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Out & About: DC and Baltimore events

Swimsuit show and WTF at Town, several black LGBT theater events, a Whitney Houston tribute in Baltimore and more

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A production still from ‘The Ice Child,’ being staged now in Washington. (Photo courtesy Factory 449)

‘Ice Child’ play finds inspiration in creepy Poe tales

Inspired by the chilling tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Factory 449 company members Lisa Hodsoll, Hunter Styles and Rick Hammerly (who is gay) have co-written “The Ice Child,” a terrifying hour-long theater piece guaranteed to resonate with audiences.

Now in production at Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, “The Ice Child” centers on Catherine (Sara Barker), a young woman who awakens to find herself imprisoned in a coffin-sized freezer. Held captive by former co-worker Kidd (Dexter Hamlett), Catherine soon learns her release is not imminent and escape from what could easily be a lethal situation depends on not angering her creepy captor. Meanwhile outside the freezer, Catherine’s treatment and fate is being considered as well.

Slickly produced, “The Ice Child” is compellingly told through a mash up of performance, film, and projected photos. It runs through June 3 at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint (916 G Street, NW). Tickets are $20. Visit factory449.com for details or call 866-811-4111.

Swimsuits and WTF at Town this weekend

Town (2009 8th St., N.W.) has a couple events happening this weekend.

On Saturday, the club is hosting a swimwear fashion show featuring models in “2xist” swimsuits courtesy of Universal Gear. DJ Chord spins. Doors open at 10 p.m. and cover is $7 until 11 p.m. and $12 afterward.

Sunday brings the return of “WTF” and this week’s theme is airlines. The night will feature several DJs including the Pocket Gays, Aaron Riggins and Ed Bailey. Doors open at 10 p.m. and cover is $5.

Attendees must be 21 or older for both events.

Several black LGBT theater events on weekend slate

Tonight and Saturday, “She’Baltimore” by Ira Kip is premiering in the D.C. area at Warehouse Theater (645 New York Ave.,) as an official part of Black Pride at 8 p.m.

The play, which takes place in Baltimore, deals with issues of battery and abuse in the LGBT community. Admission is $25.

Another official Black Pride theater event is a reading of “The Four of Us” at Mead Lab Theater (916 G St., N.W.) on Saturday at 2 p.m. Admission is $20 and includes a small reception.

Although not an official part of Pride, the African-American Collective Theater is observing the 20th anniversary of its first D.C. Black Pride theater showcase on Sunday with two stage readings of “Here. And Now.” by ACT founding directo Alan Sharpe at Warehouse Theater at 5 and 8 p.m. The play is a family drama in which the relationship of a middle-aged, male couple with two sons is tested. Tickets are $15. Contact [email protected] for more information and advance tickets.

Komen race to benefit Mautner Project

The 23rd annual Susan G. Komen Global Race for the Cure will happen June 2 on the National Mall in Washington. The annual breast cancer benefit awarded a $200,000 grant to lesbian health organization the Mautner Project, which expanded its breast cancer program. The grant was awarded in 2011 and runs for two years.

The event starts at 8 a.m. It’s still possible for those wishing to participate to register. Details are at globalraceforthecure.org. Or call 1-877-GOKOMEN.

Soulful Symphony to honor Houston

Hippodrome Theater at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center (12 North Eutaw St.) hosts the Soulful Symphony on June 1 at 8 p.m. as it honors the late Whitney Houston.

The concert will feature Houston’s hits ranging from gospel to pop, R&B to film music and more.

This performance will also act as the groups season-ending gala event.

Tickets range from $30 to $250 and are available online at ticketmaster.com. Special gala tickets include dinner, concert and VIP after party.

For more information on Soulful Symphony, visit soulfulsymphony.org.

Grand Central has specials, theme nights and more

Grand Central (1001/1003 N. Charles St.) has several events this week.

Tonight is the club’s weekly dance party with $2.50 drinks until 11 p.m. Sappho’s is having its own happy hour from 8 to 10 p.m.

Saturday has two-for-one drinks until 8 p.m. and Glow with DJ Arturo. Admission to Glow is $5.

Sunday is the club’s kick off to summer beach party with DJ Arturo.

