COVER STORY: On the fringe

WaterTower’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival gets very gay

Dark-Play

STALKER TWINKS | ‘Dark Play or Stories for Boys,’ pictured, looks at online relationships with an eerie, gay twist.

Fringe theater festivals always push boundaries — that’s kind of the point — which often entails racy, “alternative” material … and that frequently touches on queer content.
We’re used to finding some gay-interest shows at WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, but this year is something else — of the 22 artists and companies performing at the fest, more than one-third are members of or tied to the LGBT community. That’s a lotta gay in a short time frame.

And there is of course more than just gay content — dance and music and just entertaining performances from the likes of spotlight selection Charles Ross, whose one-man show encapsulates the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in about an hour. (He previously did Star Wars in its entirety at OOTL.)

But here are the artists who will bring a little bit of gay to Addison next week and for 10 more days of theater after. There’s certainly something you’ll wanna see there.

Contributing writers: Arnold Wayne Jones, Steven Lindsey, Rich Lopez, Mark Lowry, Jef Tingley.

Highlights2-billbowers
One Man Lord of the Rings, March 1–4. $15.
• Amy Stevenson cabaret in the lobby, March 2 and 10. Free.
Sweet Eros, March 1, 3, 7 and 9.
Dark Play or Stories for Boys, March 2, 3, 4 and 10.
A Most Happy Stella, March 3, 7 and 11.
Strange Dreamz, March 3, 6 and 10.
Waking Up, March 3, 6, 8, 10 and 11.
The Screw You Revue, March 9 and 10.
Bill Bowers: Beyond Words, pictured left, March 9, 10 and 11 (movement workshop March 10).
WaterTower Theatre’s Out of the Loop Fringe Festival, Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Circle. March 1–11. All single tickets $10, except as indicated. Festival wide pass available. Visit WaterTowerTheatre.org for a complete schedule of events.

Sweet Eros

Interview with director Adam Adolfo
What’s gay about it: Everything. It was written by Terrence McNally “and provides people the opportunity to re-explore [his] work as contemporary dramatist,” Adolfo says. It’s produced by QLive!, the stage arm of Q Cinema. Sweet Eros is one of the featured presentations at OOTL.

3-DSCF2330

EROS-ION | Q Live!, the stage arm of Fort Worth’s Q Cinema film fest, makes its OOTL debut with ‘Sweet Eros,’ pictured at left; gay playwright David Parr, below, offers the Texas premiere of his comedy ‘The Most Happy Stella,’ a play on the title of the musical ‘The Most Happy Fella.’

How gay audiences can relate: “Sweet Eros is a slightly subversive play in the idea that it’s about a man who feels on the outside of society,” explains Adolfo. “He struggles with his demons to define a sense of place and hope for himself, [which] leads him to a self-awareness that is both revelatory and terrifying. We liken his struggle to what many gay men experience in their own coming-out process.

“Unlike most men, though, our hero takes a very dark, frequently erotic and unsettling journey to self-discovery, forcing us to question his choices and sense of self. I’ll say this for our hero: His sense of sexual virility and his heightened attention to fine detail makes him a very alluring aggressor and his predatory skill is both sensual and sadistic. He is a very complex young man. But then again, aren’t we all?”

Adolfo’s relationship to the Q folks goes back several years, after he cast founders Kyle Trentham and Todd Camp as a bumbling pair of soldiers in his production of Much Ado About Nothing. “Before that I had worked with Kyle as an actor, directing him as Bottom in my staging of Midsummer Nights Dream. That production hit upon gay marriage equality and coming-out issues in a very subtle way, and was my introduction to Kyle. The guys are just phenomenal to work with and when they started up QLive!, I was very glad to be a part of their inaugural reading of Spring Awakening, the play that inspired the hit Broadway show.”

Why Out of the Loop?: “This is my first time to be a part of the festival. I’ve come in years past and fallen in love with shows and companies whose work I had not been exposed to and being able to access it so freely,” says Adolfo. “It’s a cornucopia of talent, skill and artistry.”
Performances: March 1 and 7 at 7:30 p.m., March 3 at 5 p.m. and March 9 at 8 p.m.

Dark Play, or Stories for Boys

Interview with actors Adam Garst and Jacob Aaron Cullum

Cast and story: The five-person cast is headlined by Adam Garst and Jacob Aaron Cullum playing, respectively, a teenager who stalks other teens online, and his victim. The show features costumes by rising local star Justin Locklear.

Background: This is the first production by Outcry Theatre, another area theater founded by students of Waco’s Baylor University (others include Second Thought Theatre and Rite of Passage Theatre Company). In this case, Becca Johnson-Spinos, who directs Dark Play, received her master’s in directing at Baylor, worked in North Carolina and then moved to Dallas with her husband. Fort Worth’s Amphibian Stage Productions gave this play its area premiere in 2008, but it was written several years before that. It uses AOL instant messaging and chat rooms as its means of cyber-bullying, which already feels dated in a world run by Facebook and Twitter.

Gay cred: Clearly, the storyline, though Garst played the gay character Moritz in WaterTower Theatre’s Spring Awakening.

Garst’s view of his stalker character: “When I first read it, it seemed like Nick was extremely mean. But it’s been interesting making him a real person. Like everyone else, he’s desperate for something in the world. The thing he thinks he didn’t need was love.”

Cullum’s view: “It’s neat to play a character who is so naïve and gullible that he’s easily fooled by this character because he wants to fall in love. Behaviorally, he’s very similar to me.”

