LGBT group at Detroit Opera House looks to expand membership
Some stereotypes are hard to break.
Take the opera, for example.
When I mentioned to a few friends that I was writing a story about an LGBT social group that recently formed to support the Detroit Opera House, a friend – who will remain nameless – said, “Just what the community needs: another bunch of stodgy, old, rich, white guys!”
It’s a misconception like that, that makes the job of people like Mark Ortwine tough.
Ortwine, who chairs the new group, Footlights, chuckled when I told him of my conversation. It’s nothing that he hasn’t heard before.
Yet it’s an image he’s trying feverishly to change.
“Our goal is to create another option for going only to the bars to have a good time or meet people,” Ortwine said. “We want to give someone a program that’s obviously in support of something – in this case, the Opera House – where people can come, and afterwards, have an afterglow. Or maybe have a dinner beforehand.”
It’s a way to foster unity within the LGBT community, Ortwine said. Plus, it helps generate income for the opera and dance programs offered by the Opera House.
Footlights was formed last spring at the behest of David DiChiera, general director of the Detroit Opera House and the founder of the Michigan Opera Theatre. It’s the successor to a previous group that dropped out of sight about three years ago.
“It’s a crossover to all of the other boards at the Opera House. Our dealings will be with the gay and lesbian community,” he said.
Like most volunteer groups, Footlights has a nucleus of 12 to 15 active members. But Ortwine couldn’t have been happier with their first-ever event held this past spring.
“I was hoping that if we had 30 or 40 people, that would be great. We had 72!”
What’s more, the interest in Footlights is coming from a diverse cross-section of the community.
“Our youngest member is 22, the oldest is around 60,” Ortwine said.
Although members come from different backgrounds and cultures, most are professional gay men. Ortwine – a life-long dance fan – would like to see that change, but demographics might make that difficult to achieve.
“When you start talking about dance or opera, there isn’t a real big draw from the lesbian community,” he said.
Ortwine and his committee are entertaining a variety of ideas for future functions. Affordability is a key concern.
“There are a lot of young people out there who would like to be involved in something like this, but who can’t afford to go to the opening night black tie event. So we’re trying to keep whatever our event is reasonable priced so that we can appeal to everybody, not just stuffy white men in tuxedos!”
For its next event, the theme of “Good vs. Evil” has been chosen – the perfect tie-in with the Michigan Opera Theatre’s production of “Faust.”
“It’s our first event of the season and we’ll be doing it at SOHO,” Ortwine said.
The afterglow is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 19 from 10:30 p.m. to close. A $10 donation is recommended; everyone interested in learning more about Footlights is invited to attend. SOHO is located at 205 W. 9 Mile in downtown Ferndale. All proceeds go directly to the Detroit Opera House.
In addition, a special block of discount tickets to “Faust” have been put aside for the LGBT community at that night’s performance. Opera enthusiasts – and those curious about opera – can attend the performance for only $30 by calling the Michigan Opera Theatre’s group sales department at 313-237-3409 and mentioning the “Footlights discount.”
Ortwine hopes the event is well attended. “We just want to make this something that is more accessible to everybody so that the Opera House and all of its programs can have more visibility, as well as we as a community can have more visibility.”
For more information about Footlights, please send an e-mail inquiry to: [email protected]