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

National news briefs • 09.02.11

Judge puts trial on hold in case against Dan Choi

WASHINGTON — Dan Choi may be closer to having charges against him dropped after the judge in his case put the trial on hold this week.

Choi, a gay former Army lieutenant, was arrested for handcuffing himself to the White House fence in November 2010 to protest “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Choi was dismissed from the Army under the policy.

Choi was arrested two other times earlier in 2010 for similar White House protests. However, charges in those instances were brought against him in local court.

This case is being tried in federal court and he faces six months in jail and a fine. Choi’s attorney claims he is being treated differently and harshly prosecuted because is outspoken and gay.

In putting the trial on hold, the judge said that he believes Choi has shown — at least preliminarily — that he is being treated differently.

The government prosecutor, Angela George, said that she plans to have the judge’s actions reviewed by a higher court. She said that Choi is being treated no differently than the other protesters. Choi attorney Robert Feldman said that he believes the judge’s actions mean that his client has “effectively won the case” and charges will eventually be dismissed.
The trial is on hold for 10 days.

Others arrested in the case accepted a plea deal of no jail time in exchange for pleading guilty with the condition of no further arrest for four months. Choi rejected that deal.

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Death penalty recommended in case of man who murdered family

LYNDON, Kan. — A jury recommended the death penalty for James Kraig Kahler who was on trial in Kansas for killing four family members in November 2009. Final sentencing by the judge is set for Oct. 11.

Kahler is the former city utilities director in Weatherford.

After 23 years of marriage, his wife filed for divorce. She was a fitness trainer at a Weatherford gym and had been seeing another woman she worked with after Kahler tried to initiate a three-way sexual relationship with his wife and the other woman.

Kahler moved to his parent’s home outside Topeka weeks before the murder.

His son Sean, now 12, testified that he saw his father shoot his mother.

In addition to his wife, Kahler killed her grandmother and their two daughters, ages 18 and 16. Sean testified that he was not threatened during the shooting rampage.

The defense argued that the affair affected Kahler’s state of mind. They argued for life in prison because, they said, he was out of control emotionally and suffering deep depression when he committed the murders.

Under Kansas law, mental illness is only a defense if it prevents the defendant from forming the intent to kill or acting with premeditation.

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Jury unable to reach verdict in trial of teen accused of killing classmate

LOS ANGELES — A jury was unable to reach a verdict in deliberations that began on Monday, Aug. 29 in the murder case of Brandon McInerney, who is accused of shooting his gay classmate, Lawrence King, in their computer class in Oxnard, Calif., in February 2008. The judge declared a mistrial.

In closing arguments, the prosecution said that McInerney, whose attorneys claimed shot King in a panic after King repeatedly flirted with him, was lying in wait and planned the killing ahead of time. They claimed the defense was using gay panic as an excuse.

The defense said McInerney was in a dissociative state when he killed King. They claim he was not completely aware of what he was doing and said he grew up in a violent household and was sexually harassed by King.

One of the jurors is a college student who started classes this week. Ventura County Judge Charles Campbell is allowing the jury to deliberate around her schedule.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity.

The murder took place when McInerney was 14, but he is being tried as an adult. Now 17, he faces up to a 50-year prison term, although jurors may consider a conviction of voluntary manslaughter with a 14 to 21 year sentence.

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Prosecutors: Man filmed with Clementi should stay anonymous

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Prosecutors say the identity of a man recorded on a webcam in a gay intimate encounter with a New Jersey university student who killed himself should remain a secret.

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office filed a motion Monday, Aug. 29, asking a judge to withhold the name of the man, identified only as M.B.

The Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark reports the request came in response to a motion filed by lawyers for Dharun Ravi, who is accused of spying on Rutgers University roommate Tyler Clementi and is charged with bias intimidation and invasion of privacy.

Clementi killed himself last September after his encounter with M.B. was transmitted online. His suicide sparked national discussion about bullying.

Ravi’s lawyers say they believe M.B. has information that could help their client’s case but they don’t know his name.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 31, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Trying to understand the inconceivable

A friend’s suicide leaves a reporter with questions that can’t be answered and a pain that won’t diminish

If there is any criminal act that leaves the victim’s survivors more bewildered, frustrated and tormented than suicide, I can’t imagine what it could possibly be.

David-Webb
David Webb The Rare Reporter

Four months ago, I discovered one of my former college classmates and best friends of more than 40 years dead in his home, apparently by his own hand. The official ruling was suicide by a shot to the head with a handgun that I didn’t even know he owned.

I now understand that he bought the gun for protection several decades ago. The idea that my friend would even own a gun for protection seemed ludicrous to me because I couldn’t imagine anyone who was so loving, peaceful and gentle being capable of shooting anyone, let alone himself.

I’ve been told that some people buy guns for protection because they believe that the exhibition of one will scare an intruder away. That must have been what he was thinking.

I’ve finally decided to write about this because The Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow recently wrote a column noting that older white men are more likely to commit suicide than other groups of people. My friend fit in that category.

It is inconceivable to me that my friend — who as a young man had been beautiful, talented, athletic, affluent and charismatic — could ever succumb to such a fate. But if it could happen to him, I guess it could happen to anyone when they grow older.

My friend was a 61-year-old straight guy who had never been married, and his best friend was his elderly Jack Russell Terrier who was dying of old age. He became so depressed one time that he went to bed and was found later, nearly dead of starvation and dehydration.

As a young man, my friend was adored by both women and men. But when he grew older, the attention from everyone died away. He had trouble making dates and trying to form a relationship in his older years.

He also was experiencing devastating financial problems of which few people were aware.

My friend had suffered a similar depressive experience five years ago when his mother died of natural causes. But he seemingly had recovered enough to function for a few years before his death. But he apparently quit taking the medication that had brought him back to sanity in years past. He suffered a terrible relapse as a result.

My friend was admitted to a hospital’s intensive care unit and later transferred to a mental hospital. Although his family and many friends rallied around him with loving care, he just never made it back to where he had been. His beloved dog was put to sleep while he was hospitalized.

He was released from the hospital, but it was clear he was not well. He was registered for outpatient care but apparently could not face it.

Within two days, he was dead.

Many things come to my mind about this on a near-daily basis now. It is so unbelievable to me that he could shoot himself or anyone else that I sometimes have trouble believing it was really a suicide.

I think that’s what they call denial.

Logically, I know it was suicide, and I’m glad that he is free of the severe mental illness that he had apparently endured for a number of years.

Emotionally, I search for answers and often think, “What if?” I would never have left him alone for those two days had I known he was in such danger from himself.

The two lessons I believe that can be learned from this are that if someone has suffered a mental illness, they should never be left alone until it is ascertained they are again stable.

The other message is for the mentally ill who are considering suicide if they are able at that point of making logical decisions: The pain and suffering that will be wrought upon the surviving friends and family will result in a lifetime of utter agony for them.

A friend of mine whose mother went into her garage many years ago, started her car and died, said to me, “Your mind is going to be raw for a very long time.” And it is.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative press for more than two decades. He is a former Dallas Voice staff writer and editor. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Stonewall Democrats to endorse in city elections

JESSE GARCIA  |  Stonewall Democrats of Dallas

Expired members of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas and LGBT community members interested in joining the organization need to renew or join by Thursday, Feb. 17, in order to participate in this year’s endorsement screening for municipal elections.

Hotly contested races for Dallas mayor and heavily LGBT city council districts 3 and 14 have drawn multiple candidates. Each race will be screened from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 19 in the Rainbow Room at Resource Center Dallas, 2701 Reagan St. Participants voting on recommendations for endorsements must be current with Stonewall membership dues as of Thursday, Feb. 17, per the group’s bylaws.

New or returning members can visit StonewallDemocratsofDallas.org/membership before Friday and sign up for a $35 annual membership. Or you can mail your $35 membership check made out to “Stonewall Democrats of Dallas,” along with your name, address and telephone number, to Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, PO Box 192305, Dallas, TX 75219 — but it must be postmarked by Feb. 17.

Unlike even-year elections when Stonewall endorses county, state and federal candidates in the spring and members campaign for them throughout the summer and fall, odd-year city elections have an abbreviated campaign schedule (lasting less than four months). The Stonewall board of directors saw a need for recommendations to be made within days of the filing deadline and approved quickly by the general membership in order to maximize LGBT support for a candidate.

“We realize that the LGBT vote is critical in city elections that have historically attracted less than 30 percent of registered voters,” said Stonewall President Omar Narvaez. “Every vote will matter. Candidates know that our gayborhood precincts always turnout higher than the county average. If we turn out our LGBT voters like we did in 2008 and 2010, progressive candidates who are pro-equality will get elected.”

—  admin

I have puppies on the brain today; you benefit

This morning I formally adopted my new dog, Gulliver, a lab/terrier mix who, at four months, is as gentle and well-behaved as my wily older dogs. This picture is Gulliver and me a few minutes ago — he already is more popular in the office than I am.

As any pet owner knows, once you get a new addition to the family, you become a bore — talking and thinking of nothing but your new four-legged companion. So when I had to leave him for a while today in the care of a colleague to attend the dedication of the Annette Strauss Artists Square, I ended up showing everyone I knew a picture of him (just like I did for you just now).

One friend I met at the dedication who I bored with assertions of his cuteness told me about a video called “dog prayer” that she thought I would enjoy. I did. So here it is. Keep in mind, I am not a religious person, but even I respect the devotion showed by this ol’ hound.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones