For the love of art

Van Lynch was a late-comer to painting, but he’s made up for it with passion

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DRIVEN TO ABSTRACTION | Lynch’s varied, colorful paintings have earned him a following after just a few years in the art world. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Having only been painting for about two years, Van Lynch isn’t at Thomas Kinkeade’s level of fame yet. But that hasn’t stopped him from selling multiple, high-price pieces to establishments around Dallas. (And he’s much better than Kinkeade.) Lynch has turned his creative side into a lucrative part-time art career, working his way up through the ranks of local artists with his unique abstract style.

That’s a far cry from his corporate background. Before he started painting, Lynch graduated Stephen F. Austin University with a degree in business and immediately began working into the hotel industry. He hopped from East Coast to West in various sales and marketing jobs before settling in his native Dallas.

“I was missing something, so that’s why I kind of shifted gears,” he says. Now, Lynch’s day job as an apartment manager for the Amli Residences allows him to live comfortably in his apartment, surrounded by his artwork.

Painting started as a Christmas present from his mother and sister — and he took to it like a fish to water.

“I’ve always wanted to paint or do something creative and I’ve never set aside a time in my life to do that,” Lynch says. “One year, my sister and my mom bought me art lessons with [Cynthia Chartièr] at her beautiful studio and that’s where it all started. I painted with her for approximately six months at that studio. It went from there.”

With Chartièr’s guidance, Lynch discovered a facility as an abstract artist.

“I came in for my first lesson and I was like, ‘What do I do, teacher?’” Lynch recalls. “She said, ‘Anything you want; I’m just here to guide you.’”

After his official lessons ended, Lynch bought studio time for a good place to “make a mess.” It was also where he could meet and trade feedback with other artists, some of whom became friends.

Lynch draws from a variety of inspirations, from colors to images. He frequents the library and owns numerous art books, taking after his favorite artists such as Kandinsky, Mondrian and Monet. When he paints, though, Lynch doesn’t always have a definite image in his mind; he says he works better when he sets out the colors he wants and just goes with it until he deems it finished.

Lynch has displayed his art in shows and festivals around Dallas. His canvases start at about $200 for a 36-by-48-inch piece, rising depending on size and complexity.

One of his biggest sales was to the Downtown restaurant Dallas Fish Market, which bought six canvases from him for their renovation. But even that money goes back into his art.

“I bought more canvas and paints,” Lynch laughs about his proceeds. “For me, as a beginner, it’s my secret little addiction, being at the art supply store every chance I get. I just can’t stop myself.”

The best part about painting for Lynch, though, isn’t the paycheck that comes with a custom order — it’s the happiness he gives someone.

“I think the biggest satisfaction is when someone sees something the first time and are like, ‘Oh my God, I love it,’ Something I did really spoke to someone.” He recalls one instance when he sold a piece to a musician who said, “When I see that, I wanna go home and write a new song.”

Lynch hopes he can retire from his day job eventually and become a fulltime artist, painting and teaching on the side. He’d also like to expand his repertoire to include other artistic media.

 “I’d love to do sculptures, mobiles, welding — things of that nature,” he says. He’d also like to work lights and soldering into his art.

Lynch admits to being a bit of a size queen: His ideal work involves bright, bold colors, simplicity and a lobby-worthy size. His project dream is to combine two dozen of his own medium-sized paintings into a mosaic to make a larger “statement” piece.

The only regret Lynch has is that he waited so long to start what has become his favored hobby, but “now I’m doing it” and he doesn’t plan on stopping.

In additional to commissioned paintings, Lynch likes to use giclèe, a method where art is photographed with a high-resolution camera and then printed onto commercial items such as T-shirts and wood. “I’m not above coffee cups,” Lynch chuckles.

— Draconis Von Trapp

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

An awakening of their own

How Baylor classmates Josh Gonzales and Matt Tolbert teamed up onstage — and in real life — for WaterTower’s ‘Spring Awakening’

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UP AGAINST THE WALL | Gonzales and Tolbert will share their first scene — and first onstage kiss — as the gay couple in WaterTower’s sexually frank musical ‘Spring Awakening.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Matt Tolbert may be just barely old enough to drink legally (he’ll turn 23 in October), but he’s already an experienced theater hand.

Four months ago, he was finishing up his last semester at Baylor University before a May graduation, but he’d already made his professional debut earlier this year, hanging upside down as a torture victim in WaterTower Theatre’s production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Soon after that, he co-established a theater company and produced a show for the Out of the

Loop Fringe Festival; as of last week, his day job is assistant to WTT’s producing artistic director, Terry Martin.

“I guess you could say I’m aggressive about my career,” Tolbert concedes, “though I say I’m just highly motivated.”

And one thing he was motivated about was getting cast in WaterTower’s upcoming production of Spring Awakening. Ever since Tolbert learned of the show, he’d wanted to be in it, so when WTT put it on their 2011-12 schedule, he knew he’d audition. But even more, he wanted to be in it with his partner Josh Gonzales.

The two met several years ago while both were studying at Baylor (Gonzales is still there, with plans to graduate next spring); for the past two years, they have been a couple. But while they have been in shows at the same time, they have never shared a scene. Spring Awakening seemed like a good chance for them to do a musical together.

