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Watch: ‘Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate’ features ‘Drag Race’ favorites

Kaya, Shangela, Wanda Sykes and more make appearances

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Rachel Dratch, Bianca Del Rio, Shangela in ‘ Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate ‘ (Screenshot via YouTube)

“Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate” dropped its trailer which shows the story picking up right where it left off in “Hurricane Bianca.”

After chemistry teacher Richard Martinez aka Bianca Del Rio (Roy Haylock) successfully sends his rival Debbie Ward (Rachel Dratch) to prison she vows to seek revenge. Debbie thinks up a scheme to send Bianca off to Russia under the guise of accepting a teaching award.

The cast also includes Katya Zamolodchikova (Brian McCook), Shangela Laquifa Wadley (DJ Pierce), Wanda Sykes, Cheyenne Jackson, Janeane Garofalo, Mrs. Kasha Davis (Ed Popil), Darienne Lake (Greg Meyer), among others.

The film will premiere in San Francisco on May 14 and New York City on May 15 followed by a release on video on demand services.

Watch below.

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Books

New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender

You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think

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(Book cover image courtesy of St. Martin's Press)

‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
$29/304 pages

The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.

Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?

For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.

Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.

How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”

Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.

“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”

So why the debate about competition across gender lines?

First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.

What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”

Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.

Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.

As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.

But will this book make a difference?

Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Television

Kardashian carries her weight in ‘AHS: Delicate’

Show’s 12th season faces hurdles before we’ll know whether it lives up to the promise

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Emma Roberts and Kim Kardashian star in ‘AHS: Delicate.’ (Photo courtesy of FX)

The biggest question around the 12th season of “American Horror Story” has nothing to do with the plot, which means it won’t count as a spoiler if we answer it right off the bat: Kim Kardashian’s acting is just fine.

At least, that’s true through the first episode; future installments may require a reassessment of her skills, and perhaps that will add an additional layer of suspense to the proceedings as the story unwinds – a “hook” that might be a big part of the reason the reality show “famous-for-being-famous” celebrity was cast for this season in the first place. Whether her performance ends up being a triumph or a train wreck, it’s guaranteed that millions will want to watch it, and she herself would likely be the first to endorse that kind of sensationalist strategy to boost audience interest in the newest season of a show that has been around longer than many of its fans have been old enough to watch it. Ryan Murphy’s uber-gay, aggressively transgressive horror anthology may once have been “must-see TV” – but after more than a decade of thrilling, edgy concepts that were just as likely to fall apart into an anticlimactic mess as they were to build to a coherent conclusion, it has become more of a “guilty pleasure.”

Before you come for us and call us “haters,” rest assured we’re not dismissing the power and genius of “AHS” both as a show and as a brand; camp and horror have always been deeply intertwined, and Murphy’s trope-driven premise for the series has never shied away from leaning into that connection. The absurdity of its cobbled-together plots, contrasted with the histrionic over-seriousness of their presentation, is precisely what allows it to drive home its blatantly metaphoric commentary on whatever cultural or social themes it happens to be addressing. At its best, it has been electrifying, provocative, insightful TV, and at its worst, it has been painfully obvious, exploitative schlock that loses steam long before it sloppily ties all its threads together for a season finale, but either way, it has never failed to keep its audience coming back for more. Clearly, it has a power that lies beyond imposed standards of artistic quality, and it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that power comes from the show’s deeply progressive heart, which invariably and relentlessly exposes the hypocrisy, deviousness, cruelty, and oppression of a programmed and homogenized social order – with particular emphasis on the experience of those who dare to be outliers from that imposed norm, making it a perennial favorite with the queer demographic as much as its unabashedly gimmicky stunt casting of pop culture icons like Lady Gaga (and Kardashian, of course) to draw queer eyes faithfully to the screen for 10 weeks each autumn.

Yet even if queer subtext is a big part of what makes “AHS” tick, the series doesn’t always place its focus – as it did in last year’s grim AIDS allegory, “NYC” – on overtly or exclusively queer subject matter, and for its newest season – “Delicate”, the new season adapted from Danielle Valentine’s novel, “Delicate Condition” – the venerable FX tentpole series full-heartedly embraces a feminist milieu. The story wastes no time in evoking questions and concerns about the rights of women to maintain autonomy over their own hearts, minds, and bodies. Led by “AHS” veteran Emma Roberts – who, though Kardashian has been granted the most press attention, is the season’s central character, and brings her to life with likable charm and compelling intelligence – it tells the tale of Anna Alcott (Roberts), a blossoming movie star trying to conceive a child with her supportive-yet-controlling partner Dex (series newcomer Matt Czuchry), who finds herself haunted by bizarre visions and unexplainable phenomena as she undergoes IVF treatment from a high-end fertility clinic.

