Project pinklight

For his upcoming ‘Pit Stop,’ Texas filmmaker Yen Tan tackles another gay romance

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THE BUSINESS OF SHOW Yen Tan hopes to raise money for a spring start date to shoot ‘Pit Stop,’ about small town gay life in Texas. (Arnold Wayne Jones/ Dallas Voice)

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

Writing coaches often tell authors, “Write what you know.” But for Yen Tan, the more interesting assignment is, “Write what you can’t get out of your head.”
Back in 2004 — when he was still living in Dallas, Tan wrote a draft screenplay called Pit Stop, about two gay men in small-town Texas who begin a romance. It wasn’t anything he knew about from personal experience.

“It’s hard to pinpoint what drew me to the story,” he says. “I have a tendency to pick up on things that don’t register with others. Being gay and middle class in small-town America is very foreign to me — it’s odd there are gay people who choose to live in small towns. What’s the decision behind that?”

He liked the script, but he couldn’t seem to get it off the ground financially or creatively. Instead, he made Ciao, which became his biggest hit as a filmmaker (it scored an honorable mention at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival in 2008). But Pit Stop drifted around in the back of his head until 2009, when he submitted it to the OutFest L.A. screenwriting lab.

“Hearing the comments by other filmmakers, I knew I had something and had underestimated its potential,” he says. Tan immediately started in on rewrites, including making the cast more diversified.

“The big change in the script is that two major characters are Latino now. It was all-white originally, but that was not entirely accurate of the Texas landscape,” Tan says. He also consulted with colleagues to make sure he got the feel of Podunk, Texas right.

“Thankfully I’m a bit paranoid about those things,” he laughs. “I would verify and re-verify [what I wrote about small-town Texas and gay Latinos]. I’d ask my friends who know, ‘Is this right or just totally made up?’ And I usually rely on my actors to put it right — is this what an American would say or is it totally ESL [English as a Second Language]? But I am also trying to make these elements work within the framework of my ideas.”

The issue now isn’t the script — it’s getting the film made. He hopes to begin filming in the spring, either around Austin or in the DFW area, but needs to raise money first. Tan was lucky enough to snag a grant targeted to Texas filmmakers, but he also wants to raise money from individual investors. That’s why this week, he’s teaming with OutTakes Dallas and the Texas Theatre to showcase his movie and allow people to contribute via United States Artists, a high-prestige donation site that allows people to make tax-deductible contributions and comes with matching grants.

“We’ll be showing clips from Ciao and do a staged reading of some scenes from Pit Stop,” he explains. “We’re also trying to set up Internet stations so people can donate on the spot. But to me it’s not about raising all the money at one time — just to kick it off.” He’s still trying to set up his goals for the fundraising, but Tan estimates something less than $20,000 would make a huge difference. In fact, he’s learned how to do more with less ever since moving to Austin last year.

“People are doing stuff with very little resources there — they just make do. You kinda have to put less emphasis on monetary stuff because someone right next to you is doing the same for $10.”

He’s looking forward to finally getting the cameras rolling.

“After making films all these years, the most gratifying part is production itself,” he says.” Once a film is finished and you’re going to the festivals… it’s fun but it gets old quickly. I know enough by now that that’s really the part that makes me not want to make another film.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Monster’s ball

Porn star Michael Brandon endured prison and drug  addiction, but his road to recovery — and to Texas — began with an unusual partner named Monster

MAN OF A CERTAIN AGE | At 46, the once-twinky Michael Brandon has embraced his new-found role as a daddy to younger men who were barely alive when he started his porn career.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Life+Style Editor

jones@dallasvoice.com

…………………….

BADASS TEXAS TOUR
Midtowne Spa,
2509 Pacific St.  July 29 at 8 p.m.

…………………….

Porn star Michael Brandon loves the cool weather in his hometown of San Francisco, but he is happily, and voluntarily, giving it up to come to Dallas.

“I actually have family there,” he says. “Legend has it my uncle was the CEO of Texas Instruments back in the day.” Not counting family reunions, the trip will mark the Dallas debut of his live show. So what exactly got him to Texas finally?

“I think I would have to credit Monster,” he says.

Monster, it turns out, is his pet name for his penis. Only if you listen to Brandon talk about it enough, it seems like a business partner rather than a part of his business.
Here’s how it happened.

“One of my fans, Topher, has been on me to come to Texas for years — ‘Bring Monster to Texas!’ he kept saying. For some reason, Texas wasn’t an easy nut to crack for me,” Brandon says. So superfan Topher took it upon himself to meet Monster in person, setting out on a campaign to get someone — anyone — to bring Monster and his owner to the Lone Star State.

“I’ll be damned if he didn’t get Midtowne Spa [on board],” Brandon says still a bit incredulously. “Midtowne doesn’t normally fly people in, but they agreed to this time — and it went from ‘just Dallas’ to a three-city tour.”

Brandon’s Badass Texas Tour — designed to promote the adult performer’s first hardcore sex film in several years, the fetish picture Badass — started in Austin Wednesday, and will bring him (well, them) to Dallas tonight at 8, followed by an appearance in Houston on Sunday.

To hear Brandon talk about it, it really is a collaboration, and one borne unexpectedly from tragedy.

In the 1980s, Brandon was, in his words, “fresh off the bus” when he came out of the closet with a vengeance. He was 24 and quickly got involved in the seedier aspects of gay culture. He was working at a bar when he answered an ad for XXX models. The photographer was impressed by the young man’s member.

“In the gay world, your cock can be your calling card on many levels — especially in the sex industry, and mine is really large,” Brandon quickly admits. But soon after he started doing porn, he developed an addiction to meth. It ruined his life.

