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Four trumps 19: The Kinsey Sicks’ COVID-era creations

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L to R: Trixie (Jeff Manabat), Winnie (Nathan Marken), Angel (J.B. McLendon), Trampolina (Spencer Brown). (Photo by Paco Ojeda)

When the going gets tough, the tough get on the go—even if they’re quarantined. After all, they’ve got ample time on their hands, and it handily beats letting our present/future COVID-19 crisis beat you down, or leave you to spend your days beating your own… well, you know how that one goes. Actually, come to think of it, that second option’s not bad.

Sheltering in place but not standing still, veteran Dragapella® Beautyshop Quartet-cum-satirical/political group The Kinsey Sicks—who would have been touring right now, were it not for shuttered venues—have amped up their online presence, with timely new music and a determination to get back on the boards just as soon as the all-clear is called. (The national tour of their “Electile Dysfunction” musical extravaganza has been postponed until further notice, although in the spirit of “subject to change,” it’s presently noted on their website.)

But if anything good can come out of this end-times scenario, count among that short list drag queens who’ve employed everything from gallows humor to heartfelt advice to score-keeping tales of woe to get them out of bed in the morning, in the hopes that one day soon, they’ll be bed-hopping again.

Chief among those able alley cats, The Kinsey Sicks: Trixie (Jeff Manabat), Winnie (Nathan Marken), Angel (J.B. McLendon), and Trampolina (Spencer Brown).

The group, whose “Social Distance” parody of The Divine Miss M’s “From a Distance” dropped at the tail end of March, finds our quarantined quartet biding their time indoors by playing Jenga-for-one, eating peanut butter straight from the jar, binging on Disney+, waiting for that stimulus check, and, sans a man, spooning toilet paper. Hey, we’ve all been there. And if we haven’t? Girl, it’s only a matter of time.

Similarly, yet differently, early May’s “Don’t-cha Touch-a, Touch-a-Touch Me!” found our girls one month into self-isolation—feeling the strain of no human touch, and making due with suggestive cameo appearances by bananas and carrots. Still, their collective dry spell finds some solace in non-stop digs at Trump.

“I’ll trade off satisfaction for strong leadership and action,” goes the tune, based on a certain ditty from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” And if you don’t get the reference, you’d better hand in your Gay Club Membership Card. (Unless we can take a rain check on the secret handshake, in which case, all is forgiven.)

But it was sunny skies ahead, when the bill came due for The Kinsey Sicks to answer our burning inquiries.

The Los Angeles Blade: How did “Social Distance” come about? How was it written/shot, and what sort of feedback has it gotten from fans?

Spencer/Trampolina: Anyone familiar with The Kinsey Sicks already knows that the group’s origins were inspired by attending a Bette Midler concert in the ’90s. When her classic hit “From a Distance” got into my head, I immediately sat down and hammered out the lyrics. Then Jeff, one of our other members, whipped up the arrangement and sent the music file for all of us to learn and record. Within a short amount of time, those individual recordings were sent back to him for mixing, and the combined four-part harmony track was then sent out for us to sing along to for reference. Over the next few days, we each got in drag and shot our videos, which were then sent back to me for a few more days of editing.

Finally, after a little more than a week since I was inspired to write “Social Distance,” we released the finished video to our fans all over social media. Their feedback has been nothing but positive! Though we are devastated to cancel our spring tour (something we’ve never done in our 26 years of this group existing), this video is a gift for our fans, and lets them know we’re still here fighting the good fight!

Blade: Are there other group projects in the works?

Spencer/Trampolina: This first video (“Social Distance”) was an experiment. All four members of the group live in different states across the country (Kansas, Maryland, California, and Illinois, presently). Being able to write a parody, get it arranged, learn it, then record it (individually!), and edit/mix everything in a short amount of time is something we’ve never attempted, but having done that and seeing the reaction of fans both old and new, we’re now inspired to create more. We’re planning on even more performance-related content, and are excited to already be in pre-production for more parody music videos, and possibly live or pre-recorded appearances (depending on what technologies all four of us can master!).

