Starvoice • 07.01.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

Billy Campbell turns 52 on Thursday. Campbell has everyone swooning as Darren Richmond in The Killing. But his heartthrobby good looks set the boys’ hearts aflutter as he played gay character Dr. Jon Fielding in the landmark miniseries Tales of the City as well as  Stephen Carrington’s lover in Dynasty.

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THIS WEEK

Mercury in Leo, cranking up egos and voices, is at the end of a “yod” with Pluto and Chiron. The real challenge is to shut up, listen and adapt to difficult new realities. Venus making a T-square to Uranus and Pluto stresses relationships, forcing major adaptation. Your work is cut out!

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CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
Venus in your sign makes you more attractive, but not necessarily to whom you want to attract. Stick to your standards. A philosophical sense of humor gets you through awkward advances.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22
Clear the air and explore new ideas. Just be careful when and where. Once you have those ideas honed and polished your boss will probably love them.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22
Whatever you’re worried about, face it directly. Discussing it with your partner could solve it. If words fail you, try round one in the bedroom.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22
Worrying about family and relations holds back your career, but understanding them will strengthen you. It’s all in your attitude and knowing how empowering your roots really are.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21
There is pleasure in getting to the truth of the matter, but doing so is disruptive to personal and work relationships. Conspire with your potential allies in your search for understanding.

SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Be challenged by new ideas. Consider them and see how they might be constructively applied. You love your theories, but practical experience is what proves truth and value.

CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19
Asserting yourself creates disaster at home. Pay attention and be ready to adapt. It may take sacrifice, probably of some aspect of your ego, but willingness to transform will save you.

AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18
Pay close attention to what your partner has to say. You don’t have to agree; you do have to think about it. Affirming roots gives you the strength to make necessary changes.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
Changes at work are a blessing in disguise. Friends’ advice that you don’t like will prove most helpful. It may need more discussion for you to fully understand. Keep an open mind.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Brash overconfidence gets you into trouble. You have what it takes, but consider what your strongest virtues are.  A little humility will give you perspective and enhance your strengths.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
You get away with anything, but second-guessing yourself ruins this lucky streak. Don’t get trapped in dawdling. Stay clear on your ideals and they will pull you through.

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
Your mouth gets you in trouble. Trust in your friends for appropriate guidelines. Meditative reflection is helpful, not just for verbal discipline, but for clarity in professional goals and partnership.

Jack Fertig can be reached at 415-864-8302 or Starjack.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

 

—  Michael Stephens

Anything was possible

From DIFFA to the stage, John Ahrens has witnessed the evolving art of HIV

YA GOTTA HAVE ‘HEART’ | Ahrens, above, was moved to tears by the revival of ‘The Normal Heart,’ which captured the panic of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s; below left, designs from two decades of DIFFA auctions, which improved greatly from the days of ‘ugly fabrics.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

John Ahrens ended up in Dallas accidentally, but it’s an accident that may have saved his life. In the late 1960s, he was enrolled at Yale

University’s drama department, studying theater alongside classmates like Christopher Durang, Sigourney Weaver, Wendy Wasserstein and Meryl Streep. It was a magical time.

“I lived in New York until the late 1970s,” he recalls. “Back then, in 1976 in New York, anything was possible — you had Paul [the gay character] onstage in A Chorus Line, it was post-Stonewall.” The Continental Baths had acts like Bette Midler and Barry Manilow before anyone knew who they were. “Later you had La Cage aux Folles with Georges singing ‘I Am What I Am.’”

In other words, it was a great time to be gay.

Or so it seemed. Ahrens moved to Dallas in 1978, putting him 1,300 miles away when the AIDS epidemic hit New York hard. Ahrens first realized how serious the situation was when he called a friend to inquire about a former roommate; the roommate had died.

All those emotions came flooding back to him last month, when he made a pilgrimage to New York specifically to see the revival of The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s 1985 play about the AIDS crisis. Ahrens caught a Sunday matinee; four hours later, it walked away with three Tony Awards including best revival of a play.