Performances: March 2 and 10 at 8 p.m., March 3 at 2 p.m., March 4 at 5 p.m.

A Most Happy Stella

Interview with playwright David Parr

What to expect: We could tell you about David Parr’s play A Most Happy Stella. But then he might shoot us.
“I want the audience to know as little as possible going in,” he says. “It’s become a gayer and gayer show as we worked on it and I didn’t realize how many elements were in it altogether. A gay audience will appreciate them and would help the show.”

Stella is made of six vignettes that riff on popular theater works mixed with camp and layered with a sophisticated jazz soundtrack. Parr’s not going for satire, he says — he really just has one intention: “To celebrate all these plays and theater in general,” he says.

Queerspiration: With His Girl Tuesday, Porn Yesterday, Long Gay’s Journey into Night, Alas Poor Yorick and the title piece, the inspirations for each scene is obvious — as is the queer appeal, whether comic or more serious.

“The gay theme [in Yorick] surrounds a bullied student who befriends a girl on the bus,” Parr explains. “The bullying issue wasn’t what I set out to do, but I felt that outsider element the character does and befriended this girl who’s been a good friend ever since.”

He amps up the queer content by turning the finale into a mini-musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. With a complete emasculation of Stanley, the show turns the famous “Stella” yell into a chorus and flips the perspective around on the characters.

“That show is over the top anyway, but also a really disturbing play,” he says. “And Tennessee Williams’ writing style lends itself to music. The elements just needed a little tweaking to verge into camp territory. It’s kinda like standing on a ledge — we don’t wanna fall all the way off — that disrespects the original work.”

Living on the fringe: Parr thrives on creating works with a fringe element, as he did in his first success, Slap & Tickle, about a group of men coming out in a post-AIDS time and the tapestry of relationships they are involved in. Parr, though, is maintaining his focus on Stella, because he will just be seeing it all put together when he finally comes to Dallas from New York a week before the festival.

“I feel pretty good right now and the tone of it is playing how I want it to,” he says. “But then, we haven’t done our tech yet!”

Performances: March 3 at 2 p.m., March 7 at 7:30 p.m. and March 11 at 5 p.m.

Strange Dreamz

Interview with performer Kevin J. Thornton

Try to decide what to call Kevin J. Thornton, and you’ll probably come up as empty as Thornton himself. He writes, tells jokes, sings songs, performs scenes from his life … he might even bus your table if you asked nicely. So it is with his world premiere show, Strange Dreamz: It’s a little bit of everything.

Kevin-J.-Thornton-in-Strange-Dreamz

‘VULGARITY WITH A CHRISTIAN EDGE’ | For his world premiere show, Kevin J. Thornton recounts coming out to his fundamentalist family.

“I’m trying to blur the line between this show and my Podcast, which is also called Strange Dreamz. I say it’s about ‘love, sex and the meaning of life.’ But I also call it ‘dick jokes that are good for the soul’ and ‘an hour of vulgarity with a Christian edge.’ I’m truly a variety act — I guess the closest you could say is, I’m like a male Sandra Bernhardt.”

Thornton grew up in a deeply fundamentalist Christian household, so his journey to out atheist has been a long and difficult one, but all the more material to fuel his comic rants.

“If you read it on paper, my stuff may seem pretty filthy. But I have this boy-next-door charm that keeps people in their seats,” he admits.

That quality probably also landed him a job posing nude once for Unzipped, the gay porn magazine. So what was more difficult to expose: His body or his painful upbringing?

“Of course it’s taking off my clothes!” he says without missing a beat. “I’m very vain and have a small penis. Getting onstage and spilling my guts is a piece of cake to me now. The closer I get to embarrassing myself, the better the material is. It seems to resonate with people.”

Performances: March 3 at 5 p.m., March 6 at 7:30 p.m. and March 10 at 2 p.m.

Waking Up

Interview with playwright Kelsey Ervi

Only 22, Ervi’s play Waking Up will be the first of her works actually produced for the stage.

What’s gay about your play: “When I was writing this, I wanted to make sure to create a broad spectrum of characters. It’s important to me as a playwright and a lesbian to have gay characters, so we have a scene with two men in their struggling relationship and then two women who are physically and emotionally into each other, but it’s something they’re uncovering about themselves.

“I knew it would be a good fit into this festival. The show is neither a comedy nor drama, but, um … quirky is a good word. It has many different themes and storylines in small vignettes. The play revolves around 11 characters total and it’s all set in a bedroom. We set it in realism to look at things people wake up to, wake up for or don’t wake up at all. I think it can touch audiences in a different way.”

6-Greyman-Kelsey-Ervi

Kelsey Ervi

Past gay cred? “I was accepted for GLAAD’s annual OUTAuction last November. I had a photograph accepted and was named one of the top five emerging artists in my medium. I was so happy to be a part of that. And I had a directing internship with ShakespeareDallas last fall under Rene Moreno working on Hamlet. That really pushed me to move to Dallas and I’ll be working with [the company] again this summer for Twelfth Night. I knew I didn’t want to wait in Waco any longer.”

One last note: “I wrote Waking Up after an intimate experience with a girl in college. She was an inbetweener. But I want the audience to be reminded how emotions can be scary but great. Besides, it’s short (30 minutes) and sweet. It’s something different ages can enjoy, especially young people.”

Performances: March 3 at 8 p.m., March 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., March 10 and 11 at 2 p.m.

