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Shooting Stars Foundation wraps up with one last Starry Night

Executive director doesn’t want to compete for finite donor dollars

Devana DeMille has performed many times at Starry Night and Fit for a Queen. “It was like being a celebrity on a grand scale instead of just a bar or a dance hall. It was always a spectacle.”

Credit: Shooting Stars Foundation

After nearly three decades and raising $2 million for local HIV/AIDS charities, the Shooting Stars Foundation takes its final bow with a concluding performance of Starry Night on Nov 17.

Calling it an agonizing decision, founding executive director Kendra Sprinkling says it was nonetheless necessary in order to protect the very organizations that Shooting Stars was trying to serve.

“When we first started raising funds, there was really only two direct-service agencies to support — BCPWA and A Loving Spoonful — but now there are so many more in the city who do their own world-class events,” Sprinkling says. 

With a finite donor base, Sprinkling wanted to ensure that the foundation wasn’t competing for the same dollars.

Part of Starry Night from its beginnings in 1985, Sprinkling remembers having just returned from San Francisco, where friends had been devastated by HIV/AIDS, and immediately jumping on board when the Arts Club’s David Harrison came up with the idea for the fundraiser. After Harrison’s death, Sprinkling took the reins, going on to produce the foundation’s events for the next 19 years.

Michael Hughes (aka Devana DeMille) performed for years at both Starry Night and Fit for a Queen, its drag-show offshoot that became so popular it eventually had to move to a larger venue. Hughes saw the shows as an opportunity to take his drag to the next level. “It was like being a celebrity on a grand scale instead of just a bar or a dance hall. It was always a spectacle,” he says.

Singer/songwriter Jane Mortifee, who has been a part of the show for nearly its entire run, originally saw it as an opportunity to give back to a community reeling from the AIDS crisis. And while she recognizes that attitudes have shifted over the years as HIV became manageable, she never saw the need diminish. “People started to think there wasn’t the same urgency, but there will always be a need to support people for any illness, regardless,” she says.

Beverley Elliott, another longtime Starry Night performer, regards it as a highlight of a career that has most recently included an ongoing role on the popular ABC television series Once Upon a Time.

“When I look back over my 30-year career in show business, so many of my favourite stellar moments were at a Starry Night,” Elliott says. “We get the thrill of singing with a big band, to a sold-out enthusiastic audience and often feel like a star for the night, all the while raising funds and awareness for a worthy cause.”

Ending the foundation just one year shy of its 30th anniversary may seem like a wasted opportunity, but it only serves to highlight Sprinkling’s dedication to the charities she served. “This was not a decision based on hubris,” she says.  “One more year may have made a better headline, but it also meant another year where we could lose our charities money.”