First Contact: Death, Love, and the Creative Impulse – Originally published in Artborne Magazine

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 / Amanda Alvear, 25 / Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 / Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 / Antonio Davon Brown, 29 / Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 / Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 / Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 / Luis Daniel Conde, 39 / Cory James Connell, 21 / Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 / Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 / Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 / Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 / Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 / Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 / Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 / Paul Terrell Henry, 41 / Frank Hernandez, 27 / Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 / Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 / Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 / Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 / Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 / Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 / Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 / Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 / Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 / Kimberly Morris, 37 / Akyra Monet Murray, 18 / Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 / Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 / Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 / Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 / Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 / Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 / Jean C.Nives Rodriguez, 27 / Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 / Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 / Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 / Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 / Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 / Martin Benitez Torres, 33 / Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 / Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 / Luis S. Vielma, 22 / Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 / Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 / Jerald Arthur Wright, 31

Rehearsal at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, July 25, 2016. photo by Jason Fronczek

Part of being human means that the aftermath of death and tragedy is almost always accompanied by bursts of sexual or creative activity. These affirmations of life, love, connection, and community are a show of strength to ourselves, reminding us that while death will inevitably come for us too, we are undeniably and powerfully still here. When the scope of death and tragedy is broader and more profound, so too is the creative impulse in response to it.

On June 12, 2016, at approximately 2AM, a young, troubled, questioning man from an Afghan immigrant family opened fire in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub with legally purchased weaponry, killing 49 people and injuring 53 more in the deadliest act of violence against the LGBTQ+ community in U.S. history, the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, and the deadliest attack to occur on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001. The American poet Theodore Roethke, in his poem “The Far Field”, asserted that “All finite things reveal infinitude… A ripple widening from a single stone / Winding around the waters of the world.” And what a stone the shooter, Omar Mateen, turned out to be. But he’s not the only stone in this metaphor. The dead, the wounded, the survivors, the witnesses, and the first responders all played a role that night, creating wave after wave of effect that started in the Orlando community but quickly went worldwide.

There have been several big, beautiful, creative responses to the shooting. In addition to at least 24 vigils in and around Orlando and fundraisers both great and small in scale, art exhibitions and benefit concerts have multiplied. Venues such as Parliament House, The CFE Arena at UCF, Hard Rock Live, and the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts (DPAC), have hosted concert events in the months immediately following the shooting. Perhaps the the largest event, the monumental Beautiful Together, combined the efforts and talents of more than 60 local arts organizations at DPAC.

Let me introduce the first-tier set of stones in this metaphor: I have the good fortune, through my participation in The Landmark Forum, of knowing singer Andrea Canny (Music Production Supervisor at, a locally-based website that sells audition materials for actors and singers), who, along with Joyce Arbucias of The Imagination House (a local heavy-hitting production company, and parent company of Performer Stuff), Chris Yakubchik of Forster, Boughman, and Lefkowitz, and Tony Award winner Kenny Howard (of the Florida Theatrical Association), formed an LLC called Imagine Orlando, for the initial purpose of putting together an enormous benefit concert, From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Orlando, in response to the Pulse shooting. Imagine Orlando partnered with Seth Rudetsky, James Wesley, and Michael Moritz Jr., who, themselves, partnered with Van Dean of Broadway Records to produce From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook.

I mentioned The Landmark Forum because her experience in their course encouraged Canny to dream big about what the event could become. She believes deeply in the power of music to provoke both thought and feeling, reinforce community, and to heal. She enlisted and enrolled her team, and got the ball rolling. Once these two parties got together, the next step was to get the talent on board, namely the Broadway performers, and a who’s who of Broadway answered the call, including six Tony Award winners and lead performers in current shows. Once the solo talent was secured, the team set about getting the infrastructure in place, all of it pretty much donated or underwritten: flights, hotel rooms, a commitment from DPAC, materials and incentives for an auction, back line equipment, printing, sound, video, and stage technicians, and many other countless gestures of support from coffee and water to security personnel, ushers, transportation coordinators and Pulse Survivors at the auction table.

An orchestra was put together, primarily comprised of musicians from the Orlando Philharmonic—a sort of blind date between them and a rhythm section that flew down from New York. A 100+ voice choir, Orlando Voices United Choir, was formed for the event, comprised of singers from Disney, the Orlando Gay Chorus, and elsewhere. New orchestrations were created for the event, which also required the services of a copyist/librarian to assist with getting individual parts to all the musicians. The list of phone calls and emails exchanged to make this all happen must be impressive.

Rehearsal at The Plaza, July 24, 2016. photo by Jason Fronczek

I got to witness the rehearsals for the two sessions before the July 25th performance, first at the Plaza Live, and then at DPAC. The atmosphere at the Plaza was a mixture of enthusiasm, freneticism, stoicism, or professionalism depending on where I focused my attention. Rehearsals can be a festival of groans and eye-rolls when things are not going well, and the Plaza rehearsal was stalling repeatedly. The guitarist was the only member of the rhythm section present. The Orchestrator, Kim Scharnberg, was giving notes and comments to Music Director Michael Moritz who was doing heroic double duty as pianist and conductor. “I’m in a bad dream with no rhythm section,” Moritz said. The copyist/librarian Don Oliver, muttering and cursing under his breath, with his shaggy dog nearby, struggled as valiantly as the legendary Little Dutch Boy trying to plug each new leak in a Haarlem dike with his finger, as musicians seemingly at random declared that their individual notated parts were nowhere to be found, all while trying to prepare and tape together parts for the songs yet to be rehearsed. The always professional, get-it-done-with-grace concert mistress for the Orlando Philharmonic, Rimma Bergeron-Langlois, quietly discussed bowings, phrasings, tempo changes, and changes made on the fly with the other violinists. Composer, pianist, and musical force at Imagination House, Mike Avila, who was working behind the scenes along with Andrea Canny and Imagine Orlando, stepped in to play the bass parts on a synthesizer, and suddenly everything started gelling in a way it hadn’t before.

Ultimately, everyone was doing what they could to help solve the myriad kinds of problems that inevitably come up when trying to accomplish something big. But not just something big–something big with an emotional and personal stake, and everybody involved has a stake in this. Locals feel the Pulse shooting deeply because Orlando is our home. These were our people, our friends, our children, our family. The people coming down from New York are no strangers to tragedy. They know what September 11 feels like. And they know how the LGBTQ+ community feels, too. Broadway has been on the absolute front lines in the cultural conversation on sexual orientation and gender identity for many decades.

By the time the Broadway soloists, choir, full musical ensemble, and all the necessary technicians were in place for the rehearsal at DPAC the next day, everything seemed to be running like clockwork and there was a buzzing excitement backstage. The show itself was a heartfelt, hopeful, soaring, melancholy, raunchy mixtape chosen by the soloists to both play to their strengths and thematically tie the lyrics to some aspect of the tragedy. But this isn’t about the concert itself. This is about the powerful choice to create in response to death. And it’s about loving each other the way that the people we lost would want to love us if they could. What the world needs now…

The beneficiaries of From Broadway with Love are the GLBT Community Center of Central Florida, a gathering place for more than 20 support groups that also offers free HIV and Hepatitis C testing, among other services; the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, which services and supports those dealing with AIDS; and Zebra Coalition, a network of organizations which provide services to LGBTQ+ youth, ages 13 to 24.

To pre-order an audio or video recording of the event, please visit

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