Tone Cluster’s Holiday Extravaganza unlike any other Christmas concert

Tone Cluster members wearing black face coverings perform in a church.
Tone Cluster is an 2SLGBTQ+ choir in Ottawa that is getting set to perform at the Gladstone Theatre on Dec. 16. Provided Photo.

By Hannah Wanamaker

 Ottawa’s 2SLGBTQ+ choir Tone Cluster is set to play their music, dress up right and bring their most sensational, inspirational, celebrational holiday spirit to Gladstone Theatre on Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. 

The city’s only “all-gender, all-voices” 2SLGBTQ+ choir is taking the stage alongside local drag artists for a Christmas show emanating their jolly and extravagant spirits through song. The sense of community and the theatre’s accessibility create a safe and inclusive space for all to celebrate the holiday season.

For Tone Cluster’s artistic director Deirdre Kellerman, the Holiday Extravaganza is about “really leaning into the extravaganza.”

“When I was planning this show, I knew I wanted to lean more into the campier side of things [and] the fun side of things. There’s lots of pieces that are comedy pieces—they’re tongue-in-cheek. The goal is to make the audience laugh and feel light,” she said.

‘Camp’—an increasingly used descriptor within the 2SLGBTQ+ community—elucidates the theatricality, flamboyance and irony within the culture.

This year, choristers are straying from their traditional uniform and embracing the show’s tacky themes in ugly Christmas sweaters. They will be joined by drag stars Dr. Androbox, Sardonyx, OC Trans Ho and Kin of Chlorophyll to rouse the audience with queer holiday performances.

The vintage atmosphere of Gladstone Theatre is the final detail completing the evening.

“They’ve got a bar [and] we’re going to have the lights all ready to go—it’s really going to lend itself to the spirit of the event,” said Kellerman, adding that Ottawa venues are often difficult to secure. She said that each venue’s values must promote a safe space for their community and be both accessible and affordable. In past years, they often performed in Ottawa churches.

Tone Cluster members pose for a photograph on the street. They are holding a banner.
Tone Cluster walking in the annual Capital Pride parade. Provided Photo.

Kellerman is very excited because the holiday extravaganza will be Tone Cluster’s first performance in Gladstone Theatre’s “neutral, secular space.”

Kitchissippi resident and alto singer Erika Peterson is eager for her first Christmas concert with Tone Cluster.

“This is unlike any Christmas concert that I have done before,” she said, referring to her childhood concerts in school and Church.

Peterson teased that the setlist is full of unexpected arrangements, parodies and puns, and the audience should keep an eye out for “surprises with some potential props.” The mix of “silly, heartfelt” tunes includes a parody of Bach and a rendition of Straight No Chaser and Kristen Bell’s “Text Me Merry Christmas.”

“I’m looking forward to performing [Text Me Merry Christmas] because it’s hopefully going to get the audience laughing a lot,” she said grinning.

For Peterson, the Holiday Extravaganza evokes the best parts of the holidays.

“It’s the joy of the holiday season and getting to enjoy it—to be happy [and] cheesy,” she said.

Arts enthusiast and teacher Sara Savoia is also gearing up for their first Christmas concert with Tone Cluster. Savoia credits their ability to rekindle their passion for performing to Tone Cluster’s affirming community.

“Tone Cluster has provided me that safe space within the 2SLGBTQ+ community to not only be myself but to get back into performing in a way that I’m not constantly on edge,” they said.

Tone cluster members all dressed in black pose for a photo.
Tone Cluster brings a warm musical ambiance to their performances. Provided Photo.

Savoia said the celebration of community through the performing arts is especially critical to gender-queer choristers, drag artists and audience members whose identities are attacked.

“We’re in community and we’re celebrating and we’re being,” they said, adding that this is reflected through Tone Cluster’s music, the drag performances and the overall vibrant atmosphere.

“Having a holiday concert is a great way of having the season be light and friendly and a safe space,” said longtime member Rob Bowman.

Bowman, a tenor, joined Tone Cluster in ’96, just two years after its creation and has since watched it flourish. Now in its 30th season, the choir is approaching the 50-member mark and producing sounds richer than ever.

“It’ll be great to sing having all that beautiful sound wrapped around you,” he said, adding that finding their sound in the intimate theatre will be a unique experience.

Bowman noted the importance of providing safe spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ people, especially around the holidays.

“I think it’s been a rough year for people so to have sort of a fun, seasonal show that is going to make you laugh and keep things light is really needed now.”

Regular audience members know Tone Cluster for their warm musical ambiance and their vivacious stage presence. According to Bowman, some spectators from their earliest shows still come out to each show.

“We have been around for 30 years now so if someone hasn’t met us or been to our shows yet, they’re in for a treat and it would be great to see them.”

Tickets for the Holiday Extravaganza can be purchased through Gladstone Theatre’s website.  

Gladstone’s Holiday lineup

Gladstone Theatre’s December lineup is sure to spruce up the holiday season.

The Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus—good friends of Tone Cluster—is holding two showings for their annual holiday concert. The group is transforming the theatre into a “musical winter wonderland” with their Nut Cracker concert on Dec. 10 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be bought through Gladstone Theatre’s website for $30.  

Candlelight concerts have become a worldwide sensation. Join Ottawa’s Rousso Quartet in Gladstone’s candlelit theatre for a jazzy rendition of A Charlie Brown Christmas from Dec. 13-15 with showtimes at 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Candlelight website.

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