Watermark’s Most Remarkable People 2017: James Rode, Orlando Gay Chorus’ artistic director

By : Jeremy Williams
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It’s difficult to take an organization that’s celebrating 25 years and change the way the community sees it, but Orlando Gay Chorus artistic director James Rode doesn’t make decisions based on what’s the easiest thing to do.

OGC celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2015, the same year Rode became the organization’s new artistic director.

“When I first saw the chorus at that year’s Christmas show,” Rode says, “I was so impressed with the power on that stage. I looked out into the audience and they were loving it, but they didn’t have a director. So when I took over my thought was that this chorus deserves a spot at the art table.”

Rode met with members from both the arts world and the LGBTQ community in Central Florida.

“That’s what the artistic director should be doing. I should be going out and opening more doors for the chorus,” he says. “The chorus’ mission has always been the same, ‘Changing hearts and minds,’ but having a seat at the table was my big mission.”

Expanding OGC’s reach and profile was a goal for Rode to accomplish in 2016, but then June 12 of that year came and all of Orlando’s goals changed.

“After Pulse, we were pushed into the spotlight, but we didn’t really think about it like that,” Rode says. “We would get the call to appear somewhere and we thought to ourselves ‘we have to go.’”

The OGC performed at more than 100 events in the first year after the Pulse shooting, including at the one-year mark in June at the Lake Eola memorial.

While 2017 was a different year for the OGC, Rode helped to make sure it was a year of firsts for the chorus as well. For the first time ever, the OGC produced a show at the Orlando Fringe Festival.

“I mildly knew what I was getting into,” Rode says, laughing. “It’s another one of those instances where I wanted to show what we can do. So I said we can do this, we can produce theater.”

Rode began working on this show idea he had a few years ago, a musical parody of the film Pitch Perfect.

“I started to work on the music and I hired a director, Donald Rupe, who wrote the script,” Rode says.

The show was called Bitch, Perfect! It met with glowing reviews, was one of the Orange Venue’s “Patron’s Picks” and played an extra run at the Parliament House.

Rode followed up being a theater producer with becoming a summer camp organizer with grants the OGC received from organizations including Disney and United Arts.

“I work with summer conferences in Washington, D.C., so I know what it takes to run a summer camp, but I have never had to start one from the ground up,” Rode says. “It was a little nerve racking because you put all this time and effort into this with the constant thought, ‘Will kids come to something put on by a gay chorus?’”

OGC launched Voices United!, a youth summer camp, with more than 20 kids in the first week of June. The week-long camp included voice lessons, all-state clinics, fun and games, and it culminated in a big show at the end.

“We invited members of the church we held the summer camp at. Members of the chorus came and their families came,” Rode says. “It was a really cool time and everyone involved had a good time. The kids had a great experience and all the parents were impressed. We are going to do it again next year and want to get even more kids involved.”

In a year of big events and recognition for OGC, they were also named a grand marshal at this year’s Come Out With Pride parade. Rode is so happy to see the chorus being honored by so many but there is one approval that stands above all the others.

“We still have a lot of founding members in the chorus and every time we do something I like to check with them and see if they are happy with what we’re doing. I am so pleased that with all the new ventures we had this year they have said they are so proud of this chorus and where it has gone,” Rode says.


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