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Legendary playwright celebrates 30 years of queer performance with Highways



Local theatre icon Michael Kearns at a rehearsal. Photo by John Paul King.

As June draws to a close, so too does “Behold! A Queer Performance Festival,” an annual queer arts festival held by Highways Performing Arts Space in Santa Monica.  Designed to roughly coincide with Pride month every year, it showcases local artists and performers, activists and cultural beacons, as they express their authentic queer experiences through performance, dance, spoken word, theater, multi-media, and ritual.

This summer’s festival was of particular significance to Highways; 2019 marks the organization’s 30th anniversary, and so the Space has played host to a celebration of its long legacy of collaboration with queer artists.  Since its founding in 1989, it has offered a diverse cultural perspective in an effort to remain true to its original intention to push against the boundaries of convention. The Behold festival reflects that promise by reaffirming a commitment to the LGBTQ artistic community that has been there from the beginning.

Behold! has been ongoing at Highways since May, with highlights including works by longtime alumni such as solo-theatre legend Tim Miller, trans choreographer Sean Dorsey, and Black Lives Matter Co-founder Patrisse Cullors.  For its final weekend, it will feature a special fundraiser screening on June 28 of “AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman,” a 2018 documentary on the late AIDS Activist and LGBTQ media spokesperson, before rounding out on June 30 with a special performance from longtime Highways alumnus Michael Kearns.

Kearns is something of a local icon, an eminent artist/activist/playwright whose work has been performed – both by himself and others – in locations all around the world.  He’s been a voice pushing at the edge between the queer and mainstream worlds for decades, and it’s only fitting he should close out this special 30th anniversary celebration; the opening season of Highways included Kearns’ “Intimacies,” a landmark theatrical airing of HIV/AIDS’ secrets performed by a cast of six social outliers.

In the years since, Kearns has returned again and again to the Highways stage to develop and showcase his new works; his newest piece, “Wet Hankies,” honors the legacy of his relationship with highways by presenting stories from his canon as well as from work that he has directed at Highways. In addition to selections – interpreted by a cast of diverse actors including Wanda-Lee Evans, Dean Howell, Dale Raoul and Dave Trudell – from his greatest hits (“intimacies,” “Robert’s Memorial,” “Perfect Patrick”), Kearns’ will himself give premiere performances of several new monologues that attempt to link his artistic development over three decades on the Highways stage to the roller coaster politics of LGBTQ America.

The Blade caught up with Kearns at a recent rehearsal – not for “Wet Hankies,” but for yet another piece under the direction of this prolific and seemingly tireless theatre artist, a work-in-progress for “QueerWise,” a 9-year-old collective of LGBTQ writers, 50 and over, who do regular spoken word performances under his tutelage. Things were still in the rough phase, and there was nothing in the room to help suggest the theatrical embellishments that will eventually be in place – and yet, even within the first 10 minutes of rehearsal, it was possible to see flashes of Kearns’ final vision emerging from the players as they tried to give their director what he wants.

Watching him work, it was easy to understand why. He gives the impression of someone who knows exactly where he’s leading you and exactly how to get there; he directs as a conductor leads an orchestra, using both vocal cues and sweeping gestures of the hands with an innate sense of musicality, and he leads his actors through the rhythms, tempos and dynamics of the staging with a surety of a pro while still remaining open to new ideas that arise in the moment. He may exude the aura of a mercurial genius, but along with it comes the kind of charisma that makes everyone in the room want to follow his lead.

After the rehearsal, we sat down for Q&A session with him.


LAB: Tell us about “Wet Hankies.”  We’ll be seeing selections from your earlier works performed by other actors but what can you say about the new material you’re creating?

MK: It initially came out of a show I did last year at this time, “MENoir or Has Anyone Seen My Libido?” That one was done almost immediately post-radiation treatments – 9 weeks, five days a week – for prostate cancer. It was simply amazing to me that I’d survived HIV/AIDS, Hep-C, and a slew of other minor indignities only to be given another autumnal wake-up call. Since I figured fucking was a thing of the past, I figured I’d take the opportunity to wax on about the past men of my life–the good, the bad, the funny. Oh, yeah, the funny. But threaded through “MENoir” is some serious shit about the devastation of AIDS that lingers, my own issues with mortality (and morality, I suppose) and the two loves of my life: my daughter, Katherine, and art.”

LAB: What changes have come in the last year that made you want to continue monologuing about your experiences with men?

