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Jasmine Guy’s world today

Actress in town this weekend with Harlem Renaissance tribute show

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Jasmine Guy, gay news, Washington Blade
Jasmine Guy, gay news, Washington Blade

Actress Jasmine Guy says her passion for black culture in the early 20th century has kept her doing ‘Raisin’ Cane’ for five years. (Photo by Calvin Evans)

‘Raisin’ Cane: A Harlem Renaissance Odyssey’

Starring Jasmine Guy and the Avery Sharpe Trio

Saturday, 8 p.m.

Publick Playhouse

5445 Landover Rd.

Cheverly, MD

$55 VIP (includes pre-show reception)

$40 general

301-277-1710

Actress/singer Jasmine Guy will be in the D.C. area this weekend for a one-night-only performance of “Raisin’ Cane: a Harlem Renaissance Odyssey.”

We caught up with her by phone from her home in Atlanta where she answered questions about the show, gay rights, her work on the hit ’87-‘93 sitcom “A Different World” (she played spoiled Whitley for the show’s entire six-season run) and more. Her comments have been slightly edited for length.

 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Tell us about “Raisin’ Cane.”

JASMINE GUY: I’ve been doing the show over the past five years in various places all over the country. It grows and changes and morphs every time we do it. I do it with three other musicians — a jazz violinist, a percussionist and our composer, Avery Sharpe and we cover the decade between 1919 and 1929 of the Harlem Renaissance, right after World War I but just before the Great Depression when there was a lot of money flowing into Harlem and a lot of artists were flourishing. Painters, poets, writers, philosophers, so it was a pretty rich time in our American history. A lot of what has come down to us as Americans has come from that period as far as ways of thinking and ways of articulating our needs.

 

BLADE: Are you playing a specific character?

GUY: I’m like a teacher taking you through this journey. Along the way, whatever lesson needs to be taught, that’s what I do. I either reenact a scene or become another character or I dance or sing or tell a story or recite a poem — there’s a lot of all of that involved in the show.

 

BLADE: How did you come to the work?

GUY: Avery Sharpe and I have been friends for over 30 years and when he brought the piece to me, it started as a reading and an experimental piece to see where the interest was with people and over the last five years, it’s just continued to grow and grow. I stayed involved because of my passion for that decade and what was happening politically and historically in that time as well as artistically. It was such a fun and exciting time where jazz was birthed and we had poets like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston and painters like Aaron Douglas and philosophers like W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey who were claiming freedom in their own way.

 

BLADE: African-American themes are recurring in your body of work. To what degree have you sought them out versus had them come to you?

GUY: Sometimes they intertwine. There are the roles that we pick and the roles we kind of cross paths with and we don’t really know why. There have been certain projects where I feel like I’m part of telling the truth, whether it’s “A Different World” or “Queen” (“The Story of an American Family”), or “Stompin’ at the Savoy” or “Dead Like Me,” there seems to be a certain truth to the quality of the work we’re doing at the time and I think that truth is what draws me in. I love that we tell stories that haven’t been told yet and that I’m able sometimes to get an audience to think as well as to laugh. I’m not sure which is more important, but I like that I can do both.

 

BLADE: Some have said gay activists who draw parallels to the Civil Rights movement are overreaching. Is that a valid line of reasoning in your opinion?

GUY: I have had friends over the years who have resented the comparison. … I think what we really all want is to be treated equally and have the right to make our own choices in our lives and in that respect, both gay rights and African-American rights have been stifled in this country and we’ve had to fight for those rights. We are still fighting in certain ways for those rights. … For some … the fight has shifted. I mean, we’re able to vote legally, we’re able to integrate, but there are still very specific things that are disproportionate in this country. There’s a huge class difference and whether you’re black or gay, there are still things we need to speak up for because in principle, it’s all the same principle. We are really all fighting for the same thing.

 

BLADE: With all your work in the entertainment industry, you must have worked with a lot of gays over the years. True?

GUY: Oh absolutely. I mean, you know, my world is full of gay people. I’ve been so entrenched in the gay community that it has never been a second thought to me. We are all family and because of that, I’m even more sensitive to what my gay friends go through. I’m 51, so I lived through AIDS and although I was very young when AIDS came to be, that’s when I first realized how segregated the gay community was for the rest of the world. Sometimes you forget that the world is not accepting and it takes something bad like the AIDS epidemic for you to realize. That’s when I started to realize my gay friends were heroes in their own right for having the courage to live the lives they know they want and the need and fight for the right to do that. And I don’t use that word fighting lightly, you know. I have friends who have fought all their lives, physically and emotionally. Some who have not had the support of their families. I don’t think people really understood what it means to be gay until very recently, in the last decade or so, whereas for me, it was just always a part of what I knew and understood.

 

BLADE: You’ve done so much work on stage, film and TV over many years and stage work, of course, by its nature is very ephemeral and fleeting. You can be on a hit show like “A Different World” that was seen by 20 million people each week, yet in some ways, it’s a small part of your overall body of work. Has that ever been a source of frustration for you?

GUY: That was frustrating for me at the beginning. I started as a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Company and yeah, I felt that, you know, my best work is probably the work that most people haven’t seen. I did have to come to terms with that because I mean, just the sheer degree of difficulty of being a dancer and being a gypsy as I was for eight years before I got “A Different World,” compared to the relative ease of being on a hit TV show, I used to think, “OK, I’ve got to make sure everybody knows that these other things are so much more worthy.” I felt it was my personal cause to let people know that, yes, I’ve worked with Judith Jamison and I know Debbie Allen and worked with Courtney Vance in “Six Degrees of Separation” and so and so. … I’ve really been surrounded by greatness and amazing talent and I’ve been in the wings of so many performances where I saw that happen before my eyes and that’s not something we’ve always been so great at being able to recreate on television. … But things are so different now and we have access to everything in a way we did not have before. That was a real turning point for me to realize that. We can say things now we could never say before on a major, major scale and we can create our own audience. It’s always interesting to me when people come up to me, what they come up to me for. I guess I’ve had enough people say, “Oh, I saw you in ‘Chicago,’” or “I remember you years ago on the Academy Awards — I didn’t know you could dance.” They might have seen that thing I thought nobody was watching. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the 20 or 30 million people that watched “A Different World” every week, but I am also proud and happy to have been part of that, too. But these other little sidebars, enough people have commented that I’ve been able to say, “OK, there’s somebody out there who’s seeing the other stuff too.”

 

BLADE: That said, do you have a favorite episode of “A Different World”?

GUY: My memory of certain episodes is kind of from the inside out. Like I remember doing things more than the effect it may have had on other people. I wrote a couple, so of course I remember those and, hmmm, let me see. Oh my God — we had so many great shows. I tended to like the shows where we had guest stars.

 

BLADE: Like Gladys Knight — I remember her appearance so vividly.

GUY: Yes, that was huge. I was so excited to get to be a Pip and sing with her and meet her. On the set at one time we had both “Superfly” and “Shaft” because Ron O’Neal played my dad and Richard Roundtree played Charnele’s (Brown, who played Kim) dad. We had Diahann Carroll, Patti LaBelle, Jesse Jackson. We had the cast of “Sarafina!” on when we did a show about apartheid. Those were the most memorable moments for me. These people would come through and we would just sweep ‘em up because by that time we had a rhythm. We just kind of knew we could be funny no matter what we talked about and that was a good place to be for the show.

 

BLADE: So many iconic sitcom characters don’t work as lead characters. Garry Marshall said they knew better than to try to have Fonzie carry his own show. Other times they tried and it didn’t work — like Flo from “Alice.” I know “A Different World” was still an ensemble cast at heart, yet it seemed like the show really jelled in the second season after Lisa Bonet left and your character Whitley was much more in the lead spot. Why do you think it worked so well when traditionally that type of thing hasn’t worked?

