Jamie Morris: Behind (and in front of) the footlights in ‘Re-Designing Women’

image001-e1364929658275Before Jamie Morris started writing a series of plays — cross-dressing send-ups of campy films and TV shows like The Facts of Life, Mommie Dearest and The Silence of the Lambs — he was an actor. So it has not been unusual for him to perform, even in his own shows. Still, it was a shock to him when he realized, during pre-production on his latest spoof — Re-Designing Women, which Uptown Players is producing in the Rose Room at Station 4 starting Friday — that he would be in it.

“We were casting the show and they said to me, ‘How would you like to play Julia?’” he recalls over lunch at the Black-eyed Pea on Cedar Springs. ”I texted my boyfriend that night and said, ‘I think they want me to play Julia.’” When he woke up the next morning, he was pretty sure they weren’t just joking.

The most peculiar thing about doing the show is that he hadn’t even finished writing it when he took it on. Morris, who lives in Las Vegas with his partner, didn’t complete Act 2 until a few weeks before rehearsals began. But, he says, serving as writer and star doesn’t make it any easier to perform.

“The rest of the cast assume I know every line, but I don’t,” he says.

He, like most of the rest of the all-male cast, still has to learn his lines under “about a pound of makeup.” Indeed, you’d probably not recognize Morris, with his scruffy grey beard, as the patrician Julia Sugarbaker from the sitcom. But hey, that’s why it’s being done in the Rose Room — it’s all about the illusion.

Re-Designing Women, presented by Uptown Players, opens Friday at the Rose Room inside Station 4 and runs through May 19. For tickets, visit UptownPlayers.org

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Sharon Needles at the Rose Room Thursday night

Photo by Patrick Hoffman/Dallas Voice

Last night, Sharon Needles, the spooky drag queen who won season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, wished the roughly 300 people crowding S4′s Rose Room a happy Halloween. Though she performed at S4 and JR.’s as part of the requisite Absolut summer Tour that all Drag Race winners must do, Needles did so with her trademark mix of shock, defiance and darkness.

By 8 p.m., a line of people wrapped around the block from S4 to Throckmorton and by 8:30 p.m., all the unreserved seats in the Rose Room had butts in them. The audience, including many who stood along the walls and beside the bar, waited about two-and-a-half hours for the show to even begin; the room growing hotter, the pre-show music thumping ever louder and the lines to the bar getting longer with each passing minute.

For photos of Needles at JR.’s, click here.

—  Daniel Villarreal

Sharon Needles in Dallas

—  Rich Lopez

Concert Notice: Indigo Girls and Janis Ian head to Dallas — but not together

While looking at the ol’ concert calendar, I noticed that a couple of major queer icons in music are headed this way. Better yet, they are performing in venues that should truly let them shine.

The Indigo Girls will play with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on Aug. 29 at the Meyerson Symphony Center. I think that could be quite an interesting show seeing how the IG play such minimalist music. How do you add a whole symphony to “Watershed” or “Strange Fire” and still keep that distinct IG feel?

Tickets are $30–$105 and on sale now.

I had the pleasure of speaking to the legendary Janis Ian the last time she came to Dallas. Back in 2009, she performed a benefit show at the Rose Room. But this winter, she’ll perform at the Hamon Hall at the Winspear Opera House. Although I haven’t seen it yet on the ATTPAC calendar, but Ian has Dec. 8 (as does Pollstar) listed on her website as her day (or night) in Dallas. For tickets, stay tuned to the ATTPAC’s listing when it goes up.

Ian is most famous for her “At Seventeen” hit, but did you know the folk star dabbled in disco? Watch the video of “Fly Too High” after the jump.

—  Rich Lopez

READ: Vice’s Etiquette Guide for Straight People at a Gay Bar is kind of a must-read

Brian Moylan posted this slightly funny, but oh-so true guide for all the straight people who must hang out at gay bars. I agree with him that we enjoy having them there for the most part, but yeah, there are unsaid rules that the Vice contributor pretty much said out loud. Especially this one that reminded me of all the bridal parties I saw one night in the Rose Room. Although Moylan approaches it from a different perspective. From Vice.com.

No Girls Allowed

Ladies, we don’t mind going to your bachelorette parties, because we love and support you as friends even if we find it a little insulting (and genitally incorrect) that you keep calling us “one of the girls.” However, if we don’t know you, we have no interest in being at your party. That means keep them out of gay bars. We know you want to look at strippers, but you have to find somewhere for women to do it. Go to Chippendales or Thunder from Down Under or some strip night called Danglers that’s meant just for you ladies. Do not show up at a gay go-go bar and screech and squeal and push all the other patrons out of the way so you can drunkenly slip a $20 in a tiny sliver of spandex stuck up a plump, oiled backside. To you it might be one night of misbehaving, but this is our life. Please respect that, and take your high-decibel revelry somewhere that will cater to your “big day.”

‘Nuff said. Now I’m deciding whether to go down the gay rabbit hole when I saw the link to this story: Gays or girls: Who ‘s better at giving head?

