Intimacy, relationships, parenting, sexual health and social justice: these are just some of the topics covered in “Noah’s Arc,” the hit 2005-2006 series covering the daily life of a group of gay, Black men in Los Angeles.
Often described as being ahead of its time, this show was the first series to feature an all-Black, LGBTQ cast, making history in the industry. Dubbed a gay version of “Golden Girls” or “Sex and the City,” the show developed an active fan base that still loves it and its cast.
The cast and creator Patrik-Ian Polk are set to reunite for a new episode “Noah’s Arc: The ’Rona Chronicles.” The group finds themselves navigating the global health crisis and mass protests for social justice and equal rights after a 12-year hiatus. It airs Sunday, July 5 at 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) on YouTube and Facebook Live. GLAAD and Impulse D.C. are supporting sponsors. Several LGBT charitable groups such as the Birmingham AIDS outreach, GLITS (Gays & Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society), In the Meantime Men’s Group and D.C.’s own CASA Ruby are beneficiaries. Look for the event page on Eventbrite. Gilead will present the show dubbed “social distancing & social unrest brings them together.”
The starring characters of the show including Noah (Darryl Stephens), Alex (Rodney Chester), Ricky (Christian Vincent), Chance (Doug Spearman) and Wade (Jensen Atwood) will unite to film the episode.
Wrapping after two seasons on Logo TV and a 2008 feature film (“Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom”) that follows Noah (Stephens) and Wade’s (Atwood) marriage, the cast said they’re looking forward to reuniting.
The program will begin with a pre-show tailgate party hosted by the Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative, streaming testimonials from fans and clips from the original series. After the episode airs, there will be a live Q&A with the cast, including Stephens, Atwood, Chester, Spearman and Vincent. Karamo Brown of “Queer Eye” will moderate.
The Blade spoke by phone last week with cast members Chester (Alex), Jenson (Wade) and Stephens (Noah) to talk about their excitement for the reunion and what the group has been up to since the show ended.
Rodney Chester (Alex)
Portraying Alex Kirby, a confident and outspoken HIV counselor, Chester says he’s excited to reunite with the cast and “pick up where we left off” 12 years ago.
Alex opens his own non-profit HIV-awareness treatment center called the Black AIDS Institute in the show, and Chester says the real-life Black AIDS Institute helped develop “Noah’s Arc.”
Chester says the character of Alex and others on the show helped contribute to the valuable messaging on the Black LGBTQ experience in TV and films seen in 2020. Successful LGBTQ Black men who owned their own non-profit were nonexistent at the time.
“We pioneered positive messaging that we are seeing today,” he says.
He learned a great deal about sexual health and HIV throughout the process of filming the show and even learned how to conduct STD testing.
Chester met (“Noah’s Arc” creator) Polk through playing Alexis in the movie “Punks,” a romantic comedy that follows a group of Black LGBTQ men in West Hollywood in the late ’90s. Chester, who played Alexis in the film, was connected to Polk from there. The part of Alex was written specifically by Polk for Chester to play.
“He wanted to get my energy on stage. It was fun, I never had someone write a character for me before,” Chester says.
This event could also kickstart the possibility of a reboot of the show, Chester says, which would possibly revolve around the parents of the characters.
Chester has been filling his time with acting and other creative projects since the show aired. Recently, he played Kevin in “As I Am,” a movie about a young Black LGBTQ man confronting his past and suppressed identity. The movie is in the process of finding a distributor.
Looking back on the original episodes of the sitcom, Chester is proud of the work his cast and Polk did to put the show on screen.
“I am happy to display positive characters … we don’t fight,” he says. “We show positive friendships. We are all best friends.”
Jensen Atwood (Wade)
Wade, a screenwriter who struggles with his sexual identity upon meeting Noah, showed the process of a hyper-“straight” man coming to terms with being LGBTQ — a rare representation at the turn of the 21st Century.
Atwood described the reunion as “surreal.” He says the cast has been trying to coordinate a reunion since the show wrapped and is excited to be back with the group and get “back to the foundations of Wade.”
Because of the way the show tackled more sensitive issues “head on” that were barely covered in other TV or film programs, as Atwood says, “Noah’s Arc” was a catalyst for LGBTQ Pride.
When the show first aired in 2005, being gay was still seen as being an uncomfortable topic, Jenson says.
When viewers and fans of the show would see him in public and ask him about the show, “their voice would change to a lower tone and almost whisper ‘Noah’s Arc.’”
Now, Atwood says that attitude and stigma toward being LGBTQ and gay lifestyle has diminished and now LGBTQ is more a topic of pride and positivity.
Comparing the mid-2000s and 2020, Atwood says there has been a palpable societal impact in attitudes toward LGBTQ people and feels proud of the work he and the team did and will continue to do for “The ’Rona Chronicles.”
“People 15 years later still talk about it like it’s a brand-new show. I would say we all succeeded in the cast,” he says.
Atwood has kept his sexuality private for his career, as well, and has avoided speaking openly about his identity on public platforms. He says it’s “personal.”
He says playing Wade was “a challenge.” Atwood says he did not “associate with gay love,” but used the knowledge of love he did have to round out his character.
“It was confusing because it was a world that I’m not a part of. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to give the respect that the character needed,” he says.
He says his career since wrapping “Noah’s Arc” has been “nonstop.” Previous projects include national commercials, short films and putting out an album with his band Dreamkillaz, a rock band based in Los Angeles.
Similar to the rest of the cast, Atwood says he’s excited to bring “The ’Rona Chronicles” to “Noah’s Arc” fans.
“I think the fans definitely deserve it. And the fans have been wanting it. And more than anything, I’m excited. I’m excited for the fans,” he says.
Darryl Stephens (Noah)
The first year he played the title role on “Noah’s Arc,” actor Darryl Stephens also played gay characters in two other movies, the 2006 releases “Boy Culture” and “Another Gay Movie.” Although the three characters were all gay, he thought they were diverse enough that he didn’t worry about getting pigeonholed as an actor.
“What I didn’t understand at the time was that TV characters resonate with audiences differently than film characters,” the 46-year-old, openly gay actor says. “Because TV characters visit you in your living room every week. … People in the street don’t scream, ‘Andrew’ or ‘Angel,’ they scream, ‘Noah,’ right?”
So while he has played mostly gay roles since “Noah’s Arc,” (“It’s shifted a little bit more now toward bitchy desk clerks,” he says), “Arc” was also a blessing, he says.
“Oh my god, I wish I had friends like you guys.”
“Oh my god, I want a relationship like you had with Wade.”
“Oh my god, you were the first character I could really relate to,” and on and on the recurring comments go.
Stephens says it’s gratifying.
“I’ve worked a lot and nothing in my life has had the impact that this show and that character has had for me,” he says.
Playing Noah, he says, allowed him to get in touch with his softer side. He calls Noah “fragile” and an “sensitive, emotionally expressive Black gay man,” qualities he hasn’t seen as much in his subsequent roles.
As of this June 26 interview, Stephens had not yet seen a reunion script — which will find the actors in character reuniting via Zoom — but says he’s curious to see how Noah will have matured.
So if the show had such a loyal audience, why was the run — 17 episodes plus the movie — so short?
Stephens says LOGO was a fledgling network at the time that didn’t fully grasp what it had in the show.
He says in some ways, now, with limitless content hours available via streaming, a show like “Arc” would likely have lasted longer. On the other hand, he says, more queer characters on mainstream shows might lessen the demand for uber-queer shows.
“This notion that we need a show catered specifically to queer people became outdated,” he says. “Our stories started being told in the context of larger stories and I think once that was recognized, LOGO recalibrated.”
He’d be open to a reboot but says only if the characters and themes were fully brought up to date.
“What was very groundbreaking in 2005, 2006 is very run of the mill now,” he says. “We’d really have to tackle those issues from a new perspective.”
He remembers a scene in “Don’t Make Me Over” (season one, episode four) as his favorite of the series.
The issue of gay men dressing and acting as straight as possible made for rich acting material, he says.
“Then we ended up blowing the lid off it with all the characters ending up in drag,” he says.
Filming was arduous he says but not unusual. He expected long hours. What he remembers more, he says, is goofing off with his fellow castmates, all of whom are on board for the reunion. Stephens kept a few of Noah’s clothes — boots from the movie, a few T-shirts. He gave his mom the poncho Noah was gay bashed in.
“I loved it but I just felt it was something I wouldn’t wear again,” he says. “She wears it every now and then.”
The core cast stay somewhat in touch. He says he and Rodney Chester “talk all the time.” He and Doug Spearman have worked together and are both cast in an upcoming series called “Boy Culture.” He calls his relationship with series creator Patrik-Ian Polk “good.”
“We respect each other,” he says, although, “we don’t talk that often. But when we do, it’s very, ‘hey girl.’ We fall right back into it.”
Stephens is in a relationship but won’t say more other than, “I’m very happy.” He lives in Los Angeles.
If there’s been any downside to “Noah’s Arc,” Stephens says it’s mostly just that fans are sometimes underwhelmed when they seem him in person.
“This is gonna sound dumb, but people expect me to be way more fashionable than I am,” he says. “I’m a jeans-and-T-shirt dude down. Sometimes people see me on the street and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not a fierce outfit.’ That’s one of the curses of being such a cutting edge, provocative dresser on TV.”