Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jay Armstrong Johnson to star in Pool Boy at Barrington Stage

Jay Armstrong Johnson stars in Pool Boy. Live. On Stage. in Pittsfield. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Pool Boy, a new musical by Nikon Tsakalakos and Janet Allard will debut at Barrington Stage in two weeks time. Beyond being the hilarous tale of a - what else - pool boy at the Hotel Bel Air it is also a chance to see Jay Armstrong Johnson again. He was last in these parts two years ago in Hairspray at the Weston, VT Playhouse, and has been making a name for himself both on Broadway and on the road ever since.

Jay Armstrong Johnson

You can read the full casting details (and see more pictures) in Berkshire on Stage. Watch also for my upcoming interview with Nikos on how this production went from a summer job where he was at the mercy of everyone else's decisions, to a summer job where his input is sought.

Now here's a cute video that shows off both the musical abilities of Jay A. Johnson and his warm personality.

Now here's the thing. This show, with its great contemporary music by Nikos and a fabulous cast is already rapidly selling tickets as the word of mouth spreads. The Stage Two is a small 200 seat house, and has been home to a string of really fine shows - Freud's Last Session (which goes to NYC after it finishes next week) and The Whipping Man by Matthew Lopez which had hardly a spare ticket during its extended run. Tip: shows there are general admission, so arrive early for the closer seats.

Out @ BSC on July 8

Reminder: OUT@BSC will take place on three Thursdays this summer. The first is July 8 with a performance of Sweeney Todd and a post show party at Jae’s Spice. Don't forget to ask for your 10% off discount. Read about the first program of its kind for the GLBT community by a major Berkshire cultural institution. A decent turnout means we will see more "out" events in the future too. I thought this Sweeney Todd (review here) was quite wonderful.

Performances of Pool Boy are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 7:30pm at BSC Stage 2, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield. Opening Night: Wed., July 21 at 7:30pm. Tickets: $15-$45. Seniors: $20 all matinees. Pay What You Can Night for 35 year olds and younger: Fri., July 16 at 7:30pm. Post-show discussions with the cast will be held following the Thursday, July 15 and Thursday, August 5 performances. For ticket information call 413-236-8888, stop by the BSC Box Office at 30 Union Street or visit I suppose I don't have to remind you that Pool Boy contains adult situations (mostly straight) and strong language.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hot Berkshire Summer Begins - Mark Morris, Jacobs Pillow, FilmTopia, Randy Harrison

Mark Morris Dance Group in Morris's Mozart Dances. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

And so our 2010 Summer of Plenty begins this weekend. With the always surprising Mark Morris and his dance company at Tanglewood's Ozawa Hall this Sunday and Monday June 27-28 at 9 pm, the once bad boy of dance will show us how refined he has become.

Over at Jacob's Pillow, the State Ballet of Georgia has put together a program from the Petipa days to the present day that is sure to delight dance aficionados. Their Falling Angels is, quite frankly, not to be missed.

From India, The World Unseen, part of the Film Topia series.

Then there is the fledgeling FilmTopia series which is kicking off Saturday at 7 pm at the Topia Arts Center in Adams. Unspooling are three short films by Nuria Olive-Belles, a really fabulous Spanish filmmaker who worked at Jacob's Pillow for several summers as their Video Director. But the big attraction is the feature - The World Unseen by Shamin Sarif. Caryn from Topia tells us it is a gorgeous multilayered story of two Indian women living under apartheid South Africa in the 1950's.

Then, Saturday afternoon, Susan Mikula, who is Rachel Maddow's partner, opens her photographic exhibit at the always interesting Ferrin Gallery. Her latest work titled American Vale: Recent Photographs features images of the Berkshire's industrial past. While they are easily identifiable, they have a somewhat soft, translucent quality that give the impression of looking back through the mists of time. Being that the opening reception is this Saturday June 26 from 4 to 6, you know who will not be in the Big Apple preparing for her nightly program. Could be interesting.

Randy back then. New images with interview in Berkshire on Stage later this weekend.

