Artist, Activist and Volunteer Brian Sands Epitomizes What I Love About New Orleans
As with any intimate relationship, my relationship with my beloved city ebbs and flows. Some days I curse the gargantuan potholes, the deluge of boil water alerts and the suffocating humidity, while others I glory in our city’s greatness. This week seeing all the Krewe of House Floats creations popping up everywhere, watching people beautify the city on MLK Day and enjoying the beyond gorgeous weather, I am giddily in love with the city’s charm and grace all over again.
No one captures New Orleans’ essence better than Brian Sands — a theater critic, prolific playwright, community activist and ardent volunteer.
In the ’80s, Sands began coming to the city for Carnival as he visited friends and made new ones. In 1989, he made it official and moved to the French Quarter. The born-and-raised New Yorker had been producing theater in New York City and thought the change would do him good.
“I fell in love with the city and the Quarter was so affordable back then,” he says. “I thought if I moved to the city I could concentrate on my writing, and I knew I’d be happy if I never saw snow again. I love being able to live in one of the country’s most unique neighborhoods.”
Sands is a graduate of Harvard University and a member of the Dramatists Guild. He’s spent most of his life working in art galleries and writing — including as a regular contributor to Ambush Magazine — and he is a longtime member of the Big Easy Theater Committee.
Sands is one of Southern Rep’s original “6×6: 10-minute-play” playwrights, as well as one of the team of writers who created works for their 2012, 2014 and 2016 New Play Bacchanals. He’s also had works produced in New Orleans by See ‘Em On Stage: A Production Company, Four Humors, Artists Cooperative Theater and Dillard University, where “Lagniappe” — a musical adapted from “The Beggar’s Opera” for which he wrote the book, music and lyrics — was workshopped. In February 2015, his play, “Coming and Going” received a reading by Play Club West in Los Angeles.
“Once COVID-19 lifts,” he says, “we hope to mount a full production of one of the musicals I workshopped at Dillard and Southern Rep.”
Sands has also signed with a talent agency and often works as an extra in TV and film productions around the city.
“In 2014, I was on Treme,” he says. “I was a participant in a St. Anne parade. And recently, I worked on ‘Your Honor,’ with Bryan Cranston and I worked on ‘One Night in Miami.’ I’m looking forward to watching to see if I can see myself.”
Sands also serves on the board of The John Burton Harter Foundation (JBHF), a nonprofit organization that promotes John Burton Harter’s art and the interests he cared about. JBHF provides resources to nonprofit organizations that advance the arts by featuring Harter’s work.
John Burton Harter (1940-2002), documented the richness of gay experience through his artwork. JBHF has supported exhibitions, catalogues, publications and initiatives with funding or gifts of original Harter works since 2002.
“I’m honored to support this artist’s legacy,” says Sands.
In his 7th year of volunteering with Covenant House, Sands has raised more than $100,000. And since 2012, he has been a regular contributor and reader for WRBH radio.
In October, Sands says he hopes to once again volunteer at The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. This will make his 30th year as a volunteer at The Food Heritage Stage.
“I’m looking forward to once again working with our incredible chefs and sharing history and great food with our wonderful audiences.”
Sands rides his bicycle everywhere he goes and couldn’t think of living anywhere else.
“It’s a city that values diversity and honors who we are as people rather than making assumptions on the superficial,” he says. “The city’s citizens join together — whether you’re a businessman, a bartender, head of a corporation or working in retail — to all pass a good time.”
He says he already has his Carnival costume created and is eager to show it off on Mardi Gras Day when he plans to revel in his city’s subdued celebration while staying safe and socially distanced.
“I’m ready,” he says with glee.