COVER STORY: On the fringe

WaterTower’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival gets very gay

Dark-Play

STALKER TWINKS | ‘Dark Play or Stories for Boys,’ pictured, looks at online relationships with an eerie, gay twist.

Fringe theater festivals always push boundaries — that’s kind of the point — which often entails racy, “alternative” material … and that frequently touches on queer content.
We’re used to finding some gay-interest shows at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, but this year is something else — of the 22 artists and companies performing at the fest, more than one-third are members of or tied to the LGBT community. That’s a lotta gay in a short time frame.

And there is of course more than just gay content — dance and music and just entertaining performances from the likes of spotlight selection Charles Ross, whose one-man show encapsulates the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in about an hour. (He previously did Star Wars in its entirety at OOTL.)

But here are the artists who will bring a little bit of gay to Addison next week and for 10 more days of theater after. There’s certainly something you’ll wanna see there.

Contributing writers: Arnold Wayne Jones, Steven Lindsey, Rich Lopez, Mark Lowry, Jef Tingley.

Highlights2-billbowers
One Man Lord of the Rings, March 1–4. $15.
• Amy Stevenson cabaret in the lobby, March 2 and 10. Free.
Sweet Eros, March 1, 3, 7 and 9.
Dark Play or Stories for Boys, March 2, 3, 4 and 10.
A Most Happy Stella, March 3, 7 and 11.
Strange Dreamz, March 3, 6 and 10.
Waking Up, March 3, 6, 8, 10 and 11.
The Screw You Revue, March 9 and 10.
Bill Bowers: Beyond Words, pictured left, March 9, 10 and 11 (movement workshop March 10).
WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Circle. March 1–11. All single tickets $10, except as indicated. Festival wide pass available. Visit WaterTowerTheatre.org for a complete schedule of events.

Sweet Eros

Interview with director Adam Adolfo
What’s gay about it: Everything. It was written by Terrence McNally “and provides people the opportunity to re-explore [his] work as contemporary dramatist,” Adolfo says. It’s produced by QLive!, the stage arm of Q Cinema. Sweet Eros is one of the featured presentations at OOTL.

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EROS-ION | Q Live!, the stage arm of Fort Worth’s Q Cinema film fest, makes its OOTL debut with ‘Sweet Eros,’ pictured at left; gay playwright David Parr, below, offers the Texas premiere of his comedy ‘The Most Happy Stella,’ a play on the title of the musical ‘The Most Happy Fella.’

How gay audiences can relate: “Sweet Eros is a slightly subversive play in the idea that it’s about a man who feels on the outside of society,” explains Adolfo. “He struggles with his demons to define a sense of place and hope for himself, [which] leads him to a self-awareness that is both revelatory and terrifying. We liken his struggle to what many gay men experience in their own coming-out process.

“Unlike most men, though, our hero takes a very dark, frequently erotic and unsettling journey to self-discovery, forcing us to question his choices and sense of self. I’ll say this for our hero: His sense of sexual virility and his heightened attention to fine detail makes him a very alluring aggressor and his predatory skill is both sensual and sadistic. He is a very complex young man. But then again, aren’t we all?”

Adolfo’s relationship to the Q folks goes back several years, after he cast founders Kyle Trentham and Todd Camp as a bumbling pair of soldiers in his production of Much Ado About Nothing. “Before that I had worked with Kyle as an actor, directing him as Bottom in my staging of Midsummer Nights Dream. That production hit upon gay marriage equality and coming-out issues in a very subtle way, and was my introduction to Kyle. The guys are just phenomenal to work with and when they started up QLive!, I was very glad to be a part of their inaugural reading of Spring Awakening, the play that inspired the hit Broadway show.”

Why Out of the Loop?: “This is my first time to be a part of the festival. I’ve come in years past and fallen in love with shows and companies whose work I had not been exposed to and being able to access it so freely,” says Adolfo. “It’s a cornucopia of talent, skill and artistry.”
Performances: March 1 and 7 at 7:30 p.m., March 3 at 5 p.m. and March 9 at 8 p.m.

Dark Play, or Stories for Boys

Interview with actors Adam Garst and Jacob Aaron Cullum

Cast and story: The five-person cast is headlined by Adam Garst and Jacob Aaron Cullum playing, respectively, a teenager who stalks other teens online, and his victim. The show features costumes by rising local star Justin Locklear.

