Applause: Don’t Ohlook away

Keep an eye out for Ohlook Performing Arts, a suburban theater company with an edge

Ohlook doesn’t offer your mother’s idea of community theater. Shows like ‘Debbie Does Dallas,’ ‘Vampire Lesbians of Sodom’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ (pictured) definitely give edge to the ‘burbs.

A conservative bedroom community like Grapevine, Texas,  isn’t the first burg you think of when you consider a hotbed of nightlife. Maybe you can get a nice dinner, do some shopping, even drinks. But late-night theater with vampire lesbians?  That doesn’t seem much like a suburban offering.

But almost defiantly, and with fascinatingly good reason, the folks behind Ohlook Performing Arts Center embrace the idea of edgy shows in the ‘burbs. And, as it turns out, the community seems to be following suit.

“I’m surprised that we haven’t had more of a backlash,” says producing artistic director Jill Blalock-Lord. “But we have a board that supports what we’re doing and hey, there are gay people in the ‘burbs, too!”

In recent months, Ohlook has produced some very queer shows that even urbanites in Dallas proper might drop their jaws at. They just came off a double-feature of Charles Busch plays — Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and Psycho Beach Party — that ran back-to-back as part of Ohlook’s late-show adult series, as well as productions of Debbie Does Dallas and Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead.

All that begs the question: How are their neighbors in the GOP-friendly ‘hoods of Grapevine, Southlake and Colleyville adjusting?

“Well, the city hasn’t given us a lot of support, but they leave us alone,” Lord says. “We were worried with Trannie, but even in this community, we haven’t had any problems.”

Yes, Trannie.

In February, Ohlook debuted Trannie: A Musical written by Lord’s husband and Redneck Tenor founder Matthew Lord, about a cross-dressing prostitute who searches for the men who gave her up when gay couples were denied adoption rights. But the surprise was on Ohlook: People came out for the show.

Still, the company isn’t specifically gay-centric. In fact, Blalock-Lord says it’s really just been a coincidence — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

“I don’t think gay content is the quantifying factor, but I tend to like the message [it] bears,” Blalock-Lord says. “Honestly, we’ll do anything out there because we will do any kind of edgy show.”

They took the gay-themed play Dog Sees God to the American Association of Community Theatre play festival in Rochester, N.Y., and won six awards for it, including best overall production.

Blalock-Lord clearly gets the unbelievable wackiness that her theater company has undertaken. But she wasn’t trying to necessarily step out of the box and be something other community theaters were not.

“Ohlook started as an educational program with student shows,” she explains. “As my kids were growing up, they wanted to be in more adult shows. And so actors that started with us as children are growing into adults in our shows.”

“That’s part of the reason we do those shows,” board member Julie Hahn adds. “We have some talented and serious young people and we offer quality training. These are the shows they wanna do.”

This next season, Ohlook plans to present three shows: The Who’s Tommy, Evil Dead and they’re deciding between Christmas Rocky Horror or Scrooge’s Groovy Christmas. There has been some difficulty in planning because Ohlook is looking for a new home.

“Yeah, we’ve been given our notice so we’re on the lookout,” Blalock-Lord says. “We’re hoping to stay in same area, but we have friends who say come to Dallas. Well, they got theaters in Dallas!”

With a fan base already set, they have every intention of staying close by and they will be in their original space for Tommy, even though it starts later than planned. (“We didn’t want it to open here and then close there,” she laughs.)

Regardless of their struggles, Blalock-Lord feels like Ohlook will always have its peculiar take on theater. And for gay audiences, including some of Ohlook’s students who have made their own self-discoveries, there’s always going to be a place for campy theater — even if it’s way up north.

“I noticed people came from all over to our shows,” she says. “We wanna do shows that bring in an audience and we have revenue from our classes that allows us to be more adventurous. It’s ideal. Part of theater is to educate, but you gotta have fun. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

For more information about Ohlook, visit

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Fabbing the ’burbs

For some LGBT-ers, life away from the city ain’t bad

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer


COUNTRY PRIDE | Cathy Brown, right, and her partner, Stephanie, find a quieter side of life in Lancaster. (Rich?Lopez/Dallas Voice)

The bright lights and big city are undeniably exciting. Whether it’s a new restaurant opening in old East Dallas or a high-rise rising in Uptown, the city’s energy flows at a continuous rate. The hubbub of a city is crucial to an active gay community.

But some people have found a nice refuge outside of the city limits.

Cathy Brown is a familiar face in the community, heading up the chorus and orchestra every Sunday at Cathedral of Hope as its church conductor, or leading the New Texas Symphony Orchestra as artistic director.

The commute to her day job at Cedar Valley College from Oak Cliff wasn’t long, but one day, fate intervened.

“I spotted the house for sale on the way to work one day and fell in love with it,” she says.

The home was a foreclosure mess, but after lots of hard work and elbow grease, Brown and her partner Stephanie turned it into a home worthy of an American family portrait in the southern suburb of Lancaster — with a queer twist. And in a town where the whole “gay thing” could be an issue, Brown has had no problems.

“Much like the rest of our lives, we just live as we do and don’t offer it to be questioned,” she says. “It is not something we broadcast, nor something we hide. We just try to be good neighbors and the overall reaction has been great.”

The couple loves the lush green trees and large lawns in both front and back, and are proud of the white fence they built on the porch.
“We just had to have that for this home,” Stephanie says.

If there’s one drawback to life in the ‘burbs, it’s the dining options.

“There is little variety and non-smoking is non-existent,” Brown grimaces. “Dallas Avenue Diner and Big Bruce’s Bar-B-Que are really good family-owned restaurants, but to have a really nice dinner, we have to drive back into Dallas.”

Daryl Hildebrand and Rudy Lopez went north to find a home in The Colony. North Dallas suburbs usually fall into a Stepford template with cookie-cutter houses and gated communities, but Hildebrand has found some true character in his town.

“The Colony has been good to us for a small town,” he says. “I live in the neighborhood where everyone waves and speaks when you pass by. When you don’t have kids, it’s harder, but we do feel welcomed here.”

That doesn’t mean people haven’t noticed they are gay, but fortunately, it’s “not a thing,” he says. “I don’t think we are the deep, dark, secret in the neighborhood. If you meet us, you would probably guess we are a couple. We are conscious of our surroundings, but never had a reason to feel uncomfortable.”

Dave Cudlipp takes a funny approach to his ‘burb of choice — not a surprise for the member of the Dallas Comedy Conspiracy troupe. He and his partner took up residency in the Mid-Cities.

“We live in Useless, er, Euless, or as they say now Fab-Euless,” he says. “It’s close to work for both of us. We bought a nicer home out here than we could afford in Dallas.”

The two haven’t any qualms about their neighborhood or what people might think. But also, neighbors have been surprised the two are a couple — probably because they both look like members of the Dallas Cowboys.

“It never enters my mind that I am living somewhere as an out person,” he says. “When they meet us, they are very surprised to find out we are a gay couple. Because we’re both big, pretty muscular, masculine guys people usually assume we’re straight. Not that we care what they think but no one has ever said anything negative to us — at least to our faces.”

Brown, Hildebrand and Cudlipp seem to have no regrets: Commutes, neighbors, jobs aren’t as much a factor as just finding a home where the heart is. Although Brown had one problem her city counterparts may never have.

“We’ve experienced regular neighbor issues — loud music, rowdy kids, horses let loose in the front yard.”

Horses? “OK, that only happened once.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice