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Elvis is dead, but a star is born

Matthew Lopez brings his latest hit play to Los Angeles

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Geffen, Lopez, stage, Georgia McBride
Matthew Lopez interview, gay news, Georgia McBride

The Legend of Georgia McBride is playing from April 12 to May 14 at the Geffen Playhouse’s Gil Cates Theater (10886 Le Conte Ave.). Written by Matthew Lopez, Directed by Mike Donahue, Choreography by Paul McGill. Featuring Andrew Burnap, Matt McGrath, Nija Okoro, Larry Powell & Nick Searcy. Photo courtesy Geffen Playhouse

Young Casey’s in a bind — his wife is pregnant, rent is due, and he’s fired from his gig as an Elvis impersonator in a small-town Florida Panhandle bar. So what’s a boy to do? Don a wig and sashay, natch.

And so begins “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” opening Wednesday, April 12 at the Geffen Playhouse. It’s the hilarious latest from writer Matthew Lopez, whose first hit, the very different “The Whipping Man,” has been one of the most widely produced new American plays this decade. We spoke with Lopez last weekend, just as he arrived in Los Angeles for the start of Georgia McBride’s previews this week.

LA BLADE: Your first big hit, “The Whipping Man,” was a serious play dealing with race relations during the Civil War, and “The Legend of Georgia McBride” seems pretty much on the opposite end of the theatrical spectrum in terms of topic and tone. Is it important to you to cover broad ground in your work?

MATTHEW LOPEZ: Writing is obsessive work. I sometimes compare it to digging wells. Once you’ve struck water, you move on to another patch of earth and start digging another well.  If I’ve explored a topic, a genre, or historical period to my satisfaction, I am eager to move on to another, to immerse myself in new world. If I kept repeating the same topic/genre/period over and over, I’d run the risk of writing the same play over and over.

BLADE: What was your inspiration for “The Legend of Georgia McBride?”

LOPEZ: A friend of a friend of my then-boyfriend (now husband) had put together a music playlist for her boyfriend who was experimenting with drag as performance art. He was putting together a persona, and the playlist was filled with female country singers: Dolly, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, etc. It’s a great mix, and it got me thinking: What would it take for a straight man to become a drag queen? Who would he be, and what would that journey look like? I’m fascinated by people who leave their bubble and willingly place themselves in foreign territory.

Then I decided he needed to be someone whose bubble is as far from drag as possible: a straight white redneck Elvis impersonator from the Florida Panhandle, where I was raised. I was eager to watch that guy transform into something new and beautiful.

Personally, I spent much of my teenage years with drag queens. I had a friend who had started doing drag and I would sneak in to the one gay bar in my hometown and watch him perform. I’d hang out in the dressing room with him and all the other queens as they prepared for their shows. That energy backstage was intoxicating (sometimes literally) and I wanted to capture my memories of that time in this play.

BLADE: Are you excited to bring Georgia McBride to Los Angeles?

LOPEZ: Deeply. LA is a town I love and I’ve always hoped for a production at the Geffen. As a writer working both in features and theater, you can sometimes feel your life is bifurcated and that the great expanse of continent between New York and LA is a kind of geographic metaphor. I’m very happy to get to do this here at this point in my career.  It feels like the fusing of two halves of my life.

BLADE: I know you’re bringing along director Mike Donahue, choreographer Paul McGill and actor Matt McGrath for the LA production. Were you involved with the selection of the rest of the cast for the LA production, particularly Andrew Burnap as Casey?

LOPEZ: Yes, I sat in on all the auditions, which I don’t often do for productions after New York. I love this cast and am eager for LA audiences to fall in love with them the way we have throughout this process.

Andrew is a really special actor. He has shown me new things about this character, things I never imagined were possible. He brings real heart and warmth to the role and makes you care deeply about Casey and his journey. He brings such dignity to the role—even when waddling around in butt padding and falsies.

Andrew was also the very last guy we auditioned for this production. We saw some amazing actors but Casey is a really tricky part. We had to say no to some truly talented young men. When Andrew walked in for his first audition, we just saw Casey. It would shortchange all the hard work he’s put into this to call this role easy for him. But he does make it look effortless.

From The Legend of Georgia McBride, Photo courtesy Geffen Playhouse

BLADE: You mentioned in a Playbill interview last year that you’re working on a piece about the American gay experience during the last 30 years. Could you tell me a little more about that?