TEXAS AT LAST | Brandon’s Texas tour resulted from an email campaign from a superfan.

“I was already 140 lbs. soaking wet without using anything, but I dropped even more — I was skinny as a rail. When I did the speed I stopped doing porn because I didn’t have any confidence in front of the camera. Then I started selling it, then did jail time, then prison time, then living on the streets. From 24 to 34, I saw eight-and-a-half years inside state penitentiaries. But those revolving doors kept me alive. Left to my own devices, I would have been dead. I should be dead. Dead! I’m talking skull-and-crossbones chemicals being shot into my veins. I’ve known people who did less than I did and can barely put two sentences together. Staying as strung out as I did, I would have been so out of it I would have walked in front of a bus.”

He spent 18 months in rehab, and it was really after that when “Michael Brandon” was born.

“’Michael Brandon’ was just my stage name but I started cultivating it as an entity and business,” he says.

Brandon won back-to-back performer of the year Gay VN Awards in 2001 and 2002 — the only porn actor to do so — and Monster was a big part of it.

“Part of the process [of recovery] is to learn who you really are, so I was reading reviews of me on an [escort evaluation site]. One review, the client was saying how nice my eyes were and called my cock a ‘monster.’ I thought, ‘Why don’t I give it an identity and take mine back? And it’s been a hit. Working together has been huge for my career. Monster gets his own birthday wishes, own emails, his — ‘can Monster come out and play?’ It’s been such a big marketing tool. No pun intended.”

Brandon took a break from porn and escorting when he met his true love, Marcos, “and in order to cultivate a healthy personal relationship, I stepped out from in front of the camera and basically had a monogamous relationship with him.”

That relationship ended after five years “in a blaze of glory” last October; in December, Brandon went back in front of the camera to make Badass. He was already 45 years old. But apparently as in-demand as ever.

“People ask me, ‘How long have you been in your industry?’ I sometimes answer, ‘How old are you?’ I get a lot of emails saying, ‘I have watched you since I was 12 years old.’ I wanna ask, ‘How old are you now, 15?’ Our community is youth-obsessed but I find the youth is obsessed with the papis and the daddies. I get these random emails that say, ‘I really like having sex with older men.’ When did that happen?”

But Brandon isn’t complaining. Despite a drug relapse — he has been clean for a second time almost three years now, following a nine-month binge that nearly destroyed him again — he’s as happy and focused and well-adjusted as he’s ever been. And like Lady Gaga, he credits his little — well, not so little — Monster.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Ink monster

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MERCURY RISING | Although Robear claims not to see it, the heavily tattooed gay reality star says many in the gay community say he looks like Freddie Mercury.

‘NY Ink’s’ Robear adds a queer twist to the straight tattoo universe

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

When Robear, the manager of the tattoo parlor at the center of the TLC series NY Ink, began to be recognized as a reality TV star, the first thing his friends noticed was that he didn’t use his last name.

“Who do you think you are, using one name — Cher?” he says in a heavy Noo Yawk accent, repeating the allegation leveled good-naturedly at him. “It wasn’t that, I just didn’t want to use it!”

But the man born Robert Chinosi (“Robear” was a nickname given to him by a girlfriend 20 years ago, reflecting his furry body) doesn’t have much to hide. As one of the employees on the show, which aired its season finale Thursday, Robear stands out for being a contradiction of stereotypes — as he puts it: “A big, burly, masculine but slightly feminine gay guy, heavily tattooed in the straight culture.”

Robear came to tattoo culture fairly recently. He held jobs in the corporate world in design and construction until 2007, when he was laid off. A girlfriend who owned a tattoo parlor on Long Island “did me a favor and asked me to run her shop,” he says. He got his first tattoo at 17, so it wasn’t wholly new to him, though immersing himself in the culture was eye-opening.

“Tattoo art is a small niche in the art community, but they are so famous in this world!” he says incredulously of his co-workers.

Robear ended up on the TV show almost by accident. His employer heard about the casting call and wanted to audition for NY Ink; he agreed to come along for moral support only.

“The casting agent loved my looks, and took my hand and threw me in the [audition] room. I had no head shots or applications filled out but they didn’t care. It was destined to happen in a weird, funky way.”

A few weeks later, TLC showed up at his doorstep. Before long, he found himself filming 14 hours a day.

“I never watched reality TV, even Miami Ink or L.A. Ink, so I thought, ‘How could this possibly be real?’ But it’s not scripted — you’re spending so much time with these people, more even than your own family, every day for three months. I’ve had a lot of positive responses, though I really am just being who I am. My parents and friends watch it and when I say something, they say, ‘That’s you.’”

The gay community, he says, has been especially supportive: He’s been recognized at Gay Pride events in New York, and was recently asked to do an appearance at a Chelsea gay bar. Oddly, he doesn’t understand fully why gays are attracted to him … though he has a few theories.

“I’ve been more embraced by the gay demographic because people say I look like Freddie Mercury, though I don’t see,” he says. (They’re right — he’s a dead ringer.) “Maybe it’s because I’m breaking some stereotypes. I’m a secondary character [on the show], but a rarity in this straight, macho world:  I’m 6-foot, 245 lbs. and heavily tattooed but I have a swish in my walk. Some of the [straight men on the show] test me emotionally and physically, because straight men still think since you carry a man-bag and talk with a higher voice that that’s a type of weakness. But I grew up with two older brothers and a dad right off the boat from Italy, so I was surrounded with a lot of testosterone. I have a high tolerance of pain and I won’t take shit from anybody.”

Trust us, Robear — you’re the last gay we wanna meet in a dark alley — man-bag or not.