—  Rich Lopez

Del Shores’ “Sordid Confessions” tonight at the Rose Room

Del-iver us from evil

Del Shores returns to Dallas for one more go-round of his Sordid Confessions. He goes for the jugular with stories about his life that are crass and comical. He’ll also be taping the shows for his DVD release of Confessions so that his rants on Southern Baptists, Hollywood and maybe even a teeny bit about his recent break-up will be preserved for all time.

DEETS: The Rose Room (inside S4), 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. $10–$30. DelShores.tix.com.

—  Rich Lopez

BUSINESS: Beaming with Pride

Gay couple Mark Reed and Dante Walkup fulfill their decade-old dream of installing LED lights on Reunion Tower

Wiedamark.Reed.Walkup

GLOWING NEW SHOWROOM | Dante Walkup, left, and Mark Reed recently moved Wiedamark Lighting to a new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. (Patrick Hoffman/Special to the Voice)

DANIEL VILLARREAL  |  Contributing Writer
editor@dallasvoice.com

When Mark Reed and Dante Walkup became a serious couple in 2000, they agreed they wanted to have fun in their 50s. But to do that they’d want to leave their respective jobs as a furniture salesman and a psychologist and start their own business.

Having spent the last year installing LED lights around their Las Colinas home, the couple decided they’d use their sales and communications skills to start an LED lighting company — a relatively new business idea at the time.

They converted their three-car garage into a warehouse and turned their basement, bedroom and kitchen into workspaces for them and five other employees.

Since then, Wiedamark has grown into a $3.5 million dollar company with about 300 retailers internationally and a brand new showroom and warehouse on Harry Hines Boulevard. But from their very first year, Reed and Walkup knew they wanted to put their business on the map by updating one of Dallas’ most iconic buildings — they wanted to refit Reunion Tower with their LEDs.

Tower

HIGH LIGHTS OF THE JOB | A technician from Ropeworks installs one of the 259 new fixtures. (Frank Huster/Special to the Voice)

If you’ve ever been on Cedar Springs, chances are you’ve probably seen some of Wiedamark’s lights. The fiberglass chandelier hanging over the bar at Sue Ellen’s, the mood-lighting wall sconces in the Rose Room at S4, the colored lighting at the Legacy of Love Monument — that’s all Wiedamark.

Reed and Walkup don’t usually install the lights themselves. They order the fixtures from China and Taiwan, then resell them to retailers who install them for companies looking to add a splash of color to their venues.

After several years on Oak Lawn Avenue near Maple, Wiedamark recently relocated to Harry Hines. Their new digs are easy to ignore by day but lit up in turquoise, emerald and ruby at night. Inside, it seems more like an art gallery than a commercial space.

Over their reception desk hangs four large lime-green letters spelling “LOVE.” A wall-size LED screen in their conference room displays an unfurling rainbow, its bows opening up like the pages of a book. But the colorful hallway in the back contains the real wonders: sculpted walls that seem to breathe in the golden-to-violet light, dance floor tiles that change color with each step and a mirrored lounge with a glistening ceiling of twinkling LED stars.

Interiors, exteriors, landscapes, pools, bars, bathrooms — you name it, they can put lights in it.

They’ve provided resort lighting in Jamaica and highlights at the Maya Bar in New Zealand, just to name a few. A wealthy Saudi Arabian once wanted them to install high-end lights in his palace. Instead of traveling to his home country, they invited him to meet them during a trip to Vienna.

Reed and Walkup say that in their nine years of business they have never made a single cold call. As one of the first online shippers of LED equipment, the customers found them.

Their first year in, the Hyatt Hotel hired them to light its Christmas party, giving Reed and Walkup the perfect chance to share their Reunion Tower idea with Hyatt’s head of engineering, Brett Killingsworth. The idea instantly intrigued him.

In many ways LEDs were better than the tower’s older, 130-watt bulbs: LEDs use a fraction of the energy, stay cool to the touch and can last up to 10 times longer than old-fashioned bulbs. But unfortunately for Reed and Walkup, 2004 technology had not yet advanced far enough to make LED lights visible on the tower from miles away.

So immediately, Reed and Walkup’s team began working on an improved LED design that would take five years to complete.

To help make the light more visible from a greater range of view, they fitted a spherical dome onto a flat-surfaced LED, creating something resembling the Jetsons’ space car.

At 4 a.m. one day,  Walkup took the prototype and held it off the top of Reunion Tower while Reed checked whether he could see it clearly from four different locations several miles away. He could.

But the prototype had a major design flaw — it couldn’t keep out rainwater. A high-pressure water test left its circuit board drenched, something that would cause it to fail in a storm.

So over the next few years, they bolted the LED dome to a hexagonal metal base which increased the size and weight while preventing seepage. But even then, their design corroded when exposed to salty air conditions.

Frustrated with their failed attempts, Reed and Walkup turned to an engineer friend for help. He streamlined their design

Ball

SHINING DEBUT | The tower was fittingly awash in rainbow colors on New Year’s Eve.

into a lighter, less clunky model made entirely of non-corrosive stainless steel. And best of all, it kept out rainwater.
Sixteen weeks later, they had manufactured all the lights they needed.

