In a series of interviews with members of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC who are performing in their upcoming concert Born This Way on May 15 and 16, 2015, meet JJ Vera and Marcus Brown.
Joel: Introduce yourself to our readers and tell us how long you have been in GMCW and where we may have seen perform on our local stages?
JJ: Greetings! My name is J.J. Vera, I’m 24 years-old, and this is my third concert and first year with GMCW. I have performed with GMCW at the Lincoln Theatre for all three shows this concert season.
Marcus: My name is Marcus Brown, and I have been a singing member of GMCW for 11 years. I’ve been fortunate to sing with the chorus in various locations both here and abroad. Most of my solos and leading roles with GMCW have been on the stage at Lisner Auditorium, but I’ve also performed at The Kennedy Center, as well as the historic Lincoln Theatre. I was also very proud to be on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when the chorus performed for President-Elect Obama and his family at the We Are One Concert.
How has GMCW changed your life and why is it important for the gay community to come see the show?
JJ: GMCW has been the driving force for me this year. It has been the most meaningful; emotional experience since my audition last fall. I think it’s important for the gay community and general public alike to see our shows and hear our message because we aren’t just a chorus. The idea that we’ve begun to integrate a three-dimensional, beyond-the-beltway approach is very authentic and unique to other choruses/choirs. What makes GMCW unique is that we are a chorus with a mission of equality, and it’s clearly heard every time we sing. What is more brave and inspiring than to see people of all walks of life come together to represent a minority with pride and finesse?
Marcus: GMCW has allowed me to find the voice inside myself that I never thought I had, and to be able to let that voice be heard, anywhere and everywhere possible. To be in the company of such a large, diverse group of talented individuals has truly allowed me to embrace my own individuality, and by doing so, engender a profound sense of Pride. And that’s what this concert is all about: looking within yourself and loving the beautiful creature that you were born and destined to be. Every LGBTQ citizen in our community has to discover that sense of Pride in his or her own time: our concert will give the audience a glimpse into the world of our singing members and how we’ve been able to overcome our adversities to discover our own sense of Pride.
What solos do you have in the show and what special meaning do they have for you?
JJ: I’m singing in a quintet with four other marvelously talented men for the song ‘Not My Father’s Son’ from the musical Kinky Boots. It’s my first solo in GMCW and it has been an emotional roller-coaster! Like many others in the chorus, the message of this song is so profound and relatable to me in terms of my relationship with my dad. My father is nearly 79 years young and has worked hard labor his entire life for what we have as a humble Latino family, so things like the arts or the LGBTQ community are very foreign to him. I’m not “out” to him, nor does he know that I am in a gay men’s chorus. It’s been interesting to say the least.
What I love most about the song is that it encompasses many aspects of the tumultuous relationship some may face when it comes to a father/son relationship in regards to acceptance of sexuality and identity. The way each man sings their verse reinterprets the song ten fold, and that’s what is truly amazing to me. Each man has a different dynamic and relationship with their father, and it’s wonderful that we all get to express that in a universal way. I believe that the song may even transcend the straight dad/gay son complex and venture deeper into our own thoughts on masculinity and shame no matter what your sexuality is. ‘We’re the same, all of us, you and me’.
Marcus: I won’t be singing any solos in this show; however, every song in the show resonates with me on an intimate level. Dr. Kano has programmed a concert that speaks to every angle of the emotional spectrum. I can guarantee you that every soloist and chorine will be singing with an extra amount of gusto, as we all truly feel every lyric in this concert.
Can you share with us how this show reflects experiences you have had in your life as a gay man?
JJ: This show not only reflects the experiences I have had as a gay man, but it also touches on the many social constructs that have oppressed or ostracized all people. What remains to be the most compelling and important aspect of this particular concert is that it allows us to give a voice to everyone for a night. All shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds of people will be addressed at some point during our show. I have always found inspiration in the stories of Stonewall because at the time it was widely perceived deviant and rebellious to be gay or anywhere else on that colorful spectrum. Someone had to raise up so that our people could begin to defend themselves, and they did just that.
Marcus: Mental health professionals say that there are 7 stages to the grief process; I think that there must be ten times as many in the ‘coming out’ process. To me, each song in the concert represents one of those stages; you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t relate to some or all of these songs in the show, whether it’s wondering if you’ll ever find love to just learning to love yourself. We’ll be singing about so many relevant topics, from self-acceptance to the fight for equality. And each of those topics reflects the struggles we all encounter and the triumphs that we all strive for.
What songs that you are not singing move you?
JJ: The pieces with the GenOUT Chorus will always leave tears in my eyes. They are the future and they are singing for the future. It’s so very powerful to see the youth on our stage. “Glory” from the movie Selma is most definitely at the top of my list as well. The assembling of the chorus with our incredible soloists creates an experience that is unequivocal to anything I have seen the chorus do. The body language and performance art aspect of what these men have accomplished is breathtaking and I’m honestly jealous to not be in the audience for that particular moment! Similarly, to hear the other boys do “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee”) in English and Spanish gives me a huge sense of pride in my heritage as a Paraguayan American. On a not-so-heavy note, I explicitly enjoy “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles. The soloists breathe individual life and truth into every word, and I am overjoyed to see this message of self love tempered with O-P-U-L-E-N-C-E. Sing out, Louise!
Marcus: The audience will be treated to a moving rendition of “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” It’s a question I have often asked myself. So often in the LGBTQ community, we are faced with the age old concept of conformity and the peer pressure therein. We have to look a certain way or dress a certain way or act a certain way to find acceptance. I’ve spent a lifetime defying those conventions in my search for true individuality and self-acceptance. And yet, the act of defying conformity, more often than not, leaves me feeling undesirable and alone. So, that song strikes a very intimate chord with me. And I think our audience will feel the same.
What do you want the audience to take with them after seeing Born This Way?
JJ: I want the audience to leave feeling like they can facilitate change and love in everything they do. I want the audience to feel empowered and informed so that the conversation of equality continues. I think it’s imperative that we all find unity in our individual battles and adversities so that we may breed compassion with every act. The struggle is different for everyone, but together we can build a “Beautiful City.”
Marcus: Every GMCW concert is comprised of one part laughter, one part tears, one part reflection, and one part learning. I want our audience to walk away from this show feeling as inspired and informed as they do entertained. It’s our goal to leave the stage after a concert with our audience wanting more. And in the case of Born This Way, they should want to become more involved in the fight for equality. They should want to reach out to a friend or family member who’s struggling with being accepted to tell them how much they are loved and respected. They should want to love themselves more and spread that love to a world that desperately needs it.
Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC to Host Dialogue on Equality Following The 3 PM Performance of ‘Born This Way’ on Saturday, May 16th.
Read DCMetroTheaterArts’ coverage of The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC.
GMCW is awarded a Special Award on DCMetroTheaterArts.