Editorial: Arts advocates put Transperformance on the map

Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2014
The lineup for Tuesday’s “Transperformance XXIV” — the annual musical extravaganza that raises money for arts enrichment programs in Northampton’s public schools — lists the following local residents as hosts for the event, along with the more famous personas they will briefly take on:

“Kelsey Flynn as Paris Hilton; Professor Steve Waksman as Mr. Peabody; Monte Belmonte as Hannah Montana; Johnny Memphis as Johnny Rivers; Julie Waggoner as Joan Rivers; Joan Holliday as Kelly Osborne; and Jon Carroll as Jesus of Nazareth.”

That’s a list worth lingering over. Those names are unlikely to ever appear in the same sentence again — and it’s likely that only “Transperformance” could have brought them together.

Tuesday’s show, which starts at 4 p.m. at Pines Theater at Look Park, marks the 24th time that local musicians will take the stage to play covers of well-known national and international acts.

It’ll be a good time. How do we know that? Because “Transperformance,” under the leadership of the Northampton Arts Council, has made the event a tradition — or, in the better phrase of former council director Bob Cilman — “a community party” that draws its vitality from some of the best aspects of life in these parts: a lively music scene; strong support for education; and interlocking networks of people and groups willing to pitch in for a good cause.

Every “Transperformance” is built around a theme. This year it’s “Off the Map,” an evening of geographically inspired musical acts. The Nields will be there as The Dixie Chicks, Scott Hall will be John Denver, the Sun Parade will be Buffalo Springfield, King Radio will be on Sesame Street. Past bashes have mined other themes: Royalty. Body Parts. Food Groups. It’s all family friendly, sometimes outrageous, often zany. Where else are you going to see a Northampton mayor onstage as Elvis or Lady Gaga? And those were just two of the “Transperformance” roles Clare Higgins took on during her years in office.

Brian Foote, who succeeded Cilman as the Northampton Arts Council’s director, says that between 2001 and 2013, “Transperformance” raised $102,000 that was donated to Northampton’s PTO to support arts programs in the public schools. Foote said he estimates that, since 1991, the total amount donated to the schools is a little over $180,000. During an era of chronically tight education budgets, that money makes a difference, as does the money that Arts Council events also raise to fund grants for local artists.

After the last performers take their bows at around 9 p.m. Tuesday, those who produced the show will take a well-deserved break. And then it’ll be on to next year — and a new theme — when “Transperformance” marks its silver anniversary.