Broadway comes to Palm Springs

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February 10, 2016

The southwest corner of Sunrise and Vista Chino in Palm Springs isn’t the address of either the McCallum or the Annenberg theaters. So, how did “The Color Purple,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and the New York City Ballet find their way there from The Big Apple?

Snippets of Broadway – literal snips of fabric from costumes, worn in famous productions on The Great White Way – have been sent to the Desert AIDS Project campus where they are being transformed by D.A.P.’s quilting enthusiasts. They will become brand new “Broadway Quilts” as two king-sized canvases of textile art, worked by the Quilting with Pinkie group, which meets every Monday from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM at Desert AIDS Project. These days, the group is breaking open a new package of fabric from Broadway each Monday morning when they meet.

Each of these Broadway Quilts, scheduled to be finished by summer, will come with its own provenance containing playbills and a diagram matching each material swatch in the quilt to the production from which it was taken. The Broadway Quilts will be auctioned or raffled to benefit D.A.P. on December 1, in commemoration of World AIDS Day.

“It’s going to tell a great story,” Larry Edwards – better known locally to many as “Pinkie Meringue Shimmer” – said as he opened a new box of fabric. Normally, the quilters, all D.A.P. clients and volunteers, bring in individual projects to work on. This time, Larry says, they’re all working together on the Broadway Quilts. “The people of Broadway now know we’re here making something wonderful with their fabrics,” he beams. “It sort of brings the two communities together. It’s great.”

Quilting and other needlecrafts, like knitting, crocheting, and embroidery, have been a part of the fabric of D.A.P.’s Wellness Services for many years. A staff member, who thought these activities requiring movement and dexterity of the fingers might help ease the hand tremors and neuropathy that sometimes accompanies HIV infection, suggested a group that came to be known as Stitch in Time.

Over the years, they created hundreds of handmade baby blankets and teddy bears for 100 Women members to distribute to migrant farm women. They also organized quilt raffles and holiday ornament fairs to raise money for D.A.P. Along the way, they have been offering each other something invaluable … a nonjudgmental, supportive place each week where there’s always a smile, a joke, or a shoulder to lean on.

Today, the quilters are wondering aloud, which piece went into a costume worn by Glenn Close, who plays the larger-than-life Hollywood has-been in “Sunset Boulevard,” or by Jennifer Hudson as the sexy siren Shug  Avery in “The Color Purple.” They try to guess how the slinky, hand-painted fabric was used in the 2015 “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.” Larry holds up an itty-bitty black sequined vest, astonished by how tiny Broadway dancers really are. THAT small?! Seriously?!

Mostly, though, the group is amazed that D.A.P. volunteer and New York costumer designer Philip Heckman has the connections to make this all happen.  “It says a lot about your reputation in the industry that they would send all this,” says quilter John Luckett.

Philip worked in New York for 25 years. He was nominated for an Emmy for his work on the soap opera “As the World Turns” and designed for the “Tony Awards.”  He once made up the cast of the “Today Show” to look like Peanuts comic strip characters. Off- Broadway, he designed for the musical “Bedbugs!!!” He smiles when he says that.

Philip called on designers, wardrobe supervisors, fabric vendors, and costume shops working on Broadway to donate to the project. And donate, they did.

“It’s all because I asked them,” Philip says. “I was trying to figure out what I could contribute to Quilting with Pinkie. So, I thought of a Broadway Quilt to raise money for D.A.P.”

George Nasci-Sinatra, volunteer coordinator, says the Broadway Quilts will not only raise the profile of Pinkie’s close little group but also raise money and awareness of HIV and D.A.P., in much the same way the AIDS Memorial Quilt, sponsored by the NAMES Project Foundation, did in 1987.

Every week, the quilters prepare for the colorful surprises that the boxes have in store for them. There were recent “oohs and ahs” as intricately designed African prints in various shades of purple emerged from a box sent by Angie Kahler, assistant designer for, you guessed it, “The Color Purple.”  There also was a bolt of black and white silk from “Annie Get Your Gun.”

A sheet of brown embossed leather was among the gifts from “Sunset Boulevard.” The muted cotton prints from “Fiddler on the Roof” stood in sharp contrast to the vibrant silks and satins sent by the New York City Ballet.

Philip explained to the group how some of the lighter-weight fabrics would require backing before they can become the triangles and squares that will make up the quilt. Actually, he says there will be 64 complete, three-inch squares in the quilt. Some of its swatches are squares from one piece of fabric. Others are made up of two triangles of contrasting fabrics sewn together to make the square.  For example, there is an elaborate batik triangle of black, gray, and navy coupled with a triangle of yellow with white polka dots. There’s also a black lace square with charcoal eyelets sitting next to a bit of orange and brown hounds tooth.

Phillip explained how the triangles and squares will look as he pinned early parts of the quilt to a sheet of muslin hanging in the Duane Johnson Group Room where the quilters meet and work.  He also placed a diagram on the sheet that shows how the sequence of triangles and squares will create diamond shapes throughout the quilts once they’re completed. Take a few steps back and tilt your head … you’ll see the pattern of diamonds inside diamonds next to diamonds suddenly reveal themselves.

“I have to say, in the beginning I didn’t know what to expect,” George says. “But now I’m overwhelmed by all the New York designers, and costumers, and fabric companies that all want to be a part of this. Recently, some of the actors are hearing about this and they want to send autographed pictures and playbills to go with the quilts. This is growing into a beautiful project between Palm Springs and New York City. It’s amazing.”

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