Episode one launches the plot with the series’ usual blend of stylish panache and unapologetic pulp by subjecting its heroine to a mysterious nocturnal incident, opening into an extended flashback that establishes a back story that will presumably be crucial to the events to follow. Juggling newfound success and fame with her commitment to starting a family, Anna is plagued by strange anomalies that lead her to question her own perceptions, and begins to suspect she is being targeted by a stalker (or stalkers) with potentially sinister motives. When these strange occurrences begin to affect her behavior, she finds herself ever more isolated from the skeptical Dex, who both coddles and condescends to her, and who may or may not still be obsessed by a the memory of a dead fiancée. She also becomes increasingly paranoid that she is being terrorized and manipulated by everyone around her – including her doctor (Denis O’Hare) and her recently acquired publicist (Kardashian), who exert conflicting pressures on her as she tries to navigate both her “real” life and the career she’s on the cusp of creating. By the time the episode comes full circle and returns to the mysterious incident with which it opens, it seems clear than Anna’s hopeful journey toward motherhood is happening at the center of some sort of arcane conspiracy.

Like most previous seasons of “AHS,” “Delicate” starts out with promise. Conjuring and weaving together key themes from classic films from “Gaslight” to “Rosemary’s Baby” to “The Stepford Wives,” it leaves little doubt programming of women to make them conform to male-defined fantasy – and from the biblically coined notion that their gender is forever “cursed by God” to be punished for Eve’s “original sin.” From what we’ve seen so far, it seems clear that Murphy and writer/showrunner Halley Feiffer aim to frame that archaic perspective as a deliberate and coordinated effort to render women into expendable, easily managed accessories in a male-dominated world. That is certainly not a new concept, but one that is arguably more important to explore in the America of 2023 than ever before. And though the season’s inaugural entry is too busy with exposition to give us much in the way of potent frights or shocks, it also provides flashes that hint at a season full of the kind of grotesque body horror that has always been a hallmark of the show.

Still, even if Kardashian – perfectly cast, by the way, as Anna’s publicist and confidante, whose savvy for promotion makes her into one of her industry’s leading names but who may also somehow be involved in the forces pushing her client toward a dark fate – can manage to meet the success of a few surprisingly good initial reviews, there are still a lot of potential hurdles for “Delicate” to jump before we can know whether it lives up to the promise from which so many previous seasons have fallen short. 

It hardly matters, though; no matter how it plays out, the show is sure to strike a chord with all the loyal “AHF” fans, and those who are less devoted will probably still find much to keep them interested in the series’ signature gruesome-but-elegant aesthetic, no matter what.

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Online Culture

Baldur’s Gate 3 is the Queerest AAA Video Game Yet

The game is earning accolades, smashing sales expectations, and making pansexuality the norm

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Image via Larian Studios Games Ltd.

By Eric Tannehill | GHENT, Belgium – Baldur’s Gate 3 (BG3) is a fantasy role playing game (RPG) based on the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition ruleset for game mechanics. It was released on August 3rd, 2023 to widespread critical acclaim.

Unusually for a AAA game, it had spent six years in development, and almost three years of that in early access open beta testing. Larian Studios developed BG3 as a sequel to the first two games, which were released in 1998 and 1999 respectively. 

It’s hard to overstate how the game has outperformed expectations. Microsoft, which distributes the game through the Xbox platform, expected very little of it.  In a leaked document from the FTC v. Microsoft court case, Microsoft took a very dim view of the game’s prospects.

According to Microsoft internal documents, they called BG3 a “Second-run Stadia PC RPG”, predicted as little as $5 million in revenue from the game, and ranked it behind the “Let’s Sing ABBA” karaoke game in terms of expected sales. 

Instead, almost 10 million copies have been sold on Steam as of September 20th, with gross revenue surpassing a half-billion dollars. Larian expected perhaps 100,000 users online at any given time, and instead saw a peak of 870,000 simultaneously. 

The game itself has done well in great part due to the outstanding voice acting, motion captured cut-scenes, excellent dialogue scripting, immersive characters, strong story lines, attention to detail in the game, and a nearly infinite number of possible endings that are dependent on the player’s choices.

The game’s flexibility allows the player to solve challenges in a myriad of different ways. The game feels immersive, with the non-player characters (NPCs) you interact with being engaging and interesting enough for players to become emotionally invested in them (instead of treating them like disposable meat-shields, unless you’ve decided on a sociopath playthrough, which is absolutely a thing the game allows you to do).

However, none of this addresses just how queer-friendly this game is from start to finish, and how this hasn’t prevented its success. On the contrary, it’s likely been a selling point rather than a hindrance. 

During character creation, the game allows you to pick male or female voices with any body type. You can choose male, female, or non-binary pronouns, and even select the genitals your characters have. All of these choices are independent of one another. Then there’s the “paper doll” aspect to clothing. If you kill the evil high priestess of a cult and steal her magic dress, you can absolutely put your male NPCs in it.

There’s even a certain in-game logic to this: who has time for getting weird about gender norms, when you need every advantage you can get to save the world? Besides, it ends up with a bit of an Aqua-man vibe to it.

Screenshot/Larian Studios Games Ltd.

The queerness doesn’t stop there. There are romance options with many of the NPC companions you take with you on your adventures, and every one of them is canonically pansexual. They don’t care about your character’s genitals, pronouns, race, or class; it’s all about the choices you make as the player in dialogue, as well as how you pursue your in-game agenda. This would feel somewhat tacked on if the characters weren’t so well developed, and if it didn’t take 50+ hours of gameplay to explore these options.

This isn’t to say that the game forces it on you; they’re just options. If the player wants a completely gender and hetero-normative play-through, they can make that choice. If an NPC flirts with you in-game, you always have the option of picking the “not interested” dialogue option, and that’s the end of that.

Some of the darker corners of the internet have taken umbrage with all the options Larian provides in the game, but that obviously hasn’t stopped the game from selling a ridiculous number of copies. It has  exceeded all expectations, and been labelled a “masterpiece” by game reviewers. The character design is fantastic and has inspired legions of fans already.

The “go woke, go broke” mantra certainly didn’t hold  true here, and detractors haven’t gained real traction…perhaps because getting upset over imaginary video game characters in a fantasy world having imaginary queer identities seems sillier than playing a fantasy RPG in the first place.

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Eric Tannehill is a student & trans activist living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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Books

Dragging Mason County is an acerbic, hilarious and timely YA novel for teenage queer misfits

Debut novelist Curtis Campbell says he hopes small town queers will see themselves in his protagonist’s search for community

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Curtis Campbell (Photo by Kevin Connery)

By Rob Salerno | HOLLYWOOD – Curtis Campbell didn’t set out to write a YA novel that sounds like it could be ripped from today’s headlines, but that’s what he stumbled into with Dragging Mason County, a hilarious and acerbic tale of a group of queer teenagers who face opposition from their small town and the local queer community when they attempt to throw Mason County’s first Drag Extravaganza.

But as protests against drag and queer youth culture have become ever present on both sides of the border, the 29-year-old debut Canadian novelist found his book about misfit teenage queers has become both incredibly timely and eerily prescient.

“I’ve talked openly about the violence of heteronormative culture, living within it, what it does to queer culture, our inner politic and how we’re interacting with it,” Campbell says. “To see it externalized in such a broad way, it feels like the monster that’s been in the closet the whole time is finally showing up.”

That’s brought Dragging Mason County huge attention, with a North America-wide release from Annick Press – unusual for a debut Canadian novelist – and glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist.

“I’m excited that hopefully more queer youth will be able to read this,” Campbell says. “This was written for small town queer people, regardless of where that small town is.”

But while the book undoubtedly political, it’s also incredibly hilarious, with a caustically witty but loving look at both rural life and the queer community. Campbell has a knack for both representing and cutting through the bullshit of everyday life, particularly through the voice of Dragging Mason County’s teenage protagonist, Peter Thompkin, a self-described “dragnostic” who’s accused of being a self-hating gay after getting into a confrontation with another gay classmate that goes viral. 

“I think the book is about finding pride in your community in various senses,” Campbell says. “Peter is gay but feels icked out by the sort of earnestness and big flamboyantry of the gay community and doesn’t feel that he identifies with that. And his journey is discovering that the queer community contains multitudes, and at the same time learning about his town and that it is not the one thing that he assumed it to be.”

Campbell says he drew from his own experiences growing up gay in Clinton, Ontario, Canada population 3,113, to shape the world of his fictional Mason County, a town he says could be anywhere in North America.

“Growing up here gives you a sense of this is not for me, in the sense that I am being made very aware that I am sort of an unwanted guest in my on community,” he says. “I grew up in a hockey town. All the boys played hockey. I was the one boy who did not play hockey. I was not going to the bush parties and barn parties and drunk driving, all these very masculine things. I was not comfortable around men or boys, because there was always this undercurrent of violence against gay community.” 

He says writing the book helped him find his pride in his small-town roots.”

“Growing up in that, you start to define yourself in opposition to something. Part of my journey through that is realizing that I deserve to be proud of where I’m from too. I deserve to make it a place that I’m proud to be from,” Campbell says.

As a teenager, Campbell found a means to express himself through the local summer theatre festival, where he volunteered and learned the craft of creating theatre. He eventually moved to Toronto for college and became one of the city’s most exciting young playwrights, even earning a nomination for a Dora Award – the Canadian Tony Award – for cowriting his satirical and surprisingly moving play Gay for Pay with Blake and Clay, about an acting class teaching straight actors how to play gay so they can win awards. He’s also developed his own comedy drag persona, Alanis Percocet.

“During the summer I had real on the job professional theatre experience. And they also are one of the few summer theatre companies that specializes in new theatre development, so for me theatre was writing new plays, developing them in the room, workshopping things as the script was developing,” he says.  

Campbell made the transition to writing novels during the pandemic, when opportunities to create theatre dried up.

“I decided to write a YA novel because it felt fun, and let me be funny in a way that wasn’t allowed in serious adult literature,” he says.

But while the big city offered a larger and more vibrant gay community, the rural charms of his small town keep calling him home, and Dragging Mason County is a manifestation of Campbell’s belief that queer people shouldn’t have to feel excluded or alienated from small-town life. 

“It’s beautiful. It really is beautiful. We are 15 minutes from the lake. I look that way and there’s lake, I look that way and there’s cornfields as far as the eye can see. There’s woodland areas for hiking, geographically it’s unique and beautiful. When you grow up in it, it’s just the water in your fishbowl and you don’t really think about it until you leave,” he says. “There should be queer people staying here and living here.”

This book started with Campbell returning to his own small town roots to see how a new generation of queer kids was coming of age there.

“What I discovered when I came back and talked with these students was that as visibility grew, so did the target on their back. The visibility that they were fighting for and hopefully benefiting from, also meant that they were taking up more space, and people who wanted to push back suddenly had a more visible target to push back,” he says. 

“I spent a lot of time reading and watching what these people are saying. Because we are watching a real rise in violence. In my hometown, the high school had to move their pride flag to a place where people couldn’t get it because it kept getting torn down and defaced, and the queer kids were being targeted with online bullying.”

In a climate where queer and trans youth are increasingly targeted by violent protests and intimidation, Dragging Mason County offers a kind of alternate world where queer and trans kids are able to be their own heroes and build spaces for themselves.

“I know that this book will do nothing for the people joining the protests, because this isn’t for them,” Campbell says. “I do hope that young people read it, especially small-town queers, to see some of themselves in it or just get a laugh out of it.”

Dragging Mason County by Curtis Campbell is available October 3 from Annick Press wherever books are sold.

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.


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Theater

Oscar-winner Tarell McCraney, new Geffen Artistic Director

The Moonlight co-screenwriter says he wants the theatre to be artist-centered, while attracting top-name talent

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L-R: Artistic Director Tarell Alvin McCraney, Executive Director / CEO Gil Cates, Jr. and Board Chair Adi Greenberg. (Photo by Jeff Lorch)

By Rob Salerno | LOS ANGELES – Tarell Alvin McCraney has lofty plans for the Geffen Playhouse, which announced him as its new Artistic Director last week. 

The openly queer playwright who won an Oscar for co-writing the 2016 film Moonlight based on his own earlier play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, says he wants the theatre to be a place that centers artists’ voices while building on the theatre’s location in Los Angeles to attract big name talent. But he also wants the theatre to draw in more young audiences from neighboring UCLA and he promises to continue commissioning work by LGBTQ creators. 

With a career that has included being a member of Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre, playwright-in-residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, serving as Chair of playwrighting at the Yale School of Drama, and a Tony Award nomination for his Broadway debut Choir Boy (which was produced at the Geffen in 2014), the 43-year-old playwright has the deep connections across the national theatre scene as well as in Hollywood that just might help him pull this vision off.

The Los Angeles Blade sat down with McCraney to talk about how he sees the Geffen Playhouse fitting into the LA art scene, and why live performance remains so relevant to today’s audiences.

Blade: Why are you making the transition from playwrighting to artistic directing? What made you want to run a theatre?

McCraney: That kind of vision-setting is something that I’ve always done. I certainly will admit that doing it at a major theatre was not on my bucket list. But then something started to happen. A lot of the ways that we were creating theatre began to be corporatized and we started to think in corporate ways and business models. For art making, that can get convoluted. The moment we get into very strict rules about theatre and how it should get created, we get into trouble. We leave no room for expression. And that has been happening in part because leadership hasn’t been by artists. 

And now I have a whole heap of friends and colleagues who are artists running theatres, saying we need to work in collaboration with each other, in order to make sure that the artists of the future are nourished and told that their voice is necessary. All of our companies, even in TV and film, are run by the imagination of the artists, and to put that at the center is really investing in our future.

What is your vision for the Geffen? 

The Geffen already does something pretty amazing. It is that fulcrum in the entertainment industry. There are a lot of film and tv folks who make up our audience and the artists who are on our stage. That feels like we have a role to play in the ecosystem of the great many theatre artists who come out to LA to pursue film and television and also still deeply want the roots of live performance to be honored, and the skills that come with that to be sharpened.

We also have about 30-40,000 audience members across the street who may not have been inside of our playhouse or experienced their first live performance, and we’d love to make sure that that is part of their education. I’m talking about UCLA. We want to make sure that we invite them in to experience what it is to have a live performance affect you and change you and make you think and anger you and call you into action. We also know that a good percentage of those folks are the artists of tomorrow. We want to make sure that they know that they have a space.

How is Los Angeles different from the places where you’ve made theatre in the past?

It’s the center of the TV and film industry in our country specifically. And yes, there are certainly theatre actors who work in film and television in New York and Chicago. 

In LA the majority of folks who are in our audience and on our stages work in the film and television industry in some way, shape or form. What that gives us as a playhouse is a place where we can say, hey, theatre is important to you. It’s the first thing you did in your life. It’s the first experience you had in dramatic storytelling. It’s the bad theatre games that led you to this moment playing this role on Wandavision. Now you want to get back on stage and you want to remind yourself what it means to be in Hamlet and why that story is important, in film and television, but also in live performance. What does that do? What part of your humanity is invigorated by doing it in front of people night to night?

Because we have so many people in our community who come from that tradition and background, it makes no sense to me to bifurcate that but to integrate it. 

You obviously bring a certain star power to the theatre. Do you think that’s important for Los Angeles audiences? 

Name recognition is important for sure. Someone could take that negatively. I hear, “Oh, I like the way that person tells a story. I’ve followed them for a long time.” 

I’d love to make sure that there are a cadre of artists that folks can say, “Oh yeah, they’re at the Geffen pretty often. I love to see them there,” or, “I saw their first play there, and it’s really interesting to see what they do next. I’m coming back for that.” I think it’s important to audiences everywhere. We like to train up with people. You’ve seen that actor before that you’re like “he was in that thing!” You like to watch that versatility. 

Samuel L. [Jackson] was in The Piano Lesson. One, I love The Piano Lesson. Two, I love Samuel L. And I was like, I have to see this, because this is one of my favorite people telling stories and in a way that I rarely get to see him do it. 

I understand the guilt, because people can feel consumerist, but it really is an age-old tradition. You want  to see that person tell the stories. It is exciting to say I’ve seen that actor on so many things, but I’d love to see them live.

Does the Geffen need to find new audiences?

So does every industry. Even in streaming, we know we gotta grow their audiences. What I don’t think we should be doing is chasing after the audiences who’ve said they’re not going to sit in the theatre anymore. I think there are people who’ve gone through a very rough time the last three years, who’ve said, “Y’know what? One of my biggest things is going to be being outside, or travelling, or moving to that place that I didn’t think I could.”

What we have to do is reinvest in the 60% of audiences that have come back and said, even during that limited capacity, “The thing I wanted to get to most was this engagement here in the live theatre. It’s important to me, it’s a part of the tapestry of my life, so I’m here.” 

Why is theatre relevant in 2023? 

It’s the difference between [being there and] hearing, “Oh, you had to be there…”

I tell this story all the time about Peter Brook’s Hamlet in Chicago [in 2001] with Adrian Lester. It’s the first Shakespeare production I’ve seen at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I’m seeing this fly zipping around, and Adrian Lester, who is delivering the most eloquent Shakespeare I’ve ever seen, at some point in the middle of it, I think he’s doing one of his great speeches, he [catches the fly in his hands, shows it to the audience and wipes it off], and continues going on as if nothing happened. I think it was during “To be or not to be.” Talk about timing. You just had to be there. 

I remember my best friend Glenn Davis, the artistic director of Steppenwolf, and my friend André Holland who was in Moonlight, we all saw that production, that performance, and we’re all still saying, “You had to be there,” this performance 20 years ago, to see this fly driving Adrian Lester wild. I know that’s still relevant to folks. 

We have a show right now at the Geffen called Every Brilliant Thing, and it’s really interesting to see folks who are jostled by how interactive it is, and how much the audience talks to the performer. And those who really lean into it, who are like, “Yeah, this is why I come. I can’t just lean back and eat Cheetos, while you divorce someone or run for president. I have to be here right with you as you work out this very complicated thing in your life.”

What can queer audiences expect from the Geffen under your tenure? 

Thankfully, the artistic leadership before did a pretty good job of forging ahead with queer stories in our space. I can speak to Choir Boy when we did it all those years ago. But since then, there’s been multiple plays and paradigm-breaking ways in which we engage our queer stories particularly. I’m speaking of The Inheritance, when we had that block party with community partners.

One of the things I’m challenging us to do is to make sure that when we do invite audiences – queer, black, brown, Asian – into our space, that they do know that we keep something on hand for them. That it’s not just that in June we have this ‘out’ play, but that we have something year-round that… may not be specifically about a topic, but it’ll have enough that it’ll encourage, delight and engage everyone. 

We can’t have a play in February for Black History Month and then be like, “Oh, we got our Black audience in, but now what?” We have to make sure that audiences feel like we program with you in mind. The play may not be about your particular home, but it is engaging the world you live in and wanna live in. 

Do you think we’ll see more commissioned queer works, or productions of queer-themed plays? 

For sure, on our roster of people to commission there are same-sex loving folks, there are people who are transgender. We are absolutely leaning into that. 

Are we going to see new Tarell Alvin McCraney plays at the Geffen? 

That’s an easy Yes. Selfishly, that’s why I took the job. Directors always take these jobs and go, “I’m gonna direct the thing I never got to direct.” There’s a bunch of things I want to write for the theatre and I just need the time and space to do it. Maybe I’ve hoodwinked the Geffen into letting me do that. I’m very excited about it.

What are you excited to write about?

I definitely want to write about marriage and my weird feelings around it. If you just look at the things I’ve been writing about for twenty years, they’re all the same: queer people, finding love, finding a voice. That’s not going to change. Just different avenues. 

I’m excited to see that as a 43-year-old man who keeps going, “Should I get married? Is marriage for me? Isn’t the point of being queer not to get married? Aren’t we revolutionary? Is it a tool of the state or whatever, or is it really a romantic thing that I’m missing out on?” I want to grapple with those things. and I think the intimacy of our spaces is the place to do it. 

As soon as I can get the time to write it. 

(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

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Rob Salerno is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, California, and Toronto, Canada.

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Sports

Sweat for a cause: OUT Foundation partners with local gyms

In L.A. and nationwide applications now open for fitness spaces to join network welcoming out LGBTQ+ athletes

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Courtesy of The OUT Foundation

NEW YORK — Whether they are out or closeted, members of the LGBTQ+ community often struggle to find a place where they feel comfortable working out, as many gyms and fitness-based businesses tend to be hetero-normative and mostly cisgender-oriented. The OUT Foundation, based in New York City, seeks to change that. 

Applications opened Tuesday for LGBTQ+ friendly fitness centers to join its already large network of partner gyms, coast to coast, including more than 15 in Southern California, from Burbank to San Diego and from Santa Monica to San Bernardino. 

“Members of the LGBTQ+ community want a space to feel like themselves and not worry about the danger of wearing a rainbow shirt, bringing their partner, or using the restroom they want in gyms,” the organization says on its website. 

The group’s mission, according to its website, is “to remove the barriers that block LGBTQ+ individuals’ from access and participation in fitness, health, and wellness, ensuring their success.” 

The group got its start in 2011 by hosting the first “OUTWOD” gay CrossFit meetup in New York City. Its OUTAthlete Program, sponsored by the athletic wear company Puma, facilitates free, year-long gym memberships for LGBTQ+ young adults between the ages of 18 and 32. Already, the program has helped more than 50 athletes in 32 cities. 

OUTAthletes also receive a 30% discount on branded OUT Foundation apparel, access to a networking group of the 27 current OUTAthletes as well as former members, gifts from participating sponsors, monthly educational sessions, and more. 

The Out Foundation’s Inclusive Fitness Finder is an online tool that provides locations in the nationwide network. To be placed on the map, fitness spaces must raise more than $250 by hosting an OUTAthletics event and meet other requirements. 

Tina Weaver, who took over as executive director in April, outlined at that time their goals in leading the organization. “We are introducing programs that will assist in breaking down the systemic divide of health and wellness for the LGBTQ+ community,” they said. “The OUT Foundation is needed more than ever.” 

Interested business can email the Out Foundation’s director of community and partner engagement, Karina Damiani, at karina@theoutfoundation.org for information on becoming a partner gym.

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Sports

End of an era: Megan Rapinoe ends her USWNT career

The two-time World Cup winner and Olympian will finish with Seattle’s OL Reign- As for Sunday’s game, Rapinoe played 54 minutes

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Megan Rapinoe lines up a shot in her final match playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team. (Screenshot/YouTube USWNT)

CHICAGO — The final score was United States 2, South Africa 0. But Team USA’s victory in Sunday’s international friendly was not as significant to the country or to the world as the loss of out gay soccer icon Megan Rapinoe, who played her final match for the U.S. Women’s National Team. 

“To have this night come and to actually feel it and see it from my teammates and from our staff and certainly from the fans, really, it was very special,” Rapinoe told the Washington Post. For this final match, she donned the former captain once again donned the captain’s armband.

The legend walks away from the USWNT at age 38, 17 years and 63 days after her Team USA career began. Sunday marked her 203rd appearance, with a total of 63 goals scored, 73 assists, two World Cup trophies, an Olympic gold medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, not to mention several hair colors. 

And Rapinoe didn’t just score on the pitch, but also led a successful fight for pay equity with the U.S. Mens National Team, as well as being an outspoken advocate for human rights and transgender equality. 

Following the win at Soldier Field, with her fiancée Sue Bird and family among the 25-thousand fans in attendance, the soccer federation paid tribute to Rapinoe with a video.  

“I felt like I was able to grow up in front of you,” she said during a tear-filled address to the crowd. “It has been such an honor to wear this shirt and play out my childhood dream.” 

It seemed fitting that Rapinoe should wrap up her USWNT career in the Windy City, having once played for the Chicago Red Stars, as well as the Philadelphia Independence, MagicJack, Sydney FC, Seattle Sounders Women, Olympique de Lyon, and currently for Seattle’s OL Reign. The team will commemorate Rapinoe’s incredible career at its final match of the regular season at Lumen Field on Oct. 6 against the Washington Spirit.

As for Sunday’s game, Rapinoe played 54 minutes, and although she did not score a goal or an assist, she came mighty close. 

Four minutes into the second half, Rapinoe’s corner kick was returned by South Africa;s goalkeeper but USA’s Emily Sonnett scored with her head. Although Rapinoe set up the goal, she wasn’t awarded an assist since the ball had been deflected. 

Sonnett leaped into Rapinoe’s arms and teammates joined the group hug. They then backed away to allow Rapinoe to strike her famous arms outstretched stance, one last time.

A few minutes later, Rapinoe’s 25-yard free kick sailed just inches too high and rode the top of the net, denying the champion one final goal. 

“I almost got one,” Rapinoe said. “So close. Damn.”

But if there was any doubt Rapinoe felt her work on the field mattered more than what she and her teammates had accomplished off of it, she told reporters at a news conference Saturday that is what she remains most proud of. 

“By a mile,” she said, smiling.

USWNT vs. South Africa: Highlights – September 24, 2023:

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Sports

Conn. Sun torch NY Liberty in game 1 of WNBA semifinals

The Sun are led by Out lesbian & coach of the year, Stephanie White. Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals pit the Sun against the Liberty Sept. 26

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Connecticut Sun Forward Alyssa Thomas & teammates celebrate their win over New York Liberty in game 1 of WNBA semifinals. (Screenshot/YouTube WNBA)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Despite going 0-4 against the New York Liberty during the 2023 season, the red-hot Connecticut Sun burned their way to a win Sunday at the Barclays Center. 

The victory comes just one week after the WNBA named Sun Coach Stephanie White its 2023 Coach of the Year, and two weeks after receiving the same honor from the Associated Press

The out lesbian is in her first year as coach of the Connecticut team. White has been outspoken as an LGBTQ+ advocate and as the wife of Michelle Fletcher, with whom she is raising three children. 

In Sunday’s game, DeWanna Bonner — who got engaged to teammate Alyssa Thomas back in July — carried the Sun in Game 1, repeating her stellar performance in the previous round’s decisive Game 3 against the Minnesota Lynx, to once again lead Connecticut to victory.

Bonner scored 15 points in the second half on Sunday, notching seven of those in the fourth quarter, and finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, three assists, one steal and three blocks, ensuring her team a chance to take home-court advantage later on in the series.

With six field goals made in the game, Bonner moved into fourth all-time in WNBA postseason history, with 362. Her fiancé, Alyssa Thomas, moved into ninth all-time in assists in WNBA postseason history with 10 assists in the game for a total of 213.

Rebecca Allen finished with a postseason career-high 18 points, along with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

Connecticut shot 44.9% on the day, while holding New York to just 33.8. 

Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals pit the Sun against the Liberty on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at 8:00 PM EDT at Barclays Center.

Connecticut Sun vs. New York Liberty | FULL GAME HIGHLIGHTS | September 24, 2023:

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Movies

Bernal shines as real-life gay wrestler in ‘Cassandro’

A polished, engaging film about a real-life figure that carries message of hope

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Gael García Bernal in ‘Cassandro.’ (Photo courtesy of Prime Video)

For most Americans, any knowledge of the Mexican wrestling style known as lucha libre is probably limited to what they gleaned from the 2006 Jack Black comedy “Nacho Libre,” which (it should go without saying) is not a movie that anyone should consider “factual.”

Now another movie about the subject has arrived, and this time it’s not an anything-for-a-laugh fantasy but a biopic about a real luchador who rose to international fame in the 1980s and remains one of the most celebrated and popular figures in Mexican professional wrestling to this day.

The luchador in question is Saúl Armendáriz – better known to his fans as “Cassandro” – and the eponymously titled movie about his ascendency begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video Sept. 22 after a limited theatrical release on Sept. 15.

Directed by Roger Ross Williams (who may not be a household name but has the distinction of being the first Black director to receive an Oscar, thanks to the 2009 win of his “Music by Prudence” for Best Documentary Short), “Cassandro” stars Gael García Bernal – a longtime ally who became a queer fan-favorite thanks to his work in films like “Y tu mamá también” and “Bad Education” – as the openly gay Armendáriz and tells the story of his rise to fame in direct defiance of the culturally reinforced homophobia that permeated the professional environment of his field. Set in the 1980s, it follows the future superstar from the early days of his career, tracing his steps as he forges a path to success as an exótico – a wrestler who assumes a flamboyant persona based in queer (and largely homophobic) stereotypes – while simultaneously rising above the stigma of his sexuality and his impoverished upbringing to become a pioneering force in LGBTQ+ acceptance within the deeply traditional Latino culture to which he belonged.

Like most biopics, it also focuses on the personal: much of the film’s first half is dominated by the relationship between Armendáriz and his mother, Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa), a professional “good-time girl” whose acceptance of his queer identity is absolute yet tempered by her fear for his well-being. There is also a long-running thread about his desire for approval from his father – a married man with a “legitimate” family in which he is decidedly not included – and the pattern in his personal life of repeating that dynamic in romantic relationships with unavailable lovers like closeted big-name luchador “El Comandante” (Raúl Castillo) and an apparently fluid but firmly “on the DL” associate named Felipe (Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, aka Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny for those unfamiliar with his “real” name) who clearly meets more than just his need for a reliable supplier of cocaine – it is the ‘80s, after all – while maintaining a strict-if-not-quite-convincing “no homo” stance.

Ultimately, though, as presented by first-time narrative feature director Williams (who co-wrote the screenplay with David Teague after previously covering Armendáriz’ story in the 2016 documentary short “The Man Without a Mask”), “Cassandro” is driven by a narrative about overcoming and reclaiming the pejorative cultural tropes around queer sexuality and turning them on their ear as a means toward fully inhabiting queer identity. Blessed with a relatively supportive mother – a plainly-implied career sex worker who is depicted as much as a kindred spirit as she is a maternal figure – and comfortable enough in his own skin to flaunt his “deviance” in the public eye, the film’s version of Armendáriz moves through a clearly defined arc toward self-acceptance on his own terms.

Much of this is mirrored, of course, in the tale of his accelerated rise to stardom, in which he wins the hearts of lucha libre fans enough to subvert the accepted formula that the exótico is always the loser, and reinforced by the ways in which he responds to the various long-term relationships in his life – some nurturing, some toxic – as his career trajectory helps him to recognize his own worth. In this way, “Cassandro” becomes a true-life tale of queer affirmation, the saga of a person who overcomes hardline traditional expectations and deep-rooted social prejudice to use his own queer identity as an avenue to personal empowerment.

That, of course, is exactly what it sets out to be: it’s an unabashedly pro-queer narrative that brings the highest level of professional artistry into the mix, using it to convey that subtle blend of aloof observation and emotional engagement that can sometimes win viewers’ hearts and minds.

In recognition of that artistry, the foremost acknowledgement must go to Bernal, who turns in a career-highlight performance as both Armendáriz and his over-the-top titular alter-ego, which requires an impressive display of physicality in addition to keen emotional intelligence. The actor is more than capable on both fronts, and while it would frankly be nice to see one of our queer heroes portrayed in a mainstream film by an actual queer actor, it’s hard to complain when the actor is someone like Bernal, who finds within his own lived experience the authenticity to make it all ring true. Kudos are also deserved for both De La Rosa, who establishes an emotional core to the story that endures even after she leaves it, and openly-queer actor Roberta Colindrez as the trainer (and friend) that helps “Cassandro” conquer the world of professional lucha libre wrestling by literally flipping the script.

Still, though there is clearly a heartfelt desire to inspire behind the movie’s portrayal of its hero’s unlikely rise to glory, “Cassandro” doesn’t quite deliver the kind of unequivocal “feel-good” validation for which it aims. There’s something rote about the story as it’s told to us; Armendáriz’ success seems a foregone conclusion, and his personal struggles – though impeccably acted and depicted with sincerity – feel somehow manufactured for the sake of a desired emotional response. There’s a sense of “Hollywood” about the film’s approach, a deliberate framing of the material which makes this real-life success story seem much too easy, its subject’s struggles too much like tropes to deliver the kind of authentic satisfaction the movie clearly aims for. Built on familiar formula, it all feels a little too predictable – especially for a saga centered in such a messy, wild-and-wooly environment as professional lucha libre. Yes, it inspires, but much of that is accomplished by playing to sentiment, by what seems a deliberate effort toward building and reaffirming a legend rather than revealing the real human experience behind it, and many details of Armendariz’ real story are left out  – a suicide attempt, a struggle with substance abuse, even the origin of his iconic stage name as a tribute to a brothel-keeper of whom he was fond – that might have made for a less-sanitized and much more interesting story.

Such quibbles, however, are probably a moot point for most viewers; while “Cassandro” might feel a little too hollow to satisfy completely, it’s a polished, entertaining, and engaging film about a real-life figure that should – and does – carry a message of hope and transcendence for queer audiences.

Why would we ever complain about that?

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Books

New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more

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(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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