I Survived the Gay Games VII Opening Ceremony

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If the Gay Games organizers hadn’t refrained from taking a pig-blood stained bow after Saturday night’s disastrous Gay Games VII opening ceremony, I would have sworn I was back sitting in the last row of the only Saturday matinee that the ill-fated Carrie: The Musical, Broadway’s most infamous flop, ever played. Bad choreography, poor staging, laughably cheap costumes, and a hell-bent urge to take things far, far too seriously plagued both alleged entertainments. But at least with Carrie, I got to leave the theater before my butt fell asleep, in something less than the four ponderous hours it took for the slow-motion car wreck that was the Gaymes’ opening ceremony to finish crashing.

Fans packed a good half of Soldier Field for Saturday night’s festivities. Devyn and I scored seats in the 300 level near the 30-yard line, better than the seats Devyn’s friends Greg and Harold purchased weeks earlier. Having never been in the new Soldier Field before, D. and I were impressed by how easy it was to make your way to your seat, how wide the walkways were, and, as everyone always says with good reason, how amazingly close it seems you are to the field, even, as we were, in the upper tier. Put into a good mood by Soldier Field’s new digs, we had high expectations for what was to come.

Our expectations weren’t disappointed by the slow but steady arrival in the first hour of the 10,000 proudly and mostly queer athletes onto the field. Devyn, a native of California’s capital, was particularly tickled when Team Sacramento entered, part of the enormous California contingent of athletes whose number was only eclipsed by the 10-minute long arrival of the Chicago participants. The lights went down, 10,000 color sticks were illuminated by the athletes, and the field turned into a living pride flag. A chorus rose in song with “Anthem”, one of the signature numbers from the musical, Chess, about love cutting across political borders. It was a sublime moment, at turns uplifting and campy. It fit the spirit of the Gay Games righteously.

And it all went downhill from there.

Except for a few brief highlights, the remaining three hours of the ceremony were given over to two things: ranting and dancing, both executed in embarrassingly inadequate fashion. The hyped and ready throngs in attendance, expecting spectacle, surprise, and general fabulousness, were instead treated to about a dozen long-winded, self-congratulatory, and often angry, yelling, screaming speeches about the need to break down societal barriers, fight corporate hegemony (Staceyann Chinn, take the Zoloft, honey, it won’t hurt you), and end homophobia. As each new speaker emerged, audience members just stared at each other in disbelief. There is something to be said about preaching to the choir: don’t do it. There’s no need, it wastes everybody’s time, and, frankly, it’s boring. Talk about how to kill a mood. Where the heck were giant puppets? Where were the acrobats? Where the hell was Cirque de Soleil? Where in the name of God was Cher when you needed her?

Then there was the dance troupe. If you ever wondered what happened to all the high school color guards that were never good enough to make it into a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or even a Bud Billiken Day, fear not, they’ve been found. Well, considering how expensive the ticket prices were for the opening ceremony, maybe a little fear wouldn’t have been a bad thing. Picture a fantasy dance number from an episode of the 1980s TV show Fame. Can you imagine the lame white and silver costumes? The aerobics-class “dance” moves? The bad hair? Now imagine being forced to watch that scene over and over and over for three hours, in 90-degree heat, with half of the dancers off their cues, and a superbly annoying “everyman” character wandering aimlessly across the field to signify “Exclusion”. I don’t know about other parts of the stadium, but people laughed their asses off in mine.

Thank God for the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps, who, unlike the dancers that often surrounded them, actually looked like they had practiced their hearts out and were dazzling whenever they were on the field (as, later, were the closing AntiGravity troupe).

For that matter, thank God for the hysterical words of Margaret Cho. Thank God for the general fabulosity of Megan Mullally. Thank God for the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps, who, unlike the dancers that often surrounded them, actually looked like they had practiced their hearts out (yes, I know, but we saw a lot of them on Saturday, so it bore repeating).

Thank God for the balls-to-the-wall Mayor Richard M. Daley who made one of the most forceful, driving, unexpected, and courageous speeches any American politician has ever made in support of any city’s LGBT community, to thunderous applause and two standing ovations.

Thank God for the talents of Andy Bell, Jody Watley, and the cast of Avenue Q. Thank God for the kick-ass ending fireworks shot off from the entire east upper tier of the stadium, which almost made it worth slogging through the rest of the evening.

But most of all, thank God for the six rounds of the wave and for the naked streaker, without which I don’t think anyone would have made it through the beginning of the fourth hour.

It’s 2006, I thought we homos were farther along as a community by now. I didn’t simply expect some bling, some spectacle on Saturday night. I had a right to a lot more celebration in that sad opening ceremony. A right to an event based around themes of love and sportsmanship rather than anger and, apparently, a deeply rooted lack of self-confidence as a community that seemed to positively ooze out of every element of the show. Ranting and raving, finger pointing and wringing of hands, and dragging out the AIDS quilt at the drop of a hat bring to mind a 1990 ACT-UP meeting. They had their place and time, still do. But it was inappropriate to design around them an opening ceremony for a sports competition. This is what happens when you plan everything by committee (and may I just say once and for all to the lesbian community, please get over Kate Clinton, she wasn’t funny in the 1980s and time hasn’t improved her act).

To all the arguments made by Gay Games officials that the event is more about inclusive sportsmanship than mere sexual preference, the lie was given in no uncertain terms at Saturday night’s opening ceremony. Though lip service was paid to the Gaymes’ guiding principles of “participation, inclusion, and personal best”, the evening’s organizers used the event primarily as a platform to shout, in spectacularly mediocre fashion, that we’re here, we’re queer, and we still haven’t gotten over any of our baggage. That’s probably not the message that 10,000 athletes and 35,000 fans came to hear.

To paraphrase one of Margaret Cho’s most memorable quotes of the evening, if Gay Games founder Tom Waddell had come back from the grave to witness Saturday night’s mistake on the lake, he would have taken one look and yelled:

“THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT!”

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I’m not alone in my criticism of the Gay Games VII opening ceremony. Read similar opinions:

Sun-Times review of the Gay Games VII opening ceremony (“…a ceremony that seemed more like a disjointed and ill-organized ordeal than a celebration.”)

Metroblogging Chicago review of the Gay Games VII opening ceremony (“Too many long speeches and too many singing/dancing acts that didn’t quite hit the entertainment mark.”)

Andymatic’s review of the Gay Games VII opening ceremony (“I thought for sure they’d deliver a fantastic presentation that moved at a great clip. Nope. It wallowed in it’s own importance. It was boring.”)

Sfrajett’s review of the Gay Games VII opening ceremony (“The incredibly tedious Opening Ceremonies to this year’s Gay Games should serve as a stern warning about the terrible price of mainstreaming.”)

Sun-Times review of the Gay Games VII closing ceremony (“…made the opening ceremonies seem more like a tech rehearsal.”)

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