Amnesty International holds candlelight vigil in Arlington for Matthew Shepard

A candlelight vigil will be held outside of Theatre Arlington from 10:20 to 11 p.m. on Friday evening, June 1 after the 8 p.m. performance of the play, The Laramie Project.

The play chronicles the circumstances surrounding the murder of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming college student who was killed because he was gay. The purpose of the vigil is to remember Shepard and others like him who are bullied or killed because they are different or perceived to be different, and to shed some light on how we can be more pro-active in a way that makes incidents like Matthew’s death much less likely.

The vigil is being spearheaded by the leader of Tarrant County’s Amnesty International group, Ellen Kaner. Other speakers include Rev. David Howard (Minister of the Unity Church of Arlington), Len Ellis (Board Member of the Dallas Peace Center), Mary Jo Kaska (Director of Programming for Hope for Peace and Justice) and Rev. Rachel Ciupek-Reed, Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Bedford. Anyone is welcome to attend the vigil, whether attending the play that evening or not.

Theatre Arlington is at 305 W. Main St. in Arlington just east of the intersection with West Street.

Tickets for the play are available on Theatre Arlington’s website. There are also performances Saturday, June 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 3 at 2 p.m.

—  David Taffet

The gay ski week fraternity adds its newest member: Shoot the Butte

amedia-photosARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Aspen has been holding a Gay Ski Week so long, the Village People weren’t considered a nostalgia act yet — they were still on the pop charts. But everyone has to start somewhere. Which is how the newest entry in the gay ski week fraternity got going.

Shoot the Butte, which runs March 19 through March 26 in Crested Butte, Colo., isn’t starting small, either. The inaugural week-long event, designed for queer skiers and snowboarders, serves both as one big party and as a fundraiser for the Matthew Shepard Foundation. In fact, among the scheduled events is a staged reading of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later, the acclaimed play about the murder of Shepard in neighboring Wyoming more than 11 years ago.

Among the other activities are daily “hookups” (meet-ups with other skiers), an apres-ski tubing party, “Martini Monday,” the Splash Pool Party (yes, you can swim in the mountains if you know where to go for the heated lanes) and a closing-night party with O.A.R. and DJ Logic. And if you book for at least four nights in the host resort, you get a complimentary “GayCard” that admits you into all the authorized events. There’s nothing like turning a little downhill fun into a worthwhile benefit.

For more information, visit MatthewShepardGaySkiWeek.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Queer locals of 2010

Twelve months isn’t all that long a time, but the impact someone can make on an entire year during any part of it can reverberate well beyond the calendar year. When we thought back on the culture in 2010, these are the 10 men and women who stood out most — for good or bad.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Israel Luna, filmmaker, left

Kelli Ann Busey, ticked-off activist, center
The most vocal debate in the gay community about the arts that occurred on a national scale started in Dallas, as Busey, a trans woman, objected to the title of Luna’s “transploitation” revenge melodrama Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives. GLAAD got involved, protests were lodged when the film played at a festival in New York City, accusations and insults flew … it wasn’t always (ever?) pretty, but it did get people talking.

Mel Arizpe, Voice of Pride winner, right
After numerous attempts, Arizpe delighted her fans by winning VOP in August as a soloist and for a duet with her girlfriend … who herself came in second overall. Talk about keeping it all in the family.

……………………………………………………

Jorge-Trinity

Jorge Rivas, photographer, left
Following Adam Bouska’s NOH8 photo campaign, Rivas started Faces of Life, a series of portraits of locals aimed at raising money for AIDS Arms. Like Bouska, Rivas hopes to take it nationwide.

Trinity Wheeler, theater queen, right
Wheeler hasn’t lived in Texas for a while, but when he returned to his hometown of Tyler to direct The Laramie Project, he faced vocal resistance. The play was still put on, and became a success.

……………………………………………………

Jeffrey-Jack

Jeffrey Payne, leathermen, left

Jack Duke, leathermen, right
Payne, the outgoing International Mr. Leather of 2010, was nearly replaced by Duke, who ended up in third place overall. Payne set a high standard as IML champ, having an award named after him and starting a foundation to help the hearing impaired within the gay community. Duke has led an active role in the leather scene locally, statewide, nationally and internationally, showing the world Dallas knows leather culture — and gentlemen.

……………………………………………………

Danielle-Harold

Danielle Girdano, cyclist, left
Girdano wanted to raise money to bring awareness to teen
suicide even before the issue made national news, so she biked from Minnesota to Dallas, pulling in just in time for the Pride parade.

Harold Steward, arts visionary, right
Steward gave the black LGBT community a shot in the arm, co-founding the Fahari Arts Institute which hosts the popular Queerly Speaking series at the South Dallas Cultural Center.

……………………………………………………

TKO-Softball

Team TKO, softballers
Member teams of the Pegasus Slow-pitch Softball Association did gangbusters at the annual World Series in August, but none did better than the players on Uptown Vision’s TKO, who collectively won the B-
Division trophy by defeating the Long Beach Rounders in the NAGAAA tourney in Columbus, Ohio. When it comes to sports, it’s hard to beat a Texan — Tony Romo notwithstanding.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

On the road to Tyler with the Turtle Creek Chorale

Gay men’s chorus went to East Texas prepared for protest, but instead found a warm welcome

DAVID TAFFET  |  taffet@dallasvoice.com

TCC-1
NEW IN TOWN | Members of the Turtle Creek Chorale get off the bus in Tyler for their concert at First Presbyterian Church. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

TYLER — After their trip to Spain last summer, Turtle Creek Chorale Artistic Director Jonathan Palant invited me to join them on their next trip. With expenses approved, I was ready. Little did I know that the group’s next tour would be a bus trip to Tyler.

On Saturday, Dec. 11, I accompanied the chorale members as they traveled to East Texas for an out-of-town tryout of their upcoming holiday concert.  One chorale member on the bus assured me, “It’s just like Spain — except nothing like it at all.”

Controversy surrounded the Tyler trip since the church that was originally to host the concert rescinded the invitation. That happened after several large donors threatened to pull their support, causing Marvin Methodist Church to inform the chorale they were no longer welcome to perform there.

But nearby First Presbyterian Church stepped in and welcomed the group to perform a concert as part of that church’s December music and fine arts series.

On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 11, the Chorale left from Cathedral of Hope at 2:30 p.m. in two buses. Several members drove separately.

The group started off for Tyler with at least a little nervousness. Demonstrators had protested the performance of The Laramie Project in Tyler over the summer.

The play about Matthew Shepard recalled a similar incident that occurred in Tyler in 1993 when Nicholas West was kidnapped and murdered in Bergfeld Park. On World AIDS Day this year, a plaque was unveiled in the park memorializing West’s death. That mere placing of a marker to remember a murder also stirred controversy in this East Texas city.

And the demonstrators had threatened to return to protest Saturday night’s chorale performance. Singers said that threat was on their minds as they drove to East Texas that afternoon. In its 31-year history, the chorale has never been protested.

When the buses pulled up to the church right off of Broadway, Tyler’s main street, only church staff greeted the chorale. No protesters in sight.

Chorale members retrieved their garment bags from under the buses, filed into the church, laid their concert attire down over the pews and quickly gathered at the pulpit to begin blocking and rehearsing.

TCC-2
GETTING READY | The Turtle Creek Chorale rehearses at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler before their performance there Saturday. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Several songs got full run-throughs. The singers’ entrance and exit from the pulpit-turned-stage was quickly improvised. Small groups like Encore, soloists, a drum group and a tambourine quartet figured out how they would make their way from various positions among the chorus to front and off-center on the main floor.

Betelehemu, a Nigerian Christmas song, required foot motion and hand gestures during the performance. A few members weren’t coordinating their motions. Palant suggested those singers only do the hand gestures. A second run-through of the song went smoother.

At 6 p.m., the church served dinner in the Fellowship Hall. By 6:50 p.m., most of the singers were upstairs in the classrooms, changing into their tuxedos.

