Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 46 / 16 November 2017
 

Dynamic Duo

On The Tab

Nancy French & Jef Valentine are among Pride cohosts


Nancy French and Jef Valentine
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They've performed as numerous hilarious characters in and out of drag, even together in a few shows. But as masters of nightclub and theatre disguise, you might not recognize Nancy French and Jef Valentine as they team up to cohost the afternoon main stage Pride celebrations this Sunday June 25.

Along with Marga Gomez (11am-2pm) as well as Honey Mahogany and Sister Roma (Saturday 11am-6pm), French and Valentine will share the duties of introducing dozens of performers and speakers, in between DJed music and segues, segues, segues!

The two local performance favorites discussed their Pride gig, and its larger meaning.

"We're playing ourselves," said Valentine. "It'll be a dialogue between the two of us, which is why I really wanted to share it with Nancy."

"I'm glad that we get to play off each other," added French. "The added factor is the audience, an estimated 70,000 to one million people."

French, whom local theatre and nightlife fans know from her roles in Shit & Champagne, Above and Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Showgirls, as drag king Clammy Faye, and in the title role for the upcoming Debbie Does Dallas musical at Oasis, has hosted the Sober Stage at Pride and other events. Along with Valentine, the two have performed at multiple local street fairs as well.

Valentine, who wowed audiences and critics as Frank N. Furter in Ray of Light's 2008 production of The Rocky Horror Show, has starred and costarred in dozens of Bay Area dramas, comedies and musicals, from playing Norman Bates in Psycho: The Musical to an alien bimbo in a Star Trek parody.

The two performers met during the extended Thrillpeddlers production of Pearls Over Shanghai. They'll once again share a stage in this summer's Bitch Slap!, a parody of Dynasty -style soap operas.

Valentine noted the multiple anniversaries coinciding with this year's Pride.

"The 50th anniversary of The Summer of Love, the 51st for the Compton's Riots, which I think is very important, and we'll be standing blocks from where it happened," he said. "This is the year that we can say we have the first transgendered district, named after Compton's."

Valentine, a Sacramento native, noted that he's been to nearly every SF Pride during his 30 years in San Francisco. "I moved here at 18, with my tap shoes and a dream," he joked.

French had done spoken word and music performances before moving from Rhode Island to San Francisco in 1993, where her talents were soon drafted via queer nightlife.

"My friends started asking me, 'Can you be the young nun who turns into a stripper in my drag number?' Fast-forward to Pearls Over Shanghai, where Russell Blackwood needed drag personas and singers. That was when I started really getting into it."

The initial eight-week commitment became a two-year run. With more than two dozen cast members, both French and Valentine developed friendships with other performers, many of whom would rush off after the show to later gigs at clubs.

When not onstage, Valentine works at American Conservatory Theatre's costume shop, and French, runs a graphic design business.

Valentine mentioned Jenn Stokes, the Pride stage producer, as among those who helped grow the local performance and event scene.

Jef Valentine and Nancy French at A.C.T.'s costume shop.

"You see all stripes of people coming together to make things happen," he said of Pride. "At times it kind of lost the thread and became a big noisy machine. It's important for everyone to experience it, and if they want to party, that's fine, but the three of us wanted to find what was important to us about Pride."

"In this current political climate," said French, "can this be a party, or is it more of a rally? Other cities have turned their parades into marches; we felt strongly about following suit."

However, the SF Pride board voted to not turn the event over to protesting, and will limit a "Resistance" group to a contingent in the parade, along with corporate sponsors whose presence was critiqued by some activists.

Valentine mentioned a political tone to the day, but "also keeping it upbeat, about things we can do, and what a beautiful thing it is that people are gathering to have the conversation.

"We'll touch on the hot-button topics of today, added French, "but move it to, 'Tomorrow, here's what you can do.'" Actions items, text numbers and info will be projected on the mainstage screen in between performances.

Saturday's stage, cohosted by Honey Mahogany and Sister Roma, will focus on local performers, DJs and drag acts, along with speakers. Sunday's performers include Cazwell, Betty Who, Ronnie Spector, David Hernandez, Cheer SF and the SF Gay Men's Chorus, plus DJ Duserock blending it all together.

As MCs, the duo have had input into the format, but multiple others are also working to make all the details work, from the stage itself to safety and technical aspects.

Performing for a huge outdoor audience may be daunting for some, but French recalled the Castro Street Fair abridged performances of Ultra Showgirls, where their 40-minute music set met with great appreciation. "It was awesome. People are on their feet, they can move around and dance. It was like being a rock star. At Pride, the audience's energy is right there."

Asked if they hope to send a message to the largely younger crowd at Sunday's Pride celebration, Valentine said, "I don't have anything planned as a mission statement, except to be who we are. I'm truly proud to be in this city, having seen all of its changes. This day will fit neatly into my Bucket List of squeezing in every San Francisco experience that I can, this year in particular. This is the year of not taking anything for granted. If I can communicate anything, it's a sense of inclusion; here we are, in this together."

French also hopes to focus on community and more than just the celebrations of the weekend.

"I hope they take this feeling into tomorrow. Go out and be fabulous in your day-to-day life."

 

The 47th annual LGBTQ Pride events on Sunday, June 25, include the parade from Embarcadero along Market Street to 8th Street. Civic Center's celebration includes mainstage entertainment and speeches, multiple dance stages, booths, food and drinks; 11am-6pm. Also Saturday June 24, 12pm-6pm. www.sfpride.org






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