LOPEZ: It’s my attempt to piece together a kind of continuum and to place myself and my generation on it. It’s about what it means to me to be a gay man. I was a child during the Plague Years. My first understanding of what it meant to be a gay man was informed by what I saw on the news growing up. None of it was encouraging. I came of age sexually in the mid-1990’s, just as the Plague Years subsided. I liken it to being part of the second wave on D-Day, watching the men before me decimated and then being told it was my turn to take the beach. Sex was a frightening experience for me for much of my younger life and I largely dealt with that fear by avoiding sex altogether. I regret that that’s true. I’m happy that it isn’t anymore.

And now I know younger gay men who were not alive back then and who have no experiential understanding of what it was like. As a result, they have an entirely different relationship with their identities and with sex than I did when I was their age. I’m encouraged and heartened by that. And, if I’m being honest, perhaps a little envious.

This play is my way of looking at that 30-year history in the lives of gay men. It’s my way of attempting to understand the calamity that befell the generation that came before mine and also to explain myself (as a representative of my generation) to the younger generation just coming up in the world.

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Theater

LA LGBTQ Theatre fires artistic director over sexual misconduct allegations

There are no additional details we are able to share. […] We will have no further comment on this investigation

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The Lex Theatre at Lexington Ave & McCadden Place, home to Celebration Theatre (Google Earth)

HOLLYWOOD – The Board of Directors of Celebration Theatre, one of the oldest and the largest LGBTQ community theatres in the Los Angeles area fired Michael A. Shepperd, its artistic director Tuesday, after allegations of sexual misconduct were raised in a Facebook post by an actor who had a role in one of Shepperd’s productions.

In a terse announcement released Tuesday, the Celebration Board addressed the allegations against Shepperd, a prominent figure in L.A.’s theater scene, which included groping and propositioning.

“Michael A. Shepperd’s decades-long contributions to Celebration Theatre and the Los Angeles theatre community are significant. We value and respect his artistry both as a director and as an actor,” the Celebration Board wrote.

“However, based on the findings and recommendations of an independent investigation initiated April 14th by our Board of Directors, prompted by allegations of a pattern of misconduct raised by Andrew Diego in his April 14th Facebook post, Celebration Theatre terminated Shepperd’s role as Artistic Director on May 24th.

The final investigative report was delivered to the Board of Directors on May 22nd and included other credible accounts of misconduct, as determined by the independent counsel. His termination was effective immediately,” the Board added.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Tuesday, Shepperd denied the claims. In the article Shepperd labeled Celebration a “queer safe space” where flirtation and bawdy innuendo were common, and he said any behavior of a sexual nature was done in the context of a consensual relationship. His attorney, Jordan Susman told the paper, “Michael categorially denies any and all allegations of misconduct and laments the absence of process that led to Celebration Theatre’s decision.”

The investigation by the Board of the theatre also concluded that others who were made aware of the allegations did not respond inappropriately to Diego’s allegations based on the information that they had at that time.

The report also included several recommendations to implement additional policies and procedures to enhance artist safety, increase accountability, and clarify standards of conduct, including but not limited to additions to the theatre’s recently adopted anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy, periodic staff and artist trainings, and the ongoing availability of an independent artist relations liaison—which the Board adopted at its May 23rd meeting.

“There are no additional details we are able to share. While our commitment to cultural changes will be ongoing, we will have no further comment on this investigation,” the Board added.

Celebration was founded in 1982 by gay rights pioneer and co-founder of the Mattachine Society, Chuck Rowland, when he leased a storefront in Silver lake to start a community theatre dedicated to producing gay-themed material.  Its current home is at the Lex Theatre at Lexington Ave & McCadden Place, located in Hollywood’s Theatre Row.

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Theater

LA’s hidden gem- Fountain Theatre premieres its Outdoor Stage June 18

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood is a hidden gem, one of the Los Angeles region’s premiere regional live theatres

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The Fountain Theatre Photo Credit: Google Earth screenshot

EAST HOLLYWOOD – Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood on Fountain Avenue just off Normandie Avenue is a hidden gem, one of the Los Angeles region’s premiere regional live theatres. Founded in in 1990 by co-artistic directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs the theatre has garnered an impressive resume and reputation in the theatre world for reflecting a unique cultural voice and serving the distinctive ethnic communities that make up the LA metroplex.

Over the past thirty-one years of its existence the theatre has staged over 35 world premieres; and also 31 U.S., West Coast, Southern California or Los Angeles premieres. On its website the Fountain points out that Fountain Theatre projects have been seen in  New York City, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Chicago, Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis, London and Edinburgh UK, among other cities and countries.

Like most of the region and certainly the entertainment world in LA, the House lights went dark at the Fountain as the coronavirus pandemic tore through Los Angeles and California. Undeterred, the artistic directors forged ahead and in January the theatre received approval from the City of Los Angeles to install a temporary outdoor stage for the purpose of presenting live performances and other events during the pandemic.

“Pandemic permitting, we hope to open our first outdoor production by late spring or early summer,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “We’re planning an exciting Los Angeles premiere that dramatizes urgent social issues using the Fountain’s signature bold and theatrical approach.”

For the past several months work has progressed in installing a stage in what is now the theater parking lot. The new performance area will be able to accommodate 50 to 84 audience members. It will feature seven rows of chairs, each six feet apart, as well as 12 high-top tables positioned six feet apart for use by patrons from the same “bubble” households. Every aspect of the outdoor performance area will meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Fountain Theatre Outdoor Stage Photo Credit: Lucy Pollak

The wait is now nearly over as the stage is complete and the final touches on the performance areas are being finalized. This past week the Fountain announced that casting is complete and rehearsals begin this week for the Los Angeles premiere of a radical, incendiary and subversively funny Obie award-winning play by MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a playwright who identifies as a Black queer but whose plays aren’t chiefly about LGBTQ life.

Performances of  ‘An Octoroon’ will inaugurate the new outdoor stage at The Fountain Theatre on June 18.  Performances run June 18 through Sept.19, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays,  Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., except Saturday, June 19, which will be at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a special Juneteenth event, and July 30 through Aug. 2 and Aug. 27 through  Aug. 30 which will be dark.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Photo courtesy
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Four preview performances will take place on June 11, June 12,  June 13 and June 16 at 7 p.m. There will be one press preview on Thursday, June 17 at 7  p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night  in addition to regular seating (subject to availability).

The Fountain tells the Blade that it is proud to count L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and Mayor Eric Garcetti as supporters, reflecting the company’s successful history of partnering with the City’s government.

Artist’s conception of finished and fully dressed out performance area of the Fountain Theatre

In addition to being a Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs grant recipient for decades, the Fountain launched a groundbreaking program that brings celebrity actors to L.A. City Hall to perform one-night free public readings in the City Council chambers.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060  Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. For reservations and information, call (323)  663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Construction of the Stage in a Time Lapsed video:

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a&e features

Pandemic vastly changing Hollywood’s entertainment landscape

But with the pandemic vastly changing Hollywood, countless red carpet-related industry jobs have been eliminated

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Photo Credit: City of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – According to a report by the Los Angeles County Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS) last month, 125,900 hospitality jobs and 37,000 arts and entertainment jobs were sadly lost last year.

If you look past Hollywood’s poignant acceptance speeches and enchantment of the red carpet, you will see a tremendous industry of people–caterers, party planners, publicists, stylists, florists, DJs, etc.– who tirelessly work to create magic during awards season.

But with the pandemic vastly changing Hollywood, countless red carpet-related industry jobs have been eliminated.

Ahead of the Independent Spirit Awards (April 22) and The Academy Awards (April 25) the Los Angeles Blade talked to industry experts about all the changes happening during the 2021 awards season.

“With the world facing so many bigger, more existential issues right now, this award season’s obviously been sort of disorienting on several levels. On a deeper level, some people might think glamorous celebs accepting golden trophies is a little, well, off point amid a pandemic,” John Griffiths, the Executive Director of the Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics (GALECA.org) said.

“With so much loss and depression, people seem to be basically saying ‘throwing glamorous awards shows is especially tone deaf.’
 It’s a good question- Who cares about Hollywood and self-satisfied stars and virtual red carpet fashion? It’s sort of weird. But the show should go on, as they say, because movies have a huge impact on society, and celebrating good work and stories and performances that inspire is always a good thing,” he added.

(Photo: John Griffiths)

The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics is home to the Dorian Awards, which are are film and television accolades given by GALECA.

“The Oscars and all the kudos shows leading up to them, like our own Dorians, all help to put some special films, about immigrants, about inner-spirit, about humanity, about love, about the ravages of hate, on the world’s radar. Movies unite us, they can create change, help heal . . . so we shouldn’t underestimate shows that honor them,” Griffiths said.

“Awards shows having to go “virtual” with awkward hosts and nominees all with Zoom face and any live attendees six feet apart from each other is not a recipe for fun viewing. They have gotten stodgy over the years, so it’s been interesting to see which ones turn the frown upside down. So far, only the Emmys has seemed interested in getting creative—to fun effect,” he stated.

New York City- based Celebrity Jewelry Expert and Stylist, Michael O’Connor weighed in with his observations telling the Blade;

“COVID has really taken a toll on the fashion industry and on celebrity styling overall!! In previous years, the red carpet, the event itself and the many surrounding events provided a plethora of attending celebrities who wanted to look their very best for the events  – and would get photographed. This meant that you could not only showcase your styling expertise, but also you could use pieces from various fashion houses, jewelry designers and accessories designers to bring a vision to life, thereby creating numerous publicity opportunities for the brands themselves. 

These days, the potential universe of styling opportunities is severely limited. No red carpets, no surrounding events and in-home coverage of the nominees really brings the potential to showcase talent way down. Further, some celebrities feel that they should be more relaxed and less dressed up in their home environment. The whole situation is difficult for everyone, celebrities included, and certainly results in some underwhelming and uninspiring fashion.

“As a stylist who lives in NY and often styles celebrities in LA, the idea of virtual styling is not something totally new to me. I’ve been doing it for years. However, the current issues revolve more around the difficulties of fit, alteration and exchanging pieces out that don’t work together. One can’t simply go into a showroom and get a feel for how a necklace might lay on a neck or how low an earring drop is, or how a dress will hug the curves. That tactile sense and true visual understanding has been robbed. Therefore, more is reliant upon planning or going with brands/pieces that you already know. Otherwise, the chance that it all won’t come together perfectly is extremely high.”

(Photo: Michael O’Connor)

Beverly Hills  Celebrity stylist Erick Orellana reflected- “Due to the lack of red carpet arrivals this year for award shows, I am hearing many fellow stylists who really depend on award season work are out of work until the industry rebounds. Since award shows are going virtual and events are at home, many celebrities are opting to  do their own glam or be a little more “relaxed” with it this year. As we saw with some of the celebs at the Golden Globes, winner Jodie Foster and her wife were in what seemed like their pjs.

Glam during these pandemic times has looked very different. During awards season, I believe hair and make up this year looks a bit more easy-going. Since most events are virtual, the most important part of hair and make up is the front side of the face. We are going to be seeing a lot of ponytail slick hair or to the side hairdos and I wouldn’t be surprised if some go for a soft romantic touch to their hair.

(Photo: Erick Orellana)

I think most celebrities are mainly working on just their upkeep versus do drastic changes right now. We are definitely seeing the return of the bank/curtain bang that is a nice way to change up a hairstyle without having to commit to a big change all over, since it’s mostly taking place in the front. It’s a good way to frame the face as well. We’re seeing more one tone hair color versus multi dimensional sense, and are also seeing a bit of a return of the 90s inspired hair trend. Most changes in hair have been very subtle since everyone’s really working on just trying to touch up their hair that hasn’t been seen by a stylist in a while, due to Covid restrictions and safety.”

Hollywood jewelry designer Charlie Lapson told the Blade;

“This year, the designers, stylists and clients are hardly meeting in person. Life has become an endless amount of FaceTime, ZOOM, and Skype meetings, reviewing the fabrics of the dress, and the jewelry options to coordinate. On some levels, it’s more efficient because we can interact several times without driving all over LA, and we don’t have to pack and unpack hundreds of pieces.

But the special moment of the actress trying on her choice of earrings, looking in the mirror and saying “these are perfect” just isn’t going to happen. It’s challenging because we’re not working the usual way. 

At the awards events this year, some of the sparkling accessories will be incorporating colorful gemstones. There has been conversations about jewels with Tanzanite, with its luscious deep blue and purple tone, which has become one of the top requests for 2021. 

Pearls of white and gray have been trending, thanks to Madame VP Harris. In addition to necklaces, they’ll be seen in earrings and rings. 

Diamond earrings in unique shapes will be trending, and hopefully ear cuffs will make their debut. Multiple rings across several fingers is something to look for, and then work into your own style.”

It is so devastating to know there are still so many people in our industry who are struggling for work.

“With little to no in person events, I am sad I no longer get to see or work with friends–everyone from event producers to florists to catering companies and designers. It is so devastating to know there are still so many people in our industry who are struggling for work.

The pandemic has totally changed the industry forever. Last year, for example, we did a total of 3 live events during Golden Globes weekend, this year two were canceled and one has gone completely digital. Now with little to no red carpet and the usual fanfare when arriving to events, they will just be limited to a couple of photographers,” Rembrandt Flores, founder, Entertainment Fusion Group said.

Rembrandt Flores

“There is nothing like an event in person, and I am excited to be involved with them again in 2022,” he added.

With no live events, the celebrity wrangling industry has suffered tremendously. Luckily for our agency, we weren’t so dependent on that type of work. We have doubled down heavily on digital and traditional press as well and working with influencers and celebrities for specific brand campaigns,” Flores noted.

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