One resident, numerous anecdotes
Name: Daniel Zeller
Occupation: Box office/front of house manager, Rochester Civic Theatre
Where we found him: Rochester Civic Theatre
Have you always been involved in theater? Yes, from childhood through my teenage years I was involved in community theater, show choirs, and choir in general. I loved singing, loved to perform, loved to entertain. That’s where it all started—in Kenyon, Minnesota.
Do you still live in Kenyon? I left Kenyon after I graduated in 1993, to experience city life and start college. Growing up there, in that time, was difficult. I was teased a lot, threatened with fights, physically pushed around. It’s not something I ever shared with my parents. They never knew. Now [schools have] established bullying programs. Doors are being opened. There are changes to rectify bullying and make things better, even though I know it’s still difficult. I’m connected with youth organizations that cut down barriers and help LGBTQIA+ be more invited into the community. I see things changing. I did keep what happened to me behind lock and key with my eye on the prize that I was eventually going to graduate and leave it behind me. Unfortunately, with leaving it behind, I also ended up leaving a lot of friends I was close to that got me through those years.
Have you had any contact with those friends? Recently, yes. My 25-year class reunion was this summer. I did not go, but since then I’ve seen a few of my friends and have had some great conversations that have allowed me to put [those years] behind me and realize that people do change and evolve. We’ve all grown up.
Your life changed when you moved? Shortly after I started college and accepted who I was, I found a group of friends I was a lot alike. Through embracing that and who I was, I slowly was able to start a new life for myself. In 1995, I met my partner.
You met young. I was 21. We’ve been together ever since. And I was able to gain an additional family, because he had four children from a previous marriage. So I co-parented with him. … [The kids] eventually moved in with us, and I continued a life of raising children, performing, and working. We moved a couple times and later found ourselves back in the Rochester area on a dairy farm.
A dairy farm? Yech. Such a bad part of life. It was a family farm with cows, cow chores, fieldwork, whatever needed to be done. It was not me.
You moved on? After a few years on the dairy farm, one of our adult children had moved to North Carolina. There was an opportunity for us there, so we threw our odds up in the air and moved to see what North Carolina had in store for us.
And now you’ve returned. After being there for 12 years, we realized that every time we came home to visit … that was just it. We were going “home.” So a little over a year ago, at a family reunion in Minnesota, someone said, “Would you ever move back?” We looked at each other and said, “I think we’re moving back.” We returned to North Carolina and put the house on the market. Five months ago, we bought a home here.
Tell me about your kids? Four girls, two of them reside in Minnesota, two of them reside in North Carolina. Back in 2000, when custody was completed, unbeknownst to me, they asked the judge if they could take my last name—and of course we accepted.
Will you get married? Yes. … It’s not something we have to do, because we’re already committed. But it’s something that we have talked about for a long time. We’ve gone through a lot recently—listed our house, bought a new house, moved across the continent, and my partner was diagnosed with leukemia.
That’s hard. It got serious quickly. Within 24 hours, we had committed to a team of oncologists to fight all that we could. … His team said there’d be chemotherapy, all sorts of medications, and long hospital stays. We shook their hands and said, “We’re fighting this with everything we’ve got.” We were doing it together with a great group of family and friends who surrounded us. The initial treatment was to be four to six weeks, and we got out in four weeks. Then three rounds of chemo blasts, six weeks apart. Once we got our house here, they cleared us to move, and assisted us in finding care at Mayo Clinic with Dr. Hogan. He welcomed us, reviewed what we’d been through, and said he’d do the testing to see where we’re at today. That was in October. We had a meeting a week later where he said, “I think it’s safe to say you’re cancer-free.” There were no signs of leukemia. It was the greatest thing we ever heard. Dr. Hogan said, “Don’t you worry any more. I’ll worry for you. If I see anything, I’ll come to you.”
Wow. Congratulations. What has that done for your outlook? Without resistance, we approach every day and make every day a great day. It’s kind of become my motto.
Random Rochesterite Jayda Clyne
Name: Jayda Clyne
Occupation: Drag queen
Where we found her: Rochester Civic Theatre
When I asked if you’d like to be a Random Rochesterite, I hadn’t met Jayda. Jayda was found in 1995, as a Halloween dare. I was going to college, and I’d been to the [drag] shows. With my interests in theater, music, and singing, I found myself drawn to it as a unique way to express myself.
What was the dare? My friends dared me [to dress in drag] on Halloween—and when I met them at the front doors as I walked in, they didn’t know it was me. I had done my research, taking what I saw in Twin Cities’ performers and drawing that for myself. As that night grew longer, I met the show director. She said, “You look new.” I said, “Absolutely, I’ve never done this before.” She didn’t know that I’d met her before, out of drag. She invited me to do a show the next night. I showed up with two numbers—and after that I was booked the following weekend and the following weekend, and that was it. It sparked an interest, a creative outlet, if you will. Imagine if I had no outlet and this was stuck inside of me!
You perform with the Rochester Girls? After performing for years, I found myself involved in community activism. I found that many non-profits and organizations relied on donations, so I started getting involved in organizations that raise money for these groups. I’ve been involved in the Imperial Court of Minnesota, NSGRA (North Star Gay Rodeo Association), and the Rochester Girls, Inc. It’s been 20-plus years that I’ve been working alongside some of my best friends and great performers right here in Rochester.
Tell me about the Rochester Girls. We were started many years ago by a performer named Celeste DeVille, who unfortunately passed away quite a few years ago in an accident. My best friend, Sidonia Dudval, continued the legacy. And in doing that, I continued to stay involved, too, helping the Rochester community raise money for various organizations—such as Channel One, the Ronald McDonald House, breast cancer research, the Women’s Shelter, American Red Cross—by performing shows. I couldn’t even tell you how much money has been raised, but we’ve been honored by several companies for the work we’ve done and continue to do.
That’s good work. When I hit the stage, what’s important to me is the entertainment—and not only for me to have that theatrical outlet and create that character. But it allows any patron who comes to us to escape for a little bit and not have to deal with the realness of their life. When I hit that stage, I think, “I am allowing someone here the outlet or release of five minutes—five minutes of not having to deal with something serious that they’re dealing with. Five minutes of not thinking about their issues, about their problems. I am giving them the opportunity to release themselves.” Maybe not all things need to be taken as seriously as they often are.
How did you introduce yourself as Jayda to your family? My family didn’t always know about Jayda, and I wasn’t sure how to introduce that to them. She was becoming a pretty significant part of my life. My partner invited some of my family members, including my mom, to a show … and that was it. Once my mom knew, I found there wasn’t anything that I needed to hide from anyone. My mom’s a huge supporter. The first time, she didn’t know what to expect—but she’s been my No. 1 fan ever since.
Where do you get your gowns? If I can find a good buy, I’ll snag it up. But a lot of the costuming I wear, I make myself. I had been interested in making my own costumes, and a close friend said, “Let me show you how to do the basics.” Once I was shown that, my sewing machine kept on burning.
Biggest adventure? Auditioning for RuPaul’s Drag Race. In the early years, I had a bunch of friends and fans who said, “Hey, why don’t you try out for RuPaul’s Drag Race?” I’d seen how difficult it probably was—there are hundreds of drag performers all over, and every week there’s a new test to submit. … You also want to market yourself to get people to vote for you to get chosen as a finalist. I had made it into the Top 50, but was not chosen that particular year. It’s still something I would like to try.
What would you tell someone who wants to perform? Go after their dreams—because you don’t know unless you give it a chance.