The Screw You Revue

7-Finger1

McGeoch and Chaffee perform the sassy standup of ‘The Screw Your Revue;’

Interview with Douglas McGeoch, aka Miss Didi Panache
Imagine a Sonny and Cher-style duo with the in-your-face satire of Lisa Lampanelli and you have The Screw You Revue. Real-life partners Dewey Chaffee and Douglas McGeoch star as Wayburn Sassy (Chaffee), a bigoted curmudgeon who calls it as he sees it, and Miss Didi Panche, his lovely songbird accomplice, in this gay cabaret of hiss-and-tell humor.

Standup origins: The show began out of Chaffee’s standup comedy routine with a biological girl originally playing the role of Didi. Chaffee later convinced McGeoch to step into the heels and “now, he can’t tear the sequins from my back or the lashes from my eyes,” says McGeoch. For its Texas premiere, they will be adding three things. “One, lots of local Dallas flair and commentary on the city. Two, multiple digs at Texas’ Most Honorable Governor, Rick Perry. And the third addition will be … um … let me check my notes … I forgot. Oops!”

Fair warning: For those easily offended, best to stay at home. This audience-interaction experience does not discriminate. During one of their most memorable shows, Wayburn encountered a quadriplegic in the front row. Ignoring typical social norms he approached the gentleman and said, “All right, someone needs attention. I’ll bite. What the hell happened to you?” The audience went silent. The gentleman responded by saying that at the age of 12 he dove into a pool and broke his neck. Without missing a beat Wayburn replied, “So you’re not only a cripple, you’re an idiot, too.”
According to McGeoch, the gentleman and his party roared with laughter.

Performances: March 9 and 10, 10 p.m.

Beyond Words

Interview with mime Bill Bowers

Cast: Just Bowers, a professional mime who uses stories from his life growing up as a gay kid in Montana, then deciding to become a mime. Beyond Words is a personal story culled from Bowers’ own life, with narration and movement telling the story. It played last fall off-Broadway.

Ooh, daddy: Whether he considers himself one or not, Bowers is a daddy — for real! He recently donated his sperm to a lesbian couple and became a biological father to their child. Both Bowers and his partner will have active roles in the son’s life.

On how becoming a father affected his art: “We’re not the official parents, they’re raising him. But we’re a big part of his life and I see him regularly. It’s something I never imagined I would do, but they asked, and I became a father. So that is a huge part of this piece.”

On becoming a mime: “I was surrounded by silence when growing up,” Bowers says. “There was the silence of Montana, but although I was in a big family, I didn’t talk much. And then the silence of being a gay kid, there was no conversation about that when I was little. When I got into high school and realized there was an art form about not talking, it just came to me. I started teaching myself what I thought mime was.”

For those who wanna be mimes: In addition to his show, Bowers will also lead a movement workshop on March 10 at 10 a.m.

Performances: March 9 at 8 p.m., March 10 at 5 p.m. and March 11 at 2 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

No fangs needed

Advanced Skin Fitness takes a cue from vampires to give patients a youthful look

The before (top) and after (below) photos of the Vampire FaceLift procedure show remarkable results, though the technology used to create it sounds like something out of science fiction.

The before (top) and after (below) photos of the Vampire FaceLift procedure show remarkable results, though the technology used to create it sounds like something out of science fiction.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

Horrified by your wrinkles and other signs of ageing? It’s a fact of life that simply sucks. But there’s a revolutionary procedure that takes cues from those mythic bloodsuckers to achieve remarkable results. It’s called the Vampire FaceLift, and it’s one of the most popular of a suite of age-defying procedures available at gay-owned Advanced Skin Fitness.

ASF owner William A. Moore says patients are amazed by the outcome of the frighteningly named procedure. And they don’t have to sleep in coffins, wear SPF 35,000 sunscreen or avoid garlic festivals to enjoy the benefits.

The name derives because the process utilizes a patient’s own blood.

“Stem cell science is used to tell the body to grow new, younger skin,” Moore says. “Unipotent stem cells, which grow only one specific tissue, can be found in every part of the body. For example, unipotent stem cells in the liver grow new liver tissue; the same cells in the skin grow new skin. The procedure takes cosmetic rejuvenation to a higher level.”

It all starts with a hyaluronic acid filler (like Juvederm) to begin sculpting specific areas of the face.

“The filler acts like a sponge, holding water in the face providing a basic shape,” Moore says. “This initial injection of the acid is the precursor to the desired form.” Next comes the polishing and refining step of the sculpting process, “which contributes to the appearance of a younger version of you.”

Moore adds that within minutes, the clinician creates autologous Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) to activate your own stem cells. (Vocabulary lesson for today: autologous means utilizing something from your own body.)

The three-step process is quite simple. A small amount of blood is drawn and then placed in one of those cool CSI crime-labby centrifuges to spin the blood and separate the platelets from the other components of the blood. Finally, the platelets are activated to produce your very own platelet-rich plasma. The PRP is injected into the desired areas (typically around the eyes, nasolabial folds, chin and cheeks) and just like a scab turns into skin over time, this process works to rejuvenate the treatment zones.

It takes four to six weeks to completely see the benefits of PRP injections, but according to Moore, there is also some instant gratification from the procedure.

There’s a way to maximize the results of the non-surgical Vampire FaceLift through a procedure Moore created, called iRevival. The treatments together work well for someone with a loss of volume in the cheeks and face.