Monday and Tuesday, Grand Central has karaoke with host Nikki Cox from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Wednesday is “Hump Wednesdays,” an electropop, alternative, indie dance night with DJ Arturo.

The week ends Thursday with ladies night featuring DJ Lems and $2.50 drinks until 11 p.m.

Sci-fi/fantasy convention in town this weekend

Balticon 46, the Maryland regional science fiction and fantasy convention, runs today through Monday at Marriott’s Hunt Valley Inn (245 Shawan Rd.) with special guests Jody Lynn Nye, Jim Odbert, Heather Dale, Ben Deschamps and William D. Phillips.

There will be a variety of panels and workshops covering topics such as anime, dance, gaming, music, video and more.

There will also be an art show, various dealers selling books, memorabilia and more.

Registration ranges from $17 for a single day to $62 for the whole weekend for adults and $9 to $31 for children ages 6 through 12.

For more information and to register online, visit balticon.org.

Trans, poz, coming-out groups to meet at Center

The GLBT Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (241 West Chase St.) has several programs this week.

Three groups are slated to meet Saturday: Sufficient As I Am, a group for youth 24 and younger dealing with issues of sexuality, coming out, relationships, family and more, meets in room 201 at 12:30 p.m.; GIG: Baltimore Trans-Masculine Alliance, a FTM support group, meets at 6 p.m. in room 202; and GIG: Tran*quality, a MTF support group, meets at 8 p.m. in room 202.

On Monday, Men Like Me, a support group for adult men who love other men, is facilitated by licensed clinicians and meets 6 p.m. in room 202.

POZ Men, an LGBT-affirming peer support group for all HIV-positive men, meets Wednesday in room 202 at 6 p.m.

Women of Color, a social and discussion group, meets Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in room 202.

The center also has HIV and STD testing on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m. provided through a collaboration between the GLCCB Health Committee and the Baltimore City Health Department.

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At 15, restored ‘Shortbus’ is still a movie ahead of its time

Depictions of real sex among actors raised eyebrows

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Paul Dawson and PJ DeBoy in ‘Shortbus.’ (Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories)

When it debuted in 2006, John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus” – which this month receives a special 15th anniversary re-release in the form of a sumptuous new 4K restoration – was described by Variety as being “unquestionably the most sexually graphic American narrative feature ever made outside the realm of the porn industry.”

That description arguably still holds true, and it was not hyperbole. Mitchell, fresh off the success of both the stage and film versions of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” had deliberately set out to make a film exploring “the language of sex as a metaphor for other aspects of the characters’ lives.” He solicited videotaped submissions from would-be cast members – whether they were trained actors or not – who were open to the experience of performing in sexually explicit material, then collaborated with the chosen players over a two-and-a-half-year process of improvisational workshops to create the story and script. When the cameras finally started rolling, the cast had already developed a level of emotional and physical intimacy that allowed them to deliver unprecedented authenticity. Almost all the sex scenes were un-simulated – and indeed, according to Mitchell, all but one of the many orgasms that take place in the film are real.

It’s not surprising that “Shortbus” would garner a lot of attention 15 years ago for its bold approach to onscreen sex, considering that real sex on film is still largely considered a taboo in the mainstream. What’s surprising is that it generated relatively little outrage or backlash from the conservative crowd. There were detractors, of course, whose pearl-clutching reaction to the idea of such a film was simply to decry it as “pornography,” and it was banned in some foreign markets with draconian censorship laws regarding sexual content; nevertheless, thanks to Mitchell’s established reputation as an artist and the enthusiastic response it received at the Cannes Film Festival, the movie managed a reasonably widespread release across major markets in the United States without raising too many eyebrows, meeting with a mostly favorable response from both critics and audiences – at least the audiences who weren’t too squeamish to go and see it.

Those who did quickly found themselves drawn into the lives of a collection of young New Yorkers, all struggling to find meaning, connection, and gratification in a city still reeling from the tragedy of 9/11 and the frustrations of Bush-era politics. There’s Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee), a sex therapist who has never had an orgasm, and her attentive but increasingly bewildered husband Rob (Raphael Barker), whose own sexual needs are not being met, either; there’s Jamie (PJ DeBoy) and James (Paul Dawson), a former child TV star and his ex-hustler boyfriend who are looking to open up their relationship to others, and Caleb (Peter Stickles), a voyeuristic neighbor who lives vicariously through stalking them and obsessively following their lives; and finally, there’s Severin (Lindsay Beamish), a professional dominatrix frustrated over her inability to make emotional connections. Along with other sexual pilgrims of the New York underground scene, they come together at Shortbus, a weekly “salon” dedicated to art, music, politics, and polysexual carnality.