………………………..

tube-2‘Diva’ goes gay with lesbian prom-isode

Lifetime’s series Drop Dead Diva — a body-switching comedy where a zaftig female lawyer Jane (Brooke Elliott) secretly holds the soul of a hot bottle blonde — already enjoys a strong gay following, what with Margaret Cho in a supporting role. But it’s aiming for even deeper appeal with the upcoming episode “Prom.” In it, Jane agrees to represent two teenaged lesbians whose high school refuses to let them attend prom as a couple.

The episode (airing Sunday) pulls out all the stops, with a guest cast that includes Clay Aiken, Wanda Sykes and Lance Bass, pictured left, as well as a subplot about modeling that includes some beefcake. In typical Drop Dead Diva fashion, though, the plotting is two dimensional and the storyline fairly tamed down (the lesbians may love each other but they never kiss). Nevertheless, it’s great to see a show on the “Network for Women and Gay Men” get political about gay issues in a (serious-for-them) way.
— A.W.J.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 22, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

theirTWOdads

For co-parenting couple Tyler Scoresby and Jonathan Ingram, every day feels like Father’s Day

A FAMILY UPSIDE-DOWN | Jonathan Ingram, left, with 6-year-old Brett and biological dad Tyler Scoresby, right, with 8-year-old Ella, show how a family with two gay dads can be a rough-and-tumble affair — and the kids seem to love it. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

The story of Tyler Scoresby and Jonathan Ingram, like all good gay love stories, started at the gym.

That’s where Ingram, a graphic designer, and Scoresby, a physician, met more than three years ago, not long after Scoresby came out and divorced his wife of seven years. Scoresby dated a few men before Ingram, “but he was the first to express a definite interest in meeting my kids.”

“Before he’d let me get involved with them, he kind of interviewed me!” Ingram says.

“I told him, there are times when I’ll have the kids but you may want to go out with friends. But he was really clear about wanting to be a dad with me,” Scoresby says.

And that’s exactly what they are now.

Currently, the couple (they legally wed in Provincetown, Mass., last September) share custody with Scoresby’s ex-wife, getting the kids — Ella, 8, and Brett, 6 — every Thursday, the first, third and fifth weekend each month, select holidays and all of July (“a traditional set-up,” Scoresby calls it). And they will have them this Sunday, June 19 — Father’s Day. But honestly, they don’t expect to make a big deal out of it.

“We have no major plans,” Scoresby says, 35. “We have fun every weekend. When there are two parents [in a heterosexual household], the woman usually the kids to celebrate Father’s Day. But it’s just us celebrating each other.”

“We keep them active all the time,” Ingram adds. “We do crafts, play on the trampoline, take road trips,” including one next month to California to see the Redwood Forest. And being that there are two fit, athletic men leading this household, roughhousing is the rule, not the exception. The kids seem to love it.

Scoresby calls Ingram “a perfect partner in parenting. Neither of us has a defined role. We don’t try to compare it to a straight relationship.”

The children have taken to Ingram whole-heartedly. They call Scoresby “Daddy” and Ingram “Jonathan,” but both act, and are treated, like full parents.

“A lot of times I think they like him better than they do me,” Scoresby jokes. “They respect him like a parent and he loves them like one.”

Ingram, now 41, had been interested in having children when he was younger, “but you put it aside when you come out. If I was going to have kids, it was not going to be an easy road.” He came from a fairly large family himself, which included one adopted sister.

Meeting Tyler, Ella and Brett presented an opportunity to be the dad he always wanted to be.

“Parenting comes naturally for me,” he says. “I get to do the same stuff as Tyler without dealing with the divorce. Everything else I deal with — motivating them, teaching them how to ride bikes, cleaning up after them, reading books to them at night or dealing with a nightmare — is the same.”

But they do try to operate under a different set of rules. Both had been reared in nurturing but conservative straight households that put an emphasis on values, and saw aspects of parenting they liked. But they wanted to achieve those goals their own way.

“When there aren’t set roles, it gives you a lot of freedom,” Ingram says. “For instance, there are many ways to be a moral person that are not tied to religion. So every Sunday morning [when we have them], we spend about an hour and a half on what we call ‘human time.’ We like to think of it as the next generation of parenting.”

BOUNCE | One advantage in a two-dad household? Lots of fun physical activities, like jumping on the backyard trampoline. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

They did worry at first about how to introduce Ingram as Daddy’s partner, though that has ended up being unexpectedly easy.

“Because they were so young [when we met], they really don’t remember what their lives were like before me,” Ingram says. “We certainly show affection around them like any straight parents would.” About a year into the relationship, they read Ella And Tango Makes Three, a children’s book about a family of same-sex penguins.

“Ella was already around clearly defined families and we wanted to make sure she could always tell her friends, ‘Yeah, I have two dads,’” Ingram says. “We said, ‘Do you understand our family is a little different, but that doesn’t mean we are less or bad?’ She pointed at the penguins and said, ‘That’s me, that’s you, that’s Daddy.’ It was like she already got it.”

That’s one reason you won’t hear the dads talk down to Ella and Brett. They explain honestly why someone is there to photograph them, and both kids pose like burgeoning runway models. And they are excited to start human time soon.

It’s all going so well, in fact, the couple have talked about having more kids, whether through adoption or surrogacy. But whatever they decide, one thing is certain: With two men in the house, every day feels like Father’s Day.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Bi-polar bearable

 

Uptown-N2N-Press-008
SHOCK AND AWE | Stars Gary Floyd, left, and Patty Breckenridge, right, have both worked on hit productions with director Michael Serrecchia, but for ‘Next to Normal,’ they really brought their A-game. (Photo by Mike Morgan)

Understanding ‘Next to Normal,’ a musical about mental illness

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

Patty Breckenridge is entirely aware of the cliché that having a child changes your life. But she can’t avoid it.