“It was amazing,” Ahrens says, choking up slightly. “It so accurately describes the panic everyone was living through, especially those still in the closet. It has gotten better” over the years.

That seems to be the consensus. The Normal Heart arrived in New York about the same time as another play about AIDS, As Is, but met with a very different reception. As Is made it to Broadway, where it was rewarded with three Tony Award nominations and the Drama Desk Award for outstanding new play. The Normal Heart remained off-Broadway, underground. And its angry political tone was eventually eclipsed by Tony Kushner’s two-part epic Angels in America.

But when’s the last time you heard someone talk about As Is? Meanwhile, Kramer’s play has earned cult status. (For years, Barbra Streisand tried to direct a film version.)

“The Normal Heart was so much of its time,”Ahrens opines, “but seeing it brought it all back. It captured the horrors of it all. The visualization of John Benjamin Hickey’s performance was so authentic — back then, you could look at someone and know they had HIV.”

It was a horrific time, but also one that spurred great achievement and sacrifice. “It changed a lot of people and made them get their shit together,” he says.

Ahrens, a respected costume designer, was present for the first auction of clothes from DIFFA, the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. He still remembers the first piece he designed: A red leather number with a hoop skirt meant to evoke Christian Lacroix…“worn by a 6-foot-tall redhead.” (He’s referring to Dallas supermodel Jan Strimple, a long-time supporter of DIFFA and an AIDS activist, one of Ahrens’ oldest friends.)

It probably wasn’t his best work — back then, it was hard to do your best work.

“We all got our fabric from the same fashion line, and that line was really ugly,” he says. “Some of us were getting our fabric the night before the show.”

Things have changed. The designs became more fabulous, the designers more high-profile, the fabrics of better quality. But what Ahrens remembers most are the people — in particular, the lesbian community.

“They were the soldiers,” he says frankly. “Lory Masters and her generation? Hell, they took on so much,” caring for the mostly gay men who suffered.

Back then, even being associated with AIDS took heroics; today, gay and straight, HIV-positive and –negative men and women readily lend their names and faces to campaigns such as Faces of Life, Dallas-based photographer Jorge Rivas’ campaign for AIDS awareness. The stigma has diminished — but it is not gone.

Ahrens didn’t see The Normal Heart when it first ran in New York more than 25 years ago, but seeing it in 2011 truly made him see how far things have come — and how far they still have to go.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 1, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Game designers can’t seem to win for losing when it comes to gay Dragon Age 2 character

I have two sons, ages 14 and almost-12, who are both huge video and online game nuts. They have a PS2, they each have a computer and they have a Wii. Ok, so I play on the Wii more than they do, but I am usually playing Wii Fit exercise games while they prefer games with combat and monsters and danger and all that. When it comes to those kinds of games, I’m really not interested. I don’t play those games mainly because the 3-D effects most have give me motion sickness.

And since I don’t play the games, I don’t know who the characters are or how you win or any of that. When they start talking about the games, I either pretend to listen while really tuning them out, or I go the brutal honesty route:”Guys, I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t want to know what you are talking about. I don’t want to listen to you talk about it. Go away.”

One thing I do know is that their newest acquisition is a game called “Dragon Age II,” and that, at least for the moment, it is the greatest game ever created. Even though I have tried my best, I haven’t been able to avoid hearing “Dragon Age this” and “Dragon Age that” as they excitedly discuss the latest developments in their game play.

I have not, however, heard them say a single damn thing about “Dragon Age II” having a gay character. Maybe that’s because, having been raised by two moms and around innumerable LGBT people, the idea of a game including a gay character is so blase to them that it’s not worth mentioning. I hope that’s why. I’d like to think that “gay” is no big deal to my kids.

But apparently, a lot of gamers are not blase at all about the resident gays of “Dragon Age II.” In fact, at least one online petition is already circulating to get the game’s writer,David Gaider, fired over it.

