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‘Noah’s Arc’ cast checks in on eve of weekend Zoom reunion

Groundbreaking Black gay series was first of its kind in mid-2000s

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Noah's Arc, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of ‘Noah’s Arc’ during its original mid-2000s run. From left are Christian Vincent (Ricky), Rodney Chester (Alex), Darryl Stephens (Noah) and Doug Spearman (Chance). (Photo courtesy LOGO)

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)

Darryl Stephens (left) and Jensen Atwood in 2010. (Photo by Greg Hernandez via Wikimedia)

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.

From left, Jensen Atwood (Wade), Darryl Stephens (Noah) and Christian Vincent (Ricky) in the 2012 reunion movie ’Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom.’ (file photo courtesy LOGO)

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.”

Darryl Stephens (Photo courtesy of Stephens)

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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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