Starvoice • 01.27.12

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY

Greg Louganis turns 52 on Sunday. The diver won gold medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. Now he coaches up-and-coming divers. Louganis also competes in dog agility contests and wrote a second book, For the Life of Your Dog. His first book, Breaking the Surface, recounted his coming out and his HIV diagnosis and was a New York Times bestseller.

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THIS WEEK

Neptune coming home to Pisces this Feb. 3 brings 14 years of heightened mysticism, romanticism, sensitivity, passions and decadence. The last time around (1848-1862) was the height of the Romantic era and the beginning of the spiritualist movements.

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AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18
Flirtatious impulses prove a bit too extravagant. Remember, one perfect rose is more elegant than a dozen. Don’t dwell on the past. Think about the future and how to get there.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
With your co-ruler Neptune coming to stay the next 14 years, you will feel more in tune, a mixed blessing. Focus and shield your sensitivity. To care for others effectively, care for yourself first.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Weird insights make you wonder how much you know yourself. Pushing yourself harder makes things tough on those around you. Ask why you do that and whether it’s really necessary.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
Who are your friends really? The answers are surprising. Focus on the good. As much as some people may deserve your wrath, be careful not to say anything you’ll regret later.

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
There is a middle ground between needless controversies and sweeping important issues under the rug. Blowhard, diplomat or sycophant? The role you choose will brand you for a long time.

CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
What friends say about your sex life is none of their business, but it may be true. Being sensitive, open and patient with others helps to improve your reputation, in ways you don’t expect.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22
Work on your relationship karma. Find new, creative ways to do that. Being nice to your friends is too easy. Reach out to new people. If you have someone special do something special.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22
Personal relationships get more complex. Your efforts at charm and rationalization to clear the air are beside the point. Welcome the magic and mystery. It can do you a lot of good.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22
When self-improvement becomes competition, look at what inner demons are feeding that. Meditation and self-examination bring out your deep, inner beauty.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21
Arguments at home are about stresses outside. Home should be where you can discuss your agitation and get better insights. Stay calm and focused and it could be.

SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Humility, charity and a bit of self-deprecating humor are key. A critical review of recent career moves can suggest new directions, but don’t change quite yet.

CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19
Worries about your career are not entirely unfounded. Watch out for new opportunities. They will cost you, but may be worth the price. Look ahead and think carefully.

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

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012

—  Kevin Thomas

Starvoice • 11.25.11

By Jack Fertig

CELEBRITY BIRTHDAY
Jonathan Knight turns 43 on Tuesday. As part of the boy band New Kids on the Block, Knight dominated the charts with hits like “Hangin’ Tough” and “Step By Step” in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He left the group in 1994 and admitted to having severe stage fright. He was outed in 2009 by an alleged ex-boyfriend but Knight says he has never hidden the fact that he is gay.

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THIS WEEK
The sun in Sagittarius square to Mars in Virgo cranks up mental energy but yields to dithering frenzies. Both move into semi-square to Saturn, a rude wake-up call. The right colleague helps you focus, a wrong one just makes things worse.

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SAGITTARIUS  Nov 22-Dec 20
Mother criticizes because she believes in your potential. A real grown-up can shrug it off. Or is there some truth in it? Take it or leave it, but thoughtfully. That can be a healing experience.

CAPRICORN  Dec 21-Jan 19
Running up against limits tempts you to struggle against authority. Learn to engage more thoughtfully. Be respectful, but don’t be afraid to ask probing, even challenging, questions.

AQUARIUS  Jan 20-Feb 18
Nosy questions get way out of hand. Mind your own business. Look for ways to improve your home life. Thrift and resourcefulness will boost your confidence.

PISCES  Feb 19-Mar 19
It’s easy to mouth off to your boss. It may be hard to keep your mouth shut and listen, but what you learn is well worth it. Your ability to handle criticism counts a lot toward your advancement.

ARIES  Mar 20-Apr 19
Collaborative efforts only provoke arguments and resentments. Be aware of their limits. Focus on being more effective and forgive mistakes on all sides.

