Sunday, Aug. 6
6 and 9 p.m.
Clear Space Theatre Company
20 Baltimore Ave., Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Well-Strung, an all-gay singing-string quartet, has a musical library that might raise some eyebrows.
Chris Marchant, Daniel Shevlin, Edmund Bagnell and Trevor Wadleigh are known for mixing Lady Gaga and Rihanna hits with the likes of Bach and Vivaldi. It’s a combination not often found in a music performance but Well-Strung wants to introduce classical music to the masses through a more familiar genre — pop. Not only are they known for their cross-genre performances but their youthful presence and good looks have also been a big crowd draw.
The foursome are bandmates and roommates; they all live together in New York City, which makes for easy practice sessions. When not practicing at home, they are on tour sometimes in a different city every day of the week. The hard work has paid off as they have performed for big names such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and were invited to perform at the Vatican. They’ve also shared stages with Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris and Audra McDonald.
The Washington Blade was able to speak with second violinist and group co-founder Marchant as they prep for their Rehoboth Beach, Del., show this weekend. Marchant revealed why he thinks classical and pop music are the perfect match, why Britney Spears tweeted their performance and the pressures of being a sex symbol.
WASHINGTON BLADE: Why did you first start playing music?
CHRIS MARCHANT: My mom made me. I was playing T-ball at the time and I was really bad at it so I wanted to quit. She said I could do that if I played a musical instrument for awhile. So I said OK and I picked violin.
BLADE: How did you get involved with Well-Strung?
MARCHANT: I co-created the group with our manager Mark (Cortale). In 2010 I was up in Provincetown and Cape Cod doing another show because I used to do musical theater prior to this. I would play my violin on the street just to make extra money in the summer time. Mark was a producer in town at a theater and he saw me playing. So we started collaborating on what making a show together might look like. And we started looking for other people who would be interested.
BLADE: Is Well-Strung everyone’s only job or do you have side projects?
MARCHANT: It’s our only job. We kind of transitioned into that at different times. A couple of the guys used to cater or teach music or take freelance gigs. I used to bartend. But nobody really has time anymore.
BLADE: What do you think classical styles bring to pop songs?
MARCHANT: One of my favorite things that we do is explore the crossover between pop and classical music. Classical music is kind of intimidating for the average music listener because the library is just so wide. There’s just so much material. So it can be a little bit daunting to try and get into it. So what we try to do is highlight some of the crossovers in our covers between classical pieces and the pop songs. It’s always amazing to me when a chord progression used in a Bach partita lines up with something that is a mega hit by Taylor Swift today. People don’t realize that the underlying bed of music can be quite similar at times. That’s not always the case. But it’s surprising how often that is true. Also, I think the different textures that classical music creates is a little more different and intricate than pop music today. But we try to show what the past has offered musically and that is not irrelevant by any means.
BLADE: Has anyone told you that after listening to your performance you got them more into classical music?
MARCHANT: Absolutely. That’s one of my favorite things to hear after a concert. That’s one of our goals in a concert is to show people that there’s room on both sides of the aisle. There’s room for people to like both. We can show someone that classical music isn’t this lost, old art but it can still be relevant today. But, also I think it’s really cool when sometimes we play student concerts or do student workshops and they realize that, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have to play this one variety of music to play the violin.” It can be whatever you want it to be. That’s also really cool to me.
BLADE: Do you find yourself frowned upon in the classical music community for doing pop covers?
MARCHANT: If that’s the case, I’m unaware of it. I would say some non-fans have written in response to some of the stuff we’ve done and say that we’re destroying the classical piece with something that was written today. But that just seems close-minded. It doesn’t have to be either/or. It should be both as often as it makes sense too.
BLADE: What’s your favorite song to cover?
MARCHANT: My favorite song that we do is Radiohead’s “Creep.” Our violist arranged that one with “Ave Maria” and (a prelude from) “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” So, it’s actually like Bach wrote “The Well-Tempered Clavier” then a hundred years later Gounod wrote “Ave Maria” over top of that and then we took both and we put Radiohead over it. So it’s like multi-century.
BLADE: Any musicians that have reached out to you about songs you’ve covered from them?