GUY: Well, we certainly weren’t sure it was going to work. That first season, I always felt we weren’t gonna make it. I had never been on a show before but it just seemed kind of dysfunctional and I didn’t feel we were putting out our best product. I was kind of thinking, “OK, that isn’t gonna work, but at least I paid off my American Express.” Then as the show grew and we were picked up year after year and with the legacy of “The Cosby Show” behind us, I started to realize we were part of a wave, a real era of change on American television. I didn’t understand at the time we were at the end of that wave. I didn’t think it would just snap back and never be seen on TV again, you know with the number of female writers and the diversity we had on our show. …. I just thought there would be a whole lot more “Different Worlds” after our show and there really weren’t. … At the time, I think I was able to make that transition because I just did what was given to me to do. I just did what was in front of me. I never thought at the time, “Oh, if Lisa leaves the show, we can still continue if Dwayne and Whitley get together” — there wasn’t any of that. That was all Bill Cosby, Debbie Allen, NBC, the writers — you know this whole team of people that revamped that show and by the second season they had totally revamped it in a way that had more of a realistic HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) feel and they just capitalized on the actors that were already with the show. They brought in Cree Summer and Charnele Brown, but there was an absolute choice made to keep that show going based on what had and hadn’t worked that first season.

 

BLADE: That opening credit sequence from the second season on was really incredible the way it looks like it was shot in one continuous take with the camera moving from room to room left to right. It couldn’t really have been one take, though, right?

GUY: Oh no, it took like all day long. It was green screened and there were double images — like two of me in the same shot. It was before a lot of computer graphics and things we’re able to do now so yeah. That was the brainchild of Debbie Allen and it was an all-day-long thing — like 12 or 14 hours to do that.

 

BLADE: Thanks for your time and good luck in the show.

GUY: Thank you.

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Queer ‘TV Glow’ a surreal horror gem

Challenging and surprising us in a way that feels thrillingly audacious

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Justice Smith and Bridgette Lundy-Paine in ‘I Saw the TV Glow.’ (Photo courtesy of A24)

In an age when so much of our consciousness is fixated on screens, it’s no surprise that the year’s most effectively soul-shaking horror film so far should be about precisely that.

It’s certainly not the first movie to take on the topic. Using television and computer screens to evoke creepy chills was a “thing” even before David Cronenberg used “Videodrome” to blur the lines between the physical world and the electronically conveyed imitation of it we often substitute for the “real thing.” In “I Saw the TV Glow,” however,  the focus is not so much about the natural fears that arise from our reliance on technology to help us navigate our lives – the dangers of artificial intelligence or the violation of privacy to manipulate us or make us vulnerable – as it is about something much more primal. Filmmaker Jane Schoenbrun’s second feature might center on our fears around pop culture obsessions and the dangerously delusional fantasies they inspire, but its real agenda lies in a somewhat less obvious direction.

Tapping into shared millennial memories about the kid-friendly fan-culture fodder our televisions fed us in the 1990s, Shoenbrun’s movie revolves around Owen (Justice Smith), whose early teen years take place within that era. Reserved, anxious, and out-of-step with the conventional expectations embraced by his parents (Danielle Deadwyler and Limp Bizket frontman Fred Durst), seventh-grade Owen (Ian Foreman) finds himself drawn to lesbian ninth-grader Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine) when he spots her reading a book about a TV show called “The Pink Opaque.” His fascination, partly fueled by the “forbidden” nature of a series that airs past his strictly enforced bedtime, leads the two into a secretive friendship, in which they bond over the quirky fantasy it presents – in which two teen girls with a psychic connection battle monsters together despite living on opposite sides of the world – and come to experience it as an escape from reality, which reflects and helps to alleviate their own respective unaddressed personal traumas.

Fast forward to roughly a decade later, when Owen, now working in a go-nowhere job at the local movie multiplex, reunites with his former friend – surprisingly, considering that she had disappeared around the same time that their favorite TV obsession was canceled abruptly, with a never-to-be-resolved cliffhanger left as a final discordant note. She tells him a disturbing tale of being trapped inside “the world of the show” after memories of “The Pink Opaque” began to blend with reality in her mind, suggesting that their own identities are somehow tied to its two heroines and that its outlandish mythology is somehow more “real” than the lives they remember living themselves – and triggering a similar process in Owen after their encounter leaves him questioning his own memories of the series and its influence over his fate.

Anyone who has seen Schoenbrun’s debut feature – “We’re All Going to the World’s Fair” (2021), which, like “I Saw the TV Glow,” premiered to acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival, putting the nonbinary filmmaker in the upper bracket of rising talents to watch – will know that their unique narrative approach has a way of keeping the viewer off balance, and that’s something that works brilliantly to give the newer feature its disconcerting impact. Though it incorporates elements of the “body horror” subgenre to elicit some squirmy moments, it’s more unsettling than outright scary, achieving its creepiness by undermining our perceptions and reminding us of the unreliability of memory – in essence, by removing the illusion of certainty from our experience of reality, calling everything we assume about it into question. We aren’t the first to note the similarities between the filmmaker’s approach and that of David Lynch, whose disorienting nonlinear style would have obvious parallels to theirs even if it wasn’t peppered with visual callbacks to some of the latter director’s iconic work; far from being mere imitation, however, it’s the use of a shared visual language to take us on a surreal and sometimes nighmarish journey, which operates under the malleable rules of dream logic as it shape-shifts its way through a narrative that feels as much like free-association as it does a story. 

What makes it particularly effective is that it captures the kind of cultish fandom those of latter generations feel around the precious TV memories of their youth – frequently around the kind of loopy, outlandish sci-fi fantasy shows like the one at its center – and the reasons why such pop culture fodder have such appeal for anyone who, like its two protagonists, feels like an outsider in a world that seems to have no place for them. We’ve all felt like that at some time or another, no matter which generation we are from, so we can relate – just as we can relate to the experience of revisiting a show we loved from our youth and finding it different than we remembered, something this movie deploys brilliantly to hook us into its premise and spark our own paranoid fantasies about mind control over the broadcast waves, supernatural or otherwise.

But while Shoenbrun’s film succeeds masterfully at triggering all those “hidden message” fantasies that emerge in our pop culture – the hubbub over “backward masking” on rock albums comes to mind, or the uproar over the demonic influence of role playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” – it delivers a much more existential level of fear almost through its stylistic approach alone. By challenging not only our memories of the past but our perception of the here-and-now, “I Saw the TV Glow” pulls the rug out from under our belief in a concrete reality. Further, by following its saga through several stages of life – it follows Owen over a course of 30 years – it drives home the inevitable connection between aging, loss of control over our own minds, and ultimately, death itself as the fate which awaits us all. 

Yes, that sounds pretty grim, and melancholy to boot – but after all, why shouldn’t a horror film embrace those qualities? And like the best horror films, this one finds a transcendent beauty in the twisted darkness it shows us, even if it offers us little  – beyond the escapist fantasies we cling to from our youth, that is – to comfort us as we face the grim uncertainties of our own lives.

How it accomplishes that is something we’ll leave you to discover for yourself, but we would be remiss not to note the movie’s deeply queer/trans subtext – both its lead characters are ostracized for non-conformity in their sexual or gender orientations, though most of that is conveyed “between the lines” rather than explicitly explored – which brings a tangible and resonant layer of metaphor to the proceedings.

Admittedly, “TV Glow” might not be the kind of horror film for all fans of the genre – its nonlinear style and surrealistic resistance to concrete interpretation are sure to alienate those looking for a more easily-digestible experience. Nevertheless, it’s a rare genre film that steps outside its expected boundaries to challenge and surprise us in a way that feels thrillingly audacious – and that’s more than enough for us to jump on board.

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The Washington Renegades: 25 years of kicking and camaraderie

Nation’s first LGBTQ rugby club heads to Rome for major tournament

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The Washington Renegades are celebrating 25 years.