TAURUS  Apr 20-May 20
Sexual exuberance gets you into big trouble. Make time and space to explore those passions. Be very clear on safety issues and prophylaxis. Don’t get so caught up in fun that work suffers.

GEMINI  May 21-Jun 20
Others seem eager to remind you of things you’d rather forget. Your outbursts aren’t going to help. Take it all with good humor or make a better effort to avoid annoying people.

CANCER  Jun 21-Jul 22
You’re liable to blurt out some ugly truth and you’ll have all hell to pay. Keep your mind and your chatter on philosophy, art and impersonal things that won’t cause offense.

LEO  Jul 23-Aug 22
You mean well with your exuberant outbursts, but overdo it. Focus on elegance, subtlety, even minimalism. A whisper can hold attention where shouting only drives people away.

VIRGO  Aug 23-Sep 22
Fights at home are inevitable. Minimize risk by analyzing your issues before speaking up. Your parents may have programmed your worst faults into you, but you’re responsible for fixing them.

LIBRA  Sep 23-Oct 22
What’s really being tested: your commitment to community or  dealing with pointless crap? Know your limits and to what you want to dedicate yourself. Talk with a friend who’s close.

SCORPIO  Oct 23-Nov 21
Easy, comfortable chats with your partner lead to tests of commitment. They may not be worth passing. Think carefully. You may not follow friends’ advice, but listen and think about it.

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

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

—  Michael Stephens

Soap. Opera.

John Jones gets down and dirty with his two passions —singing and handcrafting boutique soaps

John Jones • VelvetRopeSoaps.com
FRESH SCRUBBED | John Jones’ soap-making business plan includes catering to gay boys and the church social blues hairs in Highland Park. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

John Jones toiled away complacently at his day job at an electric utility office, but he also had a creative side that needed nurturing. A healthy dose of entrepreneurialism led Jones to exercise control over his destiny and explore another aspect of his personality. And it included soap. And opera.

“I always wanted to start my own business,” Jones says. “I wanted to be creative, but it had to be something I could afford to do.”

The thing was, Jones didn’t have an exact idea of what he wanted to do. His only criteria were a cheap set-up cost and something that would feed his creative talents. His a-ha moment came while watching HGTV’s Househunters, where a couple featured on one episode mentioned they were in the soap-making business and that they lived off of it. That piqued Jones’ curiosity.

He bought books, did online research and soon found himself experimenting with lye and oil ratios and fragrance mixtures. Before too long, Jones came up with a recipe that he liked for handmade soaps — not from kits and poured into molds (that “isn’t really making soap,” he says), but crafted raw.

“I knew I could do that and it was fun and creative,” he says. “Now I have these big pots I work with and my guest room is now my soap room.”

Jones dashes off the lingo with ease, using terms like “saponify” (converting fat into soap) and extolling the benefits of using goat’s milk as a base. While he sounds like an old pro, he’s only been at it for a year. But he also realized he needed a new approach to make his product stand out in the marketplace.

It wasn’t just ingredients that would set him apart, but his market. Jones wanted a line of gay soaps with campy names.

“I wanted cute, catchy titles for the different soaps,” he says. “So I put ground coffee beans into my coffee bar, and oatmeal in my country bar. Others have their specific fragrances” as well. Leather bar, anyone? How about bear bar? And then there’s his gay bar, with its rainbow layers.

Notice a pattern here? It’s not by accident.

“I wanted a fresh, fun approach to this, not an old lady approach,” he says. “Me being gay and a bear, I wanted that to be my target audience. So these aren’t your normal soap scents.”

Friends helped him with covering the spectrum of the kinds of “bars” he could frequent, hence products that include piano bar, disco bar, sports bar, even a Goth bar.

“That has dragon’s blood in it,” he explains.

Still, while he saw the gay community as a primary market, his soaps are good enough for anyone. Thanks to his mother, he found a niche market and created and named soaps geared toward the church-social crowd.

“I got the gays covered and the sweet, old Christian ladies, too,” he laughs.

In October 2010, he created Velvet Rope Soaps, navigating the very scary ordeal of official state filings, obtaining liability insurance for cosmetic products, using invested monies in his company efficiently …and, of course, making the soap. Jones’ boyfriend helps him package the soaps and bath soaks, a scented bath salt that’s his other item right now.

At first it was totally an online affair, but after sending out samples, Velvet Rope is now available on store shelves.

“Skivvies has been selling my product for the last four months,” he says. “They just put in their third order and added a second shelf! They’ve been great and I’ve been happy with it. Now some of my goals are getting it into the Highland Park area and Deep Ellum.”

The soaps are still available online, with the added benefit that he can customize soaps, including helping customers develop personalized scents. But for the moment, his signature is branding the soaps with catchy phrases. Many have the company name on them, but he’s open to something else. Just ask.

“I can monogram soaps, put custom labels, wedding dates,” he says. “I was in the vendor market at Texas Bear Round-Up this year and my biggest seller was the leather bar soap branded ‘cum pig.’ Everyone said they were getting it for their boyfriend.” Uh-huh.

As if his job and his business didn’t keep him busy enough, there’s also his interest in singing opera that siphons off his time. Jones is working with local musician and performance artist Kurtz Frausun on The Dawn, billed as an electronic German war opera. The avant-garde show is scheduled for a November premiere at the Eisemann Theatre in Richardson.

“Yeah, it’s been an interesting experience,” Jones says. “Kurtz composed the music around our singing. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

But Jones is quick to get back to his soaps. He discusses potential new products, but wants to keep that under wraps. He has quickly become a savvy businessman even while discovering a new passion. At the very least, people can always use soap — and he encourages dropping it every once in a while.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “Fun things can happen when you bend over in the shower.”

For more information, visit VelvetRopeSoaps.com.

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

—  Michael Stephens

Drawing Dallas • 11.26.10

Lessons learned

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator mark@markdrawsfunny.com

Stacy Bailey is unconventional in her classroom and in her life Name and age: Stacy Bailey

Spotted at: Lee Park

The art of living well: Stacy hails from south of San Antonio, and now she’s now in her third year teaching elementary school art in the Metroplex. Her crazy-cool, unconventional teaching style has inspired an art curriculum book for teachers on how to teach art history to kids.

Next to teaching, health and fitness are her passions. Stacy works out at least six times a week, hitting up workouts such as turbo kickboxing and P90x. She’s also a beach-body coach who schools people in reaching their fitness goals.

Getting better all the time: Traveling is a big priority in her life, and Stacy plans each of her summer breaks to find herself in an interesting locale; her fave city so far has been San Francisco. Her love of new experiences and random adventure has her exploring cities and small towns all over the country. With journal, sketchbook and camera in hand, she sets out to capture the beauty around her.

When she’s not feeling the burn or taking a fantastic trip to a new location, Stacy enjoys watching movies, painting, sculpting, dancing, playing guitar and cooking. She says her life is lovely, and getting better with each day!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

SUPERMAN Comes Out! (sort of)

Gay playwright and comic book author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa puts a queer twist on comicdom’s straightest superhero with his adaptation of the ’60s musical ‘It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman’

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

TRUTH, JUSTICE AND THE AMERICAN WAY Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa transforms from mild-mannered comic book author to rockin’ musical playwright atop the Wyly Theatre as his ‘Superman’ adaptation enters previews this week. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)


IT’S A BIRD… SUPERMAN
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Through June 18­–July 25 in previews through June 24).
$15–$78. ATTPAC.org.





Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, like most gay men, knows something about having a secret identity. Although he grew up with worldly parents who had an appreciation for musical theater (he would listen to their cast recordings of Hair and Man of La Mancha), Aguirre-Sacasa tried to hide from them his own favorite showtunes from the first album he ever bought: The Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack.

“It felt sometimes like when ‘Sweet Transvestite’ and ‘Toucha-a Touch-a, Touch Me’ were playing, that’s when my parents would come into the room,” he now confesses.

