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Howard Theatre to host first queer party in 60 years

Pride event recalls ‘Moms’ Mabley’s decadent 1940s celebration



Howard Theatre, gay news, Washington Blade
Moms Mabley, gay news, Washington Blade

After her after-party was raided by police, Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley reportedly kept her ‘hen party’ going at the Howard Theatre. (Blade file photo)

Back in the 1940s, when an after party for a “Moms” Mabley show was raided by police at a nightclub owned by D.C.’s “female Al Capone,” Odessa Madre, the attendees weren’t ready to go home, so they kept their decadent queer party going at the Howard Theatre.

At least that’s what Marc Powers, director of marketing for the Howard Theatre, has gathered from accounts from those who knew Jackie “Moms” Mabley, and those who were part of the Howard Theatre community in its heyday.

“Moms Mabley played the Howard Theater,” Powers said. “When that got shut down they were like ‘damn, where are we going to go? Might as well just go back to the Howard!’”

More than 60 years later, the theater will host its first official LGBT event when Brightest Young Things and Capital Pride present WildLife, featuring a queer lineup, including recording artist and New York City personality Amanda Lepore, JD Samson of Le Tigre and MEN, Natty Boom and more. The party is set for Friday, 9 p.m.-3:30 a.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Visit for more information.

“Now it’s not happening under the cloak of the night,” Powers says about the difference between Mabley’s impromptu “girls party” and Friday’s Pride party. “It’s being advertised in the Blade and City Paper and the Washington Post.”

“This is very much our history as well, here at the Howard,” said John Marble of Brightest Young Things about the lesser-known gay stories that dot the 101-year history of the theater.

Howard Theater, gay news, Washington Blade

The Howard Theatre’s director of marketing is interested in unearthing more of the gay history of the recently restored landmark.

The story of the Howard Theatre’s long lost gay party is almost too fantastic. Because the party was unofficial, there was no written record. Powers said it’s an important part of the recently restored theater’s distinguished history. D.C.’s most notorious madam treating her good friend — a top comic who confirmed suspicions she was a lesbian before she died — to a smorgasbord of her favorite things.

It was fitting that the first artist to play the Howard Theatre for its third grand re-opening on April 13 was black lesbian comic Wanda Sykes, echoing Mabley’s last live performance on April 17, 1975 at the second grand re-opening of the theater weeks before her death.

Though Mabley was not closeted, she wasn’t known as a lesbian to most of her fans, as her onstage persona was quite the opposite. But off-stage, Mabley was known as a pioneer, dressing androgynously and appearing in drag in movies like “The Emperor Jones.”

The assumed original location of the party, Madre’s flagship “Jill Joint” — a nickname for an establishment that trafficked in illegal gambling, drugs, liquor and prostitution — the “Club Madre” was located at 2204 14th St., N.W., the site of the new Mova lounge.

“The club offered liquor by the shot, numbers by the book and girls by the hour,” The Washington Post published in a 1980 piece on Madre. “The late comedienne Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley performed there free, spending her days in Washington as Odessa’s guest. The two became like sisters.”

“We’re talking about a three-decade relationship, here,” Powers said of the companionship that Madre and Mabley shared from the 1940s through the 1970s.

Though unrecorded until now, Powers said that it’s important to recover and preserve the gay history of the historic Howard Theatre as well, and the connection with Mabley/Madre as well as Duke Ellington’s writing partner Billy Strayhorn, another notable gay character in Howard’s history.

“We don’t know if Madre was at ‘the Madre’ at the time,” Powers said of the after-party, which Powers described as a “hen party.” “She had rooms, clubs, and restaurants all over the city. …She had moving, rotating circles. But Odessa was the host of the party.”

After the club was shut down, Mabley was not interested in going to bed.

“She always keeps the party going,” Powers said. “She’s notorious for that.”

Powers said, according to accounts, it was Mabley herself who was able to secure the key in the middle of the night.

“She gets the key somehow — maybe from a night manager — and has the party upstairs in the Howard Theatre’s balcony,” Powers said.



New book explores why we categorize sports according to gender

You can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think



‘Fair Play: How Sports Shape the Gender Debates’
By Katie Barnes
c.2023, St. Martin’s Press
$29/304 pages

The jump shot happened so quickly, so perfectly.

Your favorite player was in the air in a heartbeat, basketball in hand, wrist cocked. One flick and it was all swish, three points, just like that, and your team was ahead. So are you watching men’s basketball or women’s basketball? Or, as in the new book, “Fair Play” by Katie Barnes, should it really matter?

For sports fans, this may come as a surprise: we categorize sports according to gender.

Football, baseball, wresting: male sports. Gymnastics, volleyball: women’s sports. And yet, one weekend spent cruising around television shows you that those sports are enjoyed by both men and women – but we question the sexuality of athletes who dare (gasp!) to cross invisible lines for a sport they love.

How did sports “become a flash point for a broader conversation?”

Barnes takes readers back first to 1967, when Kathrine Switzer and Bobbi Gibb both ran in the Boston Marathon. It was the first time women had audaciously done so and while both finished the race, their efforts didn’t sit well with the men who made the rules.

“Thirty-seven words” changed the country in 1972 when Title IX was signed, which guaranteed there’d be no discrimination in extracurricular events, as long as “federal financial assistance” was taken. It guaranteed availability for sports participation for millions of girls in schools and colleges. It also “enshrine[d] protections for queer and transgender youth to access school sports.”

So why the debate about competition across gender lines?

First, says Barnes, we can’t change biology, or human bodies that contain both testosterone and estrogen, or that some athletes naturally have more of one or the other – all of which factor into the debate. We shouldn’t forget that women can and do compete with men in some sports, and they sometimes win. We shouldn’t ignore the presence of transgender men in sports.

