Broadway Star Brian Stokes Mitchell Accepts $100,000 Donation to the Actors Fund from The Tabernacle ChoirBy Chris Ruel
Photo: Allison Sullivan
OperaWire attended a Dec. 8 media luncheon and discussion of the upcoming television presentation of “20 Years of Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir,” set to air on PBS on Dec. 13, and BYUtv on Dec. 16. The event featured Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle award-winner, Brian Stokes Mitchell, whose involvement with the choir spans over a decade. The Broadway star narrated the special retrospective that weaves together 40 past performances by guest artists.
The event opened with the presentation of a $100,000 donation from The Tabernacle Choir to the Actors Fund, a charity that provides financial help for those working in the entertainment industry. Second counselor in the Choir presidency, Gary P. Porter, gave the ceremonial check to Mitchell, the Fund’s Chairperson since 2004. The donation represents a coming together of the two organizations facilitated by the longtime relationship between the Broadway star and the Choir.
“Because of all the great work that’s been done by Stokes and all the performers, we felt it was time to do something to honor them,” Porter said in his remarks.
After accepting the donation, Mitchell stated, “We all know how difficult this time has been. We have an emergency assistance fund that best illustrates the work we’ve been able to do. Normally, we’d give about $2 million in assistance for the most necessary things, like food, prescriptions, and insurance. To date, we’ve given more than $24 million.”
About the vital work the Actors Fund continues to do, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, Mitchell said, “So many people have left [the performing arts], gone bankrupt, and we’ve lost a lot of people who could not take it as well. The Actors Fund helps to counsel people who have gone through that—families and cast members who have dealt with someone taking their life, and there’s been more than I like to say. The spaces [between jobs] have been very rough for people and that’s why we’re so grateful for this $100,000; it will be put to good work.”
Mitchell spoke of ways the Choir’s Christmas special and the work of the Actors Fund bring people together, providing healing and hope, saying later in the event, “I’m so happy to be involved in this production, and in the Actors Fund. Both organizations make miraculous things happen—they transform people and lift people, and make the world a better place.”
The Actors Fund is now a charity featured in the Church of Latter-Day Saints’ Light the World Giving Machines, one of which was recently placed in Rockefeller Plaza at 49th Street. These “vending machines” for charities allow anyone to make a donation on the spot, and it’s as simple as dipping your credit or debit card and picking a charity instead of a snack. As of this writing, the Giving Machines in New York have made more money in the space of about a week than they did all of last year.
20 Years of Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir
Over the past 20 years, some of the world’s leading opera stars have joined the Choir for the Christmas celebrations. These include Renée Fleming, Deborah Voigt, Frederica von Stade, Bryn Terfel, Nathan Gunn, Alfie Boe, and Rolando Villazón, to name a few. The retrospective features Voight, singing ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas;” Fleming, “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming;” Villazón, “Campaña sobre compaña;” Terfel, “Suo Gân;”, Von Stade, “Allons vite à Bethléem, and Boe, “Bring Him Home.”
The special two-hour anniversary program is in lieu of the annual one-hour spectacular broadcast by PBS, which extended the air time to accommodate the retrospective. The Choir filmed new segments featuring Mitchell and a small contingent of socially distanced Orchestra members under the direction of musical director Mack Wilberg in November 2020. The recording took place in the empty 21,000 seat Conference Center on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. In his narration, Mitchell recounts stories, reflections, and behind-the-scene views in between musical performances. The anniversary special will also present the Choir, Mitchell, and the Orchestra in its first-ever virtual performance.
The Choir records its specials one year in advance. Had 2020 been a typical year, this year’s audience would be treated to the Choir’s usual knock-out holiday performance, but COVID changed that.
In an official press statement, Mitchell stated, “So much effort and creativity went into preserving this beloved tradition—now 20 years strong—in the middle of a global pandemic that has disrupted so much. I am honored to be a part of it. Not only will viewers enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to produce the most-watched holiday special on PBS for 16 years, but they will also be able to feast on all of the wonderful moments this holiday special has delivered over the past two decades and remember how music connects people in very profound ways.”
For Mitchell, the annual special holds a very special place in his heart. “My first performance was in 2008. It’s one of my favorite places to be in the world.” He said that the work of both the Choir and the Actors Fund is to lift people up. “It’s one of the things we have in common as an organization and as a Choir, and it’s one of the reasons why I feel so at home when I’m out there.”
As he neared the end of the discussion, Mitchell spoke of the magic of the season and returned to the theme of connecting and helping people.
“Two forces of good in the world have joined forces; we need more of that. Our country feels so divisive, the world feels so divisive, right now. Nobody wants to sit down and talk to each other. One of the things I love about the Actors Fund, about the theater, about the arts, and performing with the Choir is you get all these people together in a room, and we know everybody is different—no two people are the same. Everybody has different thoughts, everybody has different political parties, everybody is raised in different ways, and with different styles of family, and it’s amazing what we can do as human beings when we decide, let’s make this one thing happen, let’s do this together. When we can do that, miraculous things happen.”
“20 Years of Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir” is co-presented by GBH, the largest creator of PBS content for TV and the Web, and BYUtv, which produced the special.