Background: This is the first production by Outcry Theatre, another area theater founded by students of Waco’s Baylor University (others include Second Thought Theatre and Rite of Passage Theatre Company). In this case, Becca Johnson-Spinos, who directs Dark Play, received her master’s in directing at Baylor, worked in North Carolina and then moved to Dallas with her husband. Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions gave this play its area premiere in 2008, but it was written several years before that. It uses AOL instant messaging and chat rooms as its means of cyber-bullying, which already feels dated in a world run by Facebook and Twitter.

Gay cred: Clearly, the storyline, though Garst played the gay character Moritz in WaterTower Theatre’s Spring Awakening.

Garst’s view of his stalker character: “When I first read it, it seemed like Nick was extremely mean. But it’s been interesting making him a real person. Like everyone else, he’s desperate for something in the world. The thing he thinks he didn’t need was love.”

Cullum’s view: “It’s neat to play a character who is so naïve and gullible that he’s easily fooled by this character because he wants to fall in love. Behaviorally, he’s very similar to me.”

Performances: March 2 and 10 at 8 p.m., March 3 at 2 p.m., March 4 at 5 p.m.

A Most Happy Stella

Interview with playwright David Parr

What to expect: We could tell you about David Parr’s play A Most Happy Stella. But then he might shoot us.
“I want the audience to know as little as possible going in,” he says. “It’s become a gayer and gayer show as we worked on it and I didn’t realize how many elements were in it altogether. A gay audience will appreciate them and would help the show.”

Stella is made of six vignettes that riff on popular theater works mixed with camp and layered with a sophisticated jazz soundtrack. Parr’s not going for satire, he says — he really just has one intention: “To celebrate all these plays and theater in general,” he says.

Queerspiration: With His Girl Tuesday, Porn Yesterday, Long Gay’s Journey into Night, Alas Poor Yorick and the title piece, the inspirations for each scene is obvious — as is the queer appeal, whether comic or more serious.

“The gay theme [in Yorick] surrounds a bullied student who befriends a girl on the bus,” Parr explains. “The bullying issue wasn’t what I set out to do, but I felt that outsider element the character does and befriended this girl who’s been a good friend ever since.”

He amps up the queer content by turning the finale into a mini-musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. With a complete emasculation of Stanley, the show turns the famous “Stella” yell into a chorus and flips the perspective around on the characters.

“That show is over the top anyway, but also a really disturbing play,” he says. “And Tennessee Williams’ writing style lends itself to music. The elements just needed a little tweaking to verge into camp territory. It’s kinda like standing on a ledge — we don’t wanna fall all the way off — that disrespects the original work.”

Living on the fringe: Parr thrives on creating works with a fringe element, as he did in his first success, Slap & Tickle, about a group of men coming out in a post-AIDS time and the tapestry of relationships they are involved in. Parr, though, is maintaining his focus on Stella, because he will just be seeing it all put together when he finally comes to Dallas from New York a week before the festival.

“I feel pretty good right now and the tone of it is playing how I want it to,” he says. “But then, we haven’t done our tech yet!”

Performances: March 3 at 2 p.m., March 7 at 7:30 p.m. and March 11 at 5 p.m.

Strange Dreamz

Interview with performer Kevin J. Thornton

Try to decide what to call Kevin J. Thornton, and you’ll probably come up as empty as Thornton himself. He writes, tells jokes, sings songs, performs scenes from his life … he might even bus your table if you asked nicely. So it is with his world premiere show, Strange Dreamz: It’s a little bit of everything.

Kevin-J.-Thornton-in-Strange-Dreamz

‘VULGARITY WITH A CHRISTIAN EDGE’ | For his world premiere show, Kevin J. Thornton recounts coming out to his fundamentalist family.

“I’m trying to blur the line between this show and my Podcast, which is also called Strange Dreamz. I say it’s about ‘love, sex and the meaning of life.’ But I also call it ‘dick jokes that are good for the soul’ and ‘an hour of vulgarity with a Christian edge.’ I’m truly a variety act — I guess the closest you could say is, I’m like a male Sandra Bernhardt.”

Thornton grew up in a deeply fundamentalist Christian household, so his journey to out atheist has been a long and difficult one, but all the more material to fuel his comic rants.

“If you read it on paper, my stuff may seem pretty filthy. But I have this boy-next-door charm that keeps people in their seats,” he admits.

That quality probably also landed him a job posing nude once for Unzipped, the gay porn magazine. So what was more difficult to expose: His body or his painful upbringing?

“Of course it’s taking off my clothes!” he says without missing a beat. “I’m very vain and have a small penis. Getting onstage and spilling my guts is a piece of cake to me now. The closer I get to embarrassing myself, the better the material is. It seems to resonate with people.”

Performances: March 3 at 5 p.m., March 6 at 7:30 p.m. and March 10 at 2 p.m.

Waking Up

Interview with playwright Kelsey Ervi

Only 22, Ervi’s play Waking Up will be the first of her works actually produced for the stage.

What’s gay about your play: “When I was writing this, I wanted to make sure to create a broad spectrum of characters. It’s important to me as a playwright and a lesbian to have gay characters, so we have a scene with two men in their struggling relationship and then two women who are physically and emotionally into each other, but it’s something they’re uncovering about themselves.

“I knew it would be a good fit into this festival. The show is neither a comedy nor drama, but, um … quirky is a good word. It has many different themes and storylines in small vignettes. The play revolves around 11 characters total and it’s all set in a bedroom. We set it in realism to look at things people wake up to, wake up for or don’t wake up at all. I think it can touch audiences in a different way.”

6-Greyman-Kelsey-Ervi

Kelsey Ervi

Past gay cred? “I was accepted for GLAAD’s annual OUTAuction last November. I had a photograph accepted and was named one of the top five emerging artists in my medium. I was so happy to be a part of that. And I had a directing internship with ShakespeareDallas last fall under Rene Moreno working on Hamlet. That really pushed me to move to Dallas and I’ll be working with [the company] again this summer for Twelfth Night. I knew I didn’t want to wait in Waco any longer.”

One last note: “I wrote Waking Up after an intimate experience with a girl in college. She was an inbetweener. But I want the audience to be reminded how emotions can be scary but great. Besides, it’s short (30 minutes) and sweet. It’s something different ages can enjoy, especially young people.”

Performances: March 3 at 8 p.m., March 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., March 10 and 11 at 2 p.m.

The Screw You Revue

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McGeoch and Chaffee perform the sassy standup of ‘The Screw Your Revue;’

Interview with Douglas McGeoch, aka Miss Didi Panache
Imagine a Sonny and Cher-style duo with the in-your-face satire of Lisa Lampanelli and you have The Screw You Revue. Real-life partners Dewey Chaffee and Douglas McGeoch star as Wayburn Sassy (Chaffee), a bigoted curmudgeon who calls it as he sees it, and Miss Didi Panche, his lovely songbird accomplice, in this gay cabaret of hiss-and-tell humor.

Standup origins: The show began out of Chaffee’s standup comedy routine with a biological girl originally playing the role of Didi. Chaffee later convinced McGeoch to step into the heels and “now, he can’t tear the sequins from my back or the lashes from my eyes,” says McGeoch. For its Texas premiere, they will be adding three things. “One, lots of local Dallas flair and commentary on the city. Two, multiple digs at Texas’ Most Honorable Governor, Rick Perry. And the third addition will be … um … let me check my notes … I forgot. Oops!”

Fair warning: For those easily offended, best to stay at home. This audience-interaction experience does not discriminate. During one of their most memorable shows, Wayburn encountered a quadriplegic in the front row. Ignoring typical social norms he approached the gentleman and said, “All right, someone needs attention. I’ll bite. What the hell happened to you?” The audience went silent. The gentleman responded by saying that at the age of 12 he dove into a pool and broke his neck. Without missing a beat Wayburn replied, “So you’re not only a cripple, you’re an idiot, too.”
According to McGeoch, the gentleman and his party roared with laughter.

Performances: March 9 and 10, 10 p.m.

Beyond Words

Interview with mime Bill Bowers

Cast: Just Bowers, a professional mime who uses stories from his life growing up as a gay kid in Montana, then deciding to become a mime. Beyond Words is a personal story culled from Bowers’ own life, with narration and movement telling the story. It played last fall off-Broadway.

Ooh, daddy: Whether he considers himself one or not, Bowers is a daddy — for real! He recently donated his sperm to a lesbian couple and became a biological father to their child. Both Bowers and his partner will have active roles in the son’s life.

On how becoming a father affected his art: “We’re not the official parents, they’re raising him. But we’re a big part of his life and I see him regularly. It’s something I never imagined I would do, but they asked, and I became a father. So that is a huge part of this piece.”

On becoming a mime: “I was surrounded by silence when growing up,” Bowers says. “There was the silence of Montana, but although I was in a big family, I didn’t talk much. And then the silence of being a gay kid, there was no conversation about that when I was little. When I got into high school and realized there was an art form about not talking, it just came to me. I started teaching myself what I thought mime was.”

For those who wanna be mimes: In addition to his show, Bowers will also lead a movement workshop on March 10 at 10 a.m.

Performances: March 9 at 8 p.m., March 10 at 5 p.m. and March 11 at 2 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Operators standing by

Rawlins Gilliland’s pledge to KERA listeners? Less boring, more fabulous

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

radio

SWITCHBOARDS NOW OPEN | Gilliland commandeers the mic for two days of the KERA pledge drive, and he’s determined to entertain while begging for dollars. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Although  Rawlins Gilliland would never describe himself as a mad prophet of the airwaves, he does have at least one thing in common with Howard Beale from Network: He’s mad as hell, and he’s not gonna take it anymore.

As a long-time contributor — and, of course, devoted listener — to KERA 90.1 FM, the local NPR affiliate, Gilliland is all-too-familiar with the infamous pledge drives that have become long, intrusive and tedious.

He understands why people tend to tune out during the 240 days of fundraising each year. (Actual figure may be less; it just feels that way.)

“Most people would rather have their teeth cleaned by a bipolar dentist who reeked of boxed chardonnay” than endure another pledge drive, he says. So, as the fall campaign loomed — it’s scheduled to last up to 14 days, starting Oct. 14 — Gilliland decided to take action. While he did not want to insult his colleagues for their efforts, he nevertheless told KERA’s management they needed to make the pledge drive better. Lots better. And he wasn’t shy about saying he was the man who could do it.

He has facts on his side. Gilliland’s droll commentaries, often with a sassy gay twist, have engaged listeners for years. He has volunteered to host countless hours on the pledge drive, and his segments always are among the most lively and effective at getting calls in. “Begone the endless droning!” he seems to say. “Let’s bring in some fun!”

“They were very enthusiastic,” he says of KERA’s reaction to the proposal — so much so, they asked if he would consider two dates.

“Everything I’ve ever done well in my life is because someone told me they liked the idea and gave me to freedom to do what I needed to,” Gilliland says. “A fresh idea has a very short shelf-life. It’s only a really good idea when it’s still new.”

Toward that end, Gilliland may be the first person since Jerry Lewis to turn a telethon (or radiothon) into an entertainment event. On Tuesday, Oct. 18 and again on Monday, Oct. 24, he’s programming virtually the entire day of fundraising from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., bringing in special guest co-hosts from across the community to share in the duties.

He insisted that all his co-hosts meet three criteria: They had to be glib, multifaceted and devoted listeners of KERA. “All of these people are people I really know,” he says.

Among the local celebs set to share the air during Gilliland’s two day begathon: Former city councilwoman and current Arts District maven Veletta Lill (Oct. 18, 3–4 p.m.), gay publicist John Shore (Oct. 18. 4–5 p.m.), transgender restaurateur Monica Greene (Oct. 24, 9–10 a.m.) and Dallas Market Center V.P. and DIFFA volunteer Alden Clanahan (Oct. 24, 11 a.m.–noon). One of his guests will be Mary McDermott Cook, whose father founded Texas Instruments. Gilliland met her after he made a radical promise during the spring membership drive: Make a pledge and I will take you out for cocktails and dinner.

“One person called in because he said, ‘You had some skin in the game.’ I said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do.’ People respond to that.”

It’s that kind of response Gilliland hopes his experiment will yield. “I call it a sort of intervention to minimize the apocalypse of the pledge drive,” he says.
To pledge — please — and end the drive early, call 888-694-6931 or visit KERA.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 14, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Beach reads

Looking for good summer books with a gay twist? We’ve got you covered

Miguel’s Secret Journal by A.V. Zeppa
In this debut novel by recently out author A.V. Zeppa, a teacher of English and music at Hostos-Lincoln Academy in New York, the title character Miguel is a 15-year-old gay Latino living in a poor and violent section of the South Bronx. A gifted artist who is emotionally, physically and sexually abused, Miguel meets and falls in love with Gabriel, another gay student at school. As the boys’ relationship deepens, Gabriel lets Miguel in on a not-so-little secret that will change his life — and perhaps the course of humanity — forever. Miguel’s Secret Journal is the first in a planned series.

Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender by Nick Krieger
Author Nick Krieger’s eye-opening transgender memoir isn’t just about making the transition from woman to man, but about dismissing a binary way of life and blurring the lines between gender and identity. This story of self-discovery starts when lesbian travel writer Nina moves to San Francisco’s Castro District and meets a group of queer friends who modify their bodies and debunk traditional ideas of gender. Soon Nina begins masculinizing her own appearance — first by refusing to shave her legs and eventually opting for surgery to reduce and reform her chest. During this empowering journey, Nina transforms into Nick, a self-aware entity who’s content existing somewhere in the middle.

Rounding Third by Walter G. Meyer
In the eyes of his father, 17-year-old Rob Wardell is a failure. He doesn’t fit in at home, at school or on the baseball field where he warms the bench in a vain effort to appease his dad. But Rob’s outlook changes when he befriends the team’s new star pitcher, Josh Schlagel, and engages in an off-field relationship that leads to an outcome neither boy anticipates. Popular jock Josh has a secret ­(and the bruises to prove it)  and when all is revealed, Rob must step up to the plate to save his friend from a harrowing truth that he’s kept hidden for so long.

Games Frat Boys Play by Todd Gregory
In this sizzling follow-up to Every Frat Boy Wants It, Todd Gregory returns to California State University-Polk where boarding-school brat Jordy Valentine is starting his first semester. Immediately intrigued by Beta Kappa fraternity and enamored by its rush chair, Chad York, Valentine pursues the handsome Greek god only to be rejected. Scorned, the freshman devises a plan to physically transform himself in order to catch the eye of York and in the process is thrust into a world of illicit locker-room trysts and late-night encounters with other brothers.

The Road Home by Michael Thomas Ford
After a car accident incapacitates 40-year-old photographer Burke Crenshaw, he returns to his widowed father’s house to recuperate and receive temporary full-time care. As his dad embarks on a new relationship, the ailing Burke begins a quest of his own – to uncover a 125-year-old mystery hidden in a series of letters from a Civil War soldier to his fiancé. With the help of local librarian Sam Guffrey, Burke unexpectedly unlocks a past that forces him to confront his own — the choices he made, coming to terms with his mother’s death, repairing the relationship with his estranged father and ultimately how to live as a successful and confident gay man.

Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight by Loren A. Olson
Between 3 and 8 percent of the U.S. male population is gay, and prominent Midwestern psychiatrist Loren A. Olsen is among them. But the first 40 years of his life was built on a lie: After two decades of marriage to a loving and devoted wife, Olsen, a father and grandfather, accepted that he was romantically and sexually attracted to men. The result of his experience is this powerful tell-all that explores human sexuality — particularly that of mature men — and how to cope with coming out later in life.

Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke
A sort of handbook for LGBT teens everywhere, authors Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke offer this comprehensive guide that includes sections on how to come out (and handle the repercussions), ways to deal with bigotry and homophobia, how to find likeminded friends, dating, sex and more. Often interjected with humor and personal anecdotes, this must-read also includes fascinating sidebars on queer history and a wealth of health, community, safety, political and reading resources that send a message more along the lines of “the best is yet to come” rather than just “it gets better.”

Mogul by Terrance Dean
Hot on the heels of the latest same-sex hip-hop scandal (NYC DJ Mister Cee was recently arrested for public lewdness: Receiving oral sex in a car from another man), Terrance Dean’s compelling page-turner follows Big A.T., who climbs the rungs of the music industry ladder with the help of powerful Larry “Pop” Singleton. Identifying A.T.’s potential to become a powerhouse producer, Pop introduces the rising star to Tickman, a Brooklyn lyricist with whom he begins a secret affair. But when scandalous photos of A.T. surface on the desk of a national news program — and land in the hands of his girlfriend, Jasmine — A.T. must decide whether to come clean or keep quiet for the sake of his career.

Hidden by Tomas Mournian
After enduring 11 months of abuse at Serenity Ridge, a gay-to-straight boot camp for “troubled” teens, Ahmed escapes to San Francisco where he finds an underground safehouse inhabited by seven other runaways. Now known as Ben, Ahmed find solace in his new life with these misfit strangers, who struggle to survive omnipresent angst, infighting and desires that threaten their secret society, while also struggling to remain below the radar of would-be captors until they’re legal adults. Publishers Weekly proclaimed that Tomas Mournian’s fiction debut will have readers “almost suffocating on the palpable sense of fear and claustrophobia that permeates this heartbreaking story.”

— Mikey Rox

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

—  Michael Stephens