What we should do, Barnes says, is to “write a new story. One that works better.”

Here are two facts: Nobody likes change. And everybody has an opinion.

Keep those two statements in mind when you read “Fair Play.” They’ll keep you calm in this debate, as will author Katie Barnes’ lack of flame fanning.

As a sports fan, an athlete, and someone who’s binary, Barnes makes things relatively even-keel in this book, which is a breath of fresh air in what’s generally ferociously contentious. There’s a good balance of science and social commentary here, and the many, many stories that Barnes shares are entertaining and informative, as well as illustrative. Readers will come away with a good understanding of where the debate lies.

But will this book make a difference?

Maybe. Much will depend on who reads and absorbs it. Barnes offers plenty to ponder but alas, you can lead a homophobic horse to water but you can’t make it think. Still, if you’ve got skin in this particular bunch of games, find “Fair Play” and jump on it.

The Blade may receive commissions from qualifying purchases made via this post.

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An exciting revival of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre

Out actor Caesar Samayoa on portraying iconic role of President Perón



Caesar Samayoa (center) and the cast of ‘Evita’ at Shakespeare Theatre Company. (Photo by DJ Corey Photography) 

Through Oct. 15
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Harman Hall
610 F St., N.W.

When Eva Perón died of cancer at 33 in 1952, the people’s reaction was so intense that Argentina literally ran out of cut flowers. Mourners were forced to fly in stems from neighboring countries, explains out actor Caesar Samayoa. 

For Samayoa, playing President Perón to Shireen Pimental’s First Lady Eva in director Sammi Cannold’s exciting revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Evita” at Shakespeare Theatre Company is a dream fulfilled. 

As a Guatemalan-American kid, he had a foot in two worlds. Samayoa lived and went to school in suburban Emerson, N.J. But he spent evenings working at his parents’ botanica in Spanish Harlem. 

During the drives back and forth in the family station wagon, he remembers listening to “Evita” on his cassette player: “It’s the first cast album I remember really hearing and understanding. I longed to be in the show.”

As an undergrad, he transferred from Bucknell University where he studied Japanese international relations to a drama major at Ithica College. His first professional gig was in 1997 playing Juliet in Joe Calarco’s off-Broadway “Shakespeare’s R&J.” Lots of Broadway work followed including “Sister Act,” “The Pee-Wee Herman Show,” and most significantly, Samayoa says, “Come From Away,” a musical telling of the true story of airline passengers stranded in Gander, Newfoundland during 9/11. He played Kevin J. (one half of a gay couple) and Ali, a Muslim chef.  

He adds “Evita” has proved a powerful experience too: “We’re portraying a populist power couple that changed the trajectory of a country in a way most Americans can’t fully understand. And doing it in Washington surrounded by government and politics is extra exciting.” 

WASHINGTON BLADE: How do you tap into a real-life character like Perón?

CAESAR SAMAYOA: Fortunately, Sammi [Connald] and I work similarly. With real persons and situations, I immerse myself into history, almost to a ridiculous extent. 

First day in the rehearsal room, we were inundated with artifacts. Sammi has been to Argentina several times and interviewed heavily with people involved in Eva and Peron’s lives. Throughout the process we’d sit and talk about the real history that happened. We went down the rabbit hole.

Sammi’s interviews included time with Eva’s nurse who was at her bedside when she died. We watched videos of those interviews. They’ve been an integral part of our production. 

BLADE: Were you surprised by anything you learned?

SAMAYOA: Usually, Eva and Perón’s relationship is portrayed as purely transactional.  They wrote love letters and I had access to those. At their country home, they’d be in pajamas and walk on the beach; that part of their life was playful and informal. They were a political couple but they were deeply in love too. I latched on to that. 

BLADE: And anything about the man specifically? 

SAMAYOA:  Perón’s charisma was brought to the forefront. In shows I’ve done, some big names have attended. Obama. Clinton. Justin Trudeau came to “Come From Away.” Within seconds, the charisma makes you give into that person. I’ve tried to use that.  

BLADE: And the part? 

SAMAYOA: Perón is said to be underwritten. But I love his power and the songs he sings [“The Art of the Possible,” “She is a Diamond,” etc.]. I’m fully a baritone and to find that kind of role in a modern musical is nearly impossible. And in this rock opera, I can use it to the full extent and feel great about it.

BLADE: “Evita” is a co-production with A.R.T. Has it changed since premiering in Boston? 

SAMAYOA: Yes, it has. In fact, 48 hours before opening night in Washington, we made some changes and they’ve really landed. Without giving too much away, we gave it more gravity in reality of time as well as Eva’s sickness and the rapid deterioration. It’s given our second act a huge kind of engine that it didn’t have. 

BLADE: You’re married to talent agent Christopher Freer and you’re very open. Was it always that way for you?

SAMAYOA: When I started acting professionally, it was a very different industry. We were encouraged to stay in the closet or it will cast only in a certain part. There was truth in that. There still is some truth in that, but I refuse to go down that road. I can’t reach what I need to reach unless I’m my most honest self. I can’t do it any other way.

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Out & About

HRC’s National Dinner is back

LGBTQ rights organization’s annual gala features Rhimes, Waithe, Bomer



Actor Matt Bomer will be honored at the HRC National Dinner.

The Human Rights Campaign will host its annual National Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The dinner’s honorees include world-famous producers, actors and entertainers whose work spotlights the fight for civil rights and social justice, including Shonda Rhimes, Lena Waithe and Matt Bomer.

A new event, as part of the weekend, — the Equality Convention — will take place the night before the dinner on Friday, Oct. 13. The convention will showcase the power of the LGBTQ equality movement, feature influential political and cultural voices, and bring together volunteer and movement leaders from across the country to talk about the path ahead.
For more details about the weekend, visit HRC’s website.

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