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‘Queer Eye’ on D.C.

Gay designer Thom Filicia in region with new line this weekend

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Thom Filicia
‘Conversation on Design’
Saturday
11:30 a.m.
Belfort Furniture
22267 Shaw Road
Dulles, VA 20166
703-406-7600
[email protected]
belfortfurniture.com
thomfilicia.com
Reservations recommended

 

(Photo courtesy Thom Filicia Design)

Thom Filicia says the work he does on TV and with his eponymous design firm is apples and oranges — most people may know him from the small screen but it’s his years of work on the latter that gives him the credibility to do the former.

He says his TV work is usually “fast and furious” and personality-driven incorporating product from retail shops like Crate & Barrel and Pottery Barn, while the work he does for his private design firm — recent clients are Tina Fey and Jennifer Lopez — is “kind of a different breed.”

He rattles off a torrent of adjectives for his product line — authentic, real, substantive, smartly designed, “accessible, but not super accessible,” familiar, comfortable, approachable.

“It’s silhouettes and designs that are familiar … but also fresh and different and unique and authentic,” he says during a break at his Manhattan-based SoHo office where he and a 12-member staff work. “It’s for the way we live now as opposed to trying to reproduce a look and feel from decades prior or trying to make something that feels extremely sleek and modern.”

Filicia says his pieces can temper whatever spaces they’re in.

“The furniture I design can make a loft in the city feel warm and inviting or it can make the Georgetown colonial outside the city feel hip and cool. It’s a really nice bridge of modern and classic and I feel that we do it in a way that feels different.”

Washington-area residents will get to see Filicia’s work up close and personal at Belfort Furniture (three miles north of Dulles Airport in Virginia), which is unveiling his collection “Thom Filicia Home” Saturday at 11:30 a.m. Filicia will be on hand to answer questions and will mingle with guests during a wine reception immediately after. A book signing was planned but his latest tome, “Thom Filicia Style,” is sold out at the moment.

“It’s a good problem to have,” he says with a laugh. “We sold about 15,000 of the first run, so that’s both the good news and the bad news. But sure, if somebody wants me to sign a napkin or something, I’ll be happy to.”

Belfort management says it’s happy to have Filicia’s line in its store.

“We’re very excited to add this distinctive American-chic collection to our lineup,” says Michael Huber, Belfort Furniture CEO. “The Thom Filicia Home Collection offers unexpected design elements for every décor from classic to modern.”

Filicia, of course, is best known from “Queer Eye” (originally called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), the groundbreaking 2003-’07 Bravo series on which he was one of the “Fab Five” along with Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Carson Kressley and Jai Rodriguez. He also hosted “Dress My Nest” for three years on the Style Network and has more TV and book projects in the works. A new book to be called “American Beauty” is slated for an October release, he did a holiday special for HGTV and has pitches for future shows in discussions with that channel.

“Once ‘Queer Eye’ was over, I knew I always wanted to keep TV as something near and dear and something I would participate in and evolve and grow with hopefully, but my focus has always been on my core business.”

With the new Belfort relationship, the Washington area will join retailers that carry his work in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Atlanta, Chicago, Toronto and more. Some of the line at Belfort will be pieces from the last few years that have been popular elsewhere. Others are new.

(Photo courtesy Thom Filicia Design)

“I’m really excited about this new relationship,” Filicia says. “They have really great sensibility and they’ve been really excited about our product so there’s some great synergy. I really love what they’re doing and it’s a great operation they have in Dulles. I’m really excited to have them on board.”

Filicia keeps up with his old “Queer Eye” pals. He’s seen Allen’s current Food Network competition show “Chopped” and says it’s “great.”

“It’s a great hook and it’s fun,” he says. “He’s done a great job with it.”

He sees his old pals “every couple of months. Though Rodriguez and Douglas are based in Los Angeles now (Kressley is in New York and Allen splits his time between New York and Chicago), they’re together enough to have maintained their friendships.

“It usually starts with one of us texting the others and we’ll start joking around and soon we’re all laughing and trying to figure out a time to meet up.”

Filicia and long-time partner Greg Calejo, who does strategic marketing for Kerzer International, are almost at the nine-year mark. He says marriage has been discussed but admits he has an offbeat take on it.

“I kind of feel you have to earn marriage,” he says. “I almost feel like it should be done backwards. Like you see if it works out, then it should be a reward for having made it 10 or 15 years. So we’ll see.”

And Filicia has gracious words for other famous gay designers, whether they’re out or not.

Of Nate Berkus, the Oprah designer who just wrapped his own talk show, Filicia says he possesses a “really interesting concept” and has a “sweet personality.”

“I’ve only seen his show once; I was sad to hear it’s been canceled, but he adds another layer to the world of designers. My style, of course, is different, both in design and in our personalities. I think I’m a little more quick witted. I like to have fun when I’m designing and I tend to be a bit more self deprecating. I think his work is perhaps a bit drier. I think mine is a little more intoxicated and his is more sober.”

Mitchell Gold (Mitchell Gold+Bob Williams)?

“I’ve known Mitchell a long time,” Filicia says. “They do really smart things with a basic furniture collection. I see them as kind of a Gap of the furniture world — doing something really great with really smart basics.”

Filicia chuckles when Christopher Lowell’s (“Interior Motives,” “It’s Christopher Lowell!”) name is mentioned.

“I hate to stereotype, but yeah, I think he’s gayer than a handbag,” Filicia says. “He’s kind of like the Corky St. Clair character in ‘Waiting for Guffman,’ always talking about his wife. I think Christopher Lowell is a really genius business man and a genius at marketing but what he does is so very different, it’s not something I’ve really connected with aesthetically, but I’m certainly a big fan of him as a businessman and designer. It’s the same reason there are millions of restaurants. Everybody wants something different so he fills a niche that’s greatly needed and it’s wonderful that he’s doing great things with the people who connect with what he does.”

And just for fun, what was it like being in the audience when Madonna kissed Britney and Christina at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards? The Fab Five — white hot at the time — were in the audience and their riotous reaction shots are part of the legendary clip’s charm.

“It felt really staged. It probably looked a lot more organic on TV than it felt in person,” he says. “Being there seeing it live, it definitely felt like something that had been in the works for weeks and that there were layers and layers of planning to. … I enjoy Madonna’s music, but I’m not really a fan. I don’t feel she’s really done anything to give back the way Lady Gaga has. You look at all Lady Gaga has done for social awareness and I’ve always been a little disappointed that Madonna doesn’t seem to have that in her persona.”

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Arts & Entertainment

After COVID hiatus, John Waters resumes touring schedule

‘Every single thing is different after COVID’

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John Watersis on the road again. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For the first time in nearly two years, writer and filmmaker John Waters will be appearing on stage this fall before live audiences in the Baltimore-Washington area, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Waters, who lives in Baltimore, is scheduled to bring his spoken-word holiday show, “A John Waters Christmas,” to The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., on Dec. 15, and Baltimore Soundstage on Dec. 21. He’ll also be at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Nov. 29 and The Vermont Hollywood on Dec. 2.

Waters’ holiday shows were cancelled in 2020 due to the theater closings and travel restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some book signings for fans were converted to Zoom sessions. He last toured the country in November and December of 2019.

This year, with vaccinations on the rise, Waters has made a few in-person appearances, including a concert with gay country crooner Orville Peck in Colorado in July, where he was “special guest host”; a Q&A session with fans in Provincetown in August and a music festival last weekend in Oakland, Calif. He’s scheduled to visit another 18 cities between now and the end of the year, including a weekend in Wroclaw, Poland, where he’ll be honored during the American Film Festival there in November.

Waters said he has completely rewritten his spoken-word shows to reflect changes brought about by the COVID pandemic. “I haven’t done it in a year and a half,” he said in an interview with Town & Country magazine. “Every single thing is different after COVID. You cannot do the same show. Nothing’s the same.”

