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‘Different Stars:’ The World’s First Queer COVID-19 Musical is Streaming Your Way

A moving piece of off-Broadway in your own home

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Different Stars, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Different Stars’ features a lead performance from James Jackson Jr.

“Different Stars” is that gem of musical theater that you would find in a comfy off-Broadway house tucked in the heart of New York City. It is the type of production with the heart, intimacy, and musical nuances that an avid theatergoer eats up, delighted to have personally discovered the next Sondheim.
On Saturday Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. EST, the premiere performance beams from differentstars.live. It is free, and any donations given are used to support QORDS, a music-centered camp for queer and transgender youth ages 12-17 in the South.

“Different Stars” is both about our lives re-imagined under COVID-quarantine as well as the re-imagining of theater itself under those conditions.

The story revolves around James, played by renowned actor James Jackson Jr. of Pulitzer Prize-winning play “A Strange Loop” fame, a songwriter who has hit a block because of his romantic trauma. Caught in the isolation of a COVID-19 quarantine, he goes through a box of artifacts that conjure up the ghosts and characters from his first queer love gone awry.

This week, I sat down with show creator Karl Saint Lucy, director Raquel Cion and star James Jackson Jr. on the award-winning podcast Rated LGBT Radio. They shared their thoughts and experiences of being part of this new and medium-busting phenomenon.

The story behind the songs and book of “Different Stars” has evolved, been developed, and reached refinement over time. Karl related their journey: “I moved to New York from Oklahoma in 2010. During my second year in New York, I fell in love. He was my first exposure to queer people, my first gay friend. We were close—best, best friends. Then we became lovers. We dated for months. It was crazy and intense. I felt like I had escaped what I had grown up under. Wow. I was finally in a place I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do. And I have this man I am in love with.”

Karl continued, “Then it deteriorated so tragically over the next nine months. It was extremely dramatic. I was in the middle of writing a 90-minute musical. I was so hurt, and I wrote and wrote and wrote. I would go into a room and cry and write a new song. I ended up writing 40 songs. Originally, they were songs to him, but they evolved into songs of me having a dialogue with myself. I did not really have a vision for them. He was my intended audience.”

In 2013, the songs were finally performed as part of a workshop. The audience’s deep and emotional reaction told Karl that the song collection was not just for or about him anymore. “After this one performance, an actress, who was at that time playing Mary Magdalene at a summer theatre session Glow Lyric Theatre caught up with me. She had tears streaming down her face. ‘You read my journal’, she exclaimed.”

Karl had a vision to make the song collection into a theatrical piece. Along with director Raquel Cion, he planned to do that in March 2020.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Karl and Raquel closed the production nine days before they were scheduled to open. Soon they were deciding that if the quarantine had re-imagined their lives, they could re-imagine theater. Raquel knew the theatrical process itself had to be addressed and created anew. She related her experience having to direct it – in a way she had never done before, “This has been so very strange, to not be in the same room as the cast. I only met James in person once. It was odd and brand new. We had to address our aesthetic and not our obstacles. Putting it together was challenging and exciting. The performers are so capable and skilled. Their emotional journeys are exquisite—so present and willing.”

As for bringing COVID into the story itself, “How does my art address the moment we are in?” Karl pondered. “We decided to develop a story around the quarantine. We looked at our actor, James Jackson Jr. and built the show around his character, James, as the lead character.”

James was undaunted at the prospect. He had launched original characters before, and he knew he could take a character essentially based on Karl and make it his own. While James playing a character who was based on real-life Karl was not a challenge, the same could not be said for the actor who was chosen to play the character based on Karl’s heartbreaking ex — that actor would be Karl himself. Karl shared, “In retrospect, his experience was not all that different than mine. I think that is one of the things so scary about intimacy. When relationships end, it is two people amid profound grief, and they cannot share it with each other. I think the words I wrote from me to him also work the other way around. Saying them to the character that is supposed to be me, is essentially therapeutic.”

Karl’s reflection on his painful past is at the core of the title “Different Stars.” It took him to the realization that his life was not necessarily about what he could have done differently, but rather, what life would have been if the situation had been different. Poetically, what a couple’s love would have been had it taken place under “different stars.” The theme is emphasized by the play’s quarantine setting where the character goes from dreading isolation to embracing the unique gift of reflection.

Raquel mused on the theatrical situation itself, “This experience reminds me of something David Bowie said—paraphrasing: Always go further into the water than you feel capable of being in, a little bit out of your depths and when you don’t feel your feet are quite touching the bottom, then, and only then, are you in just about the right place to experience something exciting.”

With that said, on Saturday, Aug. 15, you can wade into your watching habits a little bit beyond. You can welcome a moving piece of off-Broadway into your home and enjoy an evening under “Different Stars.”

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Theater

International City Theatre announces 2022 season in-person theater

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Courtesy of International City Theatre, Long Beach, California

LONG BEACH –International City Theatre is back in full force with a complete season of five in-person plays scheduled for 2022.

“We need the arts, now more than ever as we move beyond Covid-19, to provide hope and healing for our community,” says International City Theatre’s artistic director. “Each of the five plays we’ve chosen to celebrate our return to live theater continues our vision: to entertain, inspire and educate.”

The season kicks off in February with Marry Me A Little. Conceived and developed by Craig Lucas and Norman René, this charming, bittersweet musical two-hander weaves 17 lesser-known songs by Stephen Sondheim into a tale of love and loneliness that The New York Times calls “a disarming experience.” The story of two single strangers who unknowingly live one floor apart is told entirely through songs written early in Sondheim’s career or cut from his groundbreaking Broadway musicals. (Feb. 11 through Feb 27; previews begin Feb. 9.)

Next up, in April, is A Dolls House: Part 2 by Obie award-winning playwright Lucas Hnath. It was shocking for audiences to watch Nora leave her husband and children in A Doll’s House, the 1879 play by Henrik Ibsen. How shocking will it be for us, in 2022, to dive deeper into the reasons behind that fateful choice in Hnath’s bitingly funny, Tony-nominated stand-alone sequel to Ibsen’s revolutionary masterpiece? (April 15 through May 1; previews begin April 13.)

Production number three puts Jamie Torcellini at the helm of The Legend of Georgia McBride, aheartfelt, feel-good, music-filled comedy by Matthew Lopez. Casey is young and broke. He has a baby on the way, and the landlord is knocking on his door. Now, the owner of the bar where he works as an Elvis impersonator has replaced his act with a B-level drag show, and Casey’s about to learn a lot about show biz — and himself. (June 10 through June 26; previews begin June 8.)

The season will go out on a high note (pun intended) in October with Ken Ludwig’s two-time Tony-nominated screwball comedy Lend Me A Tenor. When world-famous tenor Tito Morelli arrives for a fundraiser at the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, a chain-reaction of mistaken identity and mixed signals spirals out of control, leading to mayhem, high-jinx and hilarity —and leaving audiences giddy and teary-eyed with laughter. (Oct. 21 through Nov. 6; previews begin Oct. 19.)

A fifth play, set to run Aug. 26 through Sept. 11, will be announced at a later date.

Two of the plays in the season, The Legend of Georgia McBride and Lend Me A Tenor, were previously announced to open in 2020 but put on hold due to the pandemic.

“We are so grateful to be able to put these two plays back on the schedule,” desai says. “We are back to doing what we are meant to do — tell stories that help us better understand our world and our shared humanity.”

Recognized by Long Beach as the City’s resident professional theater company, International City Theatre is the recipient of over 400 awards, including the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s prestigious Margaret Harford Award for “Sustained Excellence” and the LADCC’s 2016 Polly Warfield Award for an “Excellent Season.” In addition to its professional theater productions, ICT offers six community and educational outreach programs each year. The company’s commitment to the community also includes ongoing collaborations with Long Beach’s African American community and other groups and organizations. Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe called ICT “a cultural treasure.”

All performances take place Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more information about ICT’s 2022 season and to purchase subscriptions or single tickets, call (562) 436-4610 or visit www.internationalcitytheatre.org

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Theater

LA LGBTQ Theatre fires artistic director over sexual misconduct allegations

There are no additional details we are able to share. […] We will have no further comment on this investigation

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The Lex Theatre at Lexington Ave & McCadden Place, home to Celebration Theatre (Google Earth)

HOLLYWOOD – The Board of Directors of Celebration Theatre, one of the oldest and the largest LGBTQ community theatres in the Los Angeles area fired Michael A. Shepperd, its artistic director Tuesday, after allegations of sexual misconduct were raised in a Facebook post by an actor who had a role in one of Shepperd’s productions.

In a terse announcement released Tuesday, the Celebration Board addressed the allegations against Shepperd, a prominent figure in L.A.’s theater scene, which included groping and propositioning.

“Michael A. Shepperd’s decades-long contributions to Celebration Theatre and the Los Angeles theatre community are significant. We value and respect his artistry both as a director and as an actor,” the Celebration Board wrote.

“However, based on the findings and recommendations of an independent investigation initiated April 14th by our Board of Directors, prompted by allegations of a pattern of misconduct raised by Andrew Diego in his April 14th Facebook post, Celebration Theatre terminated Shepperd’s role as Artistic Director on May 24th.

The final investigative report was delivered to the Board of Directors on May 22nd and included other credible accounts of misconduct, as determined by the independent counsel. His termination was effective immediately,” the Board added.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Tuesday, Shepperd denied the claims. In the article Shepperd labeled Celebration a “queer safe space” where flirtation and bawdy innuendo were common, and he said any behavior of a sexual nature was done in the context of a consensual relationship. His attorney, Jordan Susman told the paper, “Michael categorially denies any and all allegations of misconduct and laments the absence of process that led to Celebration Theatre’s decision.”

The investigation by the Board of the theatre also concluded that others who were made aware of the allegations did not respond inappropriately to Diego’s allegations based on the information that they had at that time.

The report also included several recommendations to implement additional policies and procedures to enhance artist safety, increase accountability, and clarify standards of conduct, including but not limited to additions to the theatre’s recently adopted anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy, periodic staff and artist trainings, and the ongoing availability of an independent artist relations liaison—which the Board adopted at its May 23rd meeting.

“There are no additional details we are able to share. While our commitment to cultural changes will be ongoing, we will have no further comment on this investigation,” the Board added.

Celebration was founded in 1982 by gay rights pioneer and co-founder of the Mattachine Society, Chuck Rowland, when he leased a storefront in Silver lake to start a community theatre dedicated to producing gay-themed material.  Its current home is at the Lex Theatre at Lexington Ave & McCadden Place, located in Hollywood’s Theatre Row.

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Theater

LA’s hidden gem- Fountain Theatre premieres its Outdoor Stage June 18

Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood is a hidden gem, one of the Los Angeles region’s premiere regional live theatres

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The Fountain Theatre Photo Credit: Google Earth screenshot

EAST HOLLYWOOD – Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood on Fountain Avenue just off Normandie Avenue is a hidden gem, one of the Los Angeles region’s premiere regional live theatres. Founded in in 1990 by co-artistic directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs the theatre has garnered an impressive resume and reputation in the theatre world for reflecting a unique cultural voice and serving the distinctive ethnic communities that make up the LA metroplex.

Over the past thirty-one years of its existence the theatre has staged over 35 world premieres; and also 31 U.S., West Coast, Southern California or Los Angeles premieres. On its website the Fountain points out that Fountain Theatre projects have been seen in  New York City, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Seattle, Chicago, Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis, London and Edinburgh UK, among other cities and countries.

Like most of the region and certainly the entertainment world in LA, the House lights went dark at the Fountain as the coronavirus pandemic tore through Los Angeles and California. Undeterred, the artistic directors forged ahead and in January the theatre received approval from the City of Los Angeles to install a temporary outdoor stage for the purpose of presenting live performances and other events during the pandemic.

“Pandemic permitting, we hope to open our first outdoor production by late spring or early summer,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “We’re planning an exciting Los Angeles premiere that dramatizes urgent social issues using the Fountain’s signature bold and theatrical approach.”

For the past several months work has progressed in installing a stage in what is now the theater parking lot. The new performance area will be able to accommodate 50 to 84 audience members. It will feature seven rows of chairs, each six feet apart, as well as 12 high-top tables positioned six feet apart for use by patrons from the same “bubble” households. Every aspect of the outdoor performance area will meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Fountain Theatre Outdoor Stage Photo Credit: Lucy Pollak

The wait is now nearly over as the stage is complete and the final touches on the performance areas are being finalized. This past week the Fountain announced that casting is complete and rehearsals begin this week for the Los Angeles premiere of a radical, incendiary and subversively funny Obie award-winning play by MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a playwright who identifies as a Black queer but whose plays aren’t chiefly about LGBTQ life.

Performances of  ‘An Octoroon’ will inaugurate the new outdoor stage at The Fountain Theatre on June 18.  Performances run June 18 through Sept.19, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays,  Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., except Saturday, June 19, which will be at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a special Juneteenth event, and July 30 through Aug. 2 and Aug. 27 through  Aug. 30 which will be dark.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Photo courtesy
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Four preview performances will take place on June 11, June 12,  June 13 and June 16 at 7 p.m. There will be one press preview on Thursday, June 17 at 7  p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night  in addition to regular seating (subject to availability).

The Fountain tells the Blade that it is proud to count L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and Mayor Eric Garcetti as supporters, reflecting the company’s successful history of partnering with the City’s government.

Artist’s conception of finished and fully dressed out performance area of the Fountain Theatre

In addition to being a Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs grant recipient for decades, the Fountain launched a groundbreaking program that brings celebrity actors to L.A. City Hall to perform one-night free public readings in the City Council chambers.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060  Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. For reservations and information, call (323)  663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Construction of the Stage in a Time Lapsed video:

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