In June of 2003, Ned Kieloch decided to go to an LGBTQ-inclusive men’s rugby practice on one Tuesday. He jokes that he never left. 

It was a long time coming — Kieloch had picked up a flyer for the team, the Washington Renegades, about three years earlier at Millennium March on Washington in 2000. He forgot about it until he moved to D.C. in 2003 when he got more information at Pride. Kieloch realized the practice was right down the street from where he lived at the time. 

Kieloch, who’s the current president of the Washington Renegades all these years later, has been actively involved since that first Tuesday practice. He took on his first officer position after just six months of joining the team.  

“I just fell in love with the game and with the guys, and I’ve never looked back,” Kieloch said. 

The Washington Renegades, founded in the fall of 1998 in D.C. as the first LGBTQ inclusive men’s rugby club in North America, is gearing up to commemorate its 25th anniversary. The group, made up of mainly men, is also traveling to Rome to play in an international gay rugby tournament this month. 

Kieloch played on the team for about a decade, then went on to support the team off the field. Since his time with the Washington Renegades, he’s seen the team through 100-point losses and winning seasons. 

Now, he’s heading to Rome with current players and team alumni to take part in the Bingham Cup, the biennial world championships of gay rugby. 

Washington Renegades (Photo courtesy of the Renegades)

Jetting to Rome 

This tournament first took place in 2002 in Mark Bingham’s memory, who was a gay rugby player among the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93. Along with a few others, he fought against hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001. This effort resulted in the crash of the plane in Pennsylvania, which prevented the hijackers from crashing it into a building in D.C. Bingham played for the gay rugby team the San Francisco Fog and helped to organize the Gotham Knights team in New York City. 

The Bingham Cup has been hosted in San Francisco, Nashville, London, and Amsterdam, among other cities around the world. 

About 60 people with the Washington Renegades will travel to Rome for the Bingham Cup, which runs from May 23-26. More than 100 teams will be participating, with about 5,000 players in total. 

Kai Walther, the team’s community engagement chair, said he’s looking forward to connecting with and learning from other queer people from other global teams. The LGBTQ rugby community is only so big in the United States, he said, and he’s excited to meet more people with his same passion. 

“There’s an understanding,” he said. “We all play this sport. We all are putting our bodies on the line for this.”

Nick DiNardo, who’s been a part of the Washington Renegades for two seasons, was looking for a place to play sports that was also connected to his identity. He got in contact with Kieloch, and like his own experience two decades ago, DiNardo was immediately all in. 

Growing up playing sports and hiding his identity, DiNardo said having queer-focused teams like the Washington Renegades is integral to building safe spaces where people can bond while doing something they love. 

“I’ve really developed a family,” DiNardo said. “We … support creating a space that’s open, inclusive, and safe for anyone who wants to come and learn and have a good time.”

Straight people are also a part of the team, which Kieloch says reflects the team’s values. 

“I think that’s one of the best things about our club,” Kieloch said. “I just love the camaraderie of it.”

Walther joined the Washington Renegades in the summer of 2023. He loves being on the team for several reasons — to meet new people and be able to be a part of a team where he feels he can be his entire queer self.

Because of the nature of the sport, trust is necessary, he said. This comes easier when everyone on the team has the same inclusive and accepting frame of mind. 

“There’s so much happening on the field. Like hitting other people, we have to get really close to each other, and support each other on tackles against other teams,” he said. “And so when we’re all on the same page, it makes us a lot stronger.”

Washington Renegades (Photo courtesy of the Renegades)
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PHOTOS: PrEP for Pride

White Plains LGBTQ celebration held by Charles County Department of Health

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A scene from PrEP for Pride at the Charles County Department of Health in White Plains, Md. on May 18. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The second annual PrEP for Pride LGBTQIA+ Pride Festival was held on Saturday, May 18 on the campus of the Charles County Department of Health in White Plains, Md.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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