Shared from the 2/18/2020 San Francisco Chronicle eEdition

Gay chorus’ new home hosts series

Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

Paul Saccone leads the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus in rehearsal at its new Art Deco space on Valencia Street, where it will host events and concerts.

Photos by Scott Strazzante / The Chronicle

The newly remodeled Valencia Street building includes a number of Art Deco touches, including this water fountain.


The building serves as the headquarters for the Gay Men’s Chorus, which has rehearsal and performance space there.


The chorus bought the former B’hai Center after a fundraising campaign and a $5 million donation from a former member.

In January 2019, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus announced that it finally had a new and permanent home, the National LGBTQ Center for the Arts. Now, the group has reached the second step in its lofty plan for community programming: a series of events.

Called Behind the Curtain, the series will feature conversations with LGBTQ artists from around the Bay Area. The idea is to provide a glimpse into the lives of local performers — a look “behind the curtain.”

“We’re going to have lots of interesting and interested people asking questions,” said chorus Artistic Director Tim Seelig. “Take the facade off, take the makeup off — get out from behind the TV camera — what’s it really like?”

The series is scheduled to open Sunday, Feb. 23, with cast members from “Hamilton” on a panel moderated by Chronicle arts and culture reporter and columnist Tony Bravo. Other events include talks with opera star Deborah Voigt, “Glee” star Alex Newell and Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir director Terrance Kelly.

The chorus also plans to host other events in the center this spring that are not a part of the series, including a performance by the Beijing Queer Chorus in June and one by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles in May.

When the chorus announced its purchase of the $9.6 million Art Deco building at 170 Valencia St., the intention was for the center to become a community space that connected many of the Bay Area’s LGBTQ arts organizations. As the only LBGTQ arts organization in the United States that owns its rehearsal and performance space, the chorus is now making those connections with other groups, Seelig said.

Opera Parallèle Artistic Director Nicole Paiement said she reached out to Seelig after hearing about the new center to discuss the opera company’s use of the space for rehearsals and community events.

Opera Parallèle is using the space for several events in its Bullhorn Series, which is focusing on the company’s upcoming performance of “Harvey Milk” and will feature programs about the late elected official and activist’s legacy. The events run through May 5, and the opera opens May 15, which would have been Milk’s 90th birthday, at the Blue Shield Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

“I think a building can be a lot more than just a structure,” Paiement said. “It can be the soul of a mission of an organization. They opened their home to collaborate with us because we were doing something that fell into their beliefs and their mission, and I respect that a great deal.”

The chorus had been rehearsing at the 170 Valencia St. building, the former home of the Baha’i Center, from 2013 until the owners put the building on the market a few years later. “We tucked our tails in and our little sad floppy ears and walked away, absolutely sick about having to leave,” Seelig said. After bouncing around to other places, the chorus eventually purchased the building, with the help of a fundraising campaign and a $5 million donation from Terrence Chan, an original chorus member.

“I jokingly, and not so jokingly, say that the Gay Men’s Chorus wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and in its 41st year found its promised land,” Seelig said. “And it’s 170 Valencia.”

Annie Vainshtein is an arts and entertainment reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @annievain


With The Chronicle’s Tony Bravo and cast members of “Hamilton.” 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb 23. $20-$30. National LGBTQ Center for the Arts, 170 Valencia St., S.F.

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