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LA theatre companies raise the bar on creativity with 3 new virtual offerings

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Tom DiTrinis stars in his comic solo performance, “Making Friends” (Photo by Kyle Roper, courtesy of IAMA Theatre Company)

Are you one of LA’s many fans of live theatre who has been struggling with the loss of a major aspect of your cultural life? Have you been left wanting by having to settle for virtual streams of productions long gone by and livestreams of play readings conducted on Zoom?

Take heart, because you have options – and best of all, they give you an opportunity to show support for the kind of small, local theatre organizations that have been hardest-hit by Covid-forced shutdowns and have, perhaps, the rockiest path ahead to survival in a post-pandemic world.

First up, and ongoing, is “The Gaze… No Homo,” a finalist in the 2020/2021 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference adapted by writer/creator Larry Powell into a 12-part “media series” presented by the highly-regarded The Fountain Theatre on their new digital platform, Fountain Stream, in partnership with Powell and Angelica Robinson of Tell Me a Story Productions.

A bold and funny episodic tragicomedy for our times, this multi-platform online experience is unlike anything audiences have seen before. The first in Powell’s “The Gaze” cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in certain historically white spaces, it follows an openly Black queer artist as he navigates the rehearsal process at a very white American theater festival. Tackling hard topics head on, Powell’s timely exploration of the intersection between black and queer experience in the theatre wrestles with the question, “Why strain to be free under a gaze fixed on your imprisonment, when it’s you who is holding the key?”

Powell – who is a writer, actor, director and producer born and raised in South Central L.A, says of the project, “In order to properly experience my own exodus of the decentralization of the white gaze in my creative work and reclaim my black ass imagination I had to stare the poison in the face and, through the telling of Jerome’s story, turn it into the medicine decolonization so fiercely provides. That I was able to make this piece in the summer of 2020 and share this piece that same summer and beyond is a divine triumph. A blessing standing on sacred ground and under one gaze only: the ancestral one. Thankful to any and all who make it possible for others to catch the vision.” 

The short-form episodes began streaming, three at a time, on Friday, Nov. 20; six are available so far, which means you have time to catch up before episodes 7-9 debut on Friday, Dec. 4, with the final three episodes becoming available on Friday, Dec. 11.

Tickets are free at www.fountaintheatre.com/now-upcoming/the-gaze.

Next up, and premiering Dec. 17, is “Making Friends,” from the IAMA Theatre Company – a new, “gaytastic” comic solo play, written and performed by self-confessed rage-aholic Tom DeTrinis, directed by Drew Droege, and filmed live (at LA’s Pico Playhouse) for digital release.

DeTrinis describes himself as “a quick-witted, angry actor/writer/director/producer who just wants to be your friend.” He grew up as an overly-sensitive child in a large family that would have preferred he keep his emotions on a leash. “Everyone thought they knew how to raise me better than my mom and dad,” he says. “I think it was all the mixed messages I was getting that triggered my anger while I was still very young.”

He tells the Blade, “This show is about anger and me, but really it is about being queer in a big family and what happens when so many mixed messages fly your way. I am VERY excited for the LGBTQ+ audiences to watch this because I really think they will see a lot of themselves in here. And I hope they also think about being KINDER to ourselves and others in our community, ‘cause you don’t know what people are going through and how they got to this point in their lives. Everyone is working hard and trying to love and live, and I really want people to take that away from this.”

“Making Friends” will be available for viewing beginning Dec. 17 and continue streaming through Jan. 11, 2021. Tickets, which start at $15, will be sold in weekly blocks and include access to a variety of supporting live events. For more information on ticketing and streaming, go to www.iamatheatre.com.

Lastly, coming on Dec. 18, is “Storage Run,” a new, interactive holiday experience from Rogue Artists Ensemble.

Described as “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Choose Your Own Adventure meets classic holiday fare,” this innovative show explores connection in the computer age with a healthy does of seasonal flavor as it follows a character named Mike, trapped and alone in a tangled web of Rogue storage with just a few weeks remaining until the holidays, on a quest to send a message to the world.

Audiences are invited to help Mike through their Y/N choices, building a “singular and unlikely friendship” and unlocking a “holiday-tastic” adventure along the way – and all from the safety of your computer, as you use an interactive video platform to face multiple branching paths with hundreds of unique combinations and puzzles, with virtual downloadable gifts to sweeten the deal even further.

Rogue Artists artistic director Sean T. Cawelti (who is also the show’s co-creator/writer/animator) tells the Blade, “Storage Run” builds on Rogue Artists Ensemble’s mission of being inclusive of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities and telling stories with deep theatricality and heart. It was decided early on that in order to ensure the production would be safe, there would be one central human character named Mike.

Even though they are our only human character we have cast the role with three different artists representing both the BIPOC and LGBTQ communities. Mike’s fluid character representation and journey will resonate with all who experience “Storage Run.” Through the story, Mike discovers their friendship with a Robot named Fred and it is through the Robot’s eyes the audience experiences the story. The message of community and the importance of family, no matter how unconventional is at the heart of the experience and I know will resonate with everyone.”