I checked the sidewalks around the church. Still no protesters.

The pews were already filling up.

At 7:10 p.m., everyone met in the chapel behind the main sanctuary. Don Jones, who signs every concert for the hearing-impaired, rehearsed the group’s signing of Silent Night.

Then Palant reviewed what he called stage etiquette.

“Jackets unbuttoned,” he said.

Someone joked that was because Palant could no longer button his.

“Never applaud our own singers,” Palant said. “Smile.”

Don’t wipe tears. Emotion is good. Wiping is distracting. Place hands down when jazz hands aren’t required.

For the chorale, no gesture, no motion, no entrance on stage goes unrehearsed.

Before leaving the chapel, everyone joined hands for a pre-performance chorale ritual: Palant said the Jewish prayer of thanks that marks special occasions called Shehechianu.

He said the prayer was a favorite of his in his own tradition and it became a chorale tradition in his second season. Members embraced it and several explained its beauty to me.

Palant told the singers that this concert was an example of “the power of harmony to tear down walls.”

Some audience members had arriving early because of a mix-up in the newspaper. The Patriot Singers and Chorale of UT Tyler were scheduled at 6 p.m. the following night. The newspaper switched the Dallas group and UT’s appearances.

When told who tonight’s performers were, one couple left. Another several shrugged and decide to stay anyway.

By 7:30 p.m., the sanctuary was standing room only. Although no protesters showed up outside the church, the audience was as aware of the controversy as the chorale.

Cecily Luft is a board member of the church. She said that two weeks earlier, the chapel where the chorale was now gathered was the site of a World AIDS Day service and the dedication ceremony for the Nicholas West plaque.

Rabbi Neal Katz from Tyler’s Congregation Beth El and the Rev. Stuart Baskin, First Presbyterian’s pastor, conducted the service, said Luft. Sheriff Lupe Valdez also spoke at the event in the church.

Luft said that when Music Director Donald Duncan told the board about what happened at the Methodist church down the street, they unanimously voted to invite the chorale to perform there.

“Gay” never entered the discussion, she said.

“This is the most gay-friendly church in Tyler,” Luft said. “It just was never an issue.”

Then she boasted, “And we have the best acoustics in Tyler.”

TCC3
READY TO TAKE THE STAGE | Turtle Creek Chorale members dressed for performance wait to begin their concert at First Presbyterian Church in Tyler. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The acoustics were magnificent in the church and the chorale sounded best from the choir loft or balcony at the rear of the church.

After the chorale filed into the sanctuary and sang its first number, Deck the Halls, Duncan welcomed the group to Tyler.

“Despite the controversy surrounding your venue, we are very glad you are here,” he said. “As you can see by the crowd, a whole lot of people in Tyler are welcoming you, too, and you are welcome back anytime.”

His remarks were interrupted by applause several times.

Later in the concert, Palant introduced several people, including the group Tyler Area Gays, which filled several rows and had done much of the publicity for the event. Loud applause from the crowd greeted Tyler’s gay group.

Duncan acknowledged NPR reporter Wade Goodwin, who was there working on a piece about the chorale for Public Radio.

The audience took Palant’s jokes in good humor, including calling Tyler “the bastion of liberalism,” although his question, “Are there any Latin scholars here?” met silence followed by uneasy laughter.

Throughout the show, the applause was warm, but Betelehemu brought a number of audience members to their feet. If any of the swaying on stage was not coordinated, no one noticed.

After the concert, CD sales were brisk.

One audience member filing out of the church made a point of saying, “We’re Methodists and we loved it,” indicating that not everyone at Marvin Methodist agreed with that church’s decision to uninvite the group.

On the return bus trip to Dallas, everyone was excited about the day.

“I thought it was a great performance,” said chorale member Kevin Hodges. “I told a woman who said ‘thank you’ that it’s a joy for us.”

“I was choking back tears,” said singer Gene Olvera. “Invigorating,” added Darrin Humphrey, another chorale member.

“To me, it’s the sort of thing that made me stay in the chorale 17 years,” said C. E. Bunkley. “There’s purpose to it.”

Palant told the riders in his bus that he wants to do another out-of-town performance next year in another city that might not be completely welcoming.

He said that unlike many other gay men’s choruses around the country, the chorale gets out of the gay ghetto: “That’s part of our mission.”

“It was fun,” said chorale President Dean Baugh. “Up until the point I looked out and people were crying.”

“I was very proud,” said singer Hank Henley.

On the return bus ride, chorale members discussed the lack of protesters. Several suggested that as much as some might have been offended by the chorale’s appearance in town, maybe that group has more shame than Fred Phelps’ notorious Westboro clan and just wouldn’t protest a church.

Palant commented on the energy he felt from both the audience and his group. “As a performer, you perform with your dukes up,” he said. “You puff up your chest and it influences the performance. Tonight was a good example. They fed off our energy and we fed off theirs. We wanted to give them more.”

He said he consciously did not bring up the controversy of the location but was glad that Duncan had.

“I wanted to make an issue of it earlier on,” said Stephen Tosha, the chorale’s senior executive director. He said he wanted the chorale to move more in that direction.

But singer DiMarcus Williams summed up why most of the members of the chorale devote so much time and energy and why they spend so much of their own money to continue performing with the group.

“It was nice to be performing in front of such a welcoming and receptive audience,” said Williams.

Turtle Creek Chorale Holiday Concert, Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St. Dec. 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. $30–$67. TurtleCreek.org.

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

—  Kevin Thomas

Wheeler to annoy Tyler again — and we like it

What with the recent ado in Tyler regarding the TV station that asked viewers whether homosexuality will be the downfall of America, we were thinking about our friend Trinity Wheeler. Trinity is the former Tyler resident who returned last summer to direct a local stage production of The Laramie Project, only to be met by opposition from some members of the community and triggering a controversy. (We reported on it extensively, including here.) The production did go on, and by all accounts was a success.

But it also made me wonder what Trinity has been up to since the brouhaha. Well, here’s what he had to say:

I have been great! I’m directing a show in NYC in the spring and have just been getting ready for that. Also, three other writers and I are currently working on an original play about Tyler. The story centers on the Nicholas West murder and an organization called H.I.S. House which was an AIDS hospice in Tyler during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The Nicholas West story has garnered some media attention over the years, but the story and struggle of an AIDS hospice in Tyler remains untold. With Nicholas West, it examines “hate” and how it develops into the sheer brutality (shot execution style 9-15 times) of his murder. I have often wondered if Nick’s murder was not as public as Matt Shepard because he was Latin and his parents did not speak out like the Shepards. We are in the process of conducting numerous interviews with people surround both stories and slowing piecing it together. I know I have said it before, but everyone at the Dallas Voice should be commended for your help during The Laramie Project in Tyler. You were a beacon a light when the going got tough there.”

That last part is nice to hear, but we’re really interested in that play. Can’t imagine it’ll upset anyone in Tyler again.

Yeah, right.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Applause • That’s so gay

Queer connections infiltrate lots of the upcoming season of arts

Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot
Tony Award-winning gay baritone Paulo Szot, above, is a coup for the Dallas Opera; Pink Martini, below, gets the Meyerson jumping as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s guest next week.

When you have a gay theater company (as Dallas does in Uptown Players) and another troupe dedicated to bringing Broadway musicals to town (as Dallas Summer Musicals does), you can be pretty confident in finding gay appeal in the lively arts.

But cast your gaze — and your gays — outside the usual focus, and there a lot more to discover across the arts in North Texas this season.

Chief among the highlights: The Dallas Opera’s coup in snagging dreamy gay baritone Paulo Szot, who won a much-deserved Tony for the revival of South Pacific, in the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni (Oct. 22). Director Stephen Lawless returns to helm Anna Bolena (Oct. 29). DallasOpera.org.

Of course, Uptown Players and DSM are getting into the action with their upcoming shows as well. UP’s final production of their 2010 season is the American premiere of Closer to Heaven, written to the songs of the Pet Shop Boys. The musical drama opens Oct. 1 at the Kalita Humphreys Theater. The group will announce its 2011 season on Tuesday. UptownPlayers.org. And DSM’s national tour of Shrek is the State Fair Musical this year, opening Sept. 28. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

Next week, Theatre Three produces the local premiere of Songs from an Unmade Bed, a song cycle about a gay man working his way through a relationship. In previews from Sept. 3 in the Theatre Too space. Also in Theatre Too: Bruce R. Coleman’s latest play, the puppet show Tales from Mount Olympus, and spring welcomes Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them by Christopher Durang. Next up on the main stage is Laramie Project creator Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations, followed in December by the local premiere of The Drowsy Chaperone. Theatre3Dallas.com.

Contemporary Theatre of Dallas continues its presentation of Ed Graczyk’s world premiere Texas-set comedy-drama with a gay twist, Blue Moon Dancing, which runs through Sept. 12. Its 2010–11 season kicks off in October, and includes plays directed by Rene Moreno (The Trip to Bountiful) and Michael Serrecchia (Cheaters), plus a play by gay playwright Alan Ball (Five Women Wearing the Same Dress). ContemporaryTheatreofDallas.com.

The Dallas Theater Center launches its new season next month with the company’s gay artistic director Kevin Moriarty’s adaptation of Henry IV (opens Sept. 11).  The season ends with the musicals Cabaret and The Wiz. DallasTheaterCenter.org.

WaterTower Theatre begins its season with its artistic director, Terry Martin, directing and starring in Our Town (previewing on Sept. 24), and closes the season with Howard Ashman’s camptastic Little Shop of Horrors in July. WaterTowerTheatre.org.

Pink Martini
Pink Martini

Bass Hall brings in Spring Awakening on Nov. 9–10, followed by Mamma Mia, A Chorus Line, Beauty and the Beast and 9 to 5 later in the season. BassHall.org. In Dallas, the Lexus Broadway Series includes Young Frankenstein (Jan. 4) and Billy Elliot (June 8), while TITAS starts with MOMIX (Sept. 10) and the return of Complexions Contemporary Ballet (May 11). ATTPAC.org. The Dallas Black Dance Theatre stages a dance by local legend Bruce Wood in the spring as well (see story Page S6).

It’s not just opera and theater that goes gay, either: The Dallas Symphony Orchestra welcomes queer-led bank Pink Martini on Sept. 3, and The Music of Michael Jackson starts Sept. 1. DallasSymphony.org.

Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

‘There is no day but today’

By Trinity Wheeler, director, “The Laramie Project”

If one, definitive lesson has lingered with me since working with “Rent,” it is that of the lyric, “No day but today.”

This message in mind, I knew it was time — though, well overdue — for “The Laramie Project” in East Texas. When invited to direct a show in my chiefly conservative hometown of Tyler — which experienced a hate crime nearly identical to Matthew Shepard’s, five years before his murder in Laramie, Wyo. — I could have very easily chosen “Steel Magnolias,” “Harvey,” or any other tried-and-true, community-theater staple.

But I didn’t want a crowd pleaser. I wanted to present a production that would allow the audience to consider the views of others, and reconsider their own. To invite debate, discussion, and to open a dialogue — the seeds of progress.

The response I received in coming out was nowhere near positive or pleasant. If this was the reaction of my own family, how would the community respond to a work in which the topic of homosexuality is unabashedly broached?

I went out on a limb in choosing this show, and was very aware of the chance the bough could break, and down would come baby. But the number of East Texans who voiced their support for this production after protests from members of the theater board proved to be unexpectedly staggering.

The show is no stranger to controversy, though I don’t believe any of us imagined we would face opposition long before we even began rehearsals, especially from those who once fully supported the project. But the cast, crew, and community banded together to brave the storm, and I believe we are all the more resolute because of it, having formed a brand of bond unique to such an experience, which may not have happened otherwise.

And that is exactly what this show is about. A community coming together in the wake of adverse events. I have hope for this production, and for Tyler and East Texas. I hold to hope for tomorrow, but, for now, there is no day but today.

—  Dallasvoice