Behind The Scenes W/ Curt Branom at Beach Blanket Babylon
The ‘Performer you should know series’ is about celebrating artists on stage: the wonderful, strange, and brilliant performers that light up our theaters, auditoriums, and sidewalks. The actors, singers, ballerinas, contortionists, dancers…the entertainers that make our city more interesting each night.
Beach Blanket Babylon is the kind of singing, dancing and storytelling that does San Francisco proud. Big and beautiful costumes with fun loving and hilarious satire that continually evolves with the times, this North Beach staple created by Steve Silver in 1974, has not slowed down.
We go behind the scenes at BBB with King Louis, aka Bernie Sanders, aka Michelle Bauchman, aka actor and singer Curt Branom, to find out how the performers pull off this incredible variety show night in and night out.
On any given night the performers at BBB will do over 120 costume changes per show, and we’re not talking about simply changing hats. We’re talking about full wardrobe changes that involve makeup and large moving parts. Often times the costume changes need to occur in under one minute backstage, needless to say, behind the curtains at BBB is almost as lively as on stage.
Over 600 costume pieces can be used per performance, unique and incredible pieces of tailoring by Jayne Serba and Monique Motil. Some of the costumes are so large that they require a pulley system to place them on the crowns of performers, 2 members of the running crew Nick’ & ‘Bob’ are on hand to help equip performers at break neck speeds.
I sat down with Curt Branom and asked him about being a performer in San Francisco and about the amazing show that continues to grow and impress.
First job in SF?
CPA for a large accounting firm. At the time, my family was not supportive of anything in my career that wasn’t in the business world. I started doing some theater in the bay area in the early 90s.
Why are you a performer? Why do you do what you do?
I just love it, there’s nothing I’d rather do than be onstage with my friends. And there’s nothing better than hearing laughter in the audience. I became a perfomer because being on stage made me feel alive, it forces you to you to be present and focused.
Have you ever had a terrible time on stage?
Oh yes! I’ve completely forgotten my lines! I had to ask Snow White, “what are we talking about again?” I wanted to run off stage but Snow White, after looking at me like I had lost my mind, she lead me back into it and it was fine. My husband was in the audience at the time but I don’t think anyone else realized I was messing up. We recovered.
Who’s your favorite character in BBB right now?
Michele Bauchmann is my favorite character to play. The Clintons are always golden, and the Obama’s of course.
How has the show evolved over the years? Does it reflect the changes in the city?
Things have gotten a bit faster over the years. There’s a whole new vibe in the city with the techies and the youth and creativity, and our show is topical, we’re changing it everyday, it’s become faster.
Do you think the techies appreciate the arts?
We have to get them involved in the arts. I’m trying to do that in an after school program I’m doing (PACSAW), we give singing and acting lessons to children, and we are inspiring their parents to recognize the arts in that way. The techies are very young, I didn’t start getting in involved in my community until my 30’s. And when you’re young, you’re selfish, you’re still trying to figure out your own shit. When I finally started paying attention to my community, in the early 90’s for example, I was getting involved in the AIDS awareness movement, looking into prevention, medical care and bringing our community together.
Beach Blanket Babylon gives out annual scholarships to high school seniors in the Bay Area. $10,000 to $15,000 to one singer, one dancer, and one actor who submit three-minute performance videos. The finalists come and perform at Beach Blanket Babylon in front of a panel of celebrity judges. If you know a fresh faced, and bushy tailed talent, let them know! The deadline for submissions is April 29th, 2016. Find all the information here.
How do we support the arts better?
I’m working at the SF Conservatory of Music giving lessons. I go down to Songfest every year in LA, I teach interpretation to opera and musical theater students? It’s important to understand what we are singing not just the notes.
Are more traditional forms of performance slowing down? For example are we going to have a shortage of classically trained opera singers?
No, that’s been everybody’s fear, but my husband (Jake Heggie) is an opera composer, he composed Moby Dick and Dead Men Walking. He sees (and I agree), an abundance of talented young singers who care about bringing the art form forward, I think we are in a golden time for opera. The future is bright, the work being done today is relevant and topical as well, there are close to 40 operas opening this year, whereas just a few years ago there were less than 10.
Photos by Alex Mak