Created by the Rogue ensemble in collaboration with over 50 artists from across the country and utilizing an interactive video platform devised by HapYak, this subversive holiday treat features performances by Miles Taber, Amir Levi, Carene Rose Mekertichyan (who share the role of “Mike”) and Tim Kopacz (who plays “Fred”), with special surprise “magical moments” from a host of other performers.

Part One of the adventure will be available on Friday, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET; Part Two will release on Friday, Dec. 25 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET; and Part Three will post on Friday, Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET. Once introduced, all three episodes will remain available through Jan. 31, 2021. Tickets are pay-what-you-can, with a suggested price of $20. Pre-purchased entries are available now (there’s even a special emailed gift!) at https://www.rogueartists.org/storage-run.

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Movies

Celebrate Judy Garland’s centennial by watching her movies

The dazzling force of nature made 34 films

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‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ is one of Judy Garland’s iconic film roles.

When the world ends, aficionados will still be watching their favorite Judy Garland movies.

Queer icon Garland was born 100 years ago this year (on June 10, 1922).

Everyone knows how tragic much of Garland’s life was. MGM feeding her uppers and downers when she was a child. Bad luck with husbands. Getting fired from movies because of her addiction issues. Her death at age 47.

You can’t deny that Garland’s life was often a mess. Yet, it’s too easy to encase Garland into a box of victimhood.

Contrary to the misperception of her as a sad figure, Garland wasn’t a morbid person. She was a fabulous comedian and clown, John Fricke, author of “The Wonderful World of Oz: An Illustrated History of the American Classic,” told the Blade in 2019. Lucille Ball said Garland was the funniest woman in Hollywood, Fricke said. “‘She made me look like a mortician,’ Lucy said,” he added.

In the midst of the sentimentality and morbidity shrouding her legacy, you can readily forget Garland’s prodigious talent and productivity.

Garland was a consummate, multi-faceted, out-of-this-world talented performer. She (deservedly) received more awards than most performers would even dream of: two Grammy Awards for her album “Judy at Carnegie Hall,” a special Tony for her long-running concert at the Palace Theatre and a special Academy Juvenile Award. Garland was nominated for an Emmy for her TV series “The Judy Garland Show” and for Best Supporting Oscar for her performance in “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Garland, a dazzling, force of nature on screen, made 34 films. There’s no better way to celebrate Garland’s centennial than to watch her movies.

Garland was renowned for connecting so intimately with audiences when she sang. She’s remembered for her legendary musicals — from “The Wizard of Oz” to “Meet Me in St. Louis” to “A Star is Born.”

But if you watch, or re-watch, her movies, you’ll see that Garland wasn’t just a singer who sang songs, and sometimes danced, in production numbers in movie musicals.

Garland was a talented actor. She wasn’t appearing on screen as herself – Judy Garland singing to her fans.

Whether she’s tearing at your heartstrings as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” performing brilliant physical comedy with Gene Kelly in the “The Pirate,” breaking your heart with “The Man that Got Away” in “A Star is Born” or unrecognizable as Irene Hoffmann in “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Garland is acting. Her performance etches these characters onto your DNA.

Picking Garland’s best movies is like deciding which five of your 20 puppies should go on an outing. But, if you’re cast away on a desert island, take these Garland movies with you:

“Meet Me in St. Louis”: This luminous 1944 musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, has it all: Garland in top form, the Trolley song, Margaret O’Brien, along with a stellar cast, and the best Christmas song ever.

“The Clock”: This 1945 movie, also directed by Minnelli, showcases Garland as a gifted dramatic actress. Shot in stunning black-and-white near the end of World-War II, the movie is the story, set in New York City, of a young woman (Garland) and a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who fall in love.

“Easter Parade”: Sure, this 1948 picture, directed by Charles Walters, is thought of as a light musical by some. But, who cares? It’s in Technicolor, and Judy’s in peak form – dancing with Fred Astaire.

“A Star is Born”: If you don’t know the story of this 1954 film, directed by George Cukor, starring Garland and James Mason, you’re not a member of queer nation. There have been other versions of “A Star is Born,” some quite good, but this is still the best. Garland should have gotten an Oscar for this one.

“Judgment at Nuremberg”: This 1961 film, directed by Stanley Kramer, will never be a date night movie. It’s long (3 hours, 6 minutes), grim (about Nazi crimes) and Garland is only in it for about seven minutes. But the story is gripping and Garland’s performance is mesmerizing. When you watch her as Irene, you won’t be thinking that’s Judy Garland.

Happy centennial, Judy! 

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Books

New ACT UP book is part history, part memoir

‘Boy with the Bullhorn’ chronicles hard work, grief, anger

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(Book cover image courtesy of Fordham University Press)

‘Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York’ 
By Ron Goldberg
c.2022/ Fordham University Press
$36.95/512 pages

The sign above your head shows what’s going on inside.

Last night, you made the sign with a slogan, firm words, a poke to authority – and now you carry it high, yelling, marching, demanding that someone pay attention. Now. Urgently. As in the new book, “Boy with the Bullhorn” by Ron Goldberg, change is a-coming.

He’d never done anything like it before.

But how could he not get involved? Ron Goldberg had read something about ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, and he heard they were holding a rally near his workplace. It was 1987, he’d never participated in anything like that before, but whispers were everywhere. He and his friends were “living under a pervasive cloud of dread.”

He “was twenty-eight years old… scared, angry, and more than a little freaked out” about AIDS, he says.

Couldn’t he at least go down and hold a sign?

That first rally led Goldberg to attend a meeting, which, like most, as he came to realize, were raucous and loud and “electric.” Because he was “living fully ‘out and proud’,” and because he realized that this was an issue “worth fighting for,” he became even more involved with ACT UP by attending larger rallies and helping with organizing and getting his fellow activists fired up. He observed as women became involved in ACT UP, too. Monday night meetings became, for Goldberg, “the most exciting place in town.”

There, he learned how politics mixed with activism, and why ACT UP tangled with the Reagan administration’s leaders. He puffed with more than just a little ownership, as other branches of ACT UP began spreading around the country. He learned from ACT UP’s founding members and he “discovered hidden talents” of his own by helping.

On his years in ACT UP, Goldberg says, “There was hard work, grief, and anger, surely, but there was also great joy.” He was “a witness. And so, I began to write.”

Let’s be honest: “Boy with the Bullhorn” is basically a history book, with a little memoir inside. Accent on the former, not so much on the latter.

Author Ron Goldberg says in his preface that Larry Kramer, who was one of ACT UP’s earliest leaders encouraged him to pull together a timeline for the organization and this book is the result of the task. It’s very detailed, in sequential order and, as one reads on, it’s quite repetitive, differing basically in location. It’s not exactly a curl-up-by-the-fire read.

Readers, however – and especially older ones who remember the AIDS crisis – won’t be able to stop scanning for Goldberg’s memories and tales of being a young man at a time when life was cautiously care-free. The memories – which also act as somewhat of a gut-wrenching collection of death-notices – are sweet, but also bittersweet.

This book is nowhere near a vacation kinda book but if you have patience, it’s worth looking twice. Take your time and you’ll get a lot from “Boy with the Bullhorn.” Rush, and it might just go over your head.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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Sports

Trailblazing Scots pro soccer athlete comes Out and inspires others

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, saying “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders”

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Screenshot/YouTube

EDINBURGH – Two weeks after making headlines as the first-ever senior Scottish pro soccer player to come out as gay, Zander Murray is revealing the impact his courageous decision has had on at least one closeted player. Murray tweeted a message he received that shows the difference an athlete coming out can make. 

“I just wanted to tell you that you’ve been a massive inspiration for me to come out to teammates and family,” the anonymous player told Murray, according to the tweet. 

“As a young footballer I find it difficult to be myself as it is but being gay and keeping it secret was so challenging. It felt amazing when I told my teammates, they were super supportive.” 

Murray shared the message with a heart emoji and the words: “Makes it all worthwhile young man.”

Murray, 30, came out during an interview posted on the website of his club, the Gala Fairydean Rovers, on September 16, explaining “the weight of the world is now off my shoulders.”

Screenshot/YouTube

As the Los Angeles Blade has reported, Jake Daniels of Blackpool came out as gay in May, the first U.K. male pro soccer player to come out in more than 30 years. Justin Fashanu was the first in Britain men’s soccer to come out back in 1990. Homophobic and racist media reports drove Fashanu to suicide eight years later. 

Reaction to Murray’s coming out last month has been “incredible,” he’s told reporters. One of those reaching out to congratulate him was Olympic gold medalist Tom Daley. The U.K. diver sent him a DM, Murray told a British interviewer. 

“He messaged me while I was on my way back from football training in a car with four boys. I had tears in my eyes seeing his direct message, and I messaged him back.

“I said, ‘Look I am in a car on the way back from football with four boys and I’ve got tears in my eyes and I don’t even care.’”

Prior to coming out, Murray had been “living in fear 24/7,” he told Sky Sports. “I can’t explain it. You’re hiding your phone in case you get messages from friends, constantly double-checking if you have a team night out, you’re cautious with what you’re saying.

“It’s very hard, especially for myself, I’m a character in that dressing room. I’m not quiet in that dressing room, I like to have the banter and to get stuck in, so very challenging.”

But Murray said he couldn’t have decided to come out “at a better time, at a better club.” So why now? He posted the answer on Instagram with several bullet points, including:

  • “Gay male footballers in the UK need role models. 
  • Majority are terrified to come out to friends/family/teammates (trust me a few have reached out already!).”

STV Weekend News Sunday, September 18, 2022 Zander Murray

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