MARCHANT: Britney Spears tweeted a clip of us playing “Toxic” in the hotel lobby of Planet Hollywood where she was doing her Las Vegas residency. And then the Charlie Daniels Band posted our cover of “Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
BLADE: Are your fans mostly gay, straight or a mix?
MARCHANT: It’s a good mix. It started out as more heavily gay because we got our start in Provincetown which is a mostly gay community. From there, the people who saw us there would bring us to their hometowns for concerts. So that’s how we started touring. It did start as a stronger gay demographic and I think that is still very present and we’re grateful for that. But we find our demographic just gets wider the more we tour. We tend to have the most engaged audiences when we’re with suburban families. That’s when we find the most successful concerts.
BLADE: You’re known for your music but you’re known for your looks as well. Is it weird being seen as a sex symbol?
MARCHANT: It is weird. We have always said music comes before anything or any of us looking the way we want to look. We always put the music as a priority and everything else comes second to that. But it is very important, for me anyway, to be consistent while we’re on the road. I always try to get up and find a gym before sound check so I can focus my day a little bit. When we’re in different cities all the time, it can be draining in a certain way. Having a routine at the gym is really good for my sanity.
BLADE: What can people expect from your show in Rehoboth?
MARCHANT: We’re so excited for Rehoboth. That community has been so supportive to us from the beginning. There are really sweet people down there. We have a lot of new music that Rehoboth hasn’t heard yet so we’re excited to debut that there and hopefully see a bunch of our old friends. It’s definitely going to be a fun show. They’ve always been a very supportive community. A lot of energy from the audience. Some audiences I think they feel like, “Oh, we’re seeing a string quartet so we should be quiet and respectful of the classical music.” But we would rather people be loud and engaged just having a good time.
Final season of ‘Pose’ is must-see TV that matters
Groundbreaking FX drama has left its mark
When the COVID pandemic hit in the early months of 2020, there were certainly more pressing and essential worries for us to grapple with than how it would impact the next season of a TV show. Yet it’s a testament to the power of “Pose” that many among its legion of fans were at least as concerned about the show’s disruption as they were about the possibility of running out of toilet paper.
The powerhouse FX drama — which spotlights the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture in the late 1980s — had already made history. Not only did it feature the largest cast of transgender actors in regular roles, it boasted the largest recurring cast of LGBTQ actors ever included in a scripted series. In its first two seasons, the show racked up accolades and honors (including a Primetime Emmy for Billy Porter as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) while breaking new ground for the inclusion and representation of queer people — and especially transgender people of color — in television, both in front of the camera, and behind it. With the end of its second season in August 2019, fans were hungry for a third — but thanks to COVID, its future was suddenly in question.
So, when word came that the show’s third season would have its debut on May 2, it was the best news since finding out the vaccines were finally going to start rolling out. But it was bittersweet: Along with confirmation of the series’ imminent return came the sad revelation that the new season would also be the last. “Pose” would be coming to an end with a final, seven-episode arc.
As any viewer of show can attest, there were a lot of threads left hanging when last we saw its characters. That means there’s a lot of ground to cover in these last chapters in order to give everyone — characters and audience alike — the closure they deserve.
The show’s official synopsis goes like this: It’s now 1994 and ballroom feels like a distant memory for Blanca, who struggles to balance being a mother with being a present partner to her new love, as well as her latest role as a nurse’s aide. Meanwhile, as AIDS becomes the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25 to 44, Pray Tell contends with unexpected health burdens. Meanwhile, a vicious new upstart house is emerging in the ballroom world, and the members of the House of Evangelista are forced to contend their legacy.
Obviously, there are a lot of details left hidden in that broad overview, and fans are undoubtedly full of questions about what they can expect to see.
Fortunately, the bulk of the show’s main cast convened on Zoom last week (along with show co-creator and Executive Producer Steven Canals and Executive Producer Janet Mock) for a press conference to discuss their “Pose” experience, and while they didn’t exactly give away any spoilers, they definitely dropped some tantalizing hints about what’s in store for audiences in the farewell season.
In truth, most of the discussion was dominated by reminiscences and expressions of mutual appreciation, sure signs that the feeling of family we see onscreen is something that has taken hold off screen, as well. But in between the affectionate banter, the cast and creatives addressed several questions that might be most on viewers’ minds.
Perhaps the most pressing of these — why, after only three seasons, is the critic-and-audience-acclaimed show calling it quits? — was taken on by Canals, who explained:
“I always knew what the beginning and what the end of the narrative would be. And when Ryan Murphy and I first met in September of 2016, we felt really strongly that that particular narrative made sense. And so, while we certainly could have continued to create narrative around these characters and in this world, and we certainly had a conversation in the writers’ room about it … I think we all agreed that it just made sense for us to ‘land the plane,’ if you will, comfortably — as opposed to continuing to give an audience story that just simply didn’t have any real core intention or a real thrust towards specificity.”
Also of interest was the obvious subject of how the parallels between the current pandemic and the AIDS crisis that looms over the show’s narrative might be reflected in the new episodes. While he didn’t hint at any direct connections in “Pose,” Porter used the subject to underscore a theme that has always been one of the show’s most important elements:
“I think the parallels are quite profound. I know that as a Black gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis, I have been dealing with a lot of PTSD during this COVID time. It’s very reminiscent of what it was like then. The best news about that is that I survived. We got through it, and there is another side to it. We can get to the other side.
“I feel like that’s what ‘Pose’ really accomplishes this season, reminding the public that it’s when we come together and when we lead with love [that] we get to the other side.”
Mock elaborated on the theme of resilience by discussing the importance of showing the strength of House mothers like Blanca and Electra (Dominique Jackson), who hold together — and lift up — their entire community:
“It’s that matriarchal power and lineage that I think the ballroom is, and what trans women are to one another, that then feeds everyone else and enables them to shine and have all the things that they want in the world. For me, it is [about] that celebration […] of Black trans women — that they’ve created this space, that they brought everyone else in with them, and that, at the end of the day, they are often the ones most often forgotten.
“I think with this season, I want everyone across the industry, the audience, to realize that. I think it’s essential, and it’s important.”
Mock also talked about the way “Pose” focuses on the small, day-to-day lives of its characters as much as it does the larger-than-life splendor of the ballroom culture in which they participate:
“We wanted to ensure that we show the everyday, mundane moments, as well as the great, grand celebrations. The ballroom is are presentation of what it means to congregate and share testimony and to love on each other, and our show is a celebration of the everyday intimacies. So, for us, while we were plotting these big, grand moments […] we wanted to bring in traditions — weddings, matrimony, all this stuff — that our characters get to engage in. We wanted to be a part of the tradition of that, and all the moments that a family shares together. We wanted to make sure that all of those things were celebrated in this.”
When discussion turned to the unprecedented level of support and collaborative inclusion with which the show’s queer cast were bestowed by Ryan Murphy and the rest of the creative staff — from the presence of trans women like Mock and Co-producer Our Lady J in the writers’ room to the extensive reliance on the insights and talents of real-life members of the ballroom community — Jackson was quick to add that besides giving the show its ferocious authenticity, it gave her an increased recognition of her own worth:
“I will never, ever, ever walk into a space thinking that I need to impress them […] I will never walk into a space being fearful of my identity stopping me from anything. Because of this journey, when I walk into spaces now, my identity is not because I’m an abomination. My identity is a plus. My identity is my value. So, when I walk into spaces now,they need to impress me. You can be the biggest Hollywood director, producer, whatever, but you’re not going to take my story or relay stories that are reflective of my life or my existence and make them into anything you want, because of ‘Pose,’ because of Ryan, because of Steven, because of Janet and Brad [co-creator/executive producer Falchuk), because of Our Lady J, because of my cast members.
“I will never walk into spaces or live a life or an existence thinking that I need to impress anyone.”
Porter concurred, adding:
“There was never, ever a space in my brain to dream what‘Pose’ is, what Pray Tell is. I spent the first 25-plusyears of my career trying to fit into a masculinity construct that society placed on us so I could eat.‘Pose,’ and Pray Tell in particular, really taught me to dream the impossible […] the idea that the little, Black church sissy from Pittsburgh is now in a position of power in Hollywood in a way that never existed before. You can damn sure believe that I will be wielding that power and there will be a difference and a change in how things go from here on out.”
If the cast members themselves have found themselves feeling more empowered thanks to “Pose,” so too have the millions of LGBTQ people — and allies — who have tuned into it since its premiere in 2018. The show is one of those rare entries into the cultural lexicon that simply allows its queer and trans people to live authentic lives, giving long-withheld representation to countless viewers who were able to see themselves reflected back from the screen for perhaps the very first time. It’s that powerful sense of validation provided by “Pose” that keeps it standing tall in an entertainment market now providing so much LGBTQ inclusion that it’s becoming dangerously easy to take it for granted.
Whatever moments of heartbreak, joy, and celebration “Pose” brings us as it plays out its final act — and there are sure to be many — we can all be sure it will leave us with a message expressed through an oft-heard line of dialogue that Mock says she found herself writing “over and over again” during the series’ run:
“You are everything, and you deserve everything this world has to offer.” It’s that nurturing sentiment the “Pose” has been instilling in us from the beginning, like a mother to us all.
And that’s why so many of us can’t wait until the first two episodes of its final season air at 10 p.m. (both Eastern and Pacific), Sunday, May 2, on FX.
At 75, John Waters has no plans to retire
‘I’d go nuts if I didn’t work’
When writer and filmmaker John Waters turned 70 five years ago, he said he took six friends on a first-class trip to Paris for his birthday and “we had the best time.”
This year, for his 75th birthday on April 22, he was going to take his friends to Rome but the COVID-19 pandemic got in the way and they couldn’t all travel.
Instead, a friend is having a small dinner party for him in New York City, and he’s going with a friend. “Everybody has had their shots, and that’s what I’m going to do…It will be low-key this year.”
The older he gets, he said, the less he cares about making a big fuss out of every birthday anyway.
“What difference does it make? Old means old. It doesn’t matter which one.”
Though he’s taking some time to celebrate his 75th birthday, Waters has no plans to retire.
“No, God no,” he said last weekend while on a Zoom call with fans from London. “I jump out of bed every morning. It hurts to jump out of bed. I have aches and pains. But no, I’d go nuts if I didn’t work.”
That’s probably just as well because he has a lot going on. Between shooting episodes of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” getting ready for film festivals in several cities, planning a guided tour in Provincetown, and preparing for an exhibit of his private art collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art, he’s staying busy.
The ultimate multitasker, he didn’t even stop working when he went for a COVID vaccination recently.
“I signed an autograph when I was getting the shot,” he said. “Well, not at the moment, but right before.”
In a Zoom session organized by London’s Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities — an early birthday present of sorts because it drew fans from at least three continents — Waters announced that he just last week finished the book he’s been writing for the past three years, “LIARMOUTH,” a novel about a woman who steals luggage at the airport. It’s due out next year from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
He also expressed optimism that some events that had to be cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic will be back in 2021, including his Camp John Waters “sleepaway” weekend for superfans in Kent, Conn., and a new, renamed iteration of the Burger Boogaloo punk rock music festival that he hosts in Oakland, Calif.
There’s even a chance he’ll make another movie. Waters told his fans there’s still interest in “Fruitcake,” the children’s Christmas film that he’s been trying for years to make. “There is new possibility,” he teased. “That’s all I’ll say. I’m not going to jinx it.”
He’s waiting to hear about the several dozen spoken-word shows he performs around the country every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. “I think a lot of those decisions are going to happen in September.”
Most of all, he said, he’s just eager to make in-person appearances after a year in lockdown. Some of his engagements that were cancelled due to COVID have been rescheduled for the coming year, including appearances in New York, California, and Pennsylvania, and he’s adding others.
“I’m dying to get back on the road,” he said last weekend. “I’m still amazed that 20-something-year-old kids know who I am. I want to see what they look like.”
He’s wondering whether Meet-N-Greets – the sessions where he signs autographs and poses for photos with fans after a performance – will be possible in a post-pandemic world.