Blade: What mpact did the realities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic have on the group’s worldview, and what parallels, if any, do you draw to the current COVID-19 crisis?

Jeff/Trixie: By the time The Kinsey Sicks was formed in San Francisco in the early ’90s, almost a quarter-million people, most of them gay and bi men, died from the epidemic, and San Francisco was one of the epicenters. Although thousands were dead and dying, mainstream American society still had a negative view of the community, and the American government had barely made any response to help. For several years, the LGBT community and its allies were almost entirely alone. And yet there was still a need to find some measure of joy amidst all the pain and tragedy, perhaps a creative yet politically charged way to respond to the incredible injustice from not just politicians, but our fellow Americans. Amidst this atmosphere, and soon after a fateful trip to a Bette Midler concert, a group of close friends was inspired to create The Kinsey Sicks.

To get a fuller picture of the beginnings of the group, and to trace its origins to the current political atmosphere, it’s worth watching this remarkable monologue by Emeritus member Ben Schatz (“Rachel”), a Harvard-trained civil rights lawyer, former Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, and one-time presidential advisor on HIV issues, who created the first national AIDS legal project and authored Clinton’s HIV policy during the 1992 presidential campaign: (https://youtu.be/qnEHzeN0kHI).

Our worldview is still heavily influenced by this genesis. It’s embedded in our DNA. For decades, The Kinsey Sicks has produced works commenting on that nexus of politics, culture, and sexuality through drag and a cappella, and we will continue to be influenced by, comment on, and respond to the world around us that way.

There can be parallels made between the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the current crisis, such as the extreme measures by the GOP to use tragedy for their own political gain, and to pit communities against each other whilst hoarding more power. However, the swift response of the government on all levels—from federal to state to local—and the mobilization of the majority of Americans to support those in crisis is much different. Back then, it was several years before the federal government even acknowledged the existence of AIDS/HIV, let alone begin the search for treatment.

Today, the Coronavirus response has been a matter of weeks or months, and the search for a vaccine has become a national priority. However, for both times, higher powers have acted in ways that merit a critical response from artists—and for us, as it was then, it’s a response of the musical variety.

Blade: Has this forced time away from public performance impacted the group’s output, and approach to using online/social media as an expression of your artistry?

Spencer/Trampolina: Absolutely! When we’re not on stage, the group is always working behind the scenes on how we can effectively produce new material, and the traction that this new video [Social Distance”] has gotten really inspires us to keep going.

Blade: Has the group had any notable virtual interactions with fans during this period of social distancing?

Spencer/Trampolina: The Kinsey Sicks is no stranger to social distancing. Many, many, of our audiences have been avoiding us for years. So we keep our virtual interactions with fans to a minimum for their safety.

Blade: This one is for every member of the group: The all-clear is called and we’re allowed to gather in public again. What are the first things you’re going to do?

Nathan/Winnie: As soon as we can go out in public, I look forward to getting back on the campaign trail with The Kinsey Sicks, sampling all the delectable vegetarian fare from coast-to-coast.

Jeff/Trixie: I can’t wait to go back to modern life’s basic public pleasures: dinner-and-a-movie dates with my favorite boyfriends, shopping sprees with my favorite sugar daddies, and multiple anonymous hookups via my favorite apps.

J.B./Angel: I’m planning a three-way with Mitch McConnell and social scientist Peter Navarro. It might not happen but I’m trusting my intuition on this one.

Spencer/Trampolina: Vote.

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Queer representation did not sit quiet at Emmy Awards

This year- 50% of the best drama series, 25% of the best comedy, & 60% of the best limited series featured LGBTQ characters or plot lines

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Gay actor Murray Bartlett won Best Supporting Actor for a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus (Screenshot/YouTube)

LOS ANGELES – The pandemic is over (in award show world anyway), and glitz and glamour have returned. That is the prevailing impression from this year’s 74th Annual Emmy Awards. The show was stunning and exciting from the outset, but even with the pomp and loud noise of celebration, a queer presence was not to be drowned out.

The tone of representation was launched immediately as announcer, queer comic, Sam Jay, looking sharp in her black tuxedo, took the mic. On camera even more than host Kenan Thompson, Jay was a presence and a personality and decidedly queer. If her gay power was not enough, the point was made when Thompson and out actor Boen Yang joked on stage. Thompson accused Yang of a comment being “a hate crime”, Yang retorted “Not if I do it. Then it’s representation.”

Representation was going to be made this evening. The visibility was significant considering, according to the GLAAD Where We Are on TV Report, out of 775 series regular characters only 92 are LGBTQ (less than 12 percent). That 11+ percent is a record high of LGBTQ characters in all of TV history. The record was set by an increase in lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters, but a decrease in gay male characters from the previous year.

For the Emmy nominations, 50% of the best drama series nominees, 25% of the best comedy, and 60% of the best limited series featured LGBTQ characters or plot lines. As far as queer talent, that was more sporadic, heavily slanted towards “supporting categories” and often with queer talent all in the same category against each other.

Regardless, we showed up, as did other individuals who scored recognition for their identities. Some of the key LGBTQ representative moments included:

  • Early in the show, Hannah Einbinder did a hard flirt from the stage for Zendaya, saying that she was not on the stage to present, but rather to stare at the beautiful actress.
  • Gay actor Murray Bartlett won Best Supporting Actor for a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus. He thanked his partner Matt, but strangely did not mention the famous “salad scene” (Google it…)
  • The White Lotus also won the Best Limited or Anthology series category, and bisexual Mike White won Best Director for Limited Series as well. White is the son of gay clergyman, author, and activist Mel White. They appeared on the Amazing Race as a father and son team.
  • Jerrod Carmichael won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing of a Variety Special for his heartfelt Rothaniel in which he comes out as gay as part of the show. Carmichael wowed in a brilliant white, flowing fur coat over his bare medallioned chest.
  • Out actress Sarah Paulsen and Shonda Rhimes, who singlehandedly is responsible for 17% of all LGBTQ characters on TV, presented the Governors Award to Geena Davis for her organization Institute of Gender in Media.  The mission of the organization is representation of women in media. Davis stood before a video featuring various women artists including transgender actress Laverne Cox. The organization is the only public data institute to consistently analyze representations of the six major marginalized identities on screen: women; people of color; LGBTQIA+ individuals; people with disabilities; older persons (50+); and large-bodied individuals in global Film, Television, Advertising and Gaming.
  • Lizzo broke RuPaul’s streak to win Best Competition program. RuPaul showed up later in the show do present a major award anyway. Lizzo has not felt the need to label herself in the LGBTQ spectrum but has said, “When it comes to sexuality or gender, I personally don’t ascribe to just one thing. I cannot sit here right now and tell you I’m just one thing. That’s why the colors for LGBTQ+ are a rainbow! Because there’s a spectrum, and right now we try to keep it black and white. That’s just not working for me.”

Beyond the rainbow scope of queer representation, intersectional, iconic and historic representation was also on hand:

  • LGBTQ icon Jennifer Coolidge won Best Supporting Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series for The White Lotus. It was her first award win ever. Squeals of delight could be heard in space from gay Emmy watch parties. OK. I don’t know that for a fact, but I would put money on it.
  • LGBTQ icon Jean Smart won Best Actress in a Comedy Series for Hacks, a series of which its producer called about “women and queer people.”
  • Lee Jung-jae became the first South Korean actor and first Asian actor to win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for Squid Game
  • Zendaya became the youngest person ever to win in the leading acting categories two times as she won for the second season of “Euphoria”
  • Hwang Dong-hyuk became the first South Korean to win Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for Squid Game
  • Sheryl Lee Ralph won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Abbott Elementary becoming only the second black woman in history to win in this category after 35 years.  Jacké Harry won for 227 in 1987. “I am an endangered species,” she sang as her acceptance. “But I sing no victim’s song.”

Yes, there was a day in the not long ago past where the mention of a single same sex spouse, or a renegade pro-lgbtq comment, made our queer hearts spill over. Those days are passed. We are getting a place at the table. Representation is starting to stand up and be heard.

For those who rightfully seek it, and seek more of it, the best advice came from Sheryl Lee Ralph: “To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream, and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t  come true, I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like, this is what striving looks like, and don’t you ever, ever give up on you.”

Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie: 74th Emmy Awards:

Murray Bartlett accepts the Emmy for Supporting Actor in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie for The White Lotus at the 74th Emmy Awards.
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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LA Blade Exclusive: L Morgan Lee, Broadway’s newest icon sings her truth

She is the first ever trans actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination & the first trans performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer

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L Morgan Lee exclusively photographed by Andrey Strekoza for the Los Angeles Blade June, 2022

NEW YORK CITY – “I am just a girl,” L Morgan Lee tells me. That simple statement is her self-definition, a girl taking life one step at a time.

To the rest of us, L Morgan Lee is so much more. She is the award-winning actress starring on Broadway in the hit show of the season, A Strange Loop. Her singing talent matches that of any legendary diva, she is creating landmark theatrical projects on womanhood and New York Times articles are being written about her. She is the “girl” in the spotlight now.

She is also, the first ever transgender actor or actress to receive a Tony Award Nomination.

While she is not the first trans performer to be seen on a Broadway stage, she seems to have broken the glass (or some might say, cement) ceiling of being recognized in the upper echelon of talent. She is the first transgender performer to be in a work that has won a Pulitzer. While the Pulitzer recognizes the author, whom she was not, certainly her creative input was weaved into the final book of the play.

L Morgan has journeyed a complex path to self-awareness. “For me, even in terms of being trans, the idea of being anything outside of what I was assigned at birth was just laughable and crazy to me as a child,” she says. “It just, it made no sense. It was not something that I was comfortable saying out loud to anyone or voicing. How would I be looked at by my parents, by anyone else? So, I would sit and dream. The dreaming is, I think, what forms, much of so many queer people’s lives and experiences.   Those dreams become our lifelines. I would dream and dream. I have a memory of when I was maybe six years old, in the middle of the night, looking up at my ceiling in my bedroom. Waking up soaked with tears. Saying, if I could wake up and be a girl, a girl, everything would be okay.” She adds. “That is why I am so excited to have gotten my first opportunity to be on Broadway, excited to have gotten a Tony nomination. Because I know that there is some kid somewhere, who is also looking up at the ceiling saying that same thing.”

L Morgan’s first adventure into performing was as a kid and ironically projected her future identity fluidity: she costumed up and performed “Karma Chameleon” in nursery school. She allowed herself to explore her true identity under the guise of a Halloween costume quite a few years later. She went in fully fashion glammed drag, and it changed her world forever. “The minute I did it, I felt a jolt of energy I had never felt before. I finally felt free in so many ways. It’s as if like it’s as if I finally got to breathe.”

When she started work on A Strange Loop, she had been cast under the assumption that she was a cisgender man playing female parts. As the years of work into the play went on, L Morgan’s transgender journey escalated, and she attempted to resign from the play as she realized she was no longer the person they thought they had hired. Not only were they aware, as many close loved ones can be, of her journey, but they embraced her and assured her that she belonged more than ever.

“The characters I played allowed me to, in some ways hide until I was able to be more public about who I am. And once I did that, it certainly brought another layer of depth to what I was doing. I have been that much more comfortable in my own skin. I’ve grown. Transition has settled in more. So, both my viewpoints about the show, the people I’m playing, and my lens of life in general, has evolved through the process. So, certainly the woman I am today, views the show and the script, and the characters I play in a very different way than I did when I first sat down to do it in 2015.” 

Her growth within the show, and the growth of the show itself are intertwined. Certainly, some of the magic of the show is that it is not “performed” as much as it is lived out of the souls of the actors in it. L Morgan describes, “The experience of A Strange Loop has been beautiful, complex, layered and ever evolving, for me in particular.  Every time I’ve come back to the rehearsal room with this project, my own lens has been slightly evolved or has moved forward in some ways.”

“The piece is as strong as it is because the lens itself, the lens through which the story is told, is very specific and very honest. Inside of that specificity, there are lots of complications and layers and messy stuff. There are things that you don’t ‘talk about out loud’ taboo to discuss. There are things that people see as problematic. There are so many things inside of all of that, but it’s honest and it’s human. It is a 25-year-old, who’s about to turn 26, sort of raging through life, feeling oppressed and unseen and shouting out to find how he fits into the world. It is how he can find his truest voice in a world that doesn’t really allow him to feel like he’s enough. Because it is so specific about those things the show touches so many different people.”

L Morgan demonstrated coming out as a confident transgender actress, with her vulnerabilities unhidden, on the opening night of the play and decisions she made as she stepped into the public spotlight. “I feel a responsibility. It feels like a dream, it feels wonderful. It feels exciting. It’s like everything I’ve ever asked for but the, the most poignant feeling for me is the responsibility. How could I show up for that person that needs to find me.”

“On my opening night on Broadway, we were trying to figure out what I was going to do with dress and hair and all these things. You only get a first time once. You get your debut one time. So how do I make the most of this moment? I felt raw and excited. I needed to show like the most honest and clear-cut version of me I could. I needed to show my shaved head because that’s something that’s important to me. It’s something, I almost never show. I stepped out revealed, exposed and vulnerable on the very public red carpet, speaking to cameras with my buzzed head. Our relationship with hair runs very deep, especially for trans people, and there was something about it, that just felt like, I needed to do it. That kid somewhere under the covers needs to see this trans woman who is in her Broadway debut and she’s in a pretty dress and she has a shaved head, and she seems like she’s comfortable. Then when you hear her talking about it, you hear about her vulnerability and hear that she felt nervous, and you hear that she was dealing with dysphoria and she was dealing with confidence and she was dealing with all these things that we attached to our hair and she reveals those things. Not only because they’re true but because when we reveal Our Truth, our humanness, there is universality there. There is connection inside of our vulnerability.”

While the Tony nomination escalates her Broadway experience, L Morgan does not lose sight of her mortal existence. “On the day that the Tony nominations happened, I fell apart, completely losing it in my bedroom. Then I realized, I still needed to get a couch, and clean up the apartment. I still feel regular. It’s been a wild dream and at the same time, your real life just keeps on going. I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other.”

On the night of the Tonys. L Morgan will be up against some heavy hitters. Not the least of these is Broadway Legend Patty LuPone. L Morgan is ok with that. Her dream has been to see her face in one of the camera boxes on television of the nominee hopefuls.  

“The biggest reason I do, what I do is one because I love storytelling. My experience is black, my experience is trans, but I’m just, I’m just a woman. I am a woman who had a trans experience. That’s my story. I know that somewhere there’s s a kid, as I have said, who is just like I was. It is extremely important for me to make that kid proud and make that kid feel seen and make that kid know that it’s possible.” 

“I want that kid to be able to know that most importantly, they already are who they are dreaming to be. The world is telling you something different, but you know who you are. There’s nothing wrong with you, there is nothing wrong with us. The world has never told us that we were an option.”  

“That kid needs to find my story. They need to know that we exist. It is the reason it took me so long to be public about things and to start speaking, because I wasn’t seeing enough examples. There’s a quote, ‘she needed a hero, so that’s what she became.’ I really live by that.”

She needed to see a transwoman Tony Nominee. So that’s what she became.

When they call the winner on Tony Night, it will be between a Broadway legend and Broadway’s newest icon.

However it goes, another ceiling has been broken forever, and somewhere a trans girl in hiding will realize her dream too can come true.

*********************

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