The Reykjavik Gay Pride festival is the third biggest in Reykjavik. It’s been held since 1999 but the first parade was in the year 2000 and has from the beginning been a huge success. Last year over 30 thousand people came to the city center to participate or just to take a look at the many colourful people and floats going by at Laugavegur, the main shopping street.
This years Pride takes place 8 – 9 August, starting on a Friday night with an opening ceremony and premiere of Ain’t Misbehavin’, the Fats Waller Musical Show at Loftkastalinn theater. Four African-American actors/singers come from the USA accompanying the Icelandic diva Andrea Gylfa and an Icelandic band of musicians. This is the first time this tribute to Fats Waller has been put on stage in Iceland, though his music is as well known to Icelanders as to the rest of the western world. There are only 10 shows running from 8 – 17 of August.
One out of every ten Icelanders goes to Pride
All the Prides in the world try to educate and generate tolerance among the general public. But maybe because of how small Iceland is, high tolerance grew rather quickly and the people of Reykjavik and Iceland have welcomed Gay Pride. At the first Pride in 1999, when there was no Parade, 1.500 people came to see the outdoor showed up downtown. The year after, when there was a parade for the first time, around twelve thosand people attended the parade and the show, growing to more than thirty thousand last year. That is about 10% of the population of the country and a quarter of the population of Reykjavik, so this must make it the biggest little Pride in the world.
On the 9th of August you will see people and floats organized beside the police station at Hlemmur bus terminal. People start to come together at 1 PM and the parade itself starts at 3 PM. On the sidewalks you will see all kinds of people mixed together. There will be gay people, old men and women, young people and married couples with babies, there will be Asians, South Americans, people from different places in Europe and tourists.
Even though Reykjavik is one of the smallest capitals in the world, you will find people from all over the world here. And when you are gay or lesbian in a small community like Reykjavik, you are positively forced to mix with people of all colours and cultures. In some cities people of different races have seperated Pride festivities. They don’t seem to be able to cross the race barrier, and maybe they don’t feel they have to, because there are so many in each and every group. But it would be a very lonely position to be foreign and gay in Iceland and not meeting the local gay people. Because of the smallness the gay community very much welcomes people from other countries and is proud to have them represented in the parade.
The Asian community has a tradition of making a colourful float and beautiful costumes. This year they promise to have a stunning number in the parade. So do the lesbians. In previous years they have had big dancing numbers, but this year they are planning a three car parade with some surprises. The float of the leather men from the MSC Iceland Club will be extra extravagant because of the visit of “International Mr. Leather” 2003 from London. Then Paul Oscar, the Eurovision contestant for Iceland in 1997 has joined forces with Coco, the famous drag queen, in a number that will without doubt make people hold their breath. Let us hope they will catch it again.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ flying in from America
The Reykjavik Pride has always opened with an international number on Friday night. In 2001 the American standup comedian, Nina Hartong, opened with a hilarious program at the Café Theater and last year the world famous pop group STEREO-TOTAL from Berlin gave an unforgettable concert in Spotlight This year the objectives are even more ambitious. The project is so big, a special theater company, Different Days Productions, was formed to make it happen. Different Days Productions is staging the very funny and famous Fats Waller Musical Show, Ain’t Misbehavin’, the best known African-American musical of all time.
The director and three others in the cast are here from America. Different Days Productions held an audition in New York in April, where 42 actors, who had been selected from 200 applicants, competed for three roles in the musical. In the end Kenyatta Herring, Moyo Mbue and Chris Anthony Giles were selected to star together with the Icelandic rock and blues diva Andrea Gylfa and the director Seth Sharp in ten shows, starting Friday 8th of August and ending Sunday 17th of August. The band playing with the cast is a collection of Iceland’s best young jazz players. Agnar Már Magnússon is the musical director and plays the piano, Valdimar Kolbeinn Sigurjónsson plays bass, Erik Qvick drums with Jóel Pálsson on saxophone and clarinet.
The costumes are from Skaparinn, Reykjavik’s most progressive clothes designers, Dúsa and Rósi. They run their own shop at Laugavegur shopping street, selling their clothes and hat lines and where they also regularly have music happenings on Saturday evenings. Other people supporting the show all have years of experience in theater. Unnar Geir Unnarsson is the assistant director. He works with the Icelandic opera, is studying classical singing and has worked on productions with the famous gay actor/director/playwright Felix Bergsson. Ívar Ragnarsson, a household name himself in the music business, is the sound designer and Ólafur Pétur Georgsson the lighting designer. He designed lights for Felix Bergsson before and now works for the National Theater of Iceland.
But why is a Pride company importing an African-American musical to put on stage in connection with Pride? What is gay about that? There is everything gay about that, though the musical is not, technically speaking, a “gay musical”. Still, gay people have been known through history to hold a special love for musicals. Ain’t Misbehavin’ catches the atmosphere of the period in American history called the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem nightclub life in the 1930’s. It was the time when black Americans gained new pride and new identity in the big cities of US, specially in Harlem in New York City. The story of Harlem Renaissance, the African-American’s struggle for equal rights and human rights in general, laid the ground for the gay rights movement in the seventies. So the connections are many. It’s all about Pride.
The thirties was a time when blues was hot and jazz was a growing mainstay of American culture; when speakeasies were filled with both blacks and whites dancing to the ‘rhythms of life’; when the “New Negro” was making his mark in politics, art, literature, music and science. The industrial North summoned African Americans out of the agrarian South and they came, fleeing racism and poverty. It seemed as if in cities like New York, Chicago, and Detroit, the American Negro could finally find respite from racial prejudice, could finally hold a decent job with decent pay, could finally become a property owner, and could finally go out dancing on Saturday night without fear of having men in white sheets shatter his fun. Harlem became the center of urban black life. If you wanted to write, dance, compose music or effect social change, you went to Harlem. If you wanted the best chance at changing your circumstances and you were black, you went to Harlem.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ – The Fats Waller Musical Show – has delighted American audiences for 25 years and now adds to the cultural diversity of Reykjavík. This year is not just the 25th anniversary of the musical, but also of the Icelandic Gay and Lesbian Organization, Samtökin 78. Ain´t Misbehavin’ started off Broadway, but soon became so popular it was moved to Broadway, where it was shown 1.604 times. Even in America that is quite a lot. So don’t miss that special opportunity to see this fun filled show of great songs and performers at Loftkastalinn theater. Remember there is only a limited number of shows.