MK:  I mean, who was I to not believe the doctor when he said that my testosterone would come back naturally? Whaaaa? Well, honey, naturally or with the help of a little fertilizer, it came back and the race was on to find the perfect “Bacherlorettedude.” The contest is fraught and, as only can occur in B movies or Michael Kearns performance pieces, real life and make-believe lose their sharp lines and blur until I’m lost. Lost in love. Lost in this-wasn’t-supposed-to-happen love.

LAB: So, it’s about a late-life rediscovery of libido and love. Does that mean there’s a happy ending?

MK: When I tell you right now this very minute that I don’t know the ending it’s because it hasn’t happened yet, is that profound or bullshit? Well, it’s true. I’ve spent decades – decades – thinking about “the ending,” thinking that as an artist I could control it. No, not if I’m being honest. Those are tomorrow’s heartbeats I’ve yet to track. And I’ll be close by the time I go on. But confessional narrative is, or should be, dangerous.

LAB:  How would you sum up the new piece?

MK: “’Death In Venice’ Meets ‘Jerker.’” [“Jerker” is the title of the sexual self-confessional play that is arguably Kearns’ best-known work.]

LAB: How has your relationship with Highways been good for your development as a creative/theatre artist?

MK: There was no place in town that nurtured the voice of a gay artist. No one in this town was really interested in someone with my skill level who had something to say. Highways saved my life.

LAB: What do you think has been the importance of Highways for the queer artistic community over the past 30 years?

MK: I think it saved a lot of lives and I know that sounds grandiose. But I’ve looked into the eyes of audience members who come to Highways to be saved, not just to see entertainment. Oh, they see fabulous entertainment. But they see their queerness in all its distortions and illuminations, sometimes for the first time in their life. Do you know the power in that? And the power that holds for the person on stage who has spent their life being called names and being derided for being too this too that too much not enough. And in Hollywood, you are bullied by those who run this town.  So there you are with lights shining on you, and lights shining out of you, and you are being applauded for the same things you were being bullied for. Honey, that’s being a star. You don’t only find stardom being stuffed in a wax museum. Sometimes you find it standing on the stage of a performance space with a few dozen people in the audience who get you and love you and will come back to see you again. And come back again after thirty years.

LAB: What’s been the most important guideline you’ve tried to hold fast to as an artist?

MK: Empathy. Of late, it’s become an overused Hollywood buzz word. I learned it from an acting teacher when I was nine-years old in St. Louis, Missouri. She taught her young thespians to never judge and never separate yourself from The Other. “You are The Other” is essentially the best mantra I know – whether you are writing, acting, directing, or being a next door neighbor.


“Michael Kearns: Wet Hankies” performs at Highways (1651 18th St., Santa Monica) at 5pm on Sunday June 30. For more information and tickets, visit

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Belinda Carlisle brings a heavenly Christmas Bash December 16th

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects Belinda’s evolving life



Courtesy of Belinda Carlise

HOLLYWOOD – On December 16th, 7pm, the city of West Hollywood transforms into a piece of “Heaven on Earth.” An angelic supernatural deity from the sky won’t be delivering this gift, but rather an angel from iconic pop paradise.

That night, Belinda Carlisle makes a grand entrance and gives an eager audience the presence of a queen of pop, the most recent inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with her group, The Go-Gos.

It will be on that night that Belinda Carlisle hosts THE party event of the season with co-host, drag superstar, Trixie Mattel. One sings, one throws comedic shade, and a packed room at the Abbey will be losing their collective minds.  Not that the party itself isn’t all the reason you would need to get it on your calendar, the evening benefits a fantastic charity, The Animal People Alliance (APA), that intertwines the love for animals with the salve to human suffering.

Courtesy of Trixie Mattel

APA’s charter reads: “To provide high quality and compassionate care, of the highest standards, to neglected street animals in India and Thailand. We train and employ vulnerable people from the community, and pay living wages that help them improve their standard of living.”   The organization, by employing people who would otherwise be stateless and/or in poverty, has treated over 16000 street animals since 2014. Their programs for animals include rabies vaccinations, sterilizations and other emergency health aid.

Belinda sat down with me this week on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO to talk about her life, her amazing career, her party and the strength she has achieved in standing up to both inner and outer demons.

She survives. She fearlessly opens herself up, and if anyone scrutinizes her past… she will lead the way.  She happily tells of being a member of the most successful all-women pop bands in history.  They sang and wrote their own songs, they played their own instruments. They did it on their terms. No men were needed or required. She candidly shares about her struggles with eating disorders and drug addiction. 

Belinda shows profound compassion for those struggling with addiction and darkness, “Addiction is a sickness…it is a disease of perception, you can’t see your effect on other people… It is a trap you feel you can’t get out of. Every addict has a heart and a humanity that is obscured by addiction. It is a horrible, horrible thing for anyone to go through. It is hard to remember that there is a heart under all that, there is something divine under all that darkness.”

Her interest focuses more on what came after she embarked on recovery  “My life is much more exciting since sobriety, even more exciting than the hey day with the Go-Gos. For anyone out there who is worried about aging, or life being over at a certain point—it’s not. Life is just the most amazing miracle and privilege.”

Her significance for the LGBTQ community, impacts many of the most vulnerable.  She is the mom of a gay man, activist and writer, James Duke Mason. His birth made her examine the trajectory of fame, drugs, and rock & roll in which she was on, careening threateningly close to disaster and death.

She had settled comfortably into maternal nurturement when Duke came out to her at the age of 14. Belinda had been impressed with Duke’s ability to explain the situation to her. She found out that he had been online with PFLAG for weeks learning about how to present his news to her, information to give and educated about key talking points. 

Appreciating their real life help of a young person in need, Belinda vehemently supported PFLAG, the Trevor Project and others ever since. “I am so glad I have a gay son, I can’t even tell you,” she says.

Artistically, she also continues to thrive.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted the Go-Gos this year.  It was an honor 15 years in the making.  It should have been an obvious choice to put them there.

As the first all-female group making it big, they sang, wrote every note and played every instruments. The Go-Go’s, a 2020 American/Irish/Canadian documentary film directed and produced by Alison Ellwood, cast attention on the Hall of Fame oversight, and essentially made the case for how special the group actually was.

Belinda also recently released a new single Get Together a cover of the 1967 Youngbloods hit. The Youngbloods sang it at Woodstock in 1969 to make a statement about the divisions of the Viet Nam era in America.

Belinda sings it now, her voice pure, mature and as an anthem making a plea, if not a motherly order, to reconsider the divisions we are experiencing today.  She says, “We live in this age of outrage.  This song is ‘ok people, CHILL OUT’. All this divisiveness is not going to get us anywhere. It’s timely.”

Beyond Get Together, Belinda works on more new music including singles and a new album.  She continues to produce with the top song creators of the industry including award winning song writer Diane Warren and Go-Gos dates at the end of the year.

Her work evolves beyond the demands of the pop market while never losing its hooks and whimsy. it reflects the channeling of Belinda’s evolving life.  When she lived in France, she released a French collection.

As she delved into spirituality and the culture of Thailand, she released the powerful Wilder Shores, which blended a spiritual mantra into pop hooks. “Chanting is a science, it has a super power. It is not airy fairy,” she states.

The fact is, Belinda Carlisle continues arriving and thrilling.  She does not need to prove herself to anyone.  She has defined the next thirty years of her life as philanthropy.  

“I just wing it as I go along. I learned what it is like to work from the heart. Work in a way where you don’t care about any kind of outcome. That is how I am working now. I am just having fun, and doing just what I want. I am really lucky that way,” she declares.

Her party on December 16th at the Abbey appears right on track to bear that out.

Love, humanity, care of animals and a major splash of fabulousness enveloping an enthused audience.

In other words, pure Belinda.


Listen to the full interview:


Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.

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Andy Grammer partners with Trans Chorus of Los Angeles

Celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are



Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (Screenshot via YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – In honor of Transgender Awareness Week, Andy Grammer partnered with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles (America’s first Trans Chorus, embracing all members of the trans, non-binary and intersex communities) for a special live performance of “Damn It Feels Good To Be Me” – celebrating how important it is to live your life, your authenticity, and to feel good about who you are. What a special moment. In conjunction with the partnership a donation has been made by Andy to the TCLA.

A note from TCLA: “The Chorus really enjoyed the song and especially performing it with Andy around the piano. It was upbeat and expressed how important it is to live your life and your authenticity and to feel good about who you are. That is the thrust of our Chorus philosophy of moving from victim to victorious.”

Connect with the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles:

Andy Grammer – Damn It Feels Good To Be Me (featuring Trans Chorus of Los Angeles)

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Michael Kearns, the Godfather of LGBTQ+ authenticity

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level



Michael Kearns by Keida Mascaro

HOLLYWOOD – The arc of LGBTQ+ history over the past 50 years has been one of constant upheaval and evolvement. From a period when it was both illegal and insane to be gay, through the achievement of being able to serve openly in the military, to marriage equality and the ability to create families to today’s fight against the tyranny against Trans people, the movement has not stopped to take a breath.

Michael Kearns, the first recognized “out” actor on the Hollywood landscape, has been a visible presence through it all. More importantly, he has always” been visible on the gay scene. In the seventies he epitomized the free love and erotic freedom that many gay men lived. He was featured in classic gay porn movies and did a PR stint as the face of the “happy hustler.”  

“That was my introduction to a lot of people,” Michael told me when we sat down for a chat on Rated LGBT Radio. “I kind of captured the zeitgeist of the times, the freewheeling seventies. We forget that there was that period of time when sexuality was joyful and exciting and thrilling.”

In the eighties he was visible in mainstream media as a gay man playing gay men characters. In 1983, Michael was cast in a minor role on the Cheers Emmy winning episode “the Boys in the Bar.”  He was instantly recognized for his gay sexual iconic status by LGBTQ audiences, even though the population at large did not know who he was. The casting director who fought for his casting was Stephen Kolzak, who would himself become a prominent AIDS activist before he died at 37 in 1990. Stephen casted Michael to make a statement. He wanted to signal to the LGBTQ community that Cheers had our backs. “He was one of the only ones that had the guts,” Michael remembers.

“There were a lot of stereotypes in television regarding gay portrayals. I was pegged and cast in some of those roles. I did play the stereotype, but rather than a straight guy playing those roles, I brought authenticity. I was real. Straight guys playing gay would always spoof the role. They were always ‘winking’ and signaling to the camera ‘I am not really that way.’  So, the performances are by in large horrible, even with some academy award winners. The actors were constantly saying that it was not who they were—if they weren’t making that clear on the talk shows, they were doing it in the performance itself.’ Michael says.

Michael soon morphed into an HIV positive man playing HIV positive characters, while off camera becoming a visible and vocal AIDS activist. “It was a new kind of cliché. They had to always make me look horrible. The ghastlier the better. They could not have an HIV character who looked normal—as I did when I arrived at the set. Finally, I had enough and refused to do that anymore.” Michael then immersed himself in theater where he found greater character honesty and truth.

 As gay men captured their identities in the 90s as husbands and fathers, Michael was there too—becoming one of the first gay men to adopt a child.  It is that role, as a father, that Michael has said is his greatest.

Today, Michael has been a driving force behind QueerWise, a multigenerational writing collective and performance group. Through QueerWise, Michael gives poetic voice to talent that would otherwise be voiceless. Its members include published poets, writers of fiction and non-fiction, playwrights, singers, musicians, social activists, dancers, actors artists and teachers. 

This weekend, on Sunday October 17th, QueerWise launches its latest work, The Ache for Home. 

“The Ache for Home is a video presentation of heartfelt stories from formerly homeless/unhoused individuals in and around West Hollywood. It was developed through a mentorship program facilitated by QueerWise members. The production represents citizens-turned-writers who share their inspirational stories from those glamorous streets and sidewalks, ranging from soaring self-acceptance to narratives of truth-telling defeats,” states Michael. The production can be seen on QueerWise’s YouTube Channel starting 5pm October 17.

The Ache for Home features a young cis male with a passion for music and art, who finds joy “when I can put a smile on someone’s face and give back”, a retired mixed race bisexual government worker who is a voracious reader and literacy advocate, two trans males share their experiences of living on the street, and a former resident playwright who was homeless for 44 days and nights in the city. “I am thrilled at our inclusion of transmen in this work,” Michael says. “It is a poorly represented community within a poorly represented community.”

On current controversies with media and transgender targeting, particularly the Dave Chappelle issue, Michael remarks, “I am glad it is generating passion. It is bringing up conversation on the plights of black trans women who are victimized at an alarming rate, we should not say victimized… we should say murdered. I am glad we are shedding light on that.”

Michael’s work has been described as “collisions of sex and death, of eroticism and grief,” but he has truly dug to an even deeper level. The Ache for Home takes its inspiration from the Maya Angelou quote, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” Michael Kearns work has always encouraged us to go, and live, “as we are.” He is the amalgamation of eroticism, grief, healing, and appreciating the richness of life itself.

He is the godfather of LGBT+ authenticity. In earlier days, he may have represented sex, he may have walked us through a period of darkness and death into the arms of the creation of the new family. He has now brought us home, and when we look at him, we see a new quality.



Rob Watson is the host of RATED LGBT RADIO, a national podcast and he’s one of the founders of the

A gay dad, business man, community activist and a blogger/writer, Watson is a contributor to the Los Angeles Blade covering entertainment, film, television, and culture with occasional politics tossed in.


Listen to the show here:

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