The exclusive procedure will be introduced to other skin care clinics in March because of its popularity and visible results. It combines CO2 laser resurfacing with the same PRP and unipotent stem cells.

“First, we treat the skin with CO2 laser to create microscopic wounds. When these wounds heal, they naturally build new collagen and firm and smooth the texture of the skin. Afterward, the PRP is applied topically to speed up the healing process and injected into problematic areas as with the Vampire FaceLift,” Moore says. “PRP combined with microscopic wounds dramatically decreases fine lines, firms and tightens the areas around the eyes, evens out acne scars, eliminates sun damage, and brightens and enhances the color of the skin.”

Both these treatments are ideal for patients over the age of 35 because everyone stops producing collagen around that age. Acne scar patients or anyone suffering from premature aging due to excessive sun exposure or cigarette smoking can also benefit. (The Vampire FaceLift has virtually no downtime, but the iRevival requires about a week.)

Should you or someone you know need improvement further below the neck, Platelet Rich Plasma can also be used for rejuvenation and enlargement of the penis. Or as the vampires call it, raising the dead.

Call 214-521-5277 or visit AdvancedSkinFitness.com to schedule a free consultation.
Vampire FaceLift cost $1,299; iRevival costs $1,499.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 17, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Victoria, victor

Michael Fulk, aka Victoria Weston, basks in the warmth of an IGRA title

!Victoria-Weston-Miss-IGRA-2012_img4619

RIDE ’EM COWGIRL! Victoria Weston brought the IGRA title back to Dallas with her win last month in California. (Terry Thompson/ Dallas Voice)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

In 25 years of International Gay Rodeo Association pageants, the top honors have only been won by a contestant from the Texas Gay Rodeo Association three times — one of which was late last year, when Michael Fulk’s alter ego Victoria Weston walked away with the Miss IGRA 2012 crown, a first for Dallas and a victory decades in the making.

“I have been dressing in female attire ever since I could open my mom’s closet door,” Fulk laughs.

His drag career started in earnest, however, at a Halloween ball in St. Louis in 1988. One month later, he was doing his first fundraiser, “and within a year I had moved to New York City,” he says.

After many successful years as a full-time entertainer in New York City, Fulk returned to Dallas shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.

“My career switched upon my move,” he explains. “In NYC, I was an entertainer full-time and a hair and makeup artist part time. Now I am a full-time hair and makeup artist, makeup coach and educator for Artistic Salon Spa across from NorthPark. Entertainment was relegated to a passion rather than the breadwinner part of my life.”

But that didn’t stopped Fulk from competing and performing in drag — a description he’s proud to wear.

“We are all born naked, everything that comes after that is drag, honey!” he laughs. “Drag comes in all shapes and sizes: leather drag, business drag, casual, cowboy, club kid … the list is endless. I have no issue being called a drag queen, female impersonator, illusionist, yadda, yadda, yadda. If that size 11 pump fits and looks fabulous, I wear it. For the most part, though, when people around me speak of what I do, more often than not they simply refer to me as an entertainer.”

Victoria Weston stands out among many other drag performers because rather than lip sync, she sings live.

“The entertainers from before Stonewall were live,” Fulk explains. “Some sang, some danced, some stripped, but back then there wasn’t as much syncing and/or surgery as today. I think I am a throwback to that era. I am first and foremost closely related to the big band singer. That is my passion, whether it is blues, jazz, Broadway or standards.”

Since returning to Texas, Fulk has upped the quotient of country-western and pop music in Victoria’s act.

“I have heard people say my singing style resembles Shirley Bassey and I have always been compared to the look of Ann-Margret. I couldn’t ask for better comparisons. I’ll take both of those as high compliments,” he says.

Still, he insists, it’s best not to take himself too seriously.

“I take the illusion I portray serious enough to not make it a joke. I don’t want to be insulting or a cartoon of a woman. Every time I sit down to bring Victoria to life I view my job as putting together an ideal,” Fulk says. That means Victoria “doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. Old Hollywood glamour is my mainstay. Even though I am wearing a lot of makeup, hair jewelry, rhinestones, gowns and great shoes, I guess I want to appear to simply be a red carpet version of what I think a woman looks like: Totally put together. Besides that, I like to think of Victoria as a grounded, drama-free old soul with a wry sense of humor and a heart as big as all outdoors.”

Perhaps it’s this philosophy and a healthy sense of humor that has kept Fulk from suffering a fate foretold years ago by his drag mother from St. Louis, Miss Tracy.

“God rest her soul, [she] told me to be ready for a lonely life. She said, ‘They are either going to hate you as a drag queen and love you as yourself or they are going to love you as a drag queen and hate you as yourself. And be prepared for lesbians to hate and resent you.’” Fulk recalls. “I have found that to be false on all levels.”

And few things symbolize that overcoming of obstacles better than a really, really big crown.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Hope on the range

Animal Angels Rescue provides unwanted beasts a chance at a better life

PAWS-1

ANGELS IN AMERICA | A Jacksboro animal sanctuary benefits from, from left, Matt and Beth Kelley, Carole Sanders and Nita Burgoon, who serve 300-plus dogs and horses. (Photo courtesy Rodrigo Orta)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

There are dog lovers, and then there’s Carole Sanders. With 300 dogs and counting under her roof, Sanders’ Animal Angels Rescue, Rehabilitation, Adoption and Sanctuary represents a last chance for many unwanted canines. But unlike the fate of many other homeless animals on this 38-acre ranch in Jacksboro, Texas, these dogs (and 18 horses) have a place to live out the rest of their lives with food, shelter and most of all, love.

Sanders, now 72, loved dogs from a very early age and knew that somehow her life would end up in the service of animals.

“I just didn’t know I was going to do anything at this level, but I’ve always seen the need out there and I have the will and determination to do what I had to accomplish. You have

PAWS-2

OVERRUN WITH DOGS | The author, above, learns first-hand how friendly a rescue dog can be — and how adorable they are just being themselves, below. (Photos courtesy Rodrigo Orta)

to take time,” she says. “If you try to do too much too fast, you can’t do it well. That’s why some rescue groups burn out and fail.”

It was vitally important to Sanders that the sanctuary, which she started in 1992, grow slowly and that everything was in place to sustain it. In 1993, Animal Angels received its non-profit 501(c)3 tax status. Then in 2001, Sanders retired after 40 years of serving a completely different yet equally unruly animal — the airline passenger.

“After being a flight attendant for so long, I figured out that I’m a giver,” she says.

Thankfully, she’s not alone in the giving department. Along with her life partner, Nita Burgoon, Sanders continues to buy up surrounding land — not just to provide more space for the dogs, but to keep neighbors far, far away (300 barking dogs could lead to complaints that might jeopardize the entire mission).

In the cozy lodge that Burgoon had custom-built for the couple, more than a dozen smaller dogs have graciously allowed the two women to share their space, though it’s difficult to find a chair, sofa or any other soft surface without a furry face staring up from it.

More recently, former Operation Kindness intake coordinator Beth Kelley, her husband Matt, and three children have moved into a house on the property and are in charge of many of the daily chores and upkeep that an organization like this entails. Serving the needs of the animals has created a unique situation for Kelley and her family.

“When making the decision to all work at the sanctuary as a family and not having to commute to an outside source of income we feel that we not only have enhanced the upbringing of our children, but the lives of animals that are in great need while educating the community that we live in,” she says.

Part of that education is in-your-face messages that appear on every Animal Angels vehicle. “Only and idiot would let a dog ride in the bed of a truck” adorns their pick-ups; a gestured middle finger from bubbas who drive past isn’t uncommon.

Other messages are less provocative, though no less thought-provoking — like the fact that one female dog and one male dog can be responsible for 67,000 more dogs in just seven years. (For cats, that’s 420,000 in the same time frame.) These statistics are just one of the many reasons that every dog at Animal Angels is spayed or neutered by a vet who comes to the on-site medical facility at least once per month.

With all the dogs spayed or neutered, there is no threat of breeding, thus presenting opportunities for less restrictive doggie interaction. When Kelley first came on the scene in February of last year, most of the dogs were in chain-link “neighborhoods,” large fenced-in areas where dogs could socialize with each other in like-minded packs.

“We couldn’t let them roam the whole property at the time because we didn’t have a full perimeter fence,” Sanders says. “So the best solution was large neighborhoods with dogs that got along. We’ve now taken it a step further. Other sanctuaries still have a lot of pens, but here we have a lot out and I think that’s the best place for them. Thanks to Beth, she started turning dogs loose left and right.”

PAWS-3Now there are more than 170 dogs that are lovingly called “free range.” Dozens of shelters dot the landscape under large trees and among rocks and low-lying bushes. Huge containers of dog food are available on-demand for any dog with an appetite. And baby pools serve as the drinking bowls necessary to quench the thirst of so many active animals.

What’s immediately noticeable after spending any amount of time at Animal Angels is how sublimely happy the dogs appear. With little hope of adoption, they’re still able to get the human interaction that many (though not all) crave. Even more importantly, they benefit from the instinctual bonding with fellow dogs. Throughout the grounds, packs have formed naturally and few dogs within any of them venture into the territory of others. Occasionally they fight, but little more than a growl or a quick nip is needed to keep the peace.

The remaining 130 or so dogs are segregated into neighborhoods for good reasons. For one group, they’re too small to roam freely and safely among a majority of large-breed dogs. Others have been in the neighborhoods too long to adapt to a life outside their fences. The rest simply can’t be trusted to be loose because they don’t get along with people.
With other dogs, however, they’re right at home.

Not all dogs that come to Animal Angels are immediately lifers, either. Puppies, small breeds and other more “adoptable” dogs are given to rescue groups that will give them a much greater chance of finding a forever home. If that doesn’t work out, they always have a place at the sanctuary.

Yet keeping the sanctuary operational takes more than the 24/7 dedication of Sanders and her crew — it requires consistent monetary donations. Animal Angels is able to purchase food, medication and other supplies at such deep discounts that they can stretch a dollar — an important skill given that they need approximately 10,000 pounds of dog food per month just to feed their current residents. That doesn’t include any other operational or medical expenses.

But one look at the loving eyes, happy faces, and spastically wagging tails and it’s clear that these dogs have found heaven on earth. And Sanders, Burgoon and the entire Kelley family truly are angels to each and every one of them.

“You can’t save them all, but you try. That’s what counts,” Sanders says.  “You do the best you can.”

To learn more, or to donate, visit AnimalAngelsTexas.org.  

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 16, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

DRIVE!: Welcome to the neighborhood

With their move from Irving to Lemmon Avenue — the ’hood’s Motor Mile — Goodson Acura has undertaken a bumper-to-bumper overhaul.