At the time of its initial release, “Shortbus” felt for many – perhaps even most – like a glimpse into another world, an erotic utopia where sexual freedom and experimentation were not only “normal” but incorporated into a holistic view of life and used as a valid avenue for achieving personal growth. Seen today, what strikes the viewer most is just how far ahead of its time Mitchell’s purposefully transgressive movie really was. Though we haven’t quite reached a cultural place where the freewheeling and permissive sexuality it depicts has been fully embraced by all, many of the then-arcane sexual concepts it presents – polyamory, BDSM, “pegging” – no longer carry the same sense of transgressive danger they once did in the mainstream cultural imagination. More importantly, the attitude of sex-positivity it champions has become far more widespread in our modern world, thanks in no small part to the increased visibility and acceptance of “non-traditional” sexual practices in popular media.

There’s also an unexpected – indeed, almost eerie – resonance to be found in the underlying zeitgeist of the film’s post-9/11 New York, as reflected in the existential crises with which its characters resignedly grapple. This is particularly notable in the secretly depressed James (Dawson’s sensitive portrayal of his mental health struggles provides the emotional heart of the movie), but any of the characters could easily be transplanted into the COVID-exhausted world of 2022 and seem just as much at home.

For all that looming heaviness in the air, though, “Shortbus” remains as refreshingly upbeat and unexpectedly joyful as it was 15 years ago – and that’s not just because of the sex. Mitchell, in talking about making the film, says he did not “necessarily seek to be erotic.”

“In the years I was making ‘Hedwig,’ he says, “I welcomed the fact that movies were exploring sexual frankness again, as some had in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but I regretted the fact that most of the new ones were so grim and humorless. Sex seemed just as connected to negativity as it was for, say, Christian conservatives. I guess it’s understandable. I was brought up in a strict Catholic/military environment where sex was the scariest thing imaginable, which, of course, made it fascinating. I decided to make a New York-style, emotionally challenging comedy that would be sexually frank, thought-provoking, and, if possible, funny.”

True to that goal, “Shortbus” feels for most of its running time like a light-hearted romp. Justin Vivian Bond, playing themself as the host of the film’s titular salon, brings a buoyant sense of humor to the movie that pervades even when they’re not onscreen, and the colorful community of background characters – including an Ed Koch lookalike who confides in a young potential hook-up that he was “once the mayor of New York City” – provide a constant stream of memorable comedic moments throughout. There’s even an overtly farcical sequence involving a remote-control orgasmic egg, which would not seem at all out of place in a 1960s screwball comedy from Blake Edwards.

Still, to downplay the sexiness of “Shortbus” would be to ignore its most enduring legacy. After all, it’s a film that features graphic sex between various combinations of gender, including extended scenes of three-ways, orgies, rimming, cunnilingus, fellatio, self-sucking, and full-on penetration of multiple orifices. Yes, some of it may arouse you – but the real power of sex in this film has to do with the fact that, unlike porn or even most “tasteful” Hollywood sex scenes, the intention is not so much to turn us on but to help us get over it.

As Mitchell puts it, “In the current and important campaign to correct social wrongs, sometimes sex itself gets a bad name. To some today, any kind of sex on screen is exploitation… Let’s not let our need for safety and justice boomerang us back to our default American Puritanism. Sex between consenting respectful adults is one of the great joys and mysteries of our lives. No need to panic. 

“Let’s just lie back and think of each other.”

The new 4K restoration of “Shortbus” opens theatrically in New York City on January 26, followed by an expansion to other cities across the US. You can find information about theatres and dates at the Oscilloscope Laboratories Website.

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Arts & Entertainment

Amy Schneider’s Jeopardy! winning streak ends at 40 games

Transgender contestant is the highest-earning woman in competition’s history

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(Photo Courtesy Casey Durkin/ Jeopardy Productions, Inc.)

Amy Schneider‘s record-setting Jeopardy! winning streak came to an end on Wednesday’s show after getting tripped up on the Final Jeopardy! clue.

Schneider is the first transgender contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, and she’s the highest-earning woman in the competition’s history, with a total of $1,382,800 from 40 wins.

Schneider was leading by $10,000 as the contestants headed into the all-important “Final Jeopardy!” category, she failed to answer the clue. It was, “The only nation in the world whose name in English ends in an H, it’s also one of the 10 most populous.” Contestant Rhone Talsma managed to overtake Schneider when she answered, “What is Bangladesh?” the correct response. Schneider ended up with $19,600 versus Talsma’s $29,600.

“I think that the best part for me has been being on TV as my true self, expressing myself and representing the entire community of trans people,” Schneider told Good Morning America this week. “And just kind of showing a different thing than maybe some people have seen, of just being a smart, confident woman and just doing something super normal, like being on Jeopardy!.”

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A Revolution for Women in Baseball

Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball.

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Rachel Balkovec was hired as a hitting coach in the Yankees’ system in 2019. She will now manage the Class A Tampa Tarpons.Credit. Photo Courtesy of Rachel Balkovec/Instagram.

The Yankees were late on introducing an African-American player to their roster, adding Hall of Famer Elston Howard to the team in 1955, eight years after Jackie Robinson starred for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Yankees seem determined not to repeat that bad history.  Last week, they announced that Rachel Balkovec will become the first woman to manage a team in minor league baseball when she takes the helm of the Tampa Tarpons this spring. 

It has been just over ten years since Justin Siegal threw batting practice to the Cleveland Guardians and five since she was the first woman to coach a MLB squad with the Oakland Athletics.  Two years ago, Kim Ng became the first female General Manager of any of the four major professional sports when the Marlins hired her to run their team.  In the two years since then, the dam has burst.  Women have been hired to important on-field positions with professional baseball at an impressive clip.  As baseball has lagged behind other professional sports in bringing women into the game, the current pace of hires indicates that baseball’s embrace of analytics and objective measures have finally penetrated the walls of one of the most enduring old boys clubs in the U.S. and given talented women opportunities they have long been denied.

Ten women will be coaching with major or minor league teams in 2022.  In 2021, Bianca Smith became the first African-American woman to coach in the minors when the Red Sox hired her. Alyssa Nakken became the first woman in uniform during a Major League Baseball game when she coached first base for the Giants in a July 2020 exhibition against the Oakland A’s.  Her jersey now belongs to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Cuban-American Veronica Alvarez is not only the coach of the U.S. Women’s National Baseball team, she also served as a spring training coach for the Oakland A’s.

The proliferation of women in baseball is not an accident.  More girls than ever are playing baseball.  Here, in the DC area, 160 girls participated with D.C. Girls Baseball in 2021.  Baseball for All, an organization that supports and promotes girls in baseball, held a tournament last summer that drew nearly 600 girls who play baseball.  There are more women than ever on collegiate baseball rosters.  Major League Baseball has also devoted significant resources to girls and women in baseball, running several development camps for girls in baseball.  Six of the women now coaching professional baseball participated in MLB’s Take the Field initiative, which is designed to help place women into baseball positions. To top it all off, the classic film about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, A League of Their Own, is getting a reboot on Amazon Prime this year.

The pace of hiring is exhilarating.  Unfortunately, every report of a woman being hired is followed by predictable hateful commentary on social media.  Many cannot imagine that a woman may be hired for a baseball position on merit and resort to making sexist and derogatory comments.  As women in baseball, the coaches are used to that vitriol and have developed thick skin and sophisticated defense mechanisms.  However, also reading are thousands of girls who are inspired by the achievements of these women and they are, sadly, learning that to achieve in baseball means enduring the sexist taunts, gross come-ons, and hurtful comments.

Baseball has a long way to go.  Other leagues have women officiating games, so it should be reasonable to expect that baseball will have women umpires in the near future.  The possibility of women playing professional baseball is tantalizingly close as 17 year old Genevieve Beacom made history last week as the first women to play Australian professional baseball, when she threw a scoreless inning against the Adelaide Giants.

We are watching a revolution in baseball unfold before our eyes. 

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