Spoken word performance and musical theater may seem like distant cousins at best to some, but not to Don Michael Mendoza. Sensing a gulf between the two performance worlds, he and friend Regie Cabico created a space for the two worlds to come together.
They co-host La-To-Do, a cabaret series that runs every Monday night at Black Fox Lounge from 8:30 to 10 p.m. It launched in January and, according to Mendoza, has been a hit.
“We’d done a show together last summer at the Fringe Festival and just started a conversation about how there’s really no cabaret culture in D.C.,” Mendoza says. “We wanted something more than just an open mic, where anyone can just go up there and it’s not always the best quality. We just found there is a lot of misunderstanding between the two worlds. Musical theater types think the spoken word people are just strange people who studied English and sit at home all day like Sylvia Plath and the spoken word people think the theater folks are just doing mass-produced stuff like ‘Wicked.’ We’ve found there’s a lot more to both worlds.”
Mendoza and Cabico, both gay, co-host the series and take turns performing. The show spotlights two guest entertainers each week as well, mostly volunteers whom the two co-hosts have vetted. They’re also hoping to make the event a hot networking spot for local artistic types.
“We’re still kind of figuring it out,” Mendoza says. “We’re not trying to change the world or anything. Just trying to provide some fun and entertainment on a Monday night where people can go there, be themselves, see good art and also perform.”
There’s a $10 cover to attend, which includes a drink. Visit the group on Facebook for more information.
Mendoza, a 23-year-old Pittsburgh native, came to Washington in 2006 to study at American University. He graduated with double majors — broadcast journalism and musical theater. He worked for the college in media relations after graduating but went to Vida Metropole on 15th and P about six weeks ago for a change of pace. He’d eventually like to do something full time in performance but is still figuring that out.
Mendoza is single and lives in Logan Circle. He enjoys working out, travel and theater in his free time. (Blade photos by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out since I was 20, so three years, and the hardest person to tell was my mother. Even though she always told me it would be OK if I ever were, I knew that it would still flip her world and image of me upside down.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts because he’s the first news anchor to publicly come out in a world that usually masks LGBT people behind a straight news persona. His coming out was due to a tragic personal event, but he didn’t let it ruin his determination. He was not afraid to be who he is and strive for journalistic excellence at the same time, which got him to where he is today, and I hope to follow the same ethical and moral path in what I do.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Not to be biased, but I really love Black Fox Lounge because of the calm, jazzy atmosphere, good food and drinks and the friendly owners and staff.
Describe your dream wedding.
It will be a big wedding. I want my partner and I to be surrounded by everyone who matters most in our lives. I want it to be at a location in the countryside and it will be the definition of class. Everything would be tasteful and well thought out.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Representation for D.C. residents in Congress. I maintain my Pennsylvania license because I like voting in a state where my voice matters and until D.C. residents have full voting rights, I refuse to become a full resident of the District.
What historical outcome would you change?
The results of the 2000 presidential election.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
The tragedy of 9-11 because, like the JFK assassination was for my parents, I will always remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the moment I heard the news.
On what do you insist?
That the dishes are washed and the apartment is clean for the many friends I always have over for dinner parties.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Smiling is an understatement for me these days. Ah, me. :)”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“I’ll be your fortune, cookie!”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I wouldn’t do it. It took me 20 years to figure it out what makes me happy! Why would I ever want to change it?
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe that there is a God, but that all the religious tension and conflict stem out of people’s imposed beliefs on something that none of us really understand.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Keep on doing what you’re doing. Any and all progress is good.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
I like the soles of my feet, so I don’t think I would do it for anything.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That if you’re lesbian you have to be butch and if you’re a gay man you have to be feminine. Your sexual preference has nothing to do with the way you carry yourself.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“The Weekend” because I think all gay men, single or in a relationship, need to watch it for the lessons it has to offer, especially in a city where finding a stable relationship is difficult to pursue.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Playing hard to get when you start seeing someone. Just be honest about what you’re doing. It makes everything less complicated.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
It’s not really a trophy or a prize, but I would like to be on the cover of GQ one day. I’ve enjoyed the magazine since I knew how to dress well, and to be featured in a fashion spread in that publication would be amazing!
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That life after college brings so much unexpected crap and that nothing can ever prepare you for the joys and pains of adulthood no matter how much advice you receive ahead of time.
It was always a second home to me since we moved to Pittsburgh when I was a toddler because we visited so often. I chose to come to college here and when it came to deciding on where to start my adult life, I couldn’t see any other option.