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Theater

‘Hadestown’ comes to the Kennedy Center

Levi Kreis discusses return to live theater

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Levi Kreis is an out actor who plays Hermes in the national tour of ‘Hadestown’ soon opening at the Kennedy Center. (Photo courtesy of Levi Kreis)

Hadestown
Through Oct. 31
The Kennedy Center
$45.00 – $175.00
Kennedy-center.org
For Covid-19 safety regulations go to Kennedy-center.org/visit/covid-safety/

Early in September at New York’s Walter Kerr Theatre, out singer/actor Levi Kreis was in the audience for the long-awaited Broadway reopening of “Hadestown,” Anaïs Mitchell’s rousing musical reimagining of the Orpheus myth in which the legendary Greek hero descends into the underworld to rescue his lover Eurydice. 

After almost 18 months of pandemic-induced closure, the Tony Award-winning folk opera was back and the house was full. In a recent phone interview, Kreis describes the evening as “love-filled, and electrifying and emotional after such a difficult time.” Now, Kreis is onstage in the national tour of “Hadestown,” currently launching at the Kennedy Center. As Hermes, the shape-shifting god of oratory, Kreis is both narrator and chaperone to the story’s young lovers. 

A Tennessee native, Kreis, 39, has triumphantly survived turbulent times including a harrowingly prolonged coming out experience that included six years of conversion therapy, education disruptions, and music contract losses. He officially came out through his acclaimed album “One of the Ones” (2006), which features a collection of piano vocals about past boyfriends. And four years later, he splendidly won a Tony Award for originating the role of rock and roll wild man Jerry Lee Lewis in the rockabilly musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

Throughout much of the pandemic, Kreis leaned into his own music and found ways to reconnect with his largely gay fan base. But he’s happy to now be touring, noting that all the “Hadestown” cast have been hungering to perform before a real live audience.

When not on the road, he’s based in New York City with his husband, classical-crossover recording artist Jason Antone. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Hermes is the same role for which André De Shields—the brilliant African American actor, also gay, and some decades your elder won a Tony and has resumed playing on Broadway, right?

LEVI KREIS: That’s right. It’s really a testament to the creative team. Rather than laying us over what Broadway created. They’re creating a tour that’s uniquely different; still true to the beauty of the story but with a different flavor. 

BLADE: What attracted you to the part?

KREIS: First, I fell in love with the show. My own musical sensibilities understand the origins of where this music comes from. It’s very bluesy and gospel. Southern and rootsy. And that’s everything I’ve created in my career as a singer/songwriter.

BLADE: With your life experience, do you feel called to mentor?

KREIS: The biggest effort I’ve given to this narrative is being a pioneer of the out-music movement starting in 2005 which was a moment when gay artists were not signed to major labels. I want through eight major labels—when they found out I was gay things always went south. 

It’s been amazing to be a voice in LGBTQ media when no one was speaking about these things. It’s popular now, but back when it mattered it was a lot harder to start my career as an openly gay artist and speak about these issues rather than keep quiet, cash in, and only then come out. 

BLADE: Where did that nerve come from?

KREIS: Less about nerve and more about being beaten down. How many things have to happen before you give up and decide to be honest?  

BLADE: For many theatergoers, “Hadestown” will be their return to live theater. Other than it being visionary and remarkably entertaining, why would you recommend it? 

KREIS: We need encouragement right now. But we also need art that facilitates a lot of important conversation about what’s happening in the world. This has both elements.  

“Hadestown” is not a piece of art that you easily forget. You’re going to walk out of the theater with a story that sticks with you. You’ll realized that your own voice matters. There’s a part in the show, Orpheus’ song, when the gods encourage him to get the balance of the world back again by telling him that his voice matters. 

BLADE: Is it timely?

KREIS: Art is here to change the world. And this piece of art hits the nail right on the head. I’m a purist when it comes to art and song. There’s a reason why we do it. people are listening now in a way they haven’t listened before. To miss that is to miss the role of society, I think. 

BLADE: And going forward? 

KREIS: It’s going to be interesting. We could double down on super commercialized theater or we may decide to really go the other direction and reclaim innovation. That remains to be seen. 

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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