—  admin

Gay Archie Comics character gets a spinoff

A year ago, Archie Comics introduced its first gay character in the pages of Veronica. Remember? As it turns out, Kevin Keller was such a hit that he’s getting his own spinoff. GLAAD posted this piece on the new comic that’s slated for a June release.

Of course, whenever we hear about comics and gay, we always run to Zeus’ Richard Neal for his thoughts. And why not? He’s clearly the go-to gay for all things within those comic book universes. When asked what he thought about the spin-off, Neal had this to say via Twitter (but not all at once):

Making a political statement for press and sales is common. Writer Dan Parent however has made openly gay Kevin a very real part of the fun, comedic and kid-friendly Archie Universe. Kevin’s own storyline about his struggles at school and coming out to his parents proves Archie Comics commitment to being relevant to today’s youth readership.


—  Rich Lopez

Of gays, Glee and generations

GLEEFUL | The cast of Glee poses with the show’s Golden Globe Award for “Best Television Series — Comedy or Musical” in January. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

TV has always been a reflection of both society’s current and future climates; and Fox comedy tells of great changes happening

HARDY HABERMAN | Flagging Left

I guess I have just renewed my “Gay Card” since I have become a fan of the hit television show Glee. The show’s weekly musical fantasy reminds me of those 1930s musical movies I grew up watching on my parent’s old black and white Zenith television. Yes I am that old.

Aside from the nostalgia factor, the show is very telling about today’s society and should be encouraging to anyone in the LGBT community. Several of the characters on the show are gay.

Glee is not the first show to have gay characters. That honor goes to the short-lived sitcom The Corner Bar back in 1972. (Vincent Schiavelli was the first actor to play a continuing gay character, Peter Panama, on U.S. television.)

But on Glee, though some plots revolve around the character’s being gay, more and more their sexuality is just an accepted fact.

Though Will and Grace did much the same thing a decade ago, Glee breaks new ground with its high school-aged characters. What I find refreshing about the show is both the treatment of the gay characters on the show, and more importantly, the country’s reaction to it. It is a hit!

The fact that Fox aired a new episode of Glee immediately following the Super Bowl — and the episode included a gay sub-plot and yet still garnered record-breaking ratings — says a lot. Though as a nation, the United States is still riddled with homophobia and all it’s variations, as a whole we are moving toward a level of acceptance I have never seen before.

And remember, I grew up watching black-and-white TV.

Television, for all its flaws, is a pretty good bellwether for American society and opinions. Though TV often helps shape attitudes, it also reflects them, and the medium of comedy has proven to be one of the most potent for both.

Had Archie Bunker in All in the Family not reflected the stubborn resistance of an older generation to change in the 1970s, it would have been far less funny. Had Maude not skewered the strident overly-politically-correct character played by Bea Arthur, it would never have resonated with viewers.

Now comes Glee, with a raft of teenagers and their inherent hormone-driven drama set to music that cuts across generations. Teen pregnancy, bullying, homophobia and the pitfalls of gay dating are all fair game — and the public not only gets it, it embraces it.

That is progress.

Now before you set pen to paper and accuse me of being a Pollyanna, yes, I know it’s still tough for LGBT people out here in the real world. But what I am encouraged by is the number of changes I am beginning to see.

Talk to young people, and ask them their attitudes toward LGBT people. From the ones I have spoken with, (in a very unscientific study) they do not see sexual orientation as the big deal as it once was.

The older generation who that harbors those prejudices against LGBT people are looking more and more like Archie Bunker. Groups who once held sway — like the American Family Association — have now been relegated to the status of a fringe hate group, where they should have been all along.

According to recent surveys, young people have more favorable views of LGBT people than do older folks. That’s encouraging. You see, that means the homophobes are decreasing by attrition as well as by change in attitude. And that means the next generation will be far less likely to hold the prejudices of their elders.

That means Americans can watch a show where the plot revolves around Kurt trying to figure out how to tell Blaine how he really feels and the fact that he is gay is not key to the plot. That is a big step from the days of gays being only the subject of dramas like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or The Killing of Sister George.

More importantly, LGBT people are no longer the punchline in comedy. Today it is the homophobe who is considered funny and out of step. Once again it’s the Archie Bunkers of this world who have become the punchline and that’s well worth smiling at.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

Sparks unplugged

Straight comic (and gay icon) Hal Sparks gets the last laugh

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer  stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Hal Sparks
COMIC AS FOLK | Hal Sparks headlines this weekend at Arlington Improv; gay baiters not welcome.

NO COLLAR COMEDY
The Improv Arlington
309 Curtis May Way, Arlington.
Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.
Sunday at 7:30 p.m. 817-635-5555. Improv.com

Hal Sparks does a mean impression of a female British robot.

During our phone interview, he was greeted by an automated voice alerting him that he was being recorded. So for the first few minutes, he conducted the interview in the same mechanical tone.

“Is this a good time?” I asked.

“It’s absolutely a good time. And even if it wasn’t, I couldn’t tell you that because I’m being recorded and I’d seem like a dick,” he said before breaking back into his computer-generated Julie Andrews voice: “You are being an asshole to the fellow who’s trying to record you.”

Sparks is one spontaneously funny guy, which he brings to his No Collar Comedy Tour, featuring Texas comedians Richard Hunter and Chris Bonno, this weekend. The “no collar” concept, he says, comes from a comic book fan/rocker point of view that makes wearing collared shirts an enigma.

Despite his explicit role on Queer as Folk, the motorcycle-riding Sparks is definitely not gay. Still, many of his fans can’t separate him from his Michael Novotny character.

“Those people are insane,” he says. “You’ll never sway them from thinking that way, whether it’s a straight character or a gay character. These are the people who see a mime in the park and really think he’s trapped in a box.”

Sparks is anything but trapped, thanks to a wildly diverse Hollywood career. Or careers: He’s been on TV in dramas, hosting game shows and comedic on programs like VH1’s I Love the ’80s, and appeared in movies like Spider-Man 2. He even sings and plays guitar in the indie rock band Zero 1 and hosted the Femmy Awards for Intimate Apparel Makers a couple months ago. This guy’s diverse.

But standup is front and center, at least until his band’s next album drops in the fall. Sparks is in the Richard Pryor/Eddie Izzard vein, preferring to poke fun at universal truths rather than the day’s gossip headlines.

“Topical humor? It’s comedy and it’s worthwhile, but it’s fast food; that’s toilet paper. My comedy style: Is it more brilliant than funny or more funny than brilliant? I’ll leave that up to you to decide,” he says. “It’s more socio than political. A comedian has a responsibility to be a bullshit meter. For me, I think the goal should be not that we give a crap what Paris Hilton did today, but why we give a crap what Paris Hilton’s doing day to day.”

And there’s definitely one media outlet of which he’s not a big fan.

“I have challenged the entire cast of TMZ to a fight and they haven’t taken me up on it. A bare-knuckle fist-fight. The rule is that the entire cast has to come into the ring at the same time,” he says. “Harvey [Levin] can hang out until they’re all done and come in last when I’m supposedly tired. They can wear whatever padding they want and bring whatever stick weapons they want. That’s a standing offer.”

Motorcycle-riding, fight-picking Sparks is good to have on our side because he doesn’t put up with nonsense from people who are anti-gay.

“It’s always funny — in a bad way — when a club doesn’t realize that I have a really open-minded, progressive, definitely left-of-center crowd that comes to see me because of Queer As Folk and I Love the ’80s. They are a smarter crowd. They put up a regular opening comic that drops a couple of F bombs [“fag”] or makes some sort of gay reference and wonders why the audience would bristle or why I would say after the show, ‘Dude, don’t do that fuckin’ joke again or you’re not opening again for me.’ It catches them off guard, but they need to pay attention.”

With several additional projects in the works, from new series to producing efforts, Sparks has definitely ready to hold our attention for years to come.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 30, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas