The author (on piano) and Dito van Reigersberg (on the floor) performing at L'Etage as the Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret

We can’t do this without you

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As the guy responsible for the Facebook page and website for Philadelphia’s award-winning Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret — I manage the band and play piano in it as well — I’m also the person who gets inundated with questions and comments from fans and people who come to our wild rock-and-roll cabarets that have been a staple of the Philadelphia drag and live music scenes since 2005.

Oh, you wish our sound guy would stop playing Iron Maiden right before we go on? Got it.

Oh, you’re mad because you couldn’t get a seat after showing up 30 minutes late for a show clearly advertised as “Seating is Limited: Get There Early!”? Better luck next time.

Oh, your bachelorette party wants to reserve 20 seats right in the front for a show that doesn’t take reservations and that’s about to sell out anyway? Sorry, no. But congrats on your impending nuptials!

Yeah. I’m that guy. The guy who gets the complaints. The guy who gets the fan mail to pass along to the diva herself, Miss Martha Graham Cracker. The guy who gets a never-ending stream of queries about our upcoming performances, as if I have a clue whether there is a gluten-free menu or if they carry some weird $12 craft beer made from the sweat of Swedish goats.

But more recently, sometime in October, when we announced that we had to pull out of a November performance with Snacktime at the TLA, the messages started to change. Some actual samples:

When are you guys playing next? There are zero shows listed anywhere!
What happened with the Snacktime show?
Did the band break up?
Did Martha ditch us all for Las Vegas again?
Is everybody OK?

I’ve been quite vague about the whole thing, just replying with very generic responses such as, “Thanks so much for reaching out. We’ll be in touch soon.”

I wish it were as simple as the band breaking up, that we couldn’t get along anymore after 17 years of arguments about whether we should incorporate Steely Dan (blech!) into the set or whether it was really worth spending countless hours trying to rehearse “Leave It” by Yes.

Good news: We haven’t gone our separate ways. (Note to self: that’s a song we haven’t done in a while!)

Bad news: Our good friend Dito van Reigersberg — that tall and oh-so-handsome co-founder of Pig Iron Theatre Company, who slides on a dress, dons a wig, and pulls on those white vinyl platforms to become the grand dame herself, Miss Martha Graham Cracker — is ill. Quite so.

Dito has been diagnosed with one of the rarer forms of leukemia. For those of you proceeding immediately to WebMD, it’s known as MPAL or mixed phenotype acute leukemia. He’s been undergoing some intense chemotherapy. The immediate hope is that the chemo does its chemo things and the leukemia will go into remission. But it doesn’t end there.

What Dito really needs is a peripheral blood stem cell transplant. As far as the donor is concerned, this is generally as simple and non-invasive as a blood or plasma donation. And in order to get that transplant, he needs to find a match. And to find a match, well, this is where you come in.

We’ve launched a donor drive through Be the Match, a national registry organization that pairs those who need transplants with those who are a good match.

Don’t worry: We don’t need to draw your blood to see if you’re a match. We don’t even need to jam one of those huge swabs up into your nasal passages, a la COVID tests. All we need is a swab from the inside of your cheek, assuming you are between the ages of 18 to 40.

About that age bracket: Research shows stem cells donated by younger people are much more likely to result in a successful transplant. But even if you’re not in that age group, you can still help. Tell your younger friends about this. Or consider making a financial donation to Be the Match, as Dito has requested of those of you who feel inclined to open their wallets. (He has declined any financial assistance for himself.)

Credit: Courtesy Martha Graham Cracker

From 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21, we’re hosting a donor drive event in and around Bob & Barbara’s, one of our favorite places to perform (and home to the longest-running drag show in the city).

Show up, scan a QR code, answer a few simple questions on your phone, take a kit from our army of volunteers, and swab your own cheek. You can do this outside of Bob & Barbara’s (yes, outside… bundle up) or inside the adjacent restaurant, Quick Fixx. And once you’re done, come inside the bar — there’s no cover — for drinks and live music with Johnny Showcase & Rumi Kitchen, Jess Conda, Glitter & Garbage, PJ Brown, and Martha Graham Cracker band members Richard Hill, Andrew Nelson, Ned Sonstein, and yours truly.

If you can’t make it on Wednesday night, all you have to do is join the drive via this link or text SWAB4MARTHA to 61474, and Be the Match will mail you an at-home kit. Less than two weeks after we launched this campaign, hundreds of potential donors have already requested kits, and they began arriving Monday.

Whatever you do, don’t give up hope. I’ve been in contact with Dito, and it’s quite clear he hasn’t. The last thing he wants is for you to feel hopeless or sorry for him.

Instead, find a way to do something kind for somebody. Read a poem. Cook something you’ve never cooked before. Crank up some Aretha, some Chaka, some Prince, or, hell, some Iron Maiden. Crank it up so loud that your neighbor comes pounding on your door and, when they do, smile and offer them some thumbprint cookies and tell them your favorite Martha Graham Cracker story. There are so, so many.

Victor Fiorillo

During the day, West Philadelphia resident Victor Fiorillo is the lead reporter and arts editor for Philadelphia Magazine. At night, he's either playing piano for Martha Graham Cracker or cooking Goan-style...