“I was in love with the show and when I heard WaterTower was doing it, I jumped at the chance,” says Gonzales, 21. “[Matt and I] have been in five shows together before — this will be our sixth — but we very rarely interact onstage. This is our first time to get to act.”

The plan was for Tolbert to play Hanschen, the slightly predatory gay teen, and Gonzalez to play Ernst, the object of his lustful urges in the explicit, sexually charged musical about the yearning of 19th century youth (which oddly echoes the same feelings of youth in the 21st century). Still, getting cast was hardly a sure thing, even with Tolbert’s connections at the theater.

So this summer, Tolbert studied voice with Mark Mullino, who was about to start work as the music director on Spring Awakening. Tolbert planted seeds with Mullino that he and Gonzalez would be interested in doing the show.

Alas, it seemed destined not to happen.

“Matt went to the audition but I couldn’t go because I was in New York,” sighs Gonzales. Not only that, but once the call-back list was released, Tolbert was asked to re-audition… for the role of Ernst.

“I thought, ‘Darn! I missed my chance,’” says Gonzalez.

But, despite the downbeat message of Spring Awakening, true love was determined to find a way.

Martin, who is directing the show, decided to do a second round of call-backs. Gonzales thought maybe he could try out for Hanschen, “even though Matt would be a better Hanschen than me. Or I could just be in the ensemble — I would do anything,” he says.

Tolbert and Gonzales auditioned together; Martin asked them to sing one of the show’s signature songs, “The Bitch of Living,” with each other. They did it once. Audition over.

It wasn’t until the next day they were both cast as they’d hoped: Tolbert as Hanschen, Gonzales as Ernst. It’s a dynamic that has been fed by their own relationship.

“It was a lot easier to do once we started rehearsals,” Tolbert says. “We didn’t need to choreograph the kiss. But we like [recreating] the awkwardness of the seduction — even though Hanschen is the seducer, it’s his first time, too.”

Still, art does not imitate life — at least not in this instance.

“Ernst is a little confused throughout most of the show, because he’s not exactly sure what he wants, but ultimately he just wants someone to be intimate with,” Gonzales says. “The tragedy is that Hanschen just wants someone to have fun with.”

In real life, the couple is truly committed. Gonzales is still in school in Waco, meaning he has to commute several times a week to attend rehearsals. When he’s able, he stays in town with Tolbert. Well, sort of — they both stay at Tolbert’s parents’ house, though in separate rooms.

“It’s interesting because our families don’t know we’re gay — we just came out to our close friends this summer,” Tolbert explains.

That’s likely to change soon. Especially after opening night.

“Obviously there’s a little chemistry — how could there not be?” Gonzales admits. Tolbert agrees the friends and family they are not out to yet will probably figure it out. But until they do, it’s enough to combine work and romance.

“It’s great we can share [the kiss]. I trust him completely… and I don’t want him to kiss another guy. Our goal is never to have our understudies go on,” Gonzales says.
Ah, young love… .

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Queen lantern

tube-1Texas native Zimmer Barnes is a real-life crime-fighter, bringing gay bashers to justice in the HBO doc ‘Superheroes’

Last year’s film Kick-Ass saw a high school comic book nerd don an improvised superhero outfit and take to the streets to fight crime (albeit, as the title indicates, getting his ass kicked plenty in the process). This year’s satirical movie comedy Super also saw an ordinary schlub take matters (and a wrench) into his own home-made costumed hands, playing heroic vigilante Crimson Bolt, with a psychotic Ellen Page as sidekick to boot.

However, director Michael Barnett and openly gay producer Theodore James learned that the concept of everyday folk taking to the streets as real-life crime fighters and altruistic guardians of justice isn’t altogether fictitious: There are several hundred real-life superheroes registered in online communities, almost a dozen of whom are profiled in the documentary, Superheroes, which debuts on HBO Monday.

One of the crime-fighters profiled is openly gay Zimmer Barnes, aka Zimmer, a member of the Brooklyn-based “fantastic foursome” New York Initiative (NYI), which is seen in the documentary attempting to bait and get righteous on local homophobes, helping patch up accident victims (Zimmer’s day job is as an EMT) and stop a would-be drunk— and we’re talking seriously wasted —  driver from getting behind the wheel.

Born in Victoria, Texas, in 1988, and having attended high school in Austin between 2003–06, Zimmer moved to Brooklyn in 2009 to form the NYI with roommates T.S.A.F, Z, and Lucid.

Zimmer spoke by phone about being part of the documentary, how this real-life superhero movement started (it was a group of LGBTs!), and whether “it gets better” when you fight back with a costumed alter-ego.

— Lawrence Ferber

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FETISH FOR JUSTICE | Zimmer, left, teams with other members of New York Initiative, though he refuses to wear a mask — he’s out of the closet, he says, why go back in by pretending to be someone else?

Dallas Voice: When did you first get inspired to become Zimmer the superhero? What triggered the epiphany? Zimmer: I read a news article in 2003 or so about another crime fighter, Terrifica. She’d been date-raped and didn’t want any woman to suffer that ordeal, so she would go into bars and interfere with guys trying to pick up drunk girls. She would get in the way and tell the guy, “This girl isn’t going home with you,” and she would do this in a gold sequined mask and red cape. She’d give that woman every chance she could to get away and in one interview, she said a lot of times girls would say, “I’m not being taken advantage of, I want to do this,” and then she would give them a condom and say, “At least make a bad decision not be a worse decision,” and leave them alone. That was amazing to me. In her spare time she was doing this incredible thing and that really resonated with me, and there were a lot of people doing their own thing in every corner of the world and it was something I wanted to be a part of.

How did you and the NYI become part of Superheroes? We were getting some media requests and turned down a lot of them. But I agreed to sit down with [the producers, Theodore James and Mike Barnett] and they convinced me they had good intentions. We met at a coffee shop in Brooklyn and at one point I left Mike and T.J. to talk amongst themselves, but what they didn’t know was that my NYI colleagues were sitting behind them listening to what they were saying. We learned that even when they had the opportunity to talk behind my back they didn’t say anything negative. So that’s the reason we decided to do the documentary.

What was the actual shooting process like, and what sort of accommodations did you have to make to let them bring cameras along on patrols and fag basher-baiting operations? We weren’t always patient with that process, but Mike was really innovative. His approach and how he was going to shoot these un-shootable scenes, it worked out for the best. There’s something actually called a HeroCam — it’s a waterproof HD cam — I had that on a chest strap for a lot of missions. It’s just about the size of a pager or cell phone. It was a unique experience.

What sorts of things didn’t make it into the documentary and what else is NYI up to these days? A lot of stuff ended up on the editing room floor. We do a lot of outreach to homeless organizations — there’s a tunnel people live underneath in the Bronx and we brought supplies to them, but that didn’t make it in. Because in New York it gets freezing during winter, we try to collect and hoard blankets and medical supplies throughout spring and fall and when it gets cold we try to hand out all that stuff. Today the NYI is undergoing several missions protecting the West Village from muggers and providing self-defense information and outreach to sex workers. We’ve got exciting stuff in the works but I can’t talk about it yet.

How does your being gay fit in to your being a superhero? In the documentary you say something to the tune of you choose not to wear a mask because you don’t want to be closeted.  I don’t think it fits in a huge way. It’s never been a secret. I came out in high school. I didn’t necessarily want to be an embodiment or speak for an entire community but it’s something I’ve never made a secret of.

How would you feel about a gay teen who takes on school bullies and fag bashers a la Kick-Ass instead of just the pacifistic ‘It Gets Better’ approach? While everyone’s situation is different, I strongly recommend to anyone who might be a victim of violence to have a strong education in self-defense. I’ve broken up dozens of fights and defended myself from blows without ever having to throw a punch — so far, anyway. But that doesn’t mean I don’t practice. Speak respectfully and pack a knock-out punch.

Which comic book superhero do you feel is the most inspiring for LGBTs? Chris Claremont’s 1970–80s run on X-Men is a great read for anyone feeling different or an outcast. There’s a lot to be said for geek culture being ahead of the curve, and Claremont really nails it on diversity as a strength, not a weakness. If you want to read greatly written LGBT characters, I highly recommend Ed Brubaker’s and Will Pfeifer’s run on Catwoman as well as Gail Simone’s Secret Six.

Are other LGBT people doing what you’re doing? Yeah, there are. The earliest [superhero group] we know of was actually a gay and lesbian group in San Francisco, the Lavender Panthers. There was a lot of gay bashing going on, and [a gay Pentecostal Evangelist named] Rev. Ray Broshears was being harassed. The police didn’t do anything so they formed their own group and looked around for gay-bashings and handled it. It’s not something I would believe, it sounds like a comic book, but Time Magazine did an article on these guys in 1973. They were around before the Guardian Angels. As far as I know they were the original group.

Do your friends and family know about your alter-ego? I don’t have an alter-ego: Zimmer is my real first name. I don’t have a lot of secrets with friends. My friends are pretty weird. My mother is an attorney and her mother was a police officer, so criminal justice as a career is part of the family. I think my mom was supportive of it.

And boyfriends? I was dating during the course of making the documentary. We broke up and [my work as a ­superhero] was one of the reasons why. They were really worried about what I was doing and the more dangerous aspects.

And what do you want people who watch Superheroes to come away from the experience with? I want people to realize that even a single person’s effort and passion can make a huge impact. There’s something exciting about using your time and energy to help other people.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Travelin’ man

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SIDE PROJECT Even with the hectic schedule of performing musical accompaniment for the circus, Ryan States managed to release a CD and gear up for his own time in the spotlight.

Ryan States did what most people just dream about: He ran off to join the circus. But he stll wants to make music of his own

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

R­yan States has his future set — good (and rare) for a musician. Where others work day jobs and try to book gigs by night, States might have the best gig of all. As the keyboard player in the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey circus, his day job is as a musician. And when he had time on the side, he used it to record and release an album.

All in a day’s work for States — or in his case, two years.

“Yeah, it took that long to put together,” he says. “It’s hard to say when I really began, and other projects come up.”

Two years for an album isn’t abnormal, but for States, working around his grueling schedule called for creative ways to finish his 2009 CD, Strange Town. (The circus stops in Dallas July 27, performing 21 shows in 11 days.) In doing so, it even has its own unique claim to fame.

“This is the first record ever completely made on a train,” the out singer brags. (Yes, the circus does still travel by train.) “I experimented with remote recordings. Sometimes I’d have musicians in my train room, other times I’d get their tracks via email. I was putting music and musicians together without any kind of network out there.”

The result was an 11-track CD of singer-songwriter rock that recalls the likes of Jackson Browne or Michael W. Smith and sounds beautifully cohesive in its production value. Recording has moved beyond the studio, but States pulled off a polished package considering his unconventional approach to Strange Town.

“I’m really happy with it,” he says. “It turned out to be simpler to collect tracks and work from my computer on the train. I could be there working, tracking and editing music all I want. With our work schedule of shows and rehearsals, time was the biggest challenge for me.”

Although the album is available, if you want to hear States live, the circus is the only place to do it. At 37 — seven of those years with Ringling — States is clearly a seasoned performer, but he’s yet to perform his own music.

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CIRCUS FREAK-OUT Ryan States is safely sequestered away from dangerous acts like lion taming and trapeze, but keeps up musically. (Feld Entertainment)

“I did make my debut performance on Queer Voices in Houston performing live, but I realized I hadn’t performed my own stuff outside of my living room or a talent competition,” he says. “Plus, I really didn’t think I could do that on the road.”

The logistics behind booking shows while touring is daunting, but expanding to individual venues is on his radar. And while Dallas has plenty of venues where he could perform (he’d like to perform at a place like the Vixin Lounge, he says), States — who used to live here — didn’t book one. He felt he wasn’t prepared.

He first needs some back-up musicians: His album was recorded with an amalgamation of musicians culled from across the country via the Web. But could there be some lingering insecurities about going at it alone — even with a backing band? Hard to say. States wants to perform his own gigs, but his reasons for the delay come off somewhat as a case of the nerves.

“I’ve not yet performed in front of an audience I could see,” he laughs. “I look forward to getting something bigger together. I am preparing for it, though. I think I should be ready with everything by fall.”

In the meantime, he has plenty to keep him busy at the circus.

“We’re not playing a song because there is really no end,” he explains. “It’s rock, it’s circus music and people are surprised it’s live. But we have to keep an eye on the show. If something happens or gets off course, we have to keep up or slow down. I’ve never had a gig like that and because anything could happen, we have to be ready at the drop of a hat.”

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States is clearly stimulated by his work with the circus. He has all of life’s necessities: A place to live (albeit on wheels), a good musical gig and time for his own work. He even has his traveling circus family. So to say his future is set is likely an understatement.

“I’ll be here for a while, at least another year. It’s nice to have steady work and just show up,” he says. “I don’t really like a lot of attention, but as for my music, it is a new challenge to be pushed up to the front. I’ve always been a side man, but I know now I can be whatever I want to be.”

 

………………………

Pitching a tent

circus-4Eight years ago, Cristian Zabala received the phone call that would change his life forever. Following a 2002 audition for Cirque du Soleil that seemed to go nowhere, Zabala had assumed he wasn’t what they were looking for. But then came word that the casting director wanted him for the Alegria, performing as an acrobat. He had the athletic prowess for it, but what the Argentine-born performer really wanted to do was sing.

“When I was 17, I was doing musicals and dancing in school,” he says. “For me it was good enough to just be in the show, but they asked me to sing and because I’m a countertenor, I’ve been the only male singer in that show.”

Now Zabala can be seen in Dralion, the production from Cirque that fuses Chinese traditional circuses with more contemporary themes. Zabala’s character, L’Âme Force, threads together the four elements depicted in the show. He’s also living the proverbial dream, but he wouldn’t say that it was all by accident.

“I’ve always had that luck to do what I love to do. I believe in the law of attraction,” he says.

He means that in more ways than one. Zabala’s significant other is also the artistic director for Dralion. They first met while working on Cirque’s Quidam. By the time the stint was over two years later, they were full-fledged boyfriends. When this show opened up, offering them the opportunity to work together, they took it. The decision was not lost on the rest of the cast and crew.

“I get some teasing from everyone for being the first lady, but it’s funny,” laughs Zabala. “I joke about it, too. Since I am from Argentina, I always say they call me Evita Peron.”

When the timing is right — and they are in one place long enough — the couple plans to get married. Hopefully the wedding will take place in Buenos Aires (where same-sex marriage was recently legalized), although he says they are still considering their options.

Although excited to pursue that chapter, Zabala isn’t in a hurry. His gig with Cirque is artistically fulfilling — he even hesitates to call it work, but more a calling.

“This has never had that connotation of work to me,” he says. “I know it’s always my choice. Sometimes I could call in sick but even when I don’t wanna go, the show brings me back to a certain reality. I’m not religious but I am very spiritual. My purpose is to entertain and give it to people. It’s wonderful.”

And when all is said and done, Zabala isn’t too worried about the future. He has another year with the show.

“This one thing I know. I will always work. It’s a weird feeling but because I want to be singing, somebody will give me the chance.”
— R.L.

Cirque du Soleil: Dralion at Dr. Pepper Arena, 2601 Avenue of the Stars, Frisco.
July 27–31. $40–$95. Ticketmaster.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Soap. Opera.

John Jones gets down and dirty with his two passions —singing and handcrafting boutique soaps

John Jones • VelvetRopeSoaps.com
FRESH SCRUBBED | John Jones’ soap-making business plan includes catering to gay boys and the church social blues hairs in Highland Park. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

John Jones toiled away complacently at his day job at an electric utility office, but he also had a creative side that needed nurturing. A healthy dose of entrepreneurialism led Jones to exercise control over his destiny and explore another aspect of his personality. And it included soap. And opera.

“I always wanted to start my own business,” Jones says. “I wanted to be creative, but it had to be something I could afford to do.”

The thing was, Jones didn’t have an exact idea of what he wanted to do. His only criteria were a cheap set-up cost and something that would feed his creative talents. His a-ha moment came while watching HGTV’s Househunters, where a couple featured on one episode mentioned they were in the soap-making business and that they lived off of it. That piqued Jones’ curiosity.

He bought books, did online research and soon found himself experimenting with lye and oil ratios and fragrance mixtures. Before too long, Jones came up with a recipe that he liked for handmade soaps — not from kits and poured into molds (that “isn’t really making soap,” he says), but crafted raw.

“I knew I could do that and it was fun and creative,” he says. “Now I have these big pots I work with and my guest room is now my soap room.”

Jones dashes off the lingo with ease, using terms like “saponify” (converting fat into soap) and extolling the benefits of using goat’s milk as a base. While he sounds like an old pro, he’s only been at it for a year. But he also realized he needed a new approach to make his product stand out in the marketplace.

It wasn’t just ingredients that would set him apart, but his market. Jones wanted a line of gay soaps with campy names.

“I wanted cute, catchy titles for the different soaps,” he says. “So I put ground coffee beans into my coffee bar, and oatmeal in my country bar. Others have their specific fragrances” as well. Leather bar, anyone? How about bear bar? And then there’s his gay bar, with its rainbow layers.

Notice a pattern here? It’s not by accident.

“I wanted a fresh, fun approach to this, not an old lady approach,” he says. “Me being gay and a bear, I wanted that to be my target audience. So these aren’t your normal soap scents.”

Friends helped him with covering the spectrum of the kinds of “bars” he could frequent, hence products that include piano bar, disco bar, sports bar, even a Goth bar.

“That has dragon’s blood in it,” he explains.

Still, while he saw the gay community as a primary market, his soaps are good enough for anyone. Thanks to his mother, he found a niche market and created and named soaps geared toward the church-social crowd.

“I got the gays covered and the sweet, old Christian ladies, too,” he laughs.

In October 2010, he created Velvet Rope Soaps, navigating the very scary ordeal of official state filings, obtaining liability insurance for cosmetic products, using invested monies in his company efficiently …and, of course, making the soap. Jones’ boyfriend helps him package the soaps and bath soaks, a scented bath salt that’s his other item right now.

At first it was totally an online affair, but after sending out samples, Velvet Rope is now available on store shelves.

“Skivvies has been selling my product for the last four months,” he says. “They just put in their third order and added a second shelf! They’ve been great and I’ve been happy with it. Now some of my goals are getting it into the Highland Park area and Deep Ellum.”

The soaps are still available online, with the added benefit that he can customize soaps, including helping customers develop personalized scents. But for the moment, his signature is branding the soaps with catchy phrases. Many have the company name on them, but he’s open to something else. Just ask.

“I can monogram soaps, put custom labels, wedding dates,” he says. “I was in the vendor market at Texas Bear Round-Up this year and my biggest seller was the leather bar soap branded ‘cum pig.’ Everyone said they were getting it for their boyfriend.” Uh-huh.

As if his job and his business didn’t keep him busy enough, there’s also his interest in singing opera that siphons off his time. Jones is working with local musician and performance artist Kurtz Frausun on The Dawn, billed as an electronic German war opera. The avant-garde show is scheduled for a November premiere at the Eisemann Theatre in Richardson.

“Yeah, it’s been an interesting experience,” Jones says. “Kurtz composed the music around our singing. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

But Jones is quick to get back to his soaps. He discusses potential new products, but wants to keep that under wraps. He has quickly become a savvy businessman even while discovering a new passion. At the very least, people can always use soap — and he encourages dropping it every once in a while.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Fun things can happen when you bend over in the shower.”

For more information, visit VelvetRopeSoaps.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Latin flair

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MUY FUNNY | Dan Guerrero works for laughs while being gay and Latino in his one-man show.

Before he could write ‘¡Gaytino!,’ Dan Guerrero first had to find his roots

rich lopez  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Growing up gay and Latino can be a tough hand to play. In a culture that revels in religion and machismo — hell, the word “machismo” is Latino — coming out poses pitfalls.

But Dan Guerrero lucked out. With some artsy upbringing by a musician dad and a not-so-practicing Catholic background, Guerrero’s closet was easy to open. In fact, it was harder for him just to be Hispanic.

“Los Angeles never made me feel like I was good enough,” he says. “I fell in love with musicals in junior high. I wanted to hear Julie Andrews in Camelot! Who gives a rat’s ass about mariachi?”

His dad might have given one. He was famed musician Lala Guerrero, the father of Chicano music who popularized the Pachuco sound in the 1940s (the beats most associated with Zoot suits and swing dancing). While Guerrero appreciated his father’s legacy, he established his own identity by moving to New York to become an actor. That didn’t work out so much, but becoming an agent did.