But while his alter ego (gay theater queen) was finally revealed, it all worked out for the best: Aguirre-Sacasa became a respected playwright and TV writer (Big Love), as well as comic book author of one of the Spider-Man imprints. And now he’s combining those passions, adapting the 1960s musical It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman for the Dallas Theater Center.

While he’s best known for his work on Marvel Comics, it’s difficult not to see the physical similarities between Aguirre-Sacasa and the fictional DC superhero’s own alter ego. He’s tall and seems born to wear the mantle “mild-mannered;” he even sports the same boxy black rim eyeglasses as Clark Kent. Could he be hiding something under that button-down?

Nah.

“I did not pick the glasses because they were Clark Kent’s, but I definitely was aware that they were Clark Kent glasses,” he says. “It’s more that I’m hard to satisfy.”

Despite closeted gay kids finding solace in parallels between superhero comics and their own dual identities, Aguirre-Sacasa resists pop psychologizing about his motivations and how — if at all — his personality winds its way into his comic book work … or his stage adaptation of a cartoon ubermensch.

“I get that, absolutely, but for me it’s hard to reconcile,” he says. “I feel Superman is the straightest of superheroes; and I first worked on the Fantastic Four, also the straightest in the Marvel universe” — despite the fact, he acknowledges, that one of the Four’s signature phrase is “Flame on!” “But I don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m attracted to the comic books because they allow me to play out subtextual symbolism.’ I do know I have gay fans — I’ve met both of them,” he jokes. “But it’s not something I am conscious of in my work.”

Nevertheless, he has brought an undeniable gay sensibility to this Superman adaptation, with lesbian characters and a *sigh* factor to the hunky Man of Steel, played by Matt Cavenaugh.

And he was definitely conscious of turning Superman into an old-fashioned musical comedy, the kind that will make people say, “They don’t do ’em like that anymore.”
“I do feel superpowers are larger than life — a quite natural fit to musical theater,” says Aguirre-Sacasa.

Still, fitting the very ‘60s-era musical into a post-modern world familiar with decades of superhero culture was daunting. Aguirre-Sacasa grew up listening to (and enjoying) the original Broadway cast recording, but the songs were all he heard; he hadn’t read the script until he saw a staged reading a few years ago.

“It was very jokey — just skits strung together. That was the driving impulse. Character was sacrificed at the expense of the material. Who Superman was — honest, patriotic — was a joke. It was very tonally different from the first two Superman movies; more like the third one,” he says.

Aguirre-Sacasa — and for that matter Kevin Moriarty, the artistic director of the DTC and a superhero-obsessed overgrown kid — wanted something that would fit within the contemporary construct. The original authors (including Waxahachie-bred co-author Robert Benton) gave their blessing for a re-imagining of the book.

Aguirre-Sacasa streamlined the multitude of romantic subplots in the original and let them fall in expected ways (Superman with Lois Lane, for instance) and gave more stage time to editor Perry White. Among the biggest challenges: A more legitimate opponent for Superman.

“One of the tricky things was to have a worthy villain,” he says. “Max Menken and Dr. Segdwick [the bad guys in the original script] didn’t really work together until the second half of Act 2. Our Max is more like the industrialist in Iron Man, like Al Capone.”

But, he admits, still no Lex Luthor. What gives?

A couple of things prevented that, mostly the idea that “Lex Luthor just wouldn’t sing. And making Max formidable was real attractive to me.”

Shoe-horning the existing songs into his new script was another feat.
“There was not a lot of Superman singing, and not a lot specific to Superman” in the original score, Aguirre-Sacasa notes.

The songs did get restructured, and there has been additional tweaking and reshuffling, including commissioning four original composers Charles Strouse and Lee Adams to write four new songs. But in his original draft, Aguirre-Sacasa “pretty much followed the score structure, though I didn’t think they had to be sung by the same characters.” That meant in one instance swapping the lyrics in a duet, so Clark gets to sing the woman’s part.

That made me wonder: Just how gay will this production be? I mean, other than being a musical with a hot guy in tights?

Well, that’s what’s called a cliffhanger. Tune in to find out.

This article appeared in the National Pride edition in the Dallas Voice print edition June 18, 2010.

—  Dallasvoice