By Sharon Gittleman
DETROIT – Imagine the hush in the audience as the red velvet curtain rises above the stage, revealing elegantly attired men and women passionately singing about love and betrayal in settings that rival your wildest fantasies. This lovely scenario doesn’t have to stay a daydream. For the LGBT members of Footlights, visits to the Detroit Opera House provide plenty of opportunities to expand their imaginations – and their circle of friends.
Several times a year, Footlights members enjoy visits to the Detroit Opera House to watch ballet and opera performances and meet after the show to talk about the spectaculars they’ve just seen.
Ferndale resident Chris Ferrell joined Footlights almost a year ago.
“I was looking for something different to do. I wanted to broaden my horizons,” he said. “I was always interested in arts and culture.”
At one of the group’s recent get-togethers, Footlights members watched the opera ‘Faust’ and held an afterglow at Soho, a martini bar in Ferndale.
“We did a naughty-or-nice themed event,” said Ferrell. ‘Faust’ is all about temptation and selling your soul to the devil.”
Attendees dressed in black, white and red – in keeping with their devilish or angelic natures.
Sometimes the group meets right in the theater, as they did after the ballet “Cinderella,” Ferrell said.
“The room was very ornate with crystal chandeliers and gilded mirrors, right out of the Cinderella fairy tale,” he said.
Afterglow parties draw 30-50 people, Ferrell said, with a mix of older, younger and middle-aged men and women.
“We consider ourselves open to all parts of the community – gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered or straight,” he said. “Arts and culture cross all boundaries.”
Many people were enjoying their first opera with fellow Footlights members and guests, Ferrell said.
“It was exciting to see us attract people who were interested in trying something new,” he said. “It’s an alternative to what people consider doing on a regular Friday or Saturday night.”
A big part of the pleasure is the chance to relax in the opulent setting of the Detroit Opera House, with its gold-carved banisters, painted arched ceilings and stained glass windows, Ferrell said.
“In the future, I can see us having a formal sit-down dinner and an actual ball,” he added.
At the afterglows, members enjoy wine, champagne and dessert, said Footlights member Dave Lasky from Royal Oak.
Many people join the group to meet new friends and companions outside of bars, Lasky said. Others are grateful for the chance to donate money to support the Michigan Opera Theatre.
Michigan Opera Theatre General Director David DiChiera inspired Novi resident Mark Ortwine to create Footlights, Ortwine said.
“There’s a need for it,” he said. “It’s a different venue to get people involved in the arts.”
Ortwine said the group’s ultimate goal was to increase the profitability of the Detroit Opera House and to expose more people to the opera and ballet.
“It’s a way to see a great performance and be around friends and talk about what you’ve seen,” he said.
On April 15, Footlights will hold their next gathering after the opera, “Tosca.” For more information, email the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org.