“It was kind of by accident, but I ended up being an agent for 15 years,” he says. “I got into producing and I loved it.”

Although he stepped away from performing, Guerrero finds himself back onstage Friday and Saturday at the Latino Cultural Center with ¡Gaytino! The autobiographical one-man show is part comedy, part cabaret, with Guerrero recounting in lyrics and punch lines his experiences growing up gay and Latino, life with father … and having to rediscover his roots after moving back to L.A.

“The main reason I did the show is, I wanted to know more about my dad and my best friend. I was already fabulous,” he laughs. “So I don’t think of this as my story. I wanted to embrace his legacy and celebrate him and our lives, but also tell of being a born-again Hispanic.”

In L.A., Guerrero rediscovered his heritage. While still working in entertainment, he noticed a lack of Latinos behind the scenes. He started a column in Dramalogue to change that, interviewing actors like Jimmy Smits and Salma Hayek and producing shows that spoke to Latin audiences.

And then came ¡Gaytino!

“Well, the word itself hit me first so I trademarked it. Then it was madness as I set about writing it,” he says.

When the show debuted in 2005, Guerrero hadn’t performed in 35 years. He was a different man, no longer a young buck with nothing to lose and untarnished optimism. He was a behind-the-scenes producer and casting agent. He was — gasp! — older.

“I remember thinking, ‘What am I gonna do? What if I forget my lines?’ I’m an old codger,” he says. “But I got onstage and it was like I had did it the day before. Performing is just part of who I am.”

With his successful day job (he once repped a young Sarah Jessica Parker), a healthy relationship (32 years this November) and irons in many other fires, why bother with the daunting task of writing a show and carrying it alone?

“It still feels like I’m breaking into show business. At least when you’ve been around as long as I have, you can get the main cheese by phone,” he answers. “But really, I had something I wanted to say and I love doing it. I’ve been lucky to stay in the game this long but it’s not by accident; it’s all been by design.”

What he loves isn’t just doing his show, but how it pushes positive gay Latino images. He’s dedicated this chapter in his life to that. Guerrero now feels parental toward the younger generation — maybe because he has no children of his own.

“I do feel a responsibility and not just to younger people, but to all,” he says. “For ¡Gaytino!, I first want them entertained, but I hope audiences will leave more educated about some Chicano culture and history and Gaytino history.”

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QUEER CLIP: ‘BEGINNERS’

screen

 

Beginners is such a dreadfully forgettable and generic title for what is the year’s most engaging and heartfelt comedy, you feel like boycotting a review until the distributor gives it a title it deserves.

Certainly the movie itself — a quirky, humane and fantastical reverie about the nature of love and family, with Ewan McGregor as a doleful graphic artist who, six months after his mother dies, learns his 75-year-old dad (Christopher Plummer) is gay and wants to date — charts its own course (defiantly, respectfully, beautifully), navigating the minefield of relationships from lovers to parent/child with simple emotions. It’s not a movie that would presume to answer the Big Questions (when do you know you’ve met the right one? And if they aren’t, how much does that matter anyway?); it’s comfortable observing that we’re all in the same boat, and doing our best is good enough.

McGregor’s placid befuddlement over how he should react to things around him — both his father’s coming out and a flighty but delightful French actress (Melanie Laurent) who tries to pull him out of his shell — is one of the most understated and soulful performances of his career. (His relationship with Arthur, his father’s quasi-psychic Jack Russell, is winsome and winning without veering into Turner & Hooch idiocy.) But Plummer owns the film.

Plummer, best known for his blustery, villainous characters (even the heroic ones, like Capt. Von Trapp and Mike Wallace), exudes an aura of wonder and discovery as the septuagenarian with the hot younger boyfriend (Goran Visnjic, both exasperating as cuddly). As he learns about house music at a time when his contemporaries crave Lawrence Welk, you’re wowed by how the performance seethes with the lifeforce of someone coming out and into his own. His energy is almost shaming.

Writer/director Mike Mills’ semi-autobiographical film suffers only being underlit and over too quickly. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to spend more time with these folks.

—Arnold Wayne Jones

Rating: Four and half stars
Now playing at Landmark’s Magnolia Theatre.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DRIVE! 2010 • Driver’s seat

Changing cars is like changing clothes for Classic Chassis’ James Gudat

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

Classic Chassis member James Gudat
HOW HE ROLLS | Despite having a reliable, newer Dodge Ram truck to do most of the heavy lifting, Classic Chassis member James Gudat opts for one of his many vintage cars for everyday driving, like this awesome Matador. (Rich Lopez/Dallas Voice).

In Drive, we try to look at what’s on the horizon for new cars and upgrades of our favorite models. But for a sizeable group of gay Dallasites, older is better.

The Classic Chassis Car Club provides a place for vintage car aficionados to meet and share their gearhead passion. Many of its nearly 150 members are multiple car owners. But few have as many as James Gudat, who garages more than two dozen cars at his East Dallas home and in Canton. Ironically, he uses his vintage rides more than his “new” car, a 1995 Dodge Ram truck.

For more information, visit ClassicChassis.com.

………………………………………….

Name: James Gudat

Day job:  There are a couple of things I do. I’ve had an assortment of rental properties for the last 20 years, and four days a week I go into the office of Connectrac, a great place that my longtime friend Clint Strong created. I am really spoiled there. The two facilities that we have occupied in the last four years have space set aside in the warehouse for parking my vehicle of the day. It’s super to drive into the building and not have to worry about door dings, sun, hail or any other unfavorable elements.

What kind of car: I have 30 of them.

Say what? Yeah.

Which do you drive on a daily basis? It depends on the weather, what has air in the tires, a charged battery … and not two or three cars behind it.

Seems like it’d be tough to go through all to find out which to roll out with. What do you have to choose from? The group of wayward cars is a hodgepodge, which includes a 1928 Studebaker President (which is all original and runs but looks like it’s 82 years old), a 1958 Nash Metropolitan and a 1979 Pacer wagon. I love wagons and fixed up duplicates of the ’63 Rambler wagon and ’73 Ambassador wagon with woodgrain sides.

When it’s nice, I take out a convertible, or a hardtop and roll down all the windows. When I need attention, one of the 1970s cars in a factory original over-the-top two-tone paint scheme. Other times, I feel like a luxury ride so I pull out a 1956 Continental Mark II (the rarest car in the group) or a 1966 Imperial LeBaron. If I feel like hot rodding, I will pull out the 1979 Camaro (triple black with nice cast wheels and white letter tires) or my bad boy car, a 1972 Pontiac Grand Prix SJ with a powerful 455, Posi-track and no emission controls.

I have no idea what that means, but I want to ride in it. It isn’t restored so it has rough edges, but it’s a real kick to get behind the wheel and stick your foot in it. Laying big black rubber strips is almost a thing of the past and most cars now simply cannot do it. Still, sometimes it’s fun to not grow up.

Where did your love of cars come from? Aunt Sylvia gave me a model of a red 1968 Lincoln — I loved that toy and still have it. Aunt Louise was always a car gal with a new car every four years or so. Some of the best memories were in those cars. I still have my first car I bought 33 years ago.

Which is your most modern car? I have a ’95 Dodge Ram. The newest old one is a ’82 Lincoln Mark VI coupe. I think it’s a very pretty style with the triple pastel French vanilla paint. The leather seats are butter soft and it drives like a modern car. It gets about 20 miles to the gallon in town and 25 on the highway. Since it’s smaller — by old car standards — I can fly into a parking spot at warp speed and watch the hood ornament swing around without fear of totaling everything around me.

What do you like about your truck? It gives me the pulling power to haul almost anything that I need to. It’s the only new vehicle I have ever bought, and now it’s 15 years old, but still going strong. It looks good but not near as flashy as newer trucks. It never lets me down.

The best part about driving vintage cars is… It is the memories of family and events and the fun of being different. I like looking down a hood that’s a mile long. The wagons are great when I need to haul something like Christmas presents.

The worst? Pushing a car out of an intersection after it has just stopped running and walking home to get the truck to gather supplies to revive it.

Eesh. No thanks. You don’t want to have a wreck with one of these old cars. They are much more durable with stronger metal bodies and thick windows. A new car would fall apart if it hit any of these. Knock on wood that it doesn’t.

You must have some big stick shifts. Actually most are automatics — the only standards are the Studebaker, the Metropolitan and, of course, the 1963 Chevy firetruck which does have the largest stick.

That’s what I wanted to hear. What is it about cars today that doesn’t compare to the old ones? They have no flash or style. It’s hard to get excited about another 4-door sports sedan that looks like a two-week-old bar of soap.

There are some exceptions. The new Challenger, Mustang and Camaro are pretty fun.

Do you go to the throwback diners like Keller’s Drive-In? I have gone to two of the cruise nights at Keller’s. We rotate our monthly cruise events around the Metroplex to keep things interesting.

Do you play oldies music really loud while driving about in a classic car? I enjoy the tunes in the cars. They all have radios except for the Studebaker.  Most are AM-FM and some of the ’70s models even have working 8-track players. The ’74 Lincoln Town Car has an enormous sound system with a high power receiver, amps, speakers and dual 14-inch sub woofers that take up most of the trunk. That car will rock with the best. It plays classical music with a depth that is moving, but, of course disco sounds really good, too.

How do you maintain 30 vintage cars? If I let a car sit too long it gets cranky. They  develop leaks everywhere and it looks like your driving the Exxon Valdez around. I try to rotate all of the running tagged, insured ones so every few weeks they are driven. Twice a month, I drive to my storage in Canton to trade out a car and bring one back. The 60-mile trip helps keep the cars running much better.

Can I have one? In the last 25 years, I have only sold less than a handful of cars. There will be a time I’ll need to pass them onto someone else to enjoy, but not for a while. Anyone can have a vintage or classic car, but can you handle the care and upkeep that they demand?

No. If the question is, can you have one of those cars I have become the caretaker of, then the answer would be “not just yet.”

Dang.

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The big reveal: McLaren goes commercial

McLaren Automotive has been making cars for 20 years, but unless you frequent a racetrack, chances are  you’ve never seen one or even known where you could get one for a test drive. But starting next year, you need look no further than Dallas.

Park Place Motorcars is teaming with the British Formula One specialists to sell McLaren’s new production model. And it will only set you back $225,000.

The big reveal came about a month ago, when bigwigs with Park Place and McLaren pulled the sheet off the MP4-12C, an unwieldy title that reflects the company’s Project 4 carbon fiber model. And it is stunning.

The aluminum body, 2,866-lb. luxury sports car weighs 200 pounds less than rival models, with every gram being accounted for. A high exhaust system decreases drag by not allowing emissions to come out under the chassis. And the interior styling is comfortable and surprisingly roomy.

It’s certainly not a car for everyone — definitely not every pocketbook — but as car fantasies go, you can’t dream much bigger.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 5, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Hear ‘Holly is a Homophobe’ live at Trees tonight

Straight local band Bible Fire hits with ‘Holly is a Homophobe’

Clearly, you should watch what you say around Rob Halstead or it could turn into a song.

When a day-job co-worker of the Bible Fire songwriter went on a hostile rant against the gays, Halston ripped her a new one by putting it to music.  The result was “Holly is a Homophobe,” a single from the local band’s new album The Pursuit of Imperfection. Unexpectedly, when the group performs, it’s one of their most requested and popular songs.

“Holly is this girl me and Grant [Scruggs, the band’s guitarist] both worked with,” Halstead says. “She’s an enigma to me because she’s so nice and caring and then prejudiced all the way around.” An example of the lyric: Holly is a homophobe / Disdainfully, she told me so / Her biggest fear is turning queer / And I just thought that everyone should know.

Read the rest of the article here.

DEETS: Trees, 2709 Elm St. Sept. 16. Doors open at 7 p.m. TreesDallas.com

—  Rich Lopez

Break it down

Straight local band Bible Fire has a hit with ‘Holly is a Homophobe’

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

STRAIGHT NOT NARROW | The Bible Fire bassist Rob Halstead, center, wrote about a gay-hating colleague despite few ties to the gay community; the band’s drummer, Chris Isaacs, left, has many gay ties.
STRAIGHT NOT NARROW | The Bible Fire bassist Rob Halstead, center, wrote about a gay-hating colleague despite few ties to the gay community; the band’s drummer, Chris Isaacs, left, has many gay ties.

THE BIBLE FIRE
Trees, 2709 Elm St.
Sept. 16. Doors open at 7 p.m.
TreesDallas.com

Clearly, you should watch what you say around Rob Halstead or it could turn into a song.

When a day-job co-worker of the Bible Fire songwriter went on a hostile rant against the gays, Halston ripped her a new one by putting it to music.  The result was “Holly is a Homophobe,” a single from the local band’s new album The Pursuit of Imperfection. Unexpectedly, when the group performs, it’s one of their most requested and popular songs.

“Holly is this girl me and Grant [Scruggs, the band’s guitarist] both worked with,” Halstead says. “She’s an enigma to me because she’s so nice and caring and then prejudiced all the way around.” An example of the lyric: Holly is a homophobe / Disdainfully, she told me so / Her biggest fear is turning queer / And I just thought that everyone should know.

After a misunderstanding, Holly had a freak out when she thought someone called her a gay slur. According to Halstead, she went on a rant that took him and Scruggs by surprise. He can see, though, she is sort of a victim to the usual checklist of items: “Country girl from out in the boonies, a generic Texas town, religious parents, ignorant.”

It’s not hard to hate someone you’ve never met / But face to face and still you’ve no regret / Holly, there’s a reason that nobody agrees with you.

Interestingly, Halstead admits to have little exposure to gay the community beyond his wife’s brother who is out and some curious treks to Oak Lawn in his younger days. But homosexuality isn’t an issue with him per se.

“My stance is, it’s your life,” he says. “It doesn’t affect me personally, but I’m not saying I don’t care, I just can’t care if I’m not directly involved.

It’s like I feel I can’t have an opinion on abortion because it’s a woman’s issue and something only women experience and understand.”

He makes it make sense. Straight men may not relate to gay issues, but Halstead doesn’t feel that’s reason for anti-gay (or fill in the blank) rhetoric.  “I Just have problems when people or religion are hurting people or affecting rights.”

He adds, though, that his wife is a huge advocate for gay rights because of her brother and even “punched a dude in the nose,” for spouting off.

By contrast, drummer Chris Isaacs does have a strong connection to the community. The best man at his wedding was his gay best friend, and he’s lost friends to AIDS. Even without contributing to the creation of the song, it rings loudly with him.

“This runs deeper for me because my wife and I have had so many gay friends,” he says. “We really detest this kind of behavior.”

You’ve got trauma, overprotected / Odds are adding up to gay or molested / A baby raised in ignorance, passing on hatred / Rise above, write it off, recalculate it.

Perhaps Holly herself is a way-closeted lesbian, but Halstead doesn’t figure that to be the case.

“You would think, but no, I really don’t believe she’s closeted,” he says.

Congratulations we commend you / Dedicated hater’s a full time job / Now let’s all give a round of applause to Holly / Holly, take a bow.

Nor did the song really open her mind even though it rips her to shreds. Halstead’s disappointed by this. He had hopes for the tiniest seed to be planted.

“Nothing is going to change people who make up their minds,” he says. “I would like to think it changed her, but I don’t really think so. She does come to our shows, though!”

I know you were born in the middle of a former Confederate state / But your views are two decades behind the times and still running late.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 10, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas