Black & White in color

Former Dallasite Robert Bartley returns from NYC to helm Pegasus Theatre’s latest monochrome play

TAMING PEGASUS  |  New York-based writer/director/actor Robert Bartley, above, returned to Dallas to direct his first Living Black & White production, ‘The Frequency of Death!,’ below, which recreates the look of ’30s-era movie melodramas with complex and challenging makeup and design processes. (Production  photo courtesy of Phil Allen)

TAMING PEGASUS | New York-based writer/director/actor Robert Bartley, above, returned to Dallas to direct his first Living Black & White production, ‘The Frequency of Death!,’ below, which recreates the look of ’30s-era movie melodramas with complex and challenging makeup and design processes. (Production photo courtesy of Phil Allen)

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

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FREQUENCY OF DEATH!
Eisemann Center for Performing Arts, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. Through Jan. 22. MCL Grand Theater, 100 N. Charles St., Lewisville. Jan. 26–29. $20–$35. PegasusTheatre.org.

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Films like The Artist and Hugo have spent the last month racking up awards and nominations as they tribute the golden era of black & white movies of yesteryear. But for Kurt Kleinmann, there’s a bit of “been there, still doing that.”

Kleinmann is the star, author and impresario of Pegasus Theatre, which for more than 25 years has produced the signature “Living Black & White” show: A murder-mystery send-up to the melodramas of moviedom’s past. Over 16 plays — all written by Kleinmann, with kitschy titles like Mind Over Murder!, Death Is No Small Change! and The Frequency of Death!, the last of which is now playing at the Eisemann Theatre in Richardson — the galumphing, clueless “world famous detective and aspiring actor” Harry Hunsacker (played by Kleinmann) and his sidekick Nigel Grouse have solved crimes while surrounded by a cast of overwrought hams … all the while wearing makeup and performing in a set that fools the eye into believing you are watching a black and white movie.

Frequency of Death! is a “thorough rewrite,” Kleinmann says, of a previous incarnation of the play, but the signature look remains the same. For director Robert Bartley, that posed some challenges.

“Kurt is always reminding me, ‘You can’t do that.’ For instance, you have to be very aware of the facial area,” Bartley explains. “You can’t have people kissing or touching their faces. Even the set is a problem: You can’t use reflective surfaces, like glass in the doors, or you will be able to see the red EXIT signs in the theater.”

That’s just part of the fun for Bartley though, who spent much of the holidays in Dallas mounting the show for its two-venue run, separated from his partner of 13 years. The sensibility fits with his own aesthetic. Pegasus shows have always contained a camp element, ideally suited for gay audiences accustomed to drag queens basing their characters on Tinseltown divas of the ‘30s and ‘40s.

It’s also a homecoming of sorts for Bartley. A boyish 49 who looks like he still gets carded for buying beer, Bartley cut his teeth on theater in the Metroplex while attending the University of North Texas. For more than two decades, though, he’s made New York his stage, acting and dancing in plays and movies, and launching Broadway Backwards, directing and conceiving of what has become a major fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, attracting talents including Betty Buckley, Neil Patrick Harris and Clay Aiken.

But Dallas feels like home.

“This is where I worked on The Cuban and the Redhead,” he explains over an Atkins-friendly lunch in the gayborhood. Bartley workshopped the musical, about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, in Arlington and Garland from 2004 to 2007, and he couldn’t have been more pleased — then and now.

“The theater community here is as good as ever,” he says. “We had great turnout for our play.” The same is true of Frequency of Death, he insists. Among the cast is Susan Mansur, a Broadway veteran (the original cast of Best Little Whorehouse, the revival of Damn Yankees!) familiar to local audiences as Helen Lawson in Uptown Players’ Valley of the Dolls. (“She drinks throughout our show,” Bartley quips — her character, that is.)

Bartley came of age in the era of AIDS, and says the community has also grown up a lot since then.

“When I was in college, I was the only person there who admitted being gay,” he says. “I think there is more acceptance of the gay and lesbian community — it’s more open.”

Not everything, after all, is black and white … except, of course, a Pegasus show.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Starvoice • 02.18.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

David Geffen turns 68 on Monday. The music impresario and co-founder of Dreamworks tends to keep a lower profile. But the power gay showed up for his own fete. Record exec Clive Davis honored Geffen and his work in the entertainment industry right before this year’s Grammys. Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty and Neil Young were among the big stars to attend.

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THIS WEEK

Socially we are facing a huge uprising over the next few years in the clash between structures of authority (Pluto in Capricorn) and individual freedom and integrity (Jupiter and Uranus in Aries). The sun in Pisces is bringing intuitive awareness to how we find healing through the crises ahead.

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AQUARIUS Jan 20-Feb 18
Review your accounts carefully. Mistakes are very expensive, but locating them now solves problems or turn up hidden assets. Professional help can be worth the investment.

PISCES Feb 19-Mar 19
Your birthday gifts are very enriching and generous, though not necessarily in the monetary sense. You have to let your friends challenge you if you’ll ever find out how valuable they really are.

ARIES Mar 20-Apr 19
Your eye for opportunities is sharp, although your ego pushes you too far too quickly. Meditate on your success can serve the good of others. Then opportunities will be even greater.