Yesterday I caught up with Randy Harrison, who is back in the Berkshires for the sixth year preparing for Endgame at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. Arriving in the Berkshires for a month, he assured me that his cats Ella and Aggie are being looked after while he is preparing for the Samuel Beckett play. He spends his time on stage cooped up in a trashcan as Nagg.

Though Endgame doesn't begin performances until July 6, his fans from Queer as Folk have snapped up every available seat for opening night, and are gnawing away at the rest. The interview with Harrison will not go up until late this weekend (lots of transcribing to do first) but as usual it probes the depth of his theatrical knowledge. Which is considerable.

Some people only think of him as his character on QAF, but he was a serious actor long before that role, and intends to keep it that way. He is not a circuit boy, and keeps his private life private. As serious as our talks are, his fans have discovered my think piece on Beckett which has a teeny tiny pic of the lad, and it's gone viral becoming the most read piece on my Berkshire on Stage site. His fans from Germany, Italy and Japan have whole websites devoted to him. The QAF series continues to be rebroadcast both in the US on Logo and Ovation, and internationally.

The Jewdy Show - My Life as a Sitcom

As mentioned in the previous post, Judy Gold took over the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She knows funny (with a Jewish Lesbian Mother twist) like few others. This is no stand-up act however, it is a full bore theatrical production, and you can read a bit of its history in this advance story.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Guide to LGBT shows this summer. Who knew there were so many!

Actors come in many varieties, too.

Do you think the Berkshires are ready for Judy Gold? This week in Williamstown she's about to reveal her latest comic outing titled The Jewdy Show - My Life as a Sitcom. Her unique brand of humor was honed in the clubs of Provincetown, small stages she shared with Lea DeLaria, Paula Poundstone, Sandra Bernhard and Kate Clinton. What would the annual October Women's Week in P-Town be without her special appearances? Not as funny, for one thing.

So, if you have been blissfully unaware that the esteemed and venerable Williamstown Theatre Festival is opening its 2010 season with both the king and queen of LGBTJ comedy, you are hereby informed.

And since the fact that much of the top entertainment in the Berkshires has creative LGBT writers, performers and content that is poorly publicized, you might just help spread the word. And take a gander at the advance story I have written about Judy and her show in

Judy Gold (l) and her partner Elysa.

You might also make that a regular stop in your web browsing since it has an LGBT category that you can search for the latest entertainment of special interest. Of course you will also find reviews and interviews that you won't find anywhere else as well. Right now we have two advance stories on Sweeney Todd which opens Wednesday, a photo preview of the cast and show, and an interview with director Julianne Boyd about her Sondheim obsession.

You may also want to read all about The Baltimore Waltz being done by Main Street Stage in North Adams. The Paula Vogel play is filled with humor as she uses her imagination to cope with the loss of her brother to AIDS. It's far from depressing, as I point out in my Berkshire On Stage review.

There is also a complete listing with photos of all the cabaret artists coming to the Berkshires this summer. While we were disappointed to see Elaine Stritch postponed since she and the LGBT community are long time friends, her replacement, the glorious Barbara Cook is also dearly beloved. I last saw her at the Provincetown Town Hall. Now I can enjoy hearing her again right here in the Berkshires at the LGBT friendly Mahaiwe in Great Barrington. And, my heart be still, Ute Lemper is due in at the Colonial I could go on. If you love cabaret, read the full story and start saving those pennies.

The maestro, simply referred to as MTT, is a master of Mahler.

And over at Tanglewood, the replacement of the perpetually ailing James Levine with Michael Tilson Thomas (story with slide show) on opening weekend comes as great news to the LGBT community. MTT is the first openly gay conductor to achieve national prominence without having to conceal his homosexuality. Currently the music director of the San Francisco Symphony, we think he would make a great leader for the BSO and Tanglewood, and say so in this story that has been getting lots of hits and controversy in the classical community.