At the new facility, there’s clearly an emphasis on style. Sleek, sophisticated interiors are resplendent with textures and patterns. Every model is on the showroom floor, each in identical silver body color, which only allows for easy comparisons between models and complete color coordination with the space around them. Behind the welcome desk and throughout the lobby, friendly faces are eager to offer assistance.

“One of the things that we’ve always prided ourselves on is our culture. That’s the best way to describe it,” says Richard Schindler, president and Goodson employee for more than 23 years.

They’ve also worked hard to stay on the cutting edge, with next-generation tablets that read barcodes inside vehicles and an alignment analyzer built into the service drive. Maybe most enlightened: An LGBT community representative, Chad Whitefield, who keeps the dealership involved in events that benefit various charity groups and give back to their customers.

— Steven Lindsey

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

—  Michael Stephens

Dallas without the Ewings

After months of sniping, ‘A-List: Dallas’ debuts and, surprisingly, entertains

ALIST_DALLAS_GROUP_retouched_3

SPOT THE HOT SPOT | Real-life gay cowboy Levi Crocker, center, is the breakout star of ‘The A-List: Dallas,’ which finally debuts on Logo after a summer of controversy. (Photo Mike Ruiz/Logo)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Lies, deception, cowboys, swimming pool fights and plenty of rich bitches (male and female): Sounds like a certain TV show we all know and love, right? Well, these are also the same ingredients for Dallas’ newest moment in the reality television spotlight. Taking the successful formula for The A-List: New York and creating a Dallas franchise may have been a head-scratcher for anyone who doesn’t live here, but for those of us that do, we know we have our fair share of camera-ready gays eager to bring on the drama.

I used to think that reality TV should be critiqued under different criteria than scripted shows, but then I realized that if a show wants to take up an hour of my time and valuable space on my DVR, it all comes down to one simple question I pose, whether million-dollar-per-episode comedy or a low-budget reality franchise: Am I entertained?

For The A-List: Dallas, the surprising answer is “yes.” Admittedly, I can barely squint my way through an episode of the New York version, so I had minimal expectations for Dallas. But by the time the first episode’s credits rolled and scenes from the entire season played out, I found myself hooked.

That’s in large part because of the casting. They’ve found a group of friends and frenemies with enough ready-made conflict to easily fill an entire season. Sure, much of it is exaggerated for effect, but give gays enough alcohol and stick them in front of a camera crew and how could sparks not fly?

At the center of most of the drama is Levi Crocker, the handsome cowboy that every guy wants to rope in. In the past, he’s dated Taylor Garret, a gay Christian Republican and now denies dating James Doyle, a trust-fund baby who remembers things a little differently. There’s also Chase Hutchison, a real estate investor whose hair becomes its very own character; Phillip Willis, a high-end stylist with a love for gossip; and Ashley Kelly, a female photographer who just loves her gays.

The good thing about this cast is their wicked sense of humor — and it appears that they’re in on the joke. I mean, who couldn’t be camping up a little saying catty things like,

“This is a genetic gift. Does it mean I’m superior? Maybe.” Or, “I’m one of Dallas’ hottest stylists.” Or maybe they’re just shallow jerks like most every other cast member of every single reality show ever created anywhere. Only time will tell, but for now, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Most of all, The A-List: Dallas is a fun watch just to see how many people you recognize and how many favorite restaurants and nightspots you can spot. If you’ve been to the same sushi bar and know a few of the same people, that makes you A-List by association. And that’s pretty much all it takes.

Premieres Monday on Logo at 10 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Vision-ary

After success at running Fashion Optical, Morgan Gianni sets his sights on a new path: Designing an eyewear line

FROM DRAWING BOARD TO YOUR FACE | Gianni started out sketching frames inspired by specific clients; two years later, the finished products are for sale at his shop, Fashion Optical.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

If you’ve ever asked somebody local where they got their really cool eyeglasses, chances are good their response will be Fashion Optical. Already a mainstay in the gay business community, the Oak Lawn optical shop has become a favorite of some of Dallas’ best-known celebs, from TV stars to football players to fashion icons and debutantes.

Every frame in the store’s vast selection of hip and trendy eyewear is handpicked for each client from one man, who can almost instantly match a client by the perfect pair when they walk through the door.

Having a flair for fashion has always been a part of who Morgan Gianni is. As the only boy in clothing construction class in high school, he knew he was different. But he also knew he was good, and any adversity he experienced only made him stronger and more determined.

“I marched to my own drummer,” he says with a laugh.

In 2006, he and his partner, optometrist Randy Atwood, added the optical shop next door to their just-leased optometrist office and combined the two into one venture: Fashion Optical. Within five years, they amassed more than $7 million in sales, thanks to the ability of customers to see the eye doctor, pick out frames and have their complete glasses manufactured all in the same place.

Fashion Optical has become one of the top places in the city to pick up unique frames from unique and edgy designers like Alexander McQueen, Versace, Emilio Pucci, Tom Ford and Alain Mikli. But this year, a new designer line debuted that will forever change the store’s future — and the destiny of Gianni himself, who designed each and every one.

The m.GIANNI Collection is already selling fast, though the design and manufacturing process has been going on for well over a year.

The first two collections, Gianni says, will all be sunglasses, but expansion into traditional eyewear is the next logical progression. To create the line, Gianni often imagined specific friends and clients while working on the designs, even naming them after his inspirations. Utilizing the highest quality Mazzucchelli acetate, each frame is handmade in Japan. Unique color combinations and high-fashion accents like Swarovski crystals make each pair a showstopper.

“When I design, just like when I’m buying, I’m picturing in my mind who this is going to look good on,” Gianni says. “I was inspired by all these fashion shows I’ve done. I noticed that other designers’ frames were way too heavy, too wide or the bridges didn’t fit. I wanted to change that.”

Gianni started with 161 sketches that eventually became the 17 models featured in the current collection, each coming in three colors or finishes.

“It’s a really long process,” he admits. “I sketched out charcoal drawings, then I converted everything to millimeters and then I turned them into graphic illustrations for a look book to help shop for manufacturers.”

Once he had a manufacturer he trusted with his design vision, he fine-tuned his designs, keeping a few key principles in mind.

“I wanted everything to be original and I wanted everything to fit. There’s a universal fit: If you study anatomy, you realize there are averages between the brow bone and the cheekbone. Some people don’t take that into consideration,” he says.

The line features styles for women, men and a few unisex options; each can be fitted with prescription lenses.

“I know what customers like and I have the credibility to make that statement. Different facial shapes call for different frame shapes,” he says. In fact, it’s his experience working on the optical side of the business that helps him stand apart from other eyewear designers. By working day in and day out with clients to find the perfect fit, he’s able to translate that knowledge into creating designs that would flatter.

Bringing the first m.GIANNI Collection line to life is just one accomplishment of many to come. Not just a hit with customers, it’s been getting attention from some of the biggest names in fashion.

“I have been approached to design eye wear by Jean-Paul Gaultier Eyewear to be sold at the exhibit of his collection as it travels from museum to museum,” Gianni says. “As you can quite imagine, I’m very excited by this possibility.”

Spoken like somebody with a future so bright, he’s gotta wear shades. But like few others on the planet, they’ll be his own creations.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Chi Chi lately

If you haven’t seen Miss LaRue recently, prepare to be amazed

HALF THE GAL SHE USED TO BE | Her hair’s still as big as Texas, but the porn goddess and DJ has dropped 150 lbs.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

………………………….

CHI CHI LARUE
Drama Room, 3851 Cedar Springs Road, 10 p.m.–midnight,
Tin Room, 2514 Hudnall St.,
midnight-2 a.m., Sept. 16 and 17.

………………………….

Pulling over to a McDonald’s to access their free wi-fi in preparation for an interview with legendary adult film director Chi Chi LaRue seemed like a good idea at the time. A quick visit to her website and a review of her bio wouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Except it never got that far. When a large photo of her film CockWatch, featuring stars with names like Drake Jaden, David Chase and Colton Steele, popped up on-screen … well, let’s just say the kiddies in Playland weren’t prepared for those kinds of McNuggets.

So I scooped up my laptop and headed to the car to call LaRue (the drag alter ego of Larry David Paciotti), who had just returned to Los Angeles after a three-movie shoot in Florida and a tropical-storm-soaked weekend at Southern Decadence in New Orleans. I actually ran into the diva at a bar in NOLA but didn’t recognize her since her extraordinary weight loss. Since her gastric bypass surgery three years ago, she’s lost more than 150 pounds (or the equivalent of 1.35 twinks).

“I’m glad I did it; I’d do it again,” she says. “It’s changed everything about me. It’s changed the way I even look at myself as far as the Chi Chi LaRue character goes. It took me a while to get back into character. Having lost the weight, I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to be my character anymore. But the character’s inside me. It’s what I exude and put out there and how I present myself. Fat or thin, you can do that. I had to get it into my head that I could still be big and flamboyant even in a smaller body.”

If anything, slimming down has energized LaRue and kept her busier than ever. In addition to directing gay porn movies in fabulous destinations all over the world, she has a retail store in West Hollywood that sells a variety of Chi Chi (and chi-chi) merchandise, and she books DJ gigs at gay clubs from coast to coast.

Which is exactly what brings her to Dallas for Pride. She’ll be spinning at the Drama Room and Tin Room on Friday and Saturday nights, then heads to the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sunday. When she found out the Drama Room is next door to a certain Cedar Springs restaurant, though, she immediately perked up.

“Oooh, I love the Black-eyed Pea! I will be having some fried pickles. Guaranteed. I love the Black-eyed Pea!” she says.

Other than a few quick ventures out for a little comfort food and her official public appearances, LaRue’s travels have been pretty low-key.

“I like to stay in my hotel and just kind of chill and get ready for the DJ gig. I live my life as a vampire and stay in during the day since I’m working at night. When I’m only somewhere for a couple days, I don’t like to go out and wear myself out,” she says. “I’m an old woman! I’m a 51-year-old twat!”

Once the Dallas gig is over, it’s back to the grind of directing and traveling.

“I’m shooting a movie with Chris Crocker. You know who Chris Crocker is, right? He’s the boy who went on YouTube and did, ‘Leave Brittney Alone!’ He’s now turned himself into a cutie boy and wants to do a porn. I’m shooting his probably first and only porn movie,” LaRue says.

After that, it’s another movie with the Russo twins, a new flick with Greg Everett and DJing in San Francisco for the Folsom Street Fair.

“It never stops,” she says. “I just go, go, go. Same time, different year. And I’m happy with that. I’ve kept my name out there for 25 years. It’s great that someone’s stuck with me that long. I feel like Madonna, damn it! Well, sometimes I feel like Madonna, and sometimes I feel like Courtney Love the day after.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Gleeks on campus

At UNT, students unite for a diverse, inclusive show choir. And there’s no Sue Sylvester

TEENAGED DREAMS | UNT Glee Club’s 19-year-old members — RaShard Turley, Raena McEuin, Emmanuel Rodriguez, Gianna Millares (she’s 20), Lindsay Harris and Marissa Davis — were inspired by the hit Fox series to pursue their love of performing. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Thankfully, there are no slushies in the face for members of UNT Glee Club, an organization inspired by the smash-hit Fox TV show, Glee. There’s no Sue Sylvester, either. But there are plenty of similarities between the college club and their TV counterparts.

Founded in 2010 by Jose Coira, who recently graduated, the club arose as a direct result of the TV show.

“He was inspired to give students on campus an opportunity to shine like the stars they are,” says Kendall Butler, a 23-year-old dancer and current president of the club. “UNT Glee Club is compiled of talented performers who sing and dance.”

Unlike traditional collegiate glee clubs that focus on classical music, Butler says his group is inspired by and performs all types of music. Auditions for the 24-member show choir and 20-person dance team that comprise the club were so popular they had to turn away plenty of good talent.

“It’s very competitive and nerve-racking because you want them all to be in Glee, but it just doesn’t work out that way,” he says.
Comparisons to the show are easy because of the group’s diversity, according to Butler.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think they follow us around and steal ideas for the actual show,” he says. “We get anything from the sweet Southern belle to the hard rocker, with only one thing in common: Music.”

And music is definitely one thing that the University of North Texas is known for. Having a talented glee club blossom on its campus is not a stretch of the imagination at all.

“We get all sorts of talented students that audition. From music majors to bio-chemistry majors, students come from all over campus and impress us with their voices and technical dancing skills,” Butler says. “Everyone we pick must be able to sing and dance. Most students can sing or dance, but we need our Gleeks to be well-rounded. Personality is also key — we want people who represent who we are.”

When asked if they were interested in commercial success similar to what the stars of the television series have enjoyed with their No. 1 CDs and iTunes downloads, the reactions of its members are somewhat surprising.

“Personally, I don’t feel like being world-famous or having record albums is what Glee is about,” says 19-year-old soprano Lindsay Harris, a psychology major. “Glee is about making friends, having fun and the enjoyment of being on stage and performing. Don’t get me wrong, I think seeing our glee club on a CD cover would be awesome, but our club is so much more than being famous.”

Alto and fellow psych major Jessica Ailene Rogers, 21, agrees.

“We have had our fair share of news coverage, as well as different people hire us to perform, but when it comes to ‘making it big,’ we just prefer to have fun and put on a great show for our friends, families and local fans.”

Butler believes a recording is definitely the direction the club would like to take eventually, but for now, everyone involved seems content to just explore their talents and have a good time. Most of all, UNT Glee is a place where students can be themselves, gay or straight, outgoing or reserved.

“It’s the club where friendships are born,” Butler says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Saloonatics

‘Wild Oats’ is over the top — in all the wrong ways

t3121_h01
YEE HUH? | The Old West formula goes awry when a Reformation comedy gets a badly written update to the American frontier, though Andy Baldwin and Lee Jamison, center, make the most of it.

STEVEN LINDSEY   | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

The audience reaction throughout Wild Oats says it all. Half the theater-in-the-round patrons sit with stoic looks of boredom, arms crossed in defiance to the attempts onstage to garner laughs. The other half cackles uproariously at the Old West shenanigans in this pseudo-vaudevillian melodrama from playwright James McLure.

I sided more with the arm-crossers than the cacklers, though a laugh occasionally escaped me during this production. Wild Oats is one of those unfortunate theater experiences where I found myself focused on the Playbill, counting the number of scene until intermission like an inmate anxiously ticking away the days to parole. Perhaps the fact the theater was stiflingly hot and everyone around me was sweating and fanning themselves with their programs contributed to the prison feel; maybe it was the goofy over-acting by most of the actors. Or quite possibly, it is simply source material that’s gone stale.

McLure adapted the play from an 18th century comedy by John O’Keeffe, transporting the action to 19th century Muleshoe, Texas. All the elements for a classic Old West comedy are present and accounted for: A Native American with an Irish accent. A devilish pastor. A handsome, Shakespeare-loving cowboy. A flamboyant West Point drop-out. A wealthy, unrefined heiress. So why does it go so horribly awry?

For every moment of inspired lunacy, a joke is killed by being explained. Nothing kills a punch line more than a dissertation on its funniness. And while some clever gimmicks are funny the first time, they are only mildly amusing the third and fourth and completely worn out by the 16th rehashing. There’s a lot to absorb in the frenetic action unfolding all around you, one of the pure pleasures of theater-in-the-round, and this A.D.D. approach can often translate into grand comedy. Instead, it comes across as desperation.

There are some solid performances from actors who know how to tread the treacherous line between over-acting and willful exaggeration. Watching Andy Baldwin and Lee Jamison is sublimely enjoyable regardless of what they’re doing. They’re captivating, and each knows how to make the most of what they have been given. (A same-sex near-kiss between Baldwin and James Chandler is one of the play’s greatest bits of physical comedy.)

This production is the first show of Theatre 3’s landmark 50th anniversary season, so here’s hoping like the true sowing of wild oats that this is something they just had to get out of their systems. For a company deft at switching from comedy to Broadway musicals to intense drama with such finesse, this miss is easily forgiven.

But a miss it is. Maybe you’ll end up on Team Loves It and can joyfully explain what the rest of us missed. We can tell you what was interesting in the Playbill.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas