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Shores and Dickey: A playwright and his muse take us ‘This Side of Crazy’

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Dale Dickey and Del Shores in rehearsal (Photo courtesy Shores)

From the ease they have with each other, you can tell Del Shores and Dale Dickey go way back.

Of course, he’s a playwright and she’s an actress that have worked together several times; but the sense of comfortable familiarity they share goes deeper than professional respect – although there’s plenty of that to go around, too. It’s the kind of connection only possible when there are so many common threads binding two people’s lives together that they are comfortable enough to finish each other’s sentences.

The Blade spoke to the pair recently ahead of the upcoming LA premiere of Shores’ latest play, “This Side of Crazy,” which opens January 31 at the Zephyr Theatre in West Hollywood.

The award-winning Texas-born Shores is best known for his play (and subsequent movie) “Sordid Lives,” which he later expanded into a prequel series for Logo and a sequel, “A Very Sordid Wedding.” Before that, he was a writer for shows like “Dharma and Greg” and “Queer as Folk,” and his second play, “Daddy’s Dyin’, Who’s Got the Will?,” had already become an award-winning hit and spawned a movie adaptation.

As for Dickey, she’s a familiar face thanks to a career that has included memorable appearances on TV (“My Name is Earl,” “True Blood,” “Breaking Bad”) and an Oscar-nominated supporting turn in “Winter’s Bone.”

Their latest project together is a play that sounds like it’s cut from the same cloth as “Sordid Lives,” in which a lauded gospel songwriter has promised a reunion appearance from her three adult daughters, once a beloved little-girl vocal trio (“little superstars for Jesus”), at a tribute concert dedicated to her music. The only problem is that the three women have been long estranged; the eldest is a Christian YouTuber, the youngest is a lesbian atheist, the middle girl (played by Dickey) is in a mental institution for “anger issues,” and the complicated circumstances of their past makes a reconciliation not only unlikely, but possibly inadvisable.

Their conversation with the Blade is below.

Del Shores (Photo Credit: Jason Grindle)

How did your paths first cross?

Del Shores: It was at a play, I think in ‘96, ironically at the Zephyr Theatre. It was a play by Horton Foote, and my friend who was in it, called me and said, “You have to come and see it tonight because Horton Foote is here and I know how much you love him.” So, I sat right behind Horton Foote – didn’t meet him, just soaked it in – and then this person flew on stage that played this crazy, drunk woman, and maybe five minutes into her performance I thought, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ Her work was just so truly mind-blowing.

Dale Dickey: Del was really complementary about my performance. He mentioned how much he appreciated having real southern people in his shows, and asked if maybe I would audition for him sometime. He was getting ready to do a revival of “Daddy’s Dyin,” and so I went and auditioned for him – and he cast me. And that was the beginning of that. It’s been like, 23 years, and this is our seventeenth collaboration.

DS: And by the way, that was the last time she ever had to audition for me.

Dale is not the only one you keep bringing back. There’s a whole cadre of players that seems to gravitate toward your work. Why do you think that is?

DD: I think almost all of us are from the south.

DS: Except for Bonnie Bedelia, she’s not really southern. And Olivia [Newton-John], of course. Maybe Southern Australia.

I like it because they hear the same thing that I hear. They hear the same song, they’re from the same dirt. I write with them in my head and I don’t really have to explain much. We’re so in sync.

DD: There are a lot of people who can play southern roles, who aren’t from the south, even though you know we all cringe when there’s a bad accent.

But you know, I could do a Neil Simon play, and do well, or David Mamet – but I wouldn’t be the perfect choice, as opposed to someone who grew up in that part of the country. I grew up in Tennessee, which is kinda similar to Texas, in many ways, so Del’s writing is just in my make-up, it’s in my bones.

Dale Dickey (Photo courtesy Dickey)

So it’s more than just work that connects you.

DS: We have become family. We are all at each other’s houses, and functions, and holidays. We love each other. It’s the same thing in our gay community, sometimes we have to have a chosen family, or a ‘logical family,’ as Armistead Maupin says. I love that.

Speaking of family, it sounds like you’ve created another outrageous one for “This Side of Crazy.”

DS: It’s another dysfunctional family, and this one’s really twisted and dark.

You’re known for these over-the-top southern characters. Do you feel like they are exaggerations?

DS: I don’t feel like I’m exaggerating at all, I really don’t. I think that people who are not from the south sometimes think that, but people who were raised in the south see my plays and they go, ‘Oh, no, no, that’s the way it is.’ ‘Sordid Lives’ has the most extreme characters, I think, of my plays, and I can’t tell you how many people write to me and say, ‘Oh, I have an Aunt Cissy, I have an Aunt LaVonda,’ or ‘Juanita’ was my mother.’

I honestly didn’t even think my family was eccentric until I wrote “Daddy’s Dyin,’’ and people were talking about “Del Shores’ eccentric family.” I was like, “Oh, they are?”

DD: It’s heightened truth. Del’s plays have this high, high hilarity, and then boy, they just drop. That’s real life.

Is that what we can expect from “This Side of Crazy?”

DS: It has comedy, like all of my work does, but it also has some very intense drama, like a lot of my work as well has had.

What it comes down to, for me – there are certain crimes, certain sins, certain violations in relationships, where you have to ask, ‘Is forgiveness even possible?’ That’s what’s explored in this play. This woman has made a crazy promise, but there are these circumstances – it’s so extreme, these people should all probably never see each other again. They were all raised in the church, where forgiveness is a very big thing, but sometimes the circumstances are so severe that it’s almost impossible.

My theory is that a lot of people fake forgiveness, and there’s a lot of festering going on within the hearts and souls of people, and this play allows those all to explode.

DD: Very well put. Over the years, I’ve seen many families torn apart by tragedies, arguments, where they don’t talk to each other for years, and they suffer. People can suffer from that, when you cannot heal. It’s an important message.

 

“This Side of Crazy” runs from January 31 – March 8. For tickets and more information, visit www.delshores.com.

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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

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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.

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Listen to the full interview:

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

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

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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:https://transchorusla.org/

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

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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.

Wisdom.

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

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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Listen to the show here:

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