gay outlook that was maintained amidst the perils of World War II.
Founded in 1988, Desert Voices is a nonprofit corporation that strives to promote a positive outlook for LGBT people in the community. The eclectic chorus has about 35 members and belongs to GALA Choruses, an international association of 180 gay and lesbian choruses. Directed by Chris Tackett, Desert Voices sings at many community events, including the International AIDS Vigil, Bisbee Pride and Tucson's Pride in the Desert.
In his fourth year as artistic director, Tackett came up with the idea for Coming Out Under Fire; the entire 2006-2007 season has been titled Changing History to focus on the early, war-plagued era of the 1900s and the impact it had upon gay and lesbian people, says Becky Cohen, a member of Desert Voices. Cohen says that this particular time period was important, because for the first time, many members of the LGBT community learned that they were not alone.
"It was a coming-out period, an awareness that there are other people like them out there," says Cohen.
Coming Out Under Fire will spotlight some of the trials that LGBT people faced, both in Tucson and on the front lines, through big-band songs such as "It's Been a Long, Long Time," "Any Bonds Today?" and "Sentimental Journey." Desert Voices will also belt out beautiful, poignant choral tunes, such as Randall Thompson's "Alleluia," to convey the hardships encountered during the war era.
Desert Voices is accepting of everyone who shares the desire to sing and create a positive LGBT presence in the community: The philosophy is to use a love of music to build a community both within and outside of the chorus. Through musically entertaining performances, Desert Voices strives to reflect the lives of the LGBT community and facilitate positive social change for the community around them, says Cohen.
"We pride ourselves on believing that we need to be the voice for people who think they have no voice," says Cohen.
Desert Voices' Coming Out Under Fire takes place at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 21, and 2 p.m., Sunday, April 22, at the Pima Community College Proscenium Theatre, at 2202 W. Anklam Road. Tickets are $18 advance, $12 for seniors and students, and $20 at the door, are available at Antigone Books (411 N. Fourth Ave.) or by calling the box office at 791-9662. Visit www.desertvoices.org for more information.
Coming Out Under Fire is the final of the three Changing History performances. Last fall's Keep the Home Fires Burning took place in prewar America, and the winter Stage Door Canteen cabaret coincided with Desert Voices' annual silent auction fundraiser. Each season begins in September, and auditions open in August.
Desert Voices' board vice president, Sylvia Yeager, says auditions are atypical, consisting of something resembling a voice-check to find out where prospective members belong in the chorus; it's impossible to flunk, and anybody can join.
Cohen sums up the mission of Desert Voices quite simply: "We sing, because we love to sing."