TAURUS Apr 20-May 20
Don’t be afraid to speak up. You will find you are wrong and need to reevaluate things. Clearing things up now is advantageous than if you dummy up to look smart only to stumble later.

GEMINI May 21-Jun 20
Friends building  your reputation will make you out to be nastier than you are, but that edgy cachet serves you well. Stretch to fit it andide this wave of confidence socially and professionally.

CANCER Jun 21-Jul 22
Career opportunities put strain on your relationship. Listen to your partner, assume responsibility for adapting and be open to new ideas. Imagination and compassion can save the day.

LEO Jul 23-Aug 22
Be empathetic and persuasive about sexual equality, even in the workplace. Sympathizing is more effective than argument. Being effective makes you feel sexy, and when you feel it you get it.

VIRGO Aug 23-Sep 22
Your eagerness to try new fun and games with your partner could get real kinky, but are you two on the same track? Listen carefully and be accommodating. You’ll be happily surprised.

LIBRA Sep 23-Oct 22
Resolve household problems. Remember you and your partner (or roommate) are not opponents but need to solve the situation cooperatively. Giving in a little can get you a lot.

SCORPIO Oct 23-Nov 21
Your eagerness for results causes friction and accidents. Relax. Look at the situation as a creative challenge. Be open to new ideas as you think other people should be to yours.

SAGITTARIUS Nov 22-Dec 20
Reevaluate any investments you have. Property is best in the long run, but moving too quickly on that isrisky. Exploring your family background and cultural roots turn up hidden strengths.

CAPRICORN Dec 21-Jan 19
Talking with relatives makes lots of people crazy. Somewhere in there, you see both the secret and the source of your deepest integrity, whether those come from your family or despite it.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Gospel according to gays

Tim Seelig and Cathedral of Hope put a queer twist on that old-time religion with the ‘Gay’ther Homecoming, a celebration of hymns and homos

M.M. ADJARIAN  | Contributing Writer mmadjarian@gmail.com

SAY  AMEN | Seelig, above, tapped dozens of gospel artists for his inaugural concert, including out singers Ray Boltz, below left, and Marsha Stevens, below right.

‘GAY’THER HOMECOMING
Cathedral of Hope,
5910 Cedar Springs Road.
Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. $15.
CathedralofHope.com.

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Leave it to Tim Seelig to find a way to queer-up the straightest event.

The original Gaither Homecoming was started in 1991 in Nashville by gospel singer and impresario Bill Gaither.

“It’s a huge industry of straight gospel singers — I mean hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Seelig.

And that industry has not been gay-friendly. According to Seelig, too many talented LGBT gospel singers have been excluded from performing at events like the Gaither Homecoming. Many are not even allowed to sing in their own churches.

But there is no want of LGBT gospel music fans out there. So on Saturday, Art for Peace & Justice (which Seelig directs) and the Cathedral of Hope will present the first annual “Gay”ther Homecoming, a gala evening of Christian music and song. Proceeds will benefit the Interfaith Peace Chapel at the COH.

The show, the first of its kind in the nation, will feature 49 singers and six instrumentalists from across the country, singing solos and then joining each other — and the audience — to  sing hymns and gospel songs.

“The audience will know every single song performed,” says Seelig. “They will sing along, tap their feet, clap, and utter many ‘amens.’ I have no doubt there will be tears.”

“The initial idea [for the event] came from a staff member at the cathedral and was simply [intended] to host a celebration of LGBT musicians and their friends during gay Pride,” says Seelig. “It is not meant as a spoof or parody of the Gaither Homecoming industry; we just felt that by giving it that name, people would immediately know what to expect with very little explanation.”

It is, though, meant to be empowering for gay people of faith.

“Over the years, I have come in contact with literally hundreds of musicians who cut their teeth in the church but were completely cast aside once they came out,” he observes. “There is no room for them at the table of main-line religion. Period.”

Seelig faced similar discrimination when he came out in the 1980s, but has since achieved international acclaim as a singer, educator and chorale conductor. He’s also brought to Dallas, through A4P&J, speakers such as Maya Angelou and recently a performance of Terence McNally’s Corpus Christi.

His latest project has two aims. The first is to offer LGBT gospel musicians a welcoming space where they can let their talents shine. And the second is “to bring the audience to a place full of wonderful memories of their own journey with religion and, more specifically, the music of their youth.”

Among those slated to perform at the “Gay”ther Homecoming are LGBT gospel luminaries as Ray Boltz, Marsha Stevens, Mark Hayes, Susie Brenner and Pattie Clawson Berry. Local artists joining the line-up include Gary Floyd, Amy Stevenson, Danny Ray, Lonnie Parks and Shelly-Torres West, along with three LGBT gospel groups: Redeemed, Out 4 Joy and Voices of Hope. The show will be filmed for future DVD release.

“Our hope is that this will be something that LGBT people all over will purchase and enjoy,” says Seelig. “There are so many people all over the world who feel disenfranchised. This is just one way that the Cathedral of Hope and Art for Peace & Justice can help them know they are not forgotten.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens