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Non-binary actor stars in LA Premiere of Taylor Mac’s “Hir”

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Zack Gearing, Cynthia Kania and Puppett star in the LA premiere of Tayor Mac’s “Hir” at the Odyssey Theatre (photo by Ron Sossi)

After bringing two live extravaganzas to Los Angeles in the last two years, Taylor Mac – the boundary-pushing playwright, actor, singer-songwriter, performance artist, director, and producer – has gained an enthusiastic audience among local theatre-goers.

Mac (who uses “judy,” lowercase sic, not as a name but as a gender pronoun) has received multiple awards – including the Kennedy Prize, New York Drama Critics Circle Award, two Bessies, two Obies, the McArthur “Genius” Grant, and a Guggenheim Fellowship – and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize in Drama for “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music in America.”

Now, one of “judy’s” most acclaimed plays is being mounted by the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, which will open its 50th anniversary season with the L.A. premiere of “Hir.”

The word “hir” is a gender-neutral, third-person singular object pronoun that replaces the use of him or her.  According to Mac, “The title is a metaphor.  It’s pronounced ‘here,’ and I enjoy the duality of something being about gender and also about place.”

Hilarious and terrifying, “Hir” is a dysfunctional family dramedy for a new era: a highly intelligent, heartfelt, and deeply humorous portrayal of a family in crisis – in which domestic abuse, the trauma of war and the acceptance of gender neutrality are illustrated in a nearly absurd, emotionally gripping, intensely real dynamic.  Somewhere in the American suburbs, Isaac, dishonorably discharged from his tour in Afghanistan, has returned home to discover a household in revolt.  The insurgent: his mom. Liberated from an oppressive marriage to Isaac’s father by his debilitating stroke, and with Max, Isaac’s newly out transgender sibling, as her ally, Paige is on a crusade to dismantle the patriarchy.

The play, like most of Mac’s work, is an outrageous exploration of American culture; described in the press release as “a darkly funny, shockingly absurd and endlessly surprising vision of a world in transition,” it’s cut from the same edgy, theatrical cloth that Mac is known and lauded for.

Even so, director Bart DeLorenzo asserts that, at its core, “Hir” is really “a classic American play,” with all the familiar elements of the gritty, “kitchen sink” dramas written by such 20th-century playwrights as Arthur Miller.

“It’s set in a family home,” he explains.  “There’s a family with conflicts, with secrets; there’s a son who’s coming home from the war and everything is changing.”

From there, however DeLorenzo says the play takes the formula and “sets it spinning.” He is also quick to point out that, despite its old-school roots, “Hir” is up-to-the-minute contemporary.  “It’s about the future of America and how we might break into the next moment.”

He continues, “This country, in its defining documents, was seeking to transition from autocratic rule to individual rights, but how far did we get?”  He says the play’s argument is “the opposite of the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan – unless you’re willing to overlook and ignore quite a lot, this country has never been great, it has never lived up to the promise of its constitutional freedoms. But, from this point on, many voices contend, it will have to.”

In the course of the play, Mac covers a lot of topics that are at the center of the “culture wars” in today’s America; not surprisingly for an artist known for challenging gender norms, some of the most prominent themes have to do with queer identity and the need to move beyond binary understanding.

Key to this aspect of the production is Puppett, a non-binary actor who plays Max – the newly transitioning teen-ager who gives voice to a lot of its edgiest ideas – and who says “Hir” couldn’t be more timely.

Non-binary actor Puppett portrays Max in Odyssey Theatre’s LA premiere of Taylor Mac’s “Hir” (photo courtesy Puppett)

“Where we’re at right now,” they say, “is the breakthrough into the mainstream of talking about the existence of transgender people – which is good – but it’s mostly been from a binary standpoint, of transitioning from one gender to the other.  The play introduces the conversation that there are more than two genders.”

Puppett believes that Max’s position in the play’s family dynamic is an essential part of getting the message across.  “Paige [the mother] gives a lot of importance to Max’s ideas about the ‘doing away’ of binaries,” they say, “and that allows for the audience to hear them more than they would otherwise.”

“Max is in a place in their life that makes sense for a seventeen-year-old,” they continue, “where they have a lot of ideas that are ‘facts’ for a couple days and then everything changes – everything feels like it’s the ‘truth’ but the ‘truth’ is always changing.  That’s true of everyone in the play but I think it’s the most age-appropriate for Max.”

Puppett says this youthful perspective provides a comedic element that is crucial to opening minds.  “There’s importance in looking at who Max is,” they say, “but also there’s a lot of humor in the extreme of them and the things they say, and I think that people who identify with Max will also be able to laugh at themselves through the things that Max says.”

“It’s a really great comedy,” they continue, “which is not always obvious from the synopsis.  It’s really funny, and it gives equal weight to the absurdity of each character.  That makes things more accessible, so I’m hoping that people who are less familiar with some of the topics will be able to have it as an easier access point.”

That doesn’t mean “Hir” makes light of the difficult questions it raises.  Puppett says, “There’s a lot left for you to chew on after the play’s over.  I think it brings up more questions than answers, which is ultimately useful.”

They add, “The play does a good job of teaching the audience through the characters being taught, without placing all the burden on the queer character – which I think is really smart.  All of the characters are exploring and changing, and it pushes the audience into the same space by the end.”

That doesn’t mean Puppett doesn’t feel some weight on their shoulders.  “It’s a role which can be seen as representing a large portion of the queer community,” they say.  “One role can’t speak for everyone, but some people in the audience might perceive it that way, and that does feel like a large responsibility.”

Asked whether it’s intimidating to take on such a key role in a play by one of America’s most original and important contemporary voices, Puppett stops to consider.

“That part of it hasn’t occurred to me yet,” they say.  “But if I think about it hard enough, it might be, so I’m gonna try not to.”

 

“Hir” runs January 19 – March 17 at The Odyssey Theatre (2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025).  For exact performance schedule, reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.

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Julia Scotti, the movie, is just Funny That Way

Life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would. And that is ultimately the point

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Graphic courtesy of Susan Sandler

WHITING, NJ. – “You are a piece of work, Julia!” Simon Cowell blurted during her landmark America’s Got Talent debut.  Julia Scotti had just completed her audition for the show that ended not only with a standing ovation, but with the revelation that she had once upon a time been a stand-up comedian named Rick. As that news crossed the faces of the four judges, their collective jaws dropped. “I mean like you come out as the nice little granny school teacher all sweet and then you go into your routine and like WHOA. Talk about surprises – they are never ending with you, are they?” Cowell finished.

With Julia Scotti, the surprises never end.

Her latest surprise for the public is a gem of a film, Julia Scotti: Funny That Way.  It is a documentary of her journey from the days of Rick, the up and coming comic who performed on bills with Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld to Julia, who is wowing millions.

Of her transition, Julia has remarked. “It is NEVER an easy process whether you’re a public figure or not. You are essentially killing your old self and ending your old life. And with that comes the history you’ve built with friends and family. Some are very accepting, but most are not. That is why the suicide attempt rate for Trans  folk is still at 41%.”

Funny That Way does not spare us the heart-breaking fallout from the virtual “death’ of Rick Scotti.  Filmmaker Susan Sandler weaves Julia’s story, the losses and damage, to her rebirth, healing and the reuniting with her kids after a 15-year estrangement.

Julia and Susan sat down with us on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio to talk about the film.  “This is a story and like all stories, there is a beginning and a middle and an end. In the end, I want the audience to know there is HOPE. It is bumpy at times, joyous at times.  It is not just isolated to my life. You can have that in your life when you walk through that door of your own truth and come out the other side and when you look back on all you went through, you go ‘what the hell was I so afraid of?’ Look how happy I am.” Julia explains.

Susan had never directed a documentary before, but as one of Hollywood’s master story tellers, and a Golden Globe nominee, she was unfazed.  “The impetus behind this film was falling in love with Julia, her, then and now.  If you are working from a really rich, complex, compelling character –which is Julia—that is the GIFT. All of my nerve endings, my story telling, told me this was dynamic documentary, and that’s the form in which I wanted to tell it.”

Susan took five years to research, document and interact with Julia’s past.  She went through old footage of Rick Scotti’s stage acts and restored many of them so they could be used in the film. She brought on composer Matt Hutchinson for a beautiful score, and animator Sam Roth for whimsical cartoons that tie the story together.

Before the filming started, Julia had just re-connected with her son Dan, and daughter Emma.  A decade and a half ago, when Julia announced to her then spouse that she was in fact a woman transitioning, her then-wife retaliated by taking their kids away.  Dan and Emma spent their whole adolescence not knowing Julia at all. The story of that pain is told in Funny That Way.  Susan wanted to show the relationships real-time in the film as they came to reconnect with Julia. “We were just at the beginning stages of reconciling,” recounts Julia. “I did not want them feeling like I was just reconnecting with them because I wanted them in this film. I did not want to distance them even more.”

Dan and Emma were onboard, however.  Also on board, albeit only by phone, was Kate. Kate was  Julia’s last wife, described as Julia’s “love of her life”. Kate supported Julia emotionally and spiritually through out the entire transition process.  One of the most poignant moments in the film was Julia hearing Kate describe the end of their relationship.  Kate’s support was significant, but once Julia became fully Julia, it was evident to both that their relationship had changed and they had to let it go.

Susan captured many live moments of Julia’s evolving life.  She caught the very first time that son Dan ever called Julia “his mother” and the effect was pronounced.  Also caught in the film was a moment when Julia and Dan are watching Rick’s old stand up routines.  One such performance  takes Julia by surprise—it was a routine that she had not remembered ever doing.  It was a set where then Rick expressed his revulsion to transgender women in no uncertain terms.  Julia sat shocked.

“My sensibilities have been ‘woked’, I think that is the term for it.” She told me about that experience. ”Thinking back, I was going through issues and aware that something was not right internally. It frightened me to no end.  Looking at that clip, I am totally ashamed of what I did. It embarrassed me.”

“I knew it was me. I knew I was there. But I don’t feel a connection with that person.  That is the truth.”

The film does not dwell long on the past shames and regrets.  It arcs to the present where an adult daughter gets to see her parent’s comedy routine for the very first time.

Some of the greatest joy in the film is witnessing the growing relationship between Julia and son Dan. Dan is sweet and compassionate, and they both have a deep love of comedy.  Through their discussions and collaboration on things funny, we witness something decidedly not funny, the deep re-kindling love they have for each other.

The film will make you laugh, and cry, and laugh again.  New clips of Julia’s now famous turn on America’s Got Talent shows her more personal reflective moments over a life changing triumph.

The only regret director Sandler has about the film is how it will be brought to the public. “I am happy to be brining the film now for the people who have an appetite for it. For the truth, the humor, the complete emotional honesty.  But I mourn. I mourn the moments not being able to sit with you in a theater. And experiencing the film with you. It was supposed to be seen by audiences, and then give them the opportunity to go down the street and see Julia live at a club.”  But, life is funny that way—not working out quite the way we thought it would.   And that is ultimately the point.

Editor’s Note: The film was originally slated for theatrical release which was delayed then put off by the coronavirus pandemic.

Julia Scotti: Funny That Way is available now on digital platforms! That means you can rent or buy it online, at places like iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and more.

Here’s the full list of where you can find it. 

DIGITAL

iTunes
Amazon
Google Play
Xbox
VUDU
FandangoNow
Vimeo On Demand

CABLE / SATELLITE

iN Demand Movies
Verizon
AT&T
Vubiquity
DirecTV
Dish
Telus

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Gigi Gorgeous to launch ‘Queerified’ podcast

The now-celebrated star and activist fist began her rise to stardom with the creation of her YouTube channel in 2008

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Gigi Gorgeous via YouTube

HOLLYWOOD – We all know there are a lot of podcasts out there, but there is always room for one more – especially when it comes from Gigi Gorgeous.

The social-media star, TV personality and transgender activist has announced the launch of “Queerified,” a weekly podcast she will co-hosted with longtime best friend Marc Lamentac – better known as Mimi. Timed for a Pride Month premiere, the show will be built around discussions between the two friends, touching on topics such as growing up queer, life lessons and successes, and the celebration of “queer joy” every day. Gigi and Mimi will also be joined by special guests in the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.

Says Gorgeous in a statement, “On ‘Queerified,’ I wanted to start a conversation that is empowering, entertaining and humorous, having an open dialogue about the issues and experiences that made me the person I am today.”

The now-celebrated star and activist fist began her rise to stardom with the creation of her YouTube channel in 2008. Still a student at a high school in Toronto, she posted beauty, fashion and makeup tutorial videos, while offering viewers encouragement and inspiration to stand up to bullying and harassment by expressing themselves authentically. encouraging viewers to express themselves in the face of bullying and harassment. At the age of 19, she came out in a video as a gay male, and in 2013 announced that she was a transgender woman.

The next year, she documented her transition on YouTube, eventually laying the groundwork for the documentary “This Is Everything: Gigi Gorgeous.” In 2019, she published the memoir, “He Said, She Said: Lessons, Stories and Mistakes From My Transgender Journey.” The same year, she married fellow activist Nats Getty, a model, artist, and designer whose fashion line Strike Oil is currently being sold at Saks to benefit Pride charities.

“Queerified” – which launches Wednesday, June 16 – is produced by podcast network Ramble, a division of Cadence13. Chris Corcoran, chief content officer for the companies, says, “Gigi has a larger-than-life personality, and an equally powerful voice as an activist. As Pride is celebrated around the world, we’re excited to welcome Gigi and Mimi to the Ramble and Cadence13 family.”

The show’s producers have set up a toll-free hotline (in the U.S.) for listeners to offer feedback and leave comments for Gigi and Mimi, at 844-QUEERYS (844-783-3797). “This is totally a space that’s safe for you,” reads the description for their podcast.

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Colton Underwood, Greyson Chance+ more Amazon Live Pride Festival!

Greyson Chance and former Bachelor star, Colton Underwood, will be streaming live to discuss how they show their Pride, answer fan questions

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SEATTLE, WA. – Happy Pride Month! Amazon Live is hosting its first-ever Pride Festival this Thursday (6/10) and Friday (6/11) from 3-6pm ET. Your favorite celebrities and influencers, including recording artist, Greyson Chance and former Bachelor star, Colton Underwood, will be streaming live to discuss how they show their Pride, answer fan questions, and share their top Pride picks across fashion, beauty, books, movies, and TV.

Customers can watch HERE via desktop, mobile, or through the Amazon Live Shopping app on Fire TV. Customers can interact directly with the celebrities and influencers via live chat, and easily shop the products and brands discussed through a carousel that updates in real-time.

The scheduled events are as follows:

DAY ONE (6/10):

  • 3PM ET: Greyson Chance will perform from his upcoming EP Trophies, releasing on June 25, and share his curated selection of Pride merch.
  • 4PM ET: Jo Duree will stream a “get ready with me,” inviting viewers to do their makeup alongside her as she shows top tips and tricks.
  • 5PM ET: Pride House LA is throwing the ULTIMATE pride variety show! Featuring top products, you will be fully entertained with special guest performances and amazing talent!

DAY TWO (6/11):

  • 3PM ET: Colton Underwood will discuss his life, answer viewer questions, and share the products that help him show off his pride.
  • 4PM ET: Jake Warden will demo a Pride makeup look.
  • 5PM ET: Olga Von Light will discuss her coming out story, and share some favorite Pride related merchandise and why the products are meaningful to her. 

We’d love to have you join! Check out this blog post for more information about how Amazon is celebrating Pride Month.

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