But now that they had a workable design, they had an even bigger task ahead — installing 259 lights on the tower’s 118-foot geodesic sphere, all without endangering their workers or dropping the 20-pound fixtures onto someone 560 feet below.

Seattle’s Space Needle, Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam all need regular maintenance and inspection by certified professionals willing to work hundreds if not thousands of feet off the ground.

The group who does this kind of work is Ropeworks, a team of certified technicians from Reno, Nev., trained in rope access, tower climbing, rescue and fall protection. After seeing Ropeworks’ presentation, Reed thought they could best handle the high wind speeds and low temperatures atop Reunion Tower in the fall.

So from Oct. 30 through Nov. 21, from 5 a.m. till 6 p.m., seven days a week, four certified master electricians from Ropeworks rappelled from the top of the tower and hung along the dome’s 260 intersecting aluminum struts to disassemble the tower’s old fixtures and install Wiedamark’s new ones.

The Woodbine Development Co. (which owns the tower) hoped to keep the new lights secret until a surprise showing 15 minutes before New Year’s Day. But on Nov. 21 at 4:30 a.m., a Dallas photographer captured some footage of Wiedamark testing the lights.

The photographer then sent photo and video footage to WFAA-TV and the Dallas Observer.

By the next morning, everyone knew that for the first time in its 33-year history, the Reunion Tower had new lights.

“I was happy [the news] was out,” says Walkup. “We couldn’t talk about it in public, but our friends had known about the project for a long time. [Waiting for the unveiling] was like being pregnant for nine months, but then having the birth delayed to 10 months, then 11 months, then 12 months. And all this time you’re just waiting for it to finally happen.”

On New Year’s Eve, Reed and Walkup stood on the ninth floor balcony of their friend’s downtown condominium, the unlit dome of Reunion Tower clearly in view. Then the dome lit up at a quarter till midnight, a digital countdown on the ball ticking off each second.

Then, at midnight sharp, the Reunion Tower dome sparkled in a ecstatic wash of reds, greens, blues, and purples while Reed, Walkup and the rest of Dallas rang in the New Year.

After a 10-minute light show, the numbers 2012 encircled the dome in bright yellow until 5 o’ clock that morning.

Mentioning the new Omni Hotel and the other colorful LED-lit projects that have joined the Dallas landscape in the last few years, Walkup notes: “Dallas is a colorful city. We want to make it an exciting place to live and colored light helps people recognize that. Light is modern and fresh. It conveys youth. Dallas, a city of young ideas.”

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

—  Kevin Thomas

GayBingo tonight at the Rose Room

GayBingo 2.0

Before heading out to 2012’s first GayBingo, check out our online interview with new director Johnny Humphrey. He tells us some of the changes that are going down with this new version and they all sound good. Then, bust out that bingo marker and take no prisoners when your number comes up.

DEETS: The Rose Room (inside S4) 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 6 p.m. $25. RCDallas.org.

—  Rich Lopez

GayBingo gets an updgrade

I talked with Johnny Humphrey this morning about taking on the role as the Resource Center’s programs coordinator and mostly the upgrade GayBingo is getting. Starting with a few changes to this Saturday’s event, he proclaims that GayBingo is going to be bigger and better.

“I was very fortunate to come into such an established program,” he said. “Now that we’re in our 11th year, we wanted to make something fresh with it. We didn’t want to assume the status quo. I got a lot of positive feedback from our dedicated volunteers. That was important to me. So we’re claiming this year as a ‘new decade of decadence.’ That’s the unofficial tag line.”

The official one now (on their new logo) is “More gay, more fun, more fabulous,” and with the plans for GayBingo 2.0, the changes now already look to add a level of excitement.

—  Rich Lopez

Best Bets • 01.20.12

LorettaLynn_SetD_0347_FinalColor(1)Saturday 01.21

GayBingo 2.0
Before heading out to 2012’s first GayBingo, check out our online interview with new director Johnny Humphrey. He tells us some of the changes that are going down with this new version and they all sound good. Then, bust out that bingo marker and take no prisoners when your number comes up.

DEETS:
The Rose Room (inside S4)
3911 Cedar Springs Road
6 p.m. $25.

RCDallas.org.

…………………

Sunday 01.22

You’ll be lookin’ at country
Normally we have to venture to Fort Worth to see Loretta Lynn, because she seems to love her some Billy Bob’s. This time, the legendary country singer graces Dallas and the opera house’s acoustics should be ideal for every note of her signature songs.  Classics like “Coal Miner’s Daughter” and “She’s Got You,” won’t just be sung, but instead painted with Lynn’s twangy but heartfelt voice.

DEETS:
Winspear Opera House
2403 Flora St.
7 p.m. $38–$58
ATTPAC.org.

…………………

Thursday 01.26

Too haute to trot
Turn up the volume on your outfit and head out to Dish, where DIFFA/Dallas will announce its Style Council Ambassadors for the 2012 Smoking Haute collection.

DEETS: Dish
4123 Cedar Springs Road
7:30 p.m. RSVP at 214-352-6701.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas