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    Donna Sachet’s Songs of the Season 25 Years Later…

    Photo by Gareth Gooch

     

    By Donna Sachet–

    It has always been my dream to gather talented friends for a musical production celebrating the holidays—perhaps a dream born of those old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movies and the charming story in White Christmas. In 1992, as Miss Gay San Francisco with the visibility of my title and the support of the Imperial Court, I vowed to make my dream come true.

    Songs of the Season began humbly in 1993 hosted by Lily’s on Market and Kimo’s on Polk Street. It co-starred my singing Mr. Gay San Francisco, Scott Stewart, and a lively cast of drag queens. Tips thrown in a jar or handed to performers were donated to AIDS Emergency Fund; believe me, it couldn’t have totaled more than $50. In 1994, Songs of the Season became a traveling show appearing at Charpe’s, The Galleon, and The Mint over several nights. In 1995 and 1996, partnered with my talented, singing Emperor Brian Benamati, we added Marlena’s, Company, The Cinch, Eichelberger’s, Daddy’s, The Edge, and The Wooden Horse.

    Philip Turner—a skilled producer of many events—saw great potential, but encouraged me to rein in this scattered event to a single location. So, in 1997, Songs of the Season moved to the Transmission Theatre for two nights and Bob Ross, Paul Scudder, Marlena, Ken Turner, Don McMartin and Eric Weinmann joined Philip Turner as our first sponsors. We had a winter wonderland of trees (donated by Delancey Street and transported by Brad Cavalier), colorful posters (designed by Anita Martini), and a delicious buffet (provided by Kevin Kropp at Harvey’s). 

    Even with such gracious support, I had a lot to learn about producing an event. I learned about liquor licenses, flame retardant flocked trees, and the power of the press. My dreams of generating huge sums for the AIDS Emergency Fund (AEF) faded after expenses decimated our profits.

    In 1998, it was back to the drawing board, committed to Songs of the Season, but only if it could generate significant money for the cause. We made The International Ballroom (now the Conservatory of Music) our home for 1998 and 1999, and added new sponsors like Budweiser, Grenier Liquors, and Sunrise Printing, and professional production assistance from Bob Brunson and Richard Sablatura. Russell Kassman generously lent us a grand piano, as he has done many years since, and Lu Conrad sponsored a pre-show reception. We were finally raising thousands of dollars for AEF.

    In 2000, Trevor Logan and The Plush Room in the York Hotel—to my astonishment—agreed to host Songs of the Season and everything took on a new level of professionalism, including Sharon McNight’s first performance with us, the first Barefoot Champagne reception, and the first Donna Sachet snow globe collectables. We were performing in a venue graced by legendary entertainers and we raised nearly $20,000 that year and again in 2001.

    Songs of the Season celebrated its ten-year anniversary in 2002 at a brand-new location for a single night—Ruby Skye on Mason Street. Although newly elected State Assemblyman Mark Leno was detained by business in Sacramento, he sent his sister to present a special certificate of recognition. Members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus joined us for a rousing White Christmas finale, not with snow, but bubbles! Despite backstage challenges, including my piano accompanist, Larry O’Leno, falling down some stairs and injuring his hands, the comedy, music, and a spectrum of emotions distinguished that year’s show and raised over $30,000 for AEF.

    After 10 years, burnout, exhaustion, and personal challenges in the lives of many of the key players threatened to end the tradition. Urged on by the encouragement of performers, sponsors, and audience members, however, Richard Sablatura stepped in to produce the event with tireless energy and heartfelt commitment. In 2003, with only 3 weeks of preparation, we returned to The Plush Room with a single sold-out show, added a second night in 2004 and 2005, and a third night in 2006 and 2007. These were truly the golden years for this event; Songs of the Season continued to give our audiences the non-traditional musical celebrations they had come to expect, while consistently raising thousands of dollars for AIDS Emergency Fund.

    In 2008, the long-rumored closing of The Plush Room became a reality, but Robert Kotonly and Rory Paull welcomed us to the brand new Rrazz Room at Hotel Nikko. We quickly settled into The Rrazz Room, continuing the tradition of Lu Conrad presents Opening Night, adding additional instruments to our band, now led by Michael Grossman, and welcoming Abigail, Kim Kuzma, Paula West, Val Diamond, and others to our cast.  Loyal and new sponsors, and an ever-enthusiastic audience over 3 nights, pushed income up past $30,000 in 2009 and nearly $50,000 in 2010 and 2011.

