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LGBTQ Theatre Flourishing in Red State America

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Richmond Triangle Players Celebrate 25 Years

Virginia’s Richmond Triangle Players, now celebrating 25 years as one of the area’s best bets for a great evening at the theatre, garners rave reviews from a faithful local patronage. This season, the company launched a “three-year programming arc” to produce shows “focusing on the impact of LGBTQ theatre and the artform itself,” as well as its home community. An impressive selection of titles, ranging from new scripts to modern theatre classics, fulfills this mission to a T, and apparently, the company enjoys a warm embrace in the City of Richmond.

If you’re planning a trip to the area later this month, grab your tickets now for RTP’s next production: A surreal, feminist, gender-bending epic Cloud 9 by Caryl Churchill from September 27 to October 23. You can read more about the show in this month’s PrideLight, an ongoing column sharing our theatre recommendations. This is RTP’s nod to the edgier fringe, a selection for theatre goers who enjoy stretching their brains a little and their imaginations a lot. If you were a drama kid like me, it’s the one you read in Modern Drama years ago and have just been dying to see ever since.

Richmond Triangle Players (RTP) has long been the spot for top notch productions along with excellent bar service and comfortable seating (great hospitality and a comfortable tush never hurt a performance, I always say). At least one faithful patron shared that he drives an hour from Williamsburg several times a year to enjoy RTP productions in the newly designed theater located on Altamont Avenue, the company’s home for the last 7 years.

RTP’s 25th season opened with The View Upstairs by Max Vernon a new drama set in 1970s New Orleans. The View Upstairs garnered positive reviews for the company that enjoys consistent acclaim for its musical theatre and non-musical offerings. The ensemble of cast members combines the talents of professional actors from markets like New York with local veterans of the stage and talented newcomers who can hold their own with the pros.

Opening in mid-November and running until December 16, two company favorites Jacqueline Jones and Robert Throckmorton reprise the roles they introduced on the RTP stage 15 years ago in Santaland Diaries and Season’s Greetings by David Sedaris, adapted by Joe Mantello. This hilarious satire brings a bit of holiday cheer to Richmond. I’m absolutely positive the bar will be enjoyed by one and all throughout the run of this gay celebration.

Allowing RTC to connect with its community through a statement about Christian faith, the company selected the controversial Corpus Christi by Terrence McNally for January 31-February 24 (take your Valentine). A re-telling of the New Testament that portrays Jesus as an American gay man struggling to balance his love for high school boyfriend (Judas) with shepherding his flock of 11 gay disciples and his higher calling. For McNally’s Christ figure, a young man named Joshua, spreading God’s love to the queer population at large is the character’s super-objective. The central character, like the New Testament Jesus, is eventually killed when he returns to his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas, to share his message. The play’s tragic end doesn’t stop the comedic and satirical genius of McNally from shining through. The show offers hilarious scenes and physical comedy juxtaposed with deeply emotional moments. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see this show, especially if you were raised as a three-day-a-week churchgoer like I was, you must see this show. I’m probably biased, but I’d have to say that the best producers and performers for this script need to be familiar with the experience of having Christianity influenced oppression to get this one right.

Having directed this play in Oklahoma City a few years ago, I’m thrilled to see another “red state” theatre company tackle this piece by a living icon of American theatre. Hold onto your skirts, sister Nancy, this is a participating production in the city-wide Acts of Faith Festival. Yes, you saw that correctly. There has been an annual Christian theatre festival in Richmond since 2005. If I left the description at that, you wouldn’t catch me within 10 miles of it. Sounds like a nightmare of deacons in bathrobes holding shepherd’s crooks, but don’t rush to judgement like I did. The group describes themselves as “ecumenical and inclusive, assuming a very broad understanding of faith,” and the Second Presbyterian Church is named as “convening sponsor.” This collaboration between the faith community and professional theatre companies presents a variety of plays in a range of genres and styles with either overt or subtle spiritual undertones. And the LGBTQ are warmly welcomed under this roof as evidenced by the years-long collaboration with RTC to bring a play about gay Jesus to the Christians of Richmond.

This is why theatre matters. This is why theatre has the power to bring about social and political change. This is why public funding for the arts and being a patron and supporter of theatre is SO important to our existence as an evolved species. (Sorry, I thought I was in the pulpit for just a second there.)

More required viewing, not just for the LGBTQ but for everyone, Normal Heart by Larry Kramer takes the stage in the spring at RTP. Produced to acclaim all over the world, Normal Heart won a Tony for its recent Broadway revival, and the HBO film is considered definitive by many in the theatre world. RTP aptly denotes the play as “a central work to the history of the LGBTQ movement and its theatre.” This searing drama about the public and private indifference to the AIDS plague runs April 18-May 12.

A Chorus Line rounds out the RTP season. The “no holds-barred celebration of the American musical” is celebrated in the LGBTQ community for being one of the first mainstream musicals to feature an openly gay character as a whole person, not a comedic caricature. The company notes the importance of memorializing its four authors who all fell victim to AIDS. If A Chorus Line is one of your favorites or – if god forbid – you haven’t seen a production of it EVER, you can predict a passionate performance by RTC and its ensemble. A Chorus Line celebrates the dancer in us all and holds a special place in the hearts of every musical theatre kid and dancer who never made it, as well as many of those who did.

While RTP’s loyal patronage lines up first to spread the news, its fellow theatres in Richmond have also stepped up to support their LGBTQ neighbors. In celebration of RTP’s 25th anniversary, Virginia Rep and Cadence Theatre Company teamed up to present Fun Home through October 15, and offered RTP patrons a special discount. Winner of several Tony Awards including the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical, Fun Home (music by Jeanine Tesori, based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, book and lyrics by Lisa Kron) follows a lesbian named Alison through the past and present as she struggles with her connection to her father and growing awareness of her sexuality. I found out about the Richmond production of Fun Home through a promotional email from RTP even though some of the dates will run concurrent with one of its own shows. Cross-promotions like this are rare in theatre communities who typically compete like gladiators for audience attention. When I expressed my surprise, Executive Director Philip Crosby responded: “We have a truly wonderful and supportive community here. It makes the work all the richer!”

While the RTP season features a few titles you can see almost anywhere, the company should be commended for its well-chosen season of new plays (you’ll see for the first time), standards (you need to see and need to see again), and edgy theatre art pieces (the ones you read in college and always hoped to see for yourself. I’m clearly talking to the other five of you out there who took Modern Drama.) The impact RTP is having on the LGBTQ community and the outreach they are doing deserves a big spotlight. Catch the next show while you’re in Richmond or plan a trip to see one of your favorites. Seeing artists boldly treading new boards in red state America gives all of us hope and makes us deeply proud.

Like to see more about Richmond Triangle Players? Check out this inspiring documentary about the company’s first 20 years and its evolution into the professional theatre it is today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vjzk0sBibRI

TravelPride Estimate: Under $100 total for two tickets, refreshments, and parking (free after 6 pm). The company recommends purchasing tickets online where patrons can select individual seats and print them at home with no waiting. The company offers lower-priced shows on Wednesdays. If you’re a theatergoer, you know that professional shows at these prices are almost unheard of in major markets.

For more details and to pick your tickets, visit www.rtriangle.org.

Originally posted 2017-09-25 18:41:03.

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Film Review: Battle of the Sexes

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With women and the LGBTQ community in hopeful anticipation of seeing ourselves and our history played out on the big screen, last weekend Twentieth Century Fox released “Battle of the Sexes” in theaters. I went last Saturday afternoon to see mainstream Hollywood’s take on the infamous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, and looked forward to connecting with the human stories behind one of the most infamous events in modern feminist history. While the artful production design and crackling performances from the actors give us a lot to be proud of, this is not a film I can recommend, and the mis-steps found in the well-intentioned script lie at the heart of the problem.

On September 5, 1995 First Lady Hillary Clinton stood at the podium at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and declared “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.” Last week, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley voted against a resolution condemning the discriminatory use of the death penalty for LGBTQ people. Despite the Trump administration’s weak clarifications in an attempt at damage control, the fact remains: the United States failed to stand up for LGBTQ people around the world. We were, and are, still fighting this battle of the sexes. Secretly, King fought a personal battle to guard the secret of her sexuality from almost everyone who knew her including her husband, family, and certainly the professional and public world of tennis.

