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A long strange trip

Behind the scenes with Gary Brickley and company on the eve of St. Ignatius’ much-anticipated Summer of Love bash

By Michelle Konstantinovsky

It’s the day before the 27th Annual Father’s Club Auction, and not quite pandemonium: Dozens of volunteers are milling around Cowell Gymnasium at St. Ignatius College Prep, setting up tables, chairs and sets, shouting directions and lighthearted ribs at one another.

“Side by side, you’ve got bankers and lawyers volunteering with guys who are the rock of this city—blue-collar men and women who help make the city great,” gushes Paul Totah, the high school’s director of communications and a Class of 1975 graduate.

The diversity of the day’s crew, Totah says, perfectly reflects the mission of the event they’re bringing to life. Since 1970, St. Ignatius has held an auction sponsored by the Fathers’ Club, a decades-old group for dads of current and former students. The club, which boasts about 360 active members, is one of two main fundraising sources for the Scholarship Endowment Fund; the other is the Ignatian Guild, composed of moms. This investment matters to a significant portion of the student body; currently, nearly a quarter of them receive tuition assistance, and the need is tremendous. With many residents facing unprecedented, sky-high housing costs and varying employment challenges, more students than ever are relying on scholarships.

The Fathers’ Club Auction is the school’s biggest parent-backed fundraiser, drawing about 650 attendees and netting nearly a million dollars each year. Since Gary Brickley was brought on board as producer 15 years ago, it’s taken on an almost mythic quality. “He’s one of the most creative guys I’ve ever met,” says event chair Ed Wynne of Brickley, owner of Brickley Production Services here in town and 1971 St. Ignatius alum. “He’s incredibly detail-oriented and he has vision. A lot of people have vision, but not the attention to detail to put it all together—he has both. And a production like this requires all those areas.”

The fact that participants refer to the auction as a “production” is telling.

Brickley’s background in theater and film as a former union worker for Local 16—part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts—directly influences his approach to the job. For one thing, he’s always on his feet. Tracking him down for an interview is a challenge, and when he plops down in one of the chairs scattered throughout the gym, you get the feeling it’s his first seated moment in days. Black baseball cap pulled low, he has the low-key authority of a Hollywood director.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Brickley brings a particular brand of pride and passion to his work. From the front room window of his Bernal Heights home, he can see the hospital where he was born (St. Joseph’s), the neighborhood where he grew up (Noe Valley), the grammar school he attended (St. Philip’s) and the church where he married wife Annelle in 1976 (St. Paul’s). He calls her the love of his life, and the couple have two children—both SI grads.

Annelle is also a skilled co-producer, helping Brickley bring his artistic visions to life at the production company. The Fathers’ Club Auction is no exception. For this year’s Summer of Love theme, the duo drew on memories of the era’s details, but Brickley credits a third employee for inspiring an essential set piece. “It took a bit more brainstorming to come up with the hippie-bus bars,” he says, referencing the psychedelic drink stations set up throughout the gym. “Then Brandon on our team hit it—a painted up hippie school bus. Bartenders can pass drinks out the widows! Brilliant!”

Besides the retro touches and homages to classic SF sites like Alamo Square’s Painted Ladies, Brickley paid tribute to the city’s music roots. “The wall of speakers was inspired by the original Wall of Sound by the Grateful Dead,” he says regarding the elaborate display crew members are setting up onstage. “When I was working as a young stagehand at Winterland, I remember the roadies stacking speakers to the ceiling. It was quite a sight—something I’ll never forget. Now I get to recreate it.”

He’s deeply committed to the auction, launching the labor-intensive, set-building process on the first of every January. He’s created evenings based around the Academy Awards, ancient Greece, Paris, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and more. Meanwhile, the auctions have drawn an almost cultlike following of fans, with most attendees outfitted in theme-appropriate attire. The idea for this year’s Summer of Love tribute came from Wynne, and Brickley was immediately intrigued. “I was nervous what Gary would think,” Wynne says. “When I said, ‘Hey, let’s do Summer of Love,’ he looked at me in stone-faced silence and I thought, Oh great. But then he said he’d always wanted to do this.”

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