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You're Invited!

To Gail Fendley's annual party. Bring your checkbook.

When Gail Fendley made her way to Clark Fork from Atlanta via Durango, Colorado, the “Greater Sandpoint” area had no idea what was in store for them. This whirlwind of activity has had her finger in a lot of local pies, but her lasting legacy may well be the annual variety show that everyone talks about—the Follies. The major fundraiser for local charity The Angels Over Sandpoint, the Follies is an R-all-the-way-to-the-boundaries-of-X-rated variety show that brings in the bulk of the money used each year by this group to support those in need in our area, and it all started with an idea Gail (known locally as Velma, Queen of Fun) had based on a similar program back in Durango. I sat down with Gail to talk about the Follies—which celebrates its tenth anniversary this year—the Angels, our community, and the legacy of Kathy Pelland, which her friends have grown from an impulse to emulate Pelland’s caring heart into a powerhouse of support that’s helped thousands of our community members when they needed help.

Kate McAlister

Q. If I’ve never attended the Follies before, what can I expect?

A. It’s a variety show with an edge, which means singing, dancing, comedy skits and more, all geared toward an adult audience but staying within the boundaries of what’s legal in Sandpoint.

Q. I’ve heard the show pushes those boundaries. Is that true?

A. The show can be bawdy, let’s put it that way. Our emcees make a point each year at the beginning of the show to warn people that if they’re easily offended, they should leave because this is not a show they’ll enjoy.

There might be cussing, sexual references, drug references, and the one that can really make people angry, skits about politics. We collect donations for the work the Angels do in giant “collection condoms,” and most years, it’s been rather risque “nuns” who have done the collecting. 

Most of the performers— who create their own acts, by the way—grew up with Monty Python, Second City, Saturday Night Live and the like... and it shows.

Q. Wow. So the goal is to be offensive?

A. Not in the least. The goal is to be funny. Period. But if you have a great act that might offend some people, that’s not going to get you kicked out of the line-up.

Q. Idaho’s a pretty conservative state. How does that go over?

A. Let’s put it this way. The first year we did the show, we had a couple people walk out, and everyone was talking about the show, both good and bad. The next year, people for whom the show is not quite their cup of tea didn’t buy tickets... but a lot of other people did. By year five, there was so much demand for tickets MickDuff’s was televising a live simulcast of the show; we had sold out tickets in one day. The following year, we added a second show to the weekend.

Q. This year you’re doing the show on two weekends. What’s that all about?

A. That’s about the tenth anniversary of the Follies, and the need in the community. Last year we raised about $30,000 from the show. The Angels spent almost $90,000 to support the community in a variety of ways, and we could have spent a lot more. We need to raise cash, and that’s the number one goal. We hope everyone remembers that we really want them to have fun, but the primary purpose is to raise dollars that can be used to help people in our community.

Also, with this being the tenth anniversary, we wanted to bring back some of the acts throughout the years that have been big hits for the audience, along with highlighting new acts. But the level of talent in this community is so high, and we’ve had so many great acts on the stage, that there’s no way we could do it all in one show. So we added a weekend. There will be two different shows that are a mix of old and new, with only a few of the acts repeated on the second weekend.

Linda Robie, Audra Mearns

Q. How in the world are you going to pull off two full weekends of shows? Isn’t that a lot of work?

A. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but we’ll pull it off the same way we pulled off that very first show—through the effort of an awful lot of people.

I hate to start naming the people we rely on, because there’s so many I’m afraid I’ll leave someone out. But here are some:

First, there’s Deb McShane, our artistic director. She has loads of real theater experience, which is a wonderful support to our performers. We have had a lot of people whose first experience of being on stage is at the Follies, and she helps coach them and make them feel comfortable.

Chris Lynch is our on-stage accompaniment for the performers and he is just a musical maestro. He can get whatever we need out of that magical machine of his.

Then there’s Eddie Fontaine—and before him Jeff Poole—doing the sound. No matter how good the show is, it’s not going to matter if people can’t hear it.

Kathy Andruzak takes care of the tickets, and that’s no easy thing, let me tell you! She has heard every excuse in the book for why you didn’t buy your ticket before they sold out, so don’t call her at home. Really. Jeff Nizzoli and Jessica Lippi run the martini bar. Right now, Roy Shreve is running the main bar. You know, there’s so much that’s done by Angel spouses and they hardly get any recognition at all.

Shasta Hankins helps performers get into theatrical makeup; Gail Lyster created the Follies gal used on the poster and hand-painted the canvas backdrop with several volunteers. There’s our crew that works backstage, and all the Angels who cleans up the theater after the show. 

And our performers. Not only do these people share their talent on our behalf, each and every one of them also buys their own ticket to the show. When you think about it, it’s an amazing list of people who make this all happen, and it’s all on behalf of our friends in need in Bonner County.

Q. So you want to give us a hint what will be in the show and when? So that people who missed seeing certain things live can catch up?

A. I think I’d rather leave it all a mystery, so people can be surprised at what’s on stage.

Q. Just how good are these performers? Are they professionals, or just talented locals?

A. A few are professionals, though most are just talented people. But there’s no “just” about it. Those who have never attended a show (we call them the Follies virgins) walk out the door at the end absolutely astounded at the level of talent our performers demonstrate.

Q. Are all of your performers members of the Angels?

A. Not at all, but a surprising number of Angels came to us after performing in the show. They saw how much fun we have, and learned about the good things we do, and wanted to continue to be a part of that.

Q. So tell me about those good things the Angels do. You help cancer patients, right?

A. Cancer patients and a whole lot of other people, too. We like to say that the Angels are there to help the people in our community who fall through the cracks. Sometimes that’s cancer patients but not as often now that there are other groups in the community helping with that type of challenge. Our focus is mostly on people in our community who have unexpectedly lost their jobs, or suffered an injury and can’t work, or are dealing with some type of crisis situation where they need a little help. Maybe they’re behind on their bills, or can’t afford to buy firewood or get the driveway plowed. And that’s where the Angels come in. We can help in a lot ways; we cook meals, we weed flower beds... we’re a hands-on organization that does whatever it takes to get the job done.

These are the types of things the dollars raised at the Follies go toward, as well funding scholarships: one for volunteerism, dollars for participation in Sports and Rec activities for children, and a scholarship for the arts, in partnership with the Festival at Sandpoint. We also do a fundraising campaign in August for our back to school program (providing backpacks of supplies for local students in need), and we’ve just partnered with the Amber Coffman Campbell Memorial Fund to provide grants to people making a fresh start by continuing their education.

Q. That should be enough to convince anyone to buy a ticket to the show. How do they get one? 

A. Tickets are on sale right now in downtown Sandpoint at Eve’s Leaves, Eichardts and Petal Talk. Or you can buy a ticket online at SandpointOnline.com. Tickets are still just $25.

If you can’t make it to the show, and would like to help the Angels in the things we’re trying to do, visit our website at AngelsOverSandpoint.com to see how you can help, or even just write us a check and mail it to PO Box 2369, Sandpoint, ID 83864.

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Author info

Landon Otis

Tagged as:

Homepage, Headlines, Angels Over Sandpoint, Jeff Nizzoli, Gail Fendley, Kate McAlister, Queen of Ireland, The Follies, Kathy Pelland, variety show, fundraising, Deb McShane, Chris Lynch, Eddie Fontaine, Jeff Poole, Kathy Andruzak, Andrew Sorg, Audra Mearns, Linda Robie, Jessica Lippi, Roy Shreve, Gail Lyster, Shasta Hankins, Velma Queen of Fun

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