Over 3 decades after Billie Jean King, a married world-famous female tennis champion, was outed as a lesbian in a lawsuit brought by her former girlfriend and 42 years after her ground-breaking leadership on the issue of equal pay for women in the world of sports, women and LGBTQ people are still fighting for justice in the workplace and equal rights. The importance of knowing our stories, of telling them, and making sure they are remembered cannot be understated.

This film reminded me that the world knew King as a straight woman in 1973. We didn’t have “gay stars” back then. We had male stars and female stars. To come out was to risk everything. We know Billie Jean King as she is today, a lesbian icon of rights for women and LGBTQ people who did “something or other” back in the 70s, but most of us know the story in basic terms at best. The basic plot points are easily accessible with a few clicks these days. What a film, or any good storytelling, should do is to connect us to the human beings who lived out these plot points. What are their moments of personal challenge, failure, or triumph? We can go back and watch the old clips if we want to know exactly, in perfect historical terms, what happened. A great film explores these questions but goes beyond that to connect audiences to their imaginations, to evoke empathy and inspiration.

“Battle of the Sexes” is somewhat successful as a historical account, but it falls far short of that mission at times giving us stereotypes and filler instead of character, conflict, and substance. First, who are the other women, including one woman of color, who joined Billie Jean in the walk out to form the Women’s Tennis Association, the first league of its kind? In this film, with the exception of Margaret Court the homophobic Australian player who beat King to win the first WTA tournament, the other athletes are cardboard cut-outs “Woman 1, 2, & 3,” their dialogue strung together with tired feminist slogans and lines that are fraught with stereotypical language. In “Battle of the Sexes,” they are exactly the empty-headed pretty faces that men at the time expected them to be. Depictions of women like this make it easier for men to discount us as second class citizens. In one particularly embarrassing scene, the women squeal and jump up and down when they find out they’ll have a hairdresser on the tour. If the women were fleshed out in the screenplay as individuals with depth and varied personalities, goals, and interests, scenes like this one are less hard to watch. These heroes of feminism in their own right, the sisters who stood with King and risked their careers for the cause of female equality, deserve a lot better. (Read more about 1996 inductee to the International Tennis Hall of Fame  Rosie “Rosebud” Casals portrayed memorably by Natalie Morales.)

My next question is; are we supposed to be grateful? Are we supposed to be grateful to see the Hollywood mainstream pull off a tender and believable same sex love scene? The script by Simon Beaufoy does not explore or even hint at the core of who these two people are and the possible consequences of what was happening between them, so how could I? We see two women locking eyes for the first time, their growing attraction to one another. We see their first kiss. And the actors are giving it their all. The direction shows sensitivity and injects romance as well as intimacy, but it’s the sum of what we have to go on to understand the characters and the risks being taken, so the potential impact misses the mark. Though admirably and warmly portrayed by Andrea Riseborough, the character of King’s girlfriend Marilyn Barrett is poorly developed, similar to the way female love interests are often portrayed in a film with a male lead. Having failed to set up the dangerous personal stakes Billie Jean was facing to risk having a same sex relationship at this time in history, the scenes about her relationship with hairdresser Marilyn Barrett fall short.

Understanding the risks and consequences experienced by real people at that time would have injected suspense and drama into the subplot. You have to watch very closely to catch onto the point that Billie Jean is actually married to a man at this time. It’s glossed over. We don’t know the character of Billie Jean at all beyond her star athlete persona when the movie starts, and we only know slightly more by the end credits.

Beyond the extremely well done costumes and production design, there’s no context given that pulls us into the sexually repressed, misogynist world of the early 1970s. And if, as a filmmaker, you don’t take us to the oppressive place where this story happens, you’ve lost us. Why? Because, in an “overcoming obstacles” story like this one, context is everything. We have to know where these characters are and exactly what they are up against before we can care about cheering them on.

The pivotal moment when an adolescent King first caught a passion to change things for women and minorities in tennis is only hinted at in passing. I realize this is not a miniseries, but give us more than that, please. She’s spoken about it in several interviews over the years when, at the age of 12, she looked around and thought “Where is everybody else? Where are the people of color?” She wanted to shine a light on the elitism in the world of tennis. She “made herself a promise,” she said, “to do something about it.” That’s dynamite, dramatic substance, and it really happened. It gives us insight into the heart of this iconic leader. This point along with so much more, Billie Jean’s straight life, her relationship with her parents and husband, is merely a footnote in this film.

Emma Stone uses everything she’s given to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on this one, and I can see her struggling as an actor against the the script, to bring us into Billie Jean’s inner life and heart. Without her strong performance of this sub-par screenplay, along with a few others like Steve Carell, Sarah Silverman, and Alan Cumming who give nuanced and emotional portrayals, the film is completely unwatchable. Cumming’s final scene in the film is particularly moving, and Beaufoy gives Carell much more to work with. We see Riggs interacting with others in his personal life in a variety of well-written and artfully directed scenes. We’re told nothing about Billie Jean’s husband Larry King. Like Marilyn, Rosie, and the other women athletes, he’s presented as a flat stereotype. Carell’s scenes with his wife (played by Oscar Winner Elisabeth Shue) portray the struggling, strained relationship in the aging tennis player’s marriage. In many ways, the film makes us care more about his struggles and triumphs than Billie Jean’s. Ironic, right?

Women and the LGBTQ community still need allies. Many people do not understand our cause; some are apathetic, or are outright enemies of our equality. So more than anything, this film misses the chance to have a huge impact on our culture to affect changes we would all love to see in our lifetimes.

Overall, I felt delightfully hopeful about seeing this movie. I wanted to marvel at its ground-breaking courage and applaud its relevance in giving us historical context to understand the heroes who laid so many foundations for the rest of us. We’re winning the battle, but we still have a lot of people in this country who could become vocal allies if they can be somehow swayed by emotional and personal connection, which is what we’re supposed to have as audience members. Hampered by writing, directing or both; “Battle of the Sexes” is a stellar film they didn’t make.

We highly recommend you read more about the fascinating personalities surrounding this historic time in women’s sports. To find out more about Billie Jean King and her work as an activist, look for the 2006 Peabody Award winning HBO documentary “Billie Jean King: Portrait of a Pioneer.” What did you think of “Battle of the Sexes?” Let us know in the comments below!

Originally posted 2017-10-07 18:33:21.

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Pennywise is not a gay icon #SorrynotSorry

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Okay, listen up gang, we need to have a serious talk that I’m still kind of in shock we’re having in 2017 but here we go. Pennywise from the novel and movie It should not be your gay icon. There, I said it. The lovely people on the internet have “decided” that “Pennywise is Gay and He’s Dating the Babadook”. An odd coupling, and what’s more than a bit puzzling is that THAT’S an acceptable ship yet Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy are only “friends” but okayyyy.  

This whole thing got started when Netflix accidentally listed The Babadook in their LGBT movies section and the internet just kinda rolled with it. Which is fine, because the joke is there and we know the joke has a “root” to it and the Babadook is relatively harmless. Pennywise being gay is just coming randomly from the sewer.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Oh Elle, stop being such a downer, let the internet have their fun. They’re celebrating LGBTQ representation in their own way, isn’t that a good thing?”

Not in this case. Allow me, Ellen “Professional party pooper,” to explain how calling Pennywise gay is actually incredibly homophobic, queer coding, and hurts the community as a whole as it fights for real representation.

1) A harmful reminder of past LGBTQ stereotypes

For the folks at home who have not read or seen Stephen King’s It, it’s a story about an evil clown by the name of Pennywise who terrorizes several children by exploiting their fears and phobias. Because Stephen King likes to give his readers the warm and fuzzies. Pennywise likes to target young children, mainly boys, and preys on them. He also kills people. Basically, Pennywise is a child predator. There is an old stereotype that has unfortunately not yet died that gay men can’t be trusted around male children. This is completely and utterly untrue and horribly hurtful. Having people come to this conclusion brings up that harmful stereotype, which goes back to John Wayne Gacy AKA the “Killer Clown,” who in the 70’s sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered 33 teenaged boys. Going even further than that, this stereotype has tormented gay and bisexual men’s lives so much so that they are oftentimes not hired to teach at schools, work with children, and have a much harder time adopting. By saying that Pennywise is gay, you are not only indirectly saying that gays are pedophiles, but you are also mocking the struggles that gay men have to endure because of this stereotype.

2) This goes against Stephen King’s intent.

Here’s a little writing backstory for y’all.  Let me introduce you to Charlie Howard. Charlie Howard moved to Bangor, Maine during the early 80’s and was an out and proud gay man. Because of this he was heavily discriminated against. He was yelled slurs on the street, openly assaulted and his own cat was found strangled on his front porch. In 1984 while leaving a potluck with a friend, Charlie was chased down by a carload of teenagers who beat him, called him slurs and threw him over a bridge where he then drowned. Charlie was 23 years old. The murderers did not do any jail time for this crime. Does this seem familiar? This is what happens to Adrian Mellon in It. Stephen King said that this hate crime woke him up to the violence that the LGBTQ community faces. It/Pennywise’s enjoyment of tormenting Adrian and his boyfriend sends the message that the homophobic murder of an innocent gay man is an act of pure evil. Pennywise is not a gay icon, he’s a homophobic murderer.

3) We should want more out of our gay icons.

I get it, we have very few LGBTQ characters in the media. All the characters we love either die in the “Bury your gays” trope, are represented only through stereotypes, or we just get queer-baited. But gosh, gang, can’t we do better than a clown as a gay icon? Don’t we deserve more than horror villains representing us? Instead of accepting this silly meme, we should be demanding more LGBTQ characters in our entertainment. We should have more options than just villains and human sacrifices. Let me repeat this loud and clear: We need to see LGBTQ people as people. WE NEED TO SEE LGBTQ PEOPLE AS PEOPLE.

Representation is important, both the lack of it and what the media allows us to have.

We all deserve better than a clown.

Originally posted 2017-09-27 12:51:42.

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The Best Street Wear Looks From NYFW

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It’s both the most wonderful time of the year and the saddest time of the year, folks: New York Fashion Week is over. Smile because it happened, don’t cry because it’s over – or something like that. Usually taking place between September 7 – September 15, NYFW is one of the biggest – if not the absolute largest- fashion event on the planet. Celebrities, models, fashion designers, ateliers, socialites, reporters, TV anchors, bloggers, reality stars, and paparazzi fly in from all over the world to cover the event to see who is wearing what, and who is snubbing who. But now, as we head rush headlong into October, fashion week is officially over and done, and we definitely have the post-glitz-and-glam blues.

But never fear – we at TravelPride get it. We know you need your daily dose of extra, and we’ve provided it for you in the form of delicious New York streetwear photos to inspire your Casual Friday outfit, your I-just-threw-this-old-thing-on-to-run-errands-in outfit, or your I-only-use-the-HER-app date night outfit. Read on to discover how you can turn NYC streetwear into oh-so-youwear:

Fur coats

Christine Centenera at NYFW 2017

Fur coats were, of course, all the rage once again this year, as demonstrated by Christine Centenera above. The Fashion Editor of Vogue Australia is donning a black-and-white coat, perfect for the fall season, with skinny jeans, a casual gray tee, and black heeled boots with metallic accents on the toes – the perfect casual-yet-glam ensemble, whether you’re heading into a fashion show or to the grocery store.

Bold 90s-inspired looks

A person on the streets of NYC

The nineties are back, baby, and it looks like they’re here to stay, with fashionistas not shying away from bold, bright jackets, baggy pants, and colored hair. This nuwave grunge look is very now, as chic guys and gals mix prints, crop tops, and chokers – but in a happier, more colorful way.

All About Accessories

Fashionistas show off accessories during NYFW

You know the quote supposedly made by Coco Chanel that states, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror, and take one thing off”? Well, in 2017, it looks like Coco may have been wrong. NYC streetwear favors the accessories-bold – we’re seeing plenty of hats, visible hair pieces, big bags, and technology. Everything is extra right now, and we can’t get enough.

Babes in Boots

Showing off a bright purse and killer boots during NYFW

Fall is everyone’s favorite season for a reason, and that reason is that it’s finally sweater/scarf/boot weather. Boots in particular were popping up all over the streets of NYC during Fashion Week, lending to a generally more comfortable vibe. Pain may be beauty, but it doesn’t have to be all of the time, and we love that high-end designers and fashionistas alike seem to be embracing the comfort trend without sacrificing chicness.

Hopefully, this small sampling gives you plenty of ideas heading into fall to [pumpkin] spice up your wardrobe. Until then, there’s always next year, when NYFW is sure to bring even more cool, It-Boy-or-Girl styles to the streets.

Originally posted 2017-09-26 12:35:32.

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