    In 2012, we wanted to do some special things for the 20th year and so, we produced 4 nights of Songs of the Season, as always benefiting AIDS Emergency Fund, with a cast of returning favorites and a few brand-new guests, the largest sponsor list ever, and a commemorative CD available in the lobby, thanks to Matt Consola, Leo Frappier, and so many talented guest performers. I could finally say, “This next song is from my latest (and only) recording, available in the lobby after the show.” Richard Sablatura created one of the most memorable program covers featuring miniature covers of the past 20 years, Michael Loftis became my costumer extraordinaire, and it finally snowed on stage. I think this is the year that AEF let me know that this event had become a revenue line item in their annual budget! The pressure!

    With every step forward, there seemed to be a step backward the next year. Indeed, 2013 saw the conversion of The Rrazz Room to Feinstein’s at the Nikko with new management, new contract conditions, and the need for a new venue in order to keep costs in line and to maximize revenue for AEF. Michael Pagan came to the rescue, offering The Starlight Room, home of Sunday’s a Drag, for 2 nights. We packed the room to capacity, so in 2014, we moved downstairs in the Sir Francis Drake Hotel to the Franciscan Ballroom, returning to 3 sold-out nights. For 2 years, Michael Pagan poured attention on Songs of the Season and the results were fantastic!  Hotel events, however, no matter how well-connected, are expensive; the next year we were on the look-out for a new location.

    Brian Kent had offered Beatbox to the community for so many different kinds of events and so, in 2015, we transformed that raw industrial space into a holiday cabaret. His staff made everyone feel welcome, and that staircase has never seen such dramatic use!  Here’s a little-known fact: the location of Beatbox was once the location of the Transmission Theatre, where we performed in 1997! What a small world! When the space was sold, Brian generously coordinated a smooth transition with the new owners of Halcyon, so that we could return in 2016 to a familiar venue, but with even more lights, intimate acoustics, and comfortable seating. Michael Loftis and Erik Nickel made sure that the room was warm and inviting, sparkling with holiday décor, and that my finale outfit would be unforgettable.

    That brings us to tonight and 2017! We are back at Halcyon for the 25th and final Songs of the Season and do we have some surprises for you! We have tried to recreate the best over its 25-year history and have produced a finale you’ll never forget! Why the last? Many reasons go into this decision, including volunteer burn-out, donor fatigue, and ever-growing expenses, but wouldn’t you rather end on the high of tonight with people clamoring to get in? Why not open the door for others to host holiday benefits and stretch their creativity? I am so proud of what we have all accomplished, not the least of which is the nearly three quarters of a million dollars raised for AEF, and I will always treasure the memories of the past 25 years. Maybe AIDS Emergency Fund will find a way to continue something similar to this event, maybe it will find a new injection of life, and maybe I’ll come back and sing a song or two … 

    Meanwhile, don’t miss what we have in store for you this year over 3 nights! There will be something for everybody! Get ready to hear amazing singers, to laugh as never before, and to share my dream with me one more time. Remember, “The holidays don’t begin until you’ve seen Donna Sachet’s Songs of the Season!”

    For more information and tickets, please visit: http://www.songsoftheseason.net/

    Click to Enlarge
    Photo by Gareth Gooch

     


    What Audiences Are Saying About Songs of the Season

    The winter holiday season would not be complete without Songs of the Season. After performances, messages often come in—sometimes with names attached, other times not—regarding the performances. Here are just a few:

    “Donna’s Songs of the Season has united AIDS Emergency Fund’s extended family through music, laughter, and love … . At AIDS Emergency Fund, we count our blessings every day for the extraordinary work of one of San Francisco’s most talented and generous performers, Miss Donna Sachet.”

    Mike Smith, former Executive Director of AEF

    “It was an amazing show, and just what I needed. All of the artists were incredible. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Abigail (Zsiga) took the stage and brought tears to my eyes. Thanks again. I will definitely be there next year.”

    “Just a quick CONGRATULATIONS on another successful Songs of the Season! I thoroughly enjoyed the show and felt empowered to donate to AEF at this time of year.”

    “You think of Song of the Season as a fundraiser in many instances—I think of it as a compass gage. I look around and see survivors: of life and all of its elements in judgment and devastation. You are a changing factor of essence.”

    Joan Pacelli

    “Thank you for hosting, once again, such a wonderful show. So often I find myself struggling at this time of year to rise above and align myself with the best of intentions for the holiday season. Last night’s performance was an evening full of warmth, spirit, humor and just the right mix of tradition and irreverence—truly the best jump-start for the holidays, ever!”

    Cyril Barmore

    “Wow, once again as every year it was an amazing Songs of the Season. We were at Tuesday’s show and so thoroughly enjoyed each and every performer. Thank you so very much for all of your hard work in putting the show together.”