Les Ballets de Trockadero make audiences laugh - they are in pointe shoes and tutus, after all - but oh my, how can they dance!.
Over at Jacob's Pillow, there is dance, dance and more dance, including all those free performances on the inside/out stage at dusk. But if I had to pick two companies not to be missed, it would have to be the Trey McIntyre Project (August 4-8) and the fabulous, stunning, outrageous "Trocks" who play various programs from August 11-15. And if you love real Russian ballet, the incredible ballerina assoluta stupenda Nina Ananiashvili and the State Ballet of Georgia takes the stage this week. The complete Pillow schedule with video samples of each group is on a special page at

Want more? There is also the Bill Nelson All Male Review coming to Barrington Stage Company, and the Bill Finn Labor Day weekend show with the horribly long name that always include LGBT composers.

Who is not excited about the all-male version of the Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That already witty show opening in Williamstown next week should deiight both the eye and the ear. We searched for all the cast member's pictures too, and you can see them in our exclusive Berkshire on Stage preview story.

I'm not done yet. Don't forget the three social "out" nights at Barrington Stage, a first for the Berkshires.

Check the post that follows this one. It will have additional details I am confirming now. You can also keep up to date on the latest buzz by joining the Berkshire On Stage Facebook group. Each new article gets a link on the wall, and you get weekly pick and preview announcements.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Over in Hudson, a Gay Prom King and Queen

Dan Shaw over at Rural Intelligence has done a wonderful write-up on Hudson's Gay Pride weekend June 19-20. The small community of about 7,000 is on the Hudson River, not too far from Lenox, Lee and Great Barrington.

Charlie Ferrusi and Tim Howard

"Charlie Ferrusi and Tim Howard, the openly gay Hudson High School seniors who ran for Prom King and Queen and won by a landslide in a vote by the student body, made history and headlines a week or so ago, and they have the gay community in Hudson bursting with pride. Well timed, too, as this Sunday, a day-long-plus celebration, Hudson Pride, kicks off with a parade, to be followed by a roster of activities." - Rural Intelligence

Read his complete report on these events at

Hudson Pride Parade (Click for link)
Warren Street,
Sunday, June 20, starts at noon

Hudson Pride Festival
Promenade Hill, Sunday, June 20, 1 - 5 p.m.

“Stonewall; It All Started Here” (all ages are welcome)
A talk by Stonewall participant Ed Beaty
Space 360
Sunday, June 20, 5 - 6 p.m.

Hudson Pride Tea Dance (21 & over)
Red Dot
321 Warren Street
5 - 9 p.m.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Developing LGBT audiences, women writers and diversity

Dustin Lance Black (c) won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Milk. With him are Tina Fey (l) and Steve Martin (r).

Wresting a great play or movie script from the germ of an idea may be tough, but after that is done comes the really hard part. Getting it produced. If you are a woman or a gay man, it often becomes the challenge of a lifetime. Giving up booze and butts is easier.

Trying to figure out which films and plays might be of interest to women, or to those of us who are "out" is not easy either. There are plenty of films and plays to interest the LGBT and feminist communities, but the news seems to be mostly locked tightly in the publicist's closet. Over the years I have become an expert at reading between the lines, but then I deconstruct words for a living.

There seems to be a fear that by revealing the gay element, that mainstream ticket buyers will run the other way. Perhaps promoters lie awake at night having visions of Fred Phelps and his Westboro picketers parading around with signs that say "God Hates Jerry Herman" or "Actors Burn in Hell", but of course that would sell a ton of tickets.

While women writers have been hard to find on screen or stage, gay writers have been a staple of theatre for decades. From Noel Coward to Tennessee Williams they have been with us - but only by writing about the usual boy meet girl stories. Only in recent years have we seen playwrights such as Tony Kushner with his Angels in America - soon to get an off-Broadway revival - and Love! Valour! Compassion! by the brilliant Terrence McNally which was presented by the Berkshire Theatre Festival a couple of seasons ago complete with its nude scene.

Theresa Rebeck found a warm welcome in Boston before her fame spread.

For women, the battle is equally difficult, though in the Berkshires we have become familiar with the wonderful Theresa Rebeck whose Bad Dates at Shakespeare & Company and The Understudy at Williamstown Theatre Festival drew both raves and big audiences. This conversation, quoted from the introduction to her complete plays says it all:

“Maybe you can tell me. Why can’t women ever transcend their identities as women and just write as playwrights?” I said, “Do you mean, why can’t we write like men?” and he said No, that wasn’t what he meant at all. “Yes it is,” said his wife, but he persisted in his position and went on to explain that male playwrights somehow, innately, are able to transcend their gender and write about the human condition, while women playwrights, also innately, are not. As a side note, let me add, this gentleman had never seen or read any of my plays. I was merely the woman playwright who happened to be at the dinner table."

In the Berkshires it is still a man's world when it comes to plays, and even the films currently being shown as part of BIFFMA. My LGBT picks were rather slim this year, and "women's films" were not even featured or pointed out in promotional materials. Not that that proves there is any sort of bias, just the usual state of obliviousness that lulls local artistic and entertainment planners to forget there is a diverse world out there.

The Berkshire's cultural and arts organizations should make sure that works by women or LGBT writers is highlighted, One group that is doing this is the Berkshire Playwright's Lab which has a series of staged readings at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The opening gala had plays pretty evenly divided by gender, and one of the upcoming new plays is by a gay playwright. We hope to soon write about him in Berkshire On

Love! Valour! Compassion! at the Berkshire Theatre Festival several years ago.

The problem is that the general public is so used to a white male, hetero-centric world and unless told otherwise expects their next show to also be based on this conceit. Sometimes they are surprised to stumble into a different world. If it wasn't for Gail Burns pointing them out in her writing for the Women's Times and that publication's Berkshire Women's Festival of the Arts, many of these artists would be invisible. So too does the Berkshire Fringe Festival which constantly finds artists to more completely reflect our world.

One of the wonderful trends has been an increasing number of programs and contests to find and nurture writers who are evolving.

The Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award

Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for West Side Story and Gypsy recently established the Laurents-Hatcher Award for a major award to be given to the writer of a play of social relevance. Named for Tom Hatcher, his partner of 52 years who died in 2006, the award consists of $150,000 for the playwright and $100,000 towards the production costs of the play's premiere at a nonprofit theatre. It is a generous award, similar to a MacArthur, and the Pulitzer's $10,000 pales in comparison, though still carries enormous prestige.

Other awards have been established. Jane Chambers Award, given annually since 1984 in memory of lesbian playwright Jane Chambers has supported the work of Wendy Kesselman, Madeleine George, Mery Cohn, Christine Evans, and Mary F. Casey among others. There is also the Robert Chesley Award for Lesbian and Gay Playwriting honors the memory of playwright Robert Chesley.

The first Laurents/Hatcher award will be made in 2011. Submissions for the inaugural award will be accepted from invited applicants only, between June 15, 2010, and Sept. 15, 2010, and reviewed by a panel chosen by the trustees of the foundation.

Pride Films and Plays Contest

In Chicago, the nation's second busiest theatre city, a contest has been started, with support from the local Pride group, to find and perform new works by out writers. Called Pride Films and Plays (PFP) it has just announced a new screenplay contest.

PFP is dedicated to fostering great writing for the stage and screen that is important to the GLBTQ community and relevant to our world.

"We are excited about fine writing for films like ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘Milk’, and “A Single Man” to name a few.
We hope to foster excellent writing with our Great Gay Screenplay Contest, produced in association with Chicago Filmmakers. Plays with GLBTQ themes have had a major impact on our cultural identity. To remind both our artists and our audiences of great gay writing throughout history, we launched our play reading series "Five Decades of Great Gay Plays" in May and June 2010. "

To check out the Chicago contest, you can find the rules, eligibility and links at

Featuring works from the '60s to the '00s, the series included Mart Crowley's Boys in the Band, Lanford Wilson's Fifth of July, William M. Hoffman's As Is, and Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing, and Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out.

Back in 1979 when Fifth of July was on Braodway it was quite a thrill to see "John-Boy" Richard Thomas get a gay kiss. A gay kiss was as controversial then as was the Vietnam War.

Now here is the strange thing. Fifth of July is part of the 2010 Williamstown Theatre Festival. But you would never know its main character was a gay vet unless you read between the lines of their official description:

"As friends and family gather to remember a lost loved one, a group of thirty-something prodigals from the rebellious post-Vietnam generation return to their rural Missouri home, finding themselves older and wiser, yet still searching. Long-buried rivalries and burning secrets reignite on a late summer evening as this motley tribe struggles to adapt to the changes wrought in their lives. Tony nominee Terry Kinney directs this gentle comic drama from Lanford Wilson’s beloved Talley trilogy."

I might have included this:

"Lanford Wilson's ground-breaking 1973 drama about a gay Vietnan vet and his family."

What the devil are they afraid of? People won't attend because it has a gay character? It is our hope that as Berkshire planners become more comfortable with the idea that there are many LGBT folks living here that they might take their promotional efforts out of the closet and let that community, and its supporters, know.

Here in the Berkshires we have seen three of our four theatre companies making efforts to reach out to the LGBT community, though the fourth is noted for its openness to women writers. A major step is being made this year by Barrington Stage Company with its three openly "out" nights which I write about here in Berkshire on Stage.

In cinema, both BIFFMA and the Williamstown Film Festival include films of interest to the LGBT community. (Compare our picks for BIFF with those for WFF) Of course women and "out" folks are interested in far more than just films that tell stories they can relate to. We all live in the larger world, and love the same great films and plays as does mainstream America. But letting us know we are welcomed and appreciated is important. Don't keep the fact that a film or play has a gay theme or character hidden in the PR closet.

Out with it. You'll sell more tickets. It's 2010, not 1950.

Friday, June 4, 2010

LGBTQ Picks at BIFF Berkshire International Film Festival

The Owls is but one of several LGBTQ films of interest at the Berkshire International Film Festival from June 3-6 in Great Barrington and Pittsfield.

Every film fest has its LGBT films, but this year, the Berkshire International Film Festival (BIFFMA) has found two films that take a hard look at religious fundamentalism vs. freedom. In Eyes Wide Open, we see two ultra-orthodox jews agonizing - and being mercilessly persecuted - over their love for each other.

The repression of muslims is explored in The Taqwacores. While it is more about the freedom to love music and ignore the more repressive passages of the Koran, it also features a queer character. Both films deal with the spirit-killing nature of religious excesses. Seeing the relentless pressure their adherents pour upon those who dare to be different in the middle east makes us more aware of the battle for doctrinaire conformity that continues unabated in the United States.

Finally, there is The Owls, a riotous amalgam of lesbian love, horror, normalcy, weirdness and terror that can not be put in just a couple of words. You just have to watch the clip to even begin to understand this provocative and - in many ways - experimental film.

Sat, Jun 5 - 7:15PM @ Triplex #3
Eyes Wide Open (Israel/France/Germany, 2009) Berkshire Premiere
Director: Haim Tabakman
English subtitles
Print courtesy of New American Vision

Aaron, a respectable butcher in Jerusalem's ultra-orthodox Jewish community, is married to Rivka and is a dedicated father of four children. One day, he meets Ezri, a handsome 22 year old student, and soon falls in love with him. He then starts to neglect his family and community life, swept away by his love and lust for Ezri. But guilt, torment, and pressure from the community will catch up with him, leading him to make a radical decision.

Sat, Jun 5 - 9:15PM @ Triplex #3
The Owls (USA, 2010) Berkshire Premiere
Writer and Director: Cheryl Dunye

A funny, mysterious and humane generational anthem, The Owls is an experimental thriller/film noir about four “Older-Wiser-Lesbians” who accidentally kill a young lesbian and try to get away with it. Raised in the shadow of “pathological lesbian” films like The Fox, The Children’s Hour and The Killing of Sister George, the OWLs once embraced the utopian vision of Lesbian Nation. Now, approaching middle age, the revolution has eluded their dreams. Caught between a culture that still has no place for them and a younger generation indifferent to their contributions, the OWLs face an emotionally complex set of circumstances that have yet to be compassionately and truthfully addressed.
The Owls screenplay is by Sarah Schulman (best known for her novels After Delores and People in Trouble), based on a story by writer/director/professor Cheryl Dunye (The Watermelon Woman; She Don’t Fade; Stranger Inside), and stars some of the most popular underground artists in Lesbian Cinema, including Guinevere Turner (Go Fish; The L Word; American Psycho), V.S. Brodie (Go Fish), Lisa Gornick (Tick-Tock Lullabye) and Deak Evgenikos (The Itty Bitty Titty Committee).

Sat. June 5 - 5:00 PM
The Taqwacores

Filmed in Cleveland for less than $500,000, the story's characters include include a mohawked punk-music fan, a burqa-wearing feminist, a druggie and a skinhead. As Yusef watches them argue, pray and listen to punk rock, he begins to decide for himself what it means to be a good Muslim.

It is a story about a naïve engineering student who moves into a Taqwacore household as our guide. He learns that worshipping Allah is no impediment to alternative lifestyles, bad music and all the clichéd sins that flesh is heir to. Friday, June 4 at 6:30.

Some of the other films that deserve watching include A Shine of Rainbows, about an orphan boy who discovers that love has many colors, and Peaceable Kingdom which is a both a love story and a terror tale about the animals, domestic and commercial, in our lives. They both bring a feeling of hope and optimism to what seems a world that has lost the ability to be loving and human.

Also not to be misssed is Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child, an artist who spent time with Andy Warhol at The Factory. The jazz score and dazzling editing make it a worthwhile destination. Just look at the first three minutes!

One film that is likely to capture the attention of Berkshire LGBTQ's is the delightful My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story. It is a film by playwright Mark St. Germaine of Freud's Last Session fame at Barrington Stage. It gets a special screening May 23 (before BIFF officially begins) at the Beacon.)

A paeon to everyone who spoils their furkids, it takes a look at celebrity dogs - and those who serve them, straight, gay and otherwise. Dogs are more concerned about how you smell and who rules the leash than about sexual preferences. More about this, and a film clip in my Berkshire on Stage story .

All in all, the festival appears to have chosen well, and many of the films reflect the Berkshire's optimistic outlook on life in a rural setting. You owe it to yourself to visit their website to find the films that reflect your interest and imagination. Most of their offerings will not be seen on a big screen with simpatico audiences ever again. Visit the BIFFMA Website for the full menu.

Or for the full BIFF film schedule on one page, check out this Berkshire On Stage story.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Glee Star Curt Colfer has paid his dues

Curt Colfer plays Kurt on Fox TV's Glee.

Sometimes when an actor plays a role, it is all made up from scratch. But for Glee star Curt Colfer who plays Kurt, his high school days were not one of bliss. Like so many teens, the combination of what he calls his "VonTrapp voice" and highly theatrical behavior did not always get a warm welcome in his conservative home town. “I actually was Kurt in ‘The Sound of Music’ a long time ago,” he pointed out.

Growing up in Indianapolis, Murphy sang in his church choir and immersed himself in musicals in high school and college. His mother was a beauty queen; his father was a semi-pro hockey player who was baffled by a son who requested a “Vogue” subscription when he was 5 years old, started ironing his own clothes at 7, and performed in his bedroom, holding a hairbrush for a microphone in front of a mirror.

“My dad would look at me and go, ‘What the hell? I don’t know who you are. How did you come out of me?’ He would say things like that,” Murphy said. He may not have understood his son, but he accepted him, even when Murphy revealed to him that he is gay when he was 15 years old.

In this short video, we see his interview with the Viewsters, and then there is an amazing clip of him singing "Roses Turn" from Gypsy.