First City Players rehearses Divas and Divos event

Myles Milholland rehearses with other cast members from the First City Players production Divas and Divos on Tuesday at FCP. Milholland performed the song “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

On Sept. 28, eight performers will sing, dance and charm their way to a crown during the annual First City Players “Divas and Divos” fundraiser.

The one-night performance at Ted Ferry Civic Center will feature musical numbers and choreography by four women and four men, and by the end of the night two competitors will have been crowned “reigning diva” and “reigning divo.”

The winner is determined by the amount each performer raises in donations. Donations are made before and during the show for a favorite performer and in ticket purchases. Proceeds will go toward the 2019-2020 theater season, according to First City Players.  

Last year, the annual fundraiser was hosted by Dave Kiffer and Lindsey Johnson. “Bagpipe Bill” Urquhart was crowned reigning divo, with Bill Tatsuda coming in second place. Shelly Hill was named reigning diva, with Sarah Fitzgerald as the runner-up. Both Urquhart and Hill will return to the stage to pass their titles on to this year's winners.

Steve Hayburn, who was named second-place divo in 2014, and 2016 winner Frankie Urquhart will host this year's event. The 2019 divas and divos include Tyler Drew Jones, Myles Milholland, Bill Tatsuda, Joe Williams IV, Becca Doyle, Harmila Earth, Lydia Kline and Valerie McLaren. Former diva Sharolyn Kroscavage is both producing and directing this year's fundraiser.

Tyler Drew Jones is not unfamiliar with musical theater, as he portrayed one of the drunks in the “Fish Pirate's Daughter” in 2017.

“Serendipitously, one of the current divas who knew of my singing skills informed me of an opening,” Jones wrote to the Daily News. “Since the idea was both scary and deliciously challenging, I immediately messaged Sharolyn, but found the spot was already gone. Fast forward a week, the same situation occurred and I jumped on it like a cat with a string.”

Jones also noted that the program had “good people and good energy.”

Jones said what was most challenging about the “Divas and Divos” fundraiser was not only the rehearsal schedule of six days a week, which “was a little more intensive” than he anticipated, but the choreography. Alongside rehearsals that range from a half hour to two hours in duration, Jones is taking classes at the Creek Street Cabaret to improve his skills.

Bill Tatsuda, who earned the title of second place divo in last year's fundraiser, will return to the stage once again. Tatsuda also hosted the event in 2016, alongside his daughter Katherine Tatsuda.

He told the Daily News that his first experience with theater was in Ketchikan High School's 1965 production of “The Boy Friend,” in which he portrayed the role of “the father.”

Tatsuda recalled that First City Players had asked him for three months prior to his decision if he would join the fundraiser as a performer once again.

“My daughter talked me into it,” Tatsuda said.

After seeing the movie “Yesterday,” which was released in June, Tatsuda relented and joined the cast, on the condition that he would be able to sing three Beatles songs during the event.

“I'm debating if I want to win or not,” Tatsuda said.

He explained that he considered himself modest, although his “competitive nature kicks in” on occasion.”

Tatsuda said that, so far, the most challenging part of rehearsal has been memorizing his songs.

“What have I gotten myself into?” Tatsuda joked. “I'm not a singer. Singing Beatles' harmonies with my group is a lot harder than I imagined.”

Myles Milholland, who became a year-round resident of Ketchikan this summer, told the Daily News that he relocated to Ketchikan full-time so he could “make Ketchikan arts a year-round thing.”

“My family has been actively involved in theater my entire life,” Milholland said. “I was always the 'black musical sheep,' taking more of an interest in rock music and have performed as a front man singer in multiple bands throughout the years.”

Milholland's first experience with First City Players was in 2014, when he portrayed Jean Valjean in a production of Les Miserables.

“A local friend mentioned they were auditioning for Les Miserables, which was an opera I really loved, so I literally wandered into FCP off the street as an unknown,” Milholland explained, adding that he had “zero theater experience” at the time.

“I continue to work with FCP because I love everybody there,” Milholland said.

For Milholland, the most challenging aspect of preparing for the fundraiser is working in what he described as a “pseudo competitive” environment.

“I'm not a competitive musician and am actually quite humble and shy, although I can certainly rock the mic like nobody's business,” Milholland said. “So to be performing with these fellows is a gift, but it's a little unnerving to think we will be actually facing off to claim the divo title.”

“I am definitely entering this event as the underdog,” he finished. “But I'm no slouch on the mic.”

Joe Williams IV participated in the Divas and Divos fundraiser two years ago, during his first year as a Ketchikan resident.

“It really helped increase my presence on the art and performance scene, though I had already began establishing myself as a known performer here in town at that point,” Williams said. “I decided to accept the invite to perform in the show this year because I love the show. I like what it represents.”

For Williams, time is the most challenging aspect of rehearsal for the event.

“It takes a lot to put on a show like this, and because I perform and work so much, I've found it incredibly difficult to make time for rehearsals.”

Williams said that while he has a “full plate in his beloved Ketchikan” – which he greatly attributes to his first run with the “Divas and Divos” fundraiser – it “won't stop me from showing my competitors what being a divo is all about!”

Diva hopeful Lydia Kline, who grew up in Juneau and has lived in Ketchikan for the past three years, said she quickly became a devotee of First City Players after moving to town.

“One of the first things that I did was get involved with First City Players,” she said.

She said she played the character Rizzo in the FCP production of the musical “Grease,” and that inspired her to pursue more singing performances. She also was a FCP Jazz & Cabaret participant the past two years.

She became focused on the Divas & Divos show after attending the past couple of years, and plans to perform two songs at this year’s event.

“After seeing the past two shows, I knew I was born to do this. I was born to be a Diva,” she said, laughing. “You can ask anyone who knows me — I’m one of the most dramatic people they know. Last year, I was so vocal from the audience, people were calling me the fifth Diva.”

The fundraising aspect of seeking the Diva crown has been the most challenging part of her involvement, Kline said.

“Just making sure to get myself out there,” she explained. “Sometimes I can be a little — I’m a millennial, so I don’t like to make phone calls. I have an aversion. If I could text everybody, that’d be perfect.”

Although the fundraising has been a bit tough, she said it also has been gratifying.

“It’s been awesome to see the response,” she said, adding that businesses and individuals have been enthusiastic and supportive.

Her message to those interested in the Divas & Divos show was simple.

“Come to the show, vote for Lydia, support local theater and support me getting my crown, because I deserve it,” she said, laughing.

Diva contestant Becca Doyle said she also is a big supporter of FCP, and that led her to jump into the fundraiser event.

“I’ve become passionate about this community that’s been so welcoming and nurturing and I feel like I want to support something that’s been a good, healthy piece of my life,” she said about her involvement with FCP.

As an actor in this year’s production of the “Mamma Mia” musical, Doyle said her fellow actors Frankie Urquhart and Kathy Bolling encouraged her to try vying for the Diva crown.

Doyle accepted the challenge, but with a caveat: Urquhart and Bolling would have to perform as her backups on stage at the Divas & Divos event.

“If you guys want me to do this,” Doyle recalled telling the duo, “then guess who’s signed up with me.”

Doyle said she will be performing a medley that musician Austin Hays and Divas & Divos music director Chazz Gist helped to piece together for her, that she said is a flashback to the “Mamma Mia” play.  She also will perform a dance act, to highlight the different dances she has learned through the local BOOMbal Dancehall events.

“I want people to understand how vibrant our art community is,” she said, “and all the opportunities that you have to connect with people and activities that I didn’t even know a year ago.”

Doyle said of the upcoming show, “It’s going to be fun. It’s been a great group to work with, and the collaboration — we’re all working together — and it’s going to be such a fun night, to hang out and listen to some music, all different kinds of music.”

Harmila Earth is taking her second run at the Diva crown this year.

“I want to win this time,” she said. “Last time, I was just a babe in the woods. I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now, I’m determined to win, because it’s a lot of work. It’s a ton of work, and now I work, like, three other jobs, so this is like the fifth job or something.”

Juggling her busy work schedule has been the most challenging aspect of her involvement, Earth said. She works as a paraprofessional at the Ketchikan Charter School, as a part-time in-home caregiver, does part-time filing for a local lawyer and also works part-time as a karaoke machine operator at several locations.

She said she is excited about the upcoming Divas & Divos event.

“It’s a fun show, it’s a great fundraiser, but I really need to win,” she said, chuckling. “I think this is going to be one of the best shows ever.”

Valerie McLaren wrote of her involvement with the Divas & Divos event via email.

“I was asked a few years ago to participate, but just wasn’t brave enough, to be honest,” she wrote. “So, this year, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and give it a shot. I work at WISH and ask the women every day to do hard things, so I decided I should practice what I preach.”

McLaren echoed Earth when she talked about the most challenging aspect of preparing for the show.

“We have a lot of rehearsals, fundraising, etc., and balancing that with work and my large family” has been the biggest hurdle, she wrote.

McLaren wrote that she will be performing songs at the event, “representing the country crowd.”

McLaren concluded by expressing that she is “happy to have this chance to sing and become a better performer while raising money for a great organization. I’m thankful for those that have supported me so far, and any future supporters towards winning the crown. Vote for Diva Val!”