Earlier this year, Breckenridge and her partner Carrie became mommies to son Logan, around the same time she changed jobs. Pursuing acting opportunities would have to take a backseat for a while.

And then she heard that Uptown Players was producing Next to Normal. And she made an exception.

“I put all my eggs in one basket and said, ‘This is it; this is the one show I will be able to do for a while [now that I am a mother],’” Breckenridge says. “My wife has been so supportive; Carrie is absolutely my hero.”

Especially since she is a new mom, tackling this role — that of a bi-polar woman coping with deep issues related to her son — struck unnervingly close to home.

“I’ve never done as much work for a role in my life,” she says. “When my brother, and my other friends, saw this on Broadway, they said, ‘This was meant for you.’”

It may have impressed her friends, but one person who wasn’t initially convinced was the show’s director, Michael Serrecchia.

“My first reaction [when I saw a scene performed on the Tony Awards] was, ‘I don’t like it,’” he says with an ironic smile. “Who would watch that?”

But Serrecchia, who teaches acting and voice in town, said his students began to convince him of its appeal; before long, he was “feeling addicted to the score.”

The 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama, Next to Normal was an unlikely hit and has become a cult favorite, winning a Tony Award for its rock-opera score about the dark, often taboo topic of mental illness. It closed in January.

This is the second consecutive Pulitzer winner they have mounted (following The Young Man from Atlanta), and this marks the first production of the show outside of New York or the recently started national tour. It’s a coup for the company that only last season moved to the bigger digs of the historic Kalita Humphreys Theater.

Next to Normal fits with our mission statement of tolerance and dignity,” says company co-founder Jeff Rane. “And the family issues will be familiar to our audience.” It has sold so well, additional performances have already been added.

That puts the pressure on Breckenridge, Gary Floyd (who plays her husband) and Serrecchia to do it justice. None of them saw the Broadway production, nor do they have personal experience with bi-polar disorder. At least, they didn’t think so.

“I didn’t realize how many people I know who do suffer from it until they found out I was directing it,” Serrecchia says. “I’d say maybe a dozen people have called me.”

To be as accurate and respectful of the material as possible, Serrecchia arranged for a woman, whose life closely mirrors Breckenridge’s character Diane, to speak to the cast about what mental illness is like from the inside out.

“She made me really want to do it justice,” Breckenridge says. “We’re all bringing our A-game.”

That won’t be easy. The sung-through score is the equivalent of “vocal aerobics,” as Serrecchia puts it.

“As a singer, you have to pace yourself,” says Floyd. But it’s also necessary to convey the intense emotions of the songs. Floyd says the cue he was given to understand mental illness is that it is “like walking through cotton candy.”

Serrecchia also wanted to give the audience visual cues to the psychology of the characters. Andy Redmon’s set, a multi-story behemoth, qualifies as one of Uptown’s most ambitious ever.

“The whole play is in 2s,” he says. “There’s all this doubling, these mirror images, these layers. I wanted everything parallel. So you have all these intersecting stairs to show each transition.”

For the cast and crew, just doing a show like this is a major transition itself into the big leagues.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 10, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Power of the pyramid

Kitchen Dog debuts ‘Ponzi,’ a financial horror story

NOUVEAU POOR | An heiress (Christina Vela, left) flirts with a man (Max Hartman) and his wife (Diane Casey-Box) in the economic meltdown play ‘Ponzi.” (Photo by Matt Mrozek)

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

PONZI
The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave. Through June 25. $15–$25.
KitchenDogTheater.org.

…………………….

“The rich are different from you and me,” Scott Fitzgerald waxed, to which Hemingway allegedly responded, “Yes — they have more money.” But they are different. Money is never a big deal to people who have it, so they stand above it all. They don’t talk about how much they have, or how much things cost because, at some point, what difference does it make? If you don’t have to work to earn it, its value is fungible.

Then again, losing money — losing a great deal of it — is something everyone can understand. It becomes a source of ego, of pride. How would you feel if you pissed away $20 mil you didn’t deserve in the first place?

That is the situation posed to Catherine (Christina Vela), the regal heiress in Ponzi, the world premiere mainstage production at Kitchen Dog Theater’s New Works Festival. Catherine’s father was a legendary up-from-his-bootstraps self-made man who left Catherine two things: A solid fiscal philosophy and millions in cash to execute it.

She’s honored him by not being as showy and shallow as Allison (Diane Casey-Box), the quintessential nouveau riche Real Housewife, a woman with more cents than sense. Allison and hubby Bryce (Max Hartman) are enraptured by the get-rich-quick scheme of a flashy money manager, and their enthusiasm — plus Bryce’s unabashed flirtation with Catherine, driven in part by his lust for her balance sheet — leads to a series of bad mistakes.

Ponzi should frighten you more than it does, the way the Oscar winning documentary Inside Job did. There’s so much techno-talk — about the gold standard, how Social Security is a classic example of a Ponzi scheme that no one will touch, about how greed feeds pyramid schemes, about the lemming mentality that can cause sensible people to behave irrationally — that it needs to chill you. Like the financial meltdown, it’s not that some people didn’t see it coming; it’s that none of these so-called experts had any idea how reckless they were being. (The use of tarot cards to emphasize the randomness of life and fortune is a witty touch.)

Such horror is a ripe fruit that playwright Elaine Romero should have picked. Instead, she removes some of the universality of the tale by making it so specific to these characters.

That’s not entirely a bad thing. Instead of getting lost in the esoterica of money, she concentrates on the personality traits that drive people to make bad decisions. An undercurrent of sexual tension — between Catherine and Bryce, but just as electric (though more subtly expressed) between Catherine and Allison — makes the seductive power of the purse all the more visceral. Money is the new toy — and it’s a sex toy, at that.

Casey-Box plays the betrayed wife better than just about any actress in town; she’s always quick to turn on the ravenously uncensored switch in her characters’ brains, the one that makes people both pitiable and annoying. It’s delicious fun to watch. Vela is good as Catherine, but her final arc strikes a false note; it seems literary, not realistic.

Even still, the actors ply all these twists in one the KDT’s best-looking plays in years, with lush costumes from Tina Parker and a sleek set by Bryan Wofford. Amid such glam, the seduction of money begins to work on us, too. Maybe more is more, even if we hate to admit it.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Turning Japanese

A more insane ‘Mikado’ never did in Cowtown exist as John de los Santos puts a satiric edge to the Gilbert & Sullivan classic for Fort Worth Opera

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

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GRAND POOBAH | John de los Santos puts a contemporary spin on Gilbert & Sullivan’s 19th century satire ‘The Mikado.’ (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

John de los Santos will be the first person to tell you: Opera has a bad rep. It sucks, even.
Not all, opera, of course — just, you know, the sucky ones.

This may be surprising coming from a man who has made his living working in the opera field since 2003. But it’s not the music that he objects to; it’s the traditional, stodgy presentations — singers plant their feet and sing out to the balcony. Bo-ring.

Which is why, when he gets a chance to direct, he likes to mix it up.

De los Santos kicks off the Fort Worth Opera’s 2011 festival this weekend directing and choreographing Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta The Mikado. Though you might not immediately recognize it from the look — or, for that matter, some of the dialogue and lyrics.

“Traditionalists will hate it,” he says. “We have Segways and iPads and dancers who pop-and-lock. And a lot of the lyrics have been changed. A lot.”
But really, that’s just keeping in tone with the Fort Worth Opera’s experimental and very audience-friendly approach to opera.

This production of The Mikado has its roots in a version workshopped at the Seagle Music Colony in upstate New York in 2008,where de los Santos works every summer.

“They asked me if I wanted to do it in kimonos or modern,” he says. “I’d done traditional so we rethought a lot about it and built a completely new set. [FWO general director] Darren Woods saw it and two years later he called and said, ‘I want to do your version of The Mikado.’”

The assignment was a minor coup for de los Santos who has worked with FWO since 2003 and the Dallas Opera since 2007 as a choreographer, assistant director and performer, but had only single-handedly directed one show: 2008’s Carmen. It gave him the chance to promote his vision of what opera should — and can — be.

“It’s a really young, talented cast,” he says. “Everybody is 35 or under. And so many young people in the newer school [of opera] know it’s not just about singing, but about drama and movement. It is sung beautifully but we’re not afraid to break out of that [stand-and-sing] shell. A lot of people will think it’s weird, but it’s a lot of fun, too.”

Updating the show only made sense to de los Santos, who praises the entire FWO season for pushing the envelope (see sidebar).

“Of all the Gilbert & Sullivan shows, The Mikado is the only one that really works as an update,” he says. Although set in Japan, “it’s not about Japan at all but a very contemporary satire of power and the stupidity of the day.” So de los Santos and company added a lot of contemporary references — including jokes about Donald Trump and Japanese schoolgirls and men in business suits dancing hip-hop. In fact, there’s a lot of dancing.

Mikado doesn’t need dancing but in this partiucular instance it makes it very fun,” he says.

De los Santos is best known to Dallas theater audiences for his dancing — he was the special guest last weekend at Uptown Players’ fundraising show Broadway Our Way: Divas Rising and will play a “sexy hooker” in the company’s upcoming production of Victor/Victoria — but as he hopes to show with The Mikado and then writing the book for a musical he’s developing with Adam C. Wright and Jeff Kinman, he’s more than just a pretty face. Though, ya know, there’s no harm in that, either.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

COVER STORY: Bear Hugs

 

Bear-Hugs-art
As The annual TBRU approaches, some locals talk about what it means to be a bear

ARNOLD WAYNE JONESLife+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

With the arrival of TBRU, we ask a fundamental question: What is it that makes a gay man a bear?

With the warming weather and approach of spring, bears across the continent are emerging from their winter hibernation and striking out to enjoy what life has to bring. And many of them will be headed toward North Texas.

Ahrens.John
PAPA BEAR | John Ahrens says bear culture is for gay men who don’t fit the buff, young mold.

Not, of course, the ursine variety: These bears shop in the big and tall department of the clothing store and have been known to pound back beer like men in the desert.
Texas Bear Round-Up XVI is almost here.

By the close of official pre-registration earlier this week, the annual fellowship of the hirsute gay male — which chose for its theme this time Bears of Justice: Heroes and Villains — had exceeded 1,100 confirmed attendees, and organizers say many walk-ups are expected throughout the weekend at various events. That makes it among the largest of gay-specific social events in Dallas.

But why do bears feel they need their own “runs” — the common name for the dozens of bear gatherings around the country?

“That’s a very interesting concept,” observes John Ahrens, when pressed to explain why bearevents have proliferated (See sidebar, Bear events and resources).

Ahrens has attended several TBRU events in the past and, at 6-feet, 2-inches and 270 pounds of furriness (everywhere but the top of his head, he notes), has long identified as a bear.

“Why do they have to have a bear round-up [and not a twink round-up]? I really don’t know. The whole concept of bears was originally that we never fit the cut, buff, skinny young look [that dominated gay culture]. This is a culture for the rest of us. It was to counteract the exclusivity of the rest of it — a place where big hairy guys could go to be themselves.”

The Bear Movement emerged from a reaction to a kind of cultural elitism within the gay community that tended to value youth, gym memberships and low-digit waistlines above all else. Bears dared to stake a claim on the alternative to the stand-and-model twink ideal  or the flamboyant drag queen that often defined gay culture, both in mainstream society and within the LGBT community itself.

Which raises a fundamental issue about bearhood: What, exactly, is a bear?

It’s a question that, when posed to self-identified bears, does not elicit quick or consistent responses. The term, by design or accident, has become a portmanteau word that tends to encompass all those gay men who like to identify as “other.”

But other than what is not wholly clear. (See sidebar, What is a bear?) For that matter, beardom is something that often must be embraced, almost like its own version of the coming out process: When does a bear admit he is one?

“I never thought you’d ask that,” says Rafael McDonnell, programs manager at Resource Center Dallas and a member since 2007 of the Dallas Bears, the organization which mounts TBRU.

Rafael_McDonnell
BEAR IN MIND | Dallas Bears member Rafael McDonnell says bearhood is an identity you have to claim.

“It’s a question of identity which, to a certain extent, is claimed by people. There are different parts to what our identity is; it’s where you end up fitting in the world as it is.”

“It’s very flexible and fluid and very personal,” says Ahrens. “I have a really close friend who never identified as bear for years, but there he is now, right on Bear411.com. The definition is so vague.

Generally, I want to say the bears tend to be older, but that’s not really true, either.”

Not at all. Carlos Deleon lives in Chicago and will be returning to TBRU for a fourth time later this month. And he just turned 30.

“It depends on where you come from. Some guys don’t look particularly bearish but identify deeply with it. Then there’s the big guy who goes to a bar and is told he’s a bear.

“For most of the guys around my age, it ends up being driven by an online thing: Looking at the various websites and finding one where you find guys who you think are attractive. You start dating those people. Then you spend more time in that part of the world,” Deleon says.

For a long time bears couldn’t go into regular gay bars and couldn’t find people to interact with, says Deleon, “so they kept finding safe spaces to congregate.”

That led to events such as TBRU.

But that was nearly 30 years ago, Deleon points out; “It’s a lot different than it was. Now it’s big business.”

And business sometimes leads more toward exploitation than inclusion.

“What finally put me off the whole [bear] thing is that it has become anything but inclusive — if you aren’t big or hairy, or are morbidly obese, you would be asked, ‘Why are you here?’” says Ahrens. “And that crap about bear codes? Oh, geez. The whole concept is trying to find an alternative community that accepts you. But [some in the bear community] have gone to the opposite extreme.”

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, although McDonnell says he has seen it.

“I think one reason TBRU has been successful is we are inclusive and organized,” he says. “I attended my first bear run outside of TBRU last fall in a city I won’t name. This event was disorganized and exclusive.”

Scott-Moore

LEATHER BEAR | Mr. TBRU 2007 Scott Moore says being a bear is something you grow into.

The myth of masculinity
Bear culture hasn’t always been its own beast, although the cliché has usually been that bears represent a less metrosexual, so-called “masculine” version of gay culture. (See sidebar, Celebearties.)
“Some gay men didn’t enjoy the prevailing ideas of looking and acting and being a certain way — that urban aesthete gay man,” says  Deleon. “They grew up being truck drivers and wanted to stay truck drivers even though they were gay.”

Initially many such men joined the leather community, but bears slowly carved their own, separate identity.

“There is the crossover with the leather stuff, too. There’s a basic assumption of masculinity in bear culture, which we both know is perfectly false. You can wear lots and lots of dead cow and be the nelliest person in the world,” says Ahrens.

“I think about guys who are rugby players but do leather, too — are they in both communities?” asks Deleon. “Bears were more a part of the leather community [once] and now are more separate from it. Younger guys who are attracted more to traditional daddy types may feel they are still separate communities.”
Scott Moore, who was Mr. TBRU 2007 and is the current Mr. Dallas Eagle (a leather title), is a prime example.

“I think the easy part for the crossover is that leather is a fetish, so it’s open to anyone of any type and background — it’s something you choose to be,” Moore says. “Being a bear, you grow into — it’s more of a character trait than a choice.”

“I think in my case it was both nature and choice,” says Ahrens. “I don’t like skinny hairless guys; I like big hairy guys and I am one. I just turned 60 and there’s this whole daddy thing that kind of goes along with it.”

“Here’s what I find interesting: Among the Dallas Bears, there is lots of cross-pollination with the court system, the Leather Knights, etc.,” says McDonnell. “I don’t know if that’s unique among bear clubs.”

One thing that newcomers often notice that is typical among bear clubs is that bears often engage in their own rituals and forms of, well, etiquette.

“If you can call it that at all,” laughs Ahrens. “Compare the balcony at JR.’s to the patio at the Hidden Door: There are fewer boundaries. That ultimately for me was kind of off-putting,” although he agrees it probably contributes to the conventional wisdom that bears are among the friendliest of gays.

“The boundary lines are somewhat different,” agrees McDonnell. “There’s much more of a tactile physicalness [to bear culture], but I’m not sure where it originated. The thing I have found is, it is an extraordinarily welcoming and affirming community, to borrow some religious language. You can go into a bear bar in Vancouver and receive the same level of acceptance as you would in Denver or Dallas.”

Whatever the definition, or the appeal of the culture, one thing is certain: Sometimes you can’t put your finger on something — you just have to know it when you experience it, and be open to its mystery.

“It’s pinning Jell-O to a wall. Some of it has to do with body size, but [being part of bear culture] is a combination not only of physical characteristics but that elusive thing that is chemistry,” says McDonnell. “Life isn’t the Sears catalogue.”

The Texas Bear Round-Up runs March 17–20 with events across the city. Visit TBRU.org for a complete schedule of events.

………………………………..

What is a bear?
The terminology associated with bear culture actually reaches deep into a variety of other animal identities: Bears “woof” at each other (a distinctly canine trait) and have subclassifications with the community that relate to other wild animals.
Although definitive descriptors are elusive and subject to change, here is a primer on some of the most common and the generally accepted definitions.
Bear — A member of the Bear Movement, usually identified as tallish, hairy (on the face and/or
body) and with a certain amount of meat on his bones. Can be anywhere from morbidly obese to a few extra pounds around the middle.
Musclebear — The same as a bear, but the meat is usually more muscle — often, though, while maintaining a stocky build. To be considered a musclebear, one normally has to have and keep a certain amount of body hair and not merely have a gym body.
Cub — A younger and/or smaller (McDonnell theorizes 5-feet-8 and under) bear; also, a bear who identifies more as a submissive in a sexual relationship.
Otter — A hairy guy who is usually thin; can be old or young, but often considered younger.
Grizzly — An older, heavy, often aggressive or dominant bear.
Polar bear — An older, often larger bear with white or grey hair.
Wolf — An older, sometimes thinner bear-identified male; also, one who tends to be aggressive.
Grey wolf — The same as a wolf, but with salt-and-pepper hair.
Daddy — Not strictly part of the bear culture, many bears are considered daddy-types, being older and somewhat nurturing of younger, more docile gay men.
Admirers/chasers — Gay men, usually younger, who do not personally exhibit the characteristics of a bear but are physically attracted to men of that type.
Cougay — A creation of my own, used to describe a gay man over 40 who is attracted to, or sought by, younger men, who can be bears or not. The cougay can, but does not need to be, a bear himself.
— A.W.J.

………………………………..

Celebearties
Here are some celebrities who, if they were gay, would probably qualify as bears:
Tom Colicchio, chef and TV personality on Top Chef.
Zach Galifianakis, comic and actor (The Hangover).
Steve Holcomb, Olympic bobsledder.
Jamie Hyneman, special effects whiz and host of Mythbusters.
Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears linebacker.

………………………………..

Bear events and resources
In addition to the Texas Bear Round Up, well-known national bear events include Lazy Bear Weekend in Guerneville, Calif., International Bear Rendezvous in San Francisco, and Bear Pride in Chicago.

Several magazines and websites are devoted to bear culture, including Bear Magazine and A Bear’s Life.
Scruff is a smart phone application, similar to Grindr, dedicated to bearish guys. Bear411.com is a dating/sex website for bears.

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

 

 

—  Kevin Thomas

Break out the circumcision jokes

As the Life+Style editor here, I get a lot of pitches for stories. Lately, people have been really hawking the Bible (“Who was Moses?,” “How can we get kids to read the Bible more?”), but easily the oddest one today was this from the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, which is hosting a one-night-only performance of a comedy — yes, comedy — called Circumcise Me. OK, now the flier itself describes the show as “on the cutting edge” so they at least get the joke, but really? I mean, where can we go with this?

So I throw it out there to you: What are your favorite zingers to describe this kind of show? I’ll get us started: “Might as well bring your friends — after all, the mohel, the merrier”… or how about, “Four stars? I give it foreskins!” … or maybe, “A slice of life story.”

Let’s hear yours.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

COVER STORY: Straight in a gay world

Mitchell, Bengston, Hershner, Giles are just some of the non-gays who have found careers, friends and family within the LGBT community

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

Stephen Mitchell has the world’s worst gaydar. And he has the story to prove it.

Mitchell, 24, started playing rugby when he was working in Antarctica three years ago. “I fell in love with the sport and every city I move to, I try to join a club,” he said. When he wound up in Dallas, he Googled local rugby teams. The Dallas Diablos’ site promoted a non-discrimination policy and welcoming attitude that Mitchell liked.

“The Diablos were one of three teams that practiced closest to me, but you wanna show up and feel you fit in well,” he said. “I thought, that sounds like an awesome group of people!”

After attending two practices, he felt accepted and comfortable.

But Mitchell must not have read the website too thoroughly. It wasn’t until about a week on the team, after his first game, that he realized most of the members were gay.

PLAYING  FOR OUR TEAM | Stephen ‘Cougar’ Mitchell, lower right, is one of several straight members of the predominantly gay Dallas Diablos Rugby Football Club. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

“With rugby, on the field it doesn’t matter whether you’re young, old, your orientation, race — you’re there to have fun. Then we had [my] first team dinner, we were drinking and having fun and after I while I noticed a couple guys were sitting real close to each other. Then they started holding hands. I said, ‘Ummm, are you guys gay?’ I hadn’t noticed anything. But when they get drunk, the queen comes out.”

Mitchell, who goes by Cougar to his teammates, has been a hooker for the Diablos for a year and a half now, and although he’s straight, he loves being on the team.

“We’re a good, strong bunch of guys, but our club is more socially focused instead of athletically focused. We’re more about being a family,” he said.

He’s hardly the token straight guy. As much as 20 percent of the Diablos male members, including the team captain, are straight. In a society fast changing its views on homosexuality, finding straight people intimately involved in the gay community has become far more common.

Chris Bengston, who became part of the gay community before Mitchell was born, was a pioneer in gay-straight alliances. But Bengston initially felt the sting of discrimination from the gay community against her as a straight woman.

In 1983, Bengston and three friends — two straight women and a gay man — moved to Dallas from Peoria, Ill. They secured apartments at Throckmorton and Congress, just down from the Strip. Since she didn’t have a car, she frequented the bars on Cedar Springs Road with her gay buddy.

Even though it was a quarter-century ago, Bengston felt comfortable being among gay people and became friendly with many of the staff. She asked Frank Caven, owner of Caven Enterprises which ran several clubs, for a part-time job, but he brushed her off.

Then, on Halloween 1985, she got a phone call from the manager of 4001, a club where Zinni’s Pizza is now located.

“He said, ‘I really need your help. I am short of staff tonight. No one knows I’m bringing you in,” Bengston recalled.

When Caven saw her, he blew up; the only straight woman he’d ever let work there was his own niece.

But Bengston showed mettle and was put behind the bar at a different club, the Old Plantation. It was a more mixed crowd — gay, straight, men and women, Caven said; 4001 was for men only.

Despite the initial resistance to her, Bengston wasn’t fazed. Soon this part-time gig became a full-time job; she eventually quit her job at an advertising agency and made Caven her career.

25 AND COUNTIING | Chris Bengston started as a bartender at Caven more than a quarter century ago, She was the first employee to give birth while at the company. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

“Just because I was straight, the fact I was working in a gay bar didn’t bother me in the least,” she said. “We had a gay bar in Peoria we used to hang out at, and I had been partying in the clubs for over a year before I started working there. To me it was a no-brainer.”

Bengston, now 62, was the first Caven employee to give birth while working for the company.

“I cannot even tell you the amazing support I received. When I had my son, they had an article in [the Voice]; they held a baby shower in the old Rose Room. My best friends are in the community,” she said.

Still, she recognized the stigma associated with being straight in a gay world: “When I would meet people and they would ask me what I did, I’d say I work in a nightclub. I told my son, Alex, never to say I worked in a gay bar when he was in school.”

Things are much better now — but we still have a long way to go as a society, Bengston said.

“It’s so mixed now: gay, straight, male, female, every color you can imagine,” she said. “But people still ask me, ‘Do you really think they’re really born that way?’ We all try to say we’re sophisticated and have come a long way, but we’re not as far along as we think we are.”

To look at Lonzie Hershner — 300-plus pounds of tattooed Texas beef — you might assume he’d be the kind of guy who’d beat up gays. You’d be wrong. Like Bengston, Hershner has enjoyed a career catering to the gay community.

The gay clubs Tin Room and Drama Room, the straight club Chesterfield’s and the soon-to-open Marty’s Hideaway were family-owned by Paulette Hershner and her sons, Lonzie and Marty. When Marty, who was gay, died unexpectedly last year, Lonzie took primary responsibility for keeping the bars going. That he is straight didn’t matter.

“It’s just been such a big part of my life for so long,” says Hershner, whose mother first bought the Tin Room 14 years ago, when it was a redneck bar called Judge Roy Bean’s Saloon. Marty was instrumental in converting it to a gay club. That was 10 years ago, and Hershner has felt like part of the gay community ever since.

“It’s such a comfort zone for me,” he said. “I have a house on Maple Springs — it’s my neighborhood. These guys are my friends.”

Marty was 22 when he came out to Lonzie, and was petrified his big brother would reject him. But Lonzie was completely accepting.

“It was OK with me,” he said. “He’s family.”

Because Marty was “the face of the Tin Room,” a lot of customers didn’t know Lonzie was his brother … or a co-owner … or straight.

“They thought I was a bear,” Hershner said with a laugh. “They call me Butch.” But just as big a deal as being accepted by the gay community is the acceptance of Hershner’s straight friends and extended family.

“I have a fiancé and she’s cool with it,” he said. “I get her lap dances from our dancers. Her own sons can’t wait ’til they turn 18 so they can dance at the Tin Room.”

For a dozen years, Tony Giles has been a fixture in the Dallas gay community, both as a personal trainer and (under his stage name, Tony DaVinci) as a model for Playgirl and other magazines and as a performer in solo adult videos. He’s now completely comfortable among his clients and fans (he and his girlfriend attended Pride last fall), but it wasn’t always that way.

“Before I began in training over at the Centrum [gym] in 1999, I had no prior exposure to the gay community,” he candidly admitted. “My first day of training was interesting because everyone said ‘Don’t go back to the steam room!’ As a straight guy, I was afraid and intimidated.”

A LOT TO LEARN | Tony Giles, right, knew nothing about the gay community when he began working as a trainer; he now estimates 95 percent of his clients are gay. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

Now, Giles estimates that over his career, easily 95 percent of his training clients have been gay.

“When I’m talking to other trainers, they kind of envy me that I’m training in the gay community because I’m busy and keep a good retention rate of clients,” he said. “When you’re training a straight guy with a wife and children, he gets distracted — he’s not consistent. In the gay community, you get that client that wants to work out more times a week and go that extra mile. He’s not your seasonal client.”

Getting there involved a steep learning curve.

“As a straight guy diving into the gay world, I learned a lot,” he said. “Not every gay guy wants to fuck you; not everyone talks with a lisp or dresses feminine … although my first day [at the Centrum], there was a guy wearing pink shorts and a pink bandanna!”

Working in the gay community opened his eyes a lot to wrong notions he had about orientation.

“Before, I thought being gay was a choice — a rebellious thing or a learned behavior. And now I know it’s not! I educate people on this all the time — I argue with [straight] people who say otherwise. You’re born the way you’re born.”

Giles knows that in his field — he’s also a competitive bodybuilder — there are some preconceptions people attach to men who work their bodies.

“I had this guy come up to me at Gold’s today and say, ‘I’m not gay but your biceps are really bulging today.’ I thought, You don’t have to say you’re not gay! It’s OK.”

Giles, Bengston, Mitchell and Hershner all cite the friendships and affection they receive from their gay friends as the primary reason they feel at home in the gay community.

“I didn’t grow up gay, but I feel guys who do don’t have a sense of belonging,” said Mitchell. “This team really provides them a family and a sense of belonging. That’s one of the reasons I stuck around. I saw how these people created a home. It’s pretty powerful.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 25, 2011.

—  John Wright