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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Arturo Galster: Local Drag Icon to Be Remembered at the Castro Theatre

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2014 at 12:44 PM

  • Photo: Daniel Nicoletta. Hair & make-up: Eddie Valentine
San Francisco's drag community — its vast fan base and the LGBT community as a whole — were shocked when news broke of the August 25 passing of Arturo Galster at age 55. The gifted performer was an audience favorite, appearing in many shows which embodied the City's queer culture; he was a mainstay at shows that also featured drag legend Doris Fish, who died of AIDS in 1991. Fish and Galster, in fact, co-starred in the hit underground film Vegas in Space (1991).

Galster was also a powerful singer. From 1982-89 he toured the country every summer, performing as legendary country singer Patsy Cline — he belted out many of Cline's classic tunes with his own powerful pipes. Galster really did it all in his 25 years as a performer: drag clubs, musical theater, film. 

And on Monday, September 22, Arturo Galster will be remembered at the Castro Theatre. A Celebration of Arturo Galster will commence at 7:30 p.m. and will be a free event open to all. The beautifully iconic movie palace is a fitting place to honor Galster's memory as the theater's stage is one of the many that were graced by his talents.

From 1995-2012, Galster appeared regularly in the popular Castro shows produced by Marc Huestis — Huestis is well know for screening classic films at events that hosted a visiting cast member from the given movie. No expense was spared to in order to put on the grandest possible extravaganza: the shows would often open with live drag tributes to the evening's movie. Galster appeared in 15 of these shows, and not always in drag. In addition to his flawless Endora from Bewitched, he sang live as the Elvis inspired Conrad Birdie from Bye Bye Birdie, and had Castro audiences in stitches with his rendition of Project Runway's Tim Gunn. 

Galster was one of the City's most versatile performers. He was an actor who took his work quite seriously.

"Unlike some performers who are more concerned with building a brand, Arturo quietly submerged himself in every character he played with little ego," recalled Marc Huestis, one of several people working together on the Arturo Galster Celebration. "His performances were pinpoint perfect and and slyly, brilliantly understated. One would often leave his performances open mouthed asking 'how could he do that?'"

Huestis said that he often saw evidence of Galster's total lack of ego. When not performing, he would often sit in the audience of shows featuring his friends and co-stars, and was generous with his applause.
click to enlarge CINDY GOLDFIELD
  • Cindy Goldfield

"Arturo had a gift", said Lawrence Helman, another of the Celebration's organizers. "His gift was that when he was on stage, you felt his love of performing. He transferred that love and zeal to every member of the audience. You got his gifts beyond the footlights and it made you happy just seeing him do what he loved. That is a gift and cannot be taught in school. It is why I adored watching him on stage."

Helman reports that many of the performers Galster worked with will appear on the Castro stage. Glide Memorial Church Choir will participate in the evening, which will be hosted by popular drag performer D'Arcy Drollinger. It all adds up to a celebration and tribute which quietly acknowledges the way Arturo Galster lived his life.

"He had no ego or need to be the star but to be part of the ensemble to make the entire show the best it could be." Helman continued. "It just so happened that most times when he was part of a show, he was the best one in the show."

Huestis added: "Arturo sang the first song in the first show I did at the Castro Theater almost 20 years ago... [and] beyond being a staple in my shows, Smarturo, or Smarties, as I called him, was a dear friend and neighbor. I have known him since the early 1980s. It was always a pleasure to run into him at the corner store and catch up. In fact there is a poster hanging on the door of that store. The owners were heartsick when they heard the news. Everyone loved him. He was effervescent. A sparkle has left San Francisco."

A Celebration of Arturo Galster (1959-2014), Monday Sept. 22, 7:30 p.m., Castro Theatre (429 Castro), free and open to all. 
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