“Even before this, when I did the Christmas tour, I had Meet-N-Greets for usually 50 people” after a show, he said. “I’d always get sick because you have to hug everybody and then get on an airplane the next day. So I think Meet-N-Greets might never come back. I don’t know how they’re ever going to do that safely.”
On a personal basis, too, he’s yearning to get out and travel more.
“I want to go to a movie theater. I want to go to a concert,” he said. “I want to be able to have even a dull day out with other people.”
This year’s Oscars might be historic — but does anyone care?
Diverse nominees lacking LGBTQ representation
It’s Oscar weekend. Are you excited?
Unless you’re actually one of the nominees, odds are pretty good that you’re not – but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is geared up to present its prestigious annual film awards for the 93rd time on Sunday night, really, really wants you to be. Why else, a week ahead of the Big Night, would they roll out the show’s producers for a press conference to drop hints that the upcoming broadcast would “look like a movie” and incorporate satellite hookups from “multiple locations?” It was a clear bid to drum up excitement.
More details came Monday, when a letter from that same trio – producer Steven Soderbergh (himself an Oscar winner for directing “Traffic” in 2000) and co-producers Jesse Collins and Stacey Sher – went out to the nominees. As it turns out, the ceremony will be held at LA’s historic Union Station (site of Saturday’s press conference), which will be treated “as an active movie set” in terms of COVID-related safety protocols, with “additional elements” of the show being incorporated live from Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre via satellite hook-up.
More interestingly, the letter revealed, “The first—and most obvious—point we want to get across with this year’s show is STORIES MATTER.” In keeping with that theme, nominees are requested to submit to a brief interview to “tell the story of your path to April 25,” as part of an effort to “highlight the connections between all of us who work in the movies and show that the process is uniquely intimate, collaborative, and fun.” The emphasis on “story” was further reflected by instructions about messaging in the speeches (“If you’re thanking someone, say their name, not their title… make it PERSONAL”) and a dress code described as “a fusion of Inspirational and Aspirational.” Whatever Soderbergh and crew have planned for the show, their letter leaves little doubt they intend to tightly manage the narrative it presents.
That’s not surprising, of course; Hollywood is in the business of creating narratives, and the one it takes most seriously is the one it creates about itself. Nevertheless, it’s particularly telling that the story it is working so hard to tell seems designed to brush its problem with inclusion comfortably into the background.
This year, the organization might well feel that when it comes to diversity, the nominations speak for themselves. For a year in which tremendous social upheaval has brought Black experience in America to the forefront of the public conversation, the Oscars have chosen an impressive number of Black-led films and Black artists among an overall slate that offers the most diverse lineup of nominees in its history. Women are also represented, thanks to the inclusion of Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” among the Best Picture contenders and the first-ever two nominations for women – Fennell and Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”) – as Best Director. Additionally, Zhao, who is Chinese, is the first woman of color ever nominated in that category, Steven Yuen (“Minari”) became the first Asian-American to receive a Best Actor nod, and in the same category, Riz Ahmed (“The Sound of Metal”) became the first person of Pakistani descent to be nominated in any acting category.
In the midst of all this inclusion, however, the LGBTQ community – traditionally a stronghold for some of Oscar’s most ardent fans – has this year been largely left empty-handed, once again. Besides two Best Actress nods for women playing bisexual characters (Viola Davis and Andra Day, for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” respectively), there are no major nominations for films with significant LGBTQ content – though it’s worth noting that the aforementioned “Young Woman” features trans actress Laverne Cox in a prominent supporting role. While it’s not a problem for us to stand on the sidelines and cheer for the victories achieved by representatives of other marginalized communities, it’s becoming harder to ignore the nagging feeling that our willingness to forgive an institution that continues to disappoint and diminish us is really something akin to Stockholm Syndrome.
In any case, this year’s Academy Awards have the potential for making history. Nine of the 20 acting nominees are people of color, and at least two of them are considered frontrunners in their categories. Zhao could become the first woman of Asian descent to win the Best Director prize. And while the potential for those wins lends a kind of excitement to the proceedings, an inescapable feeling of “too little, too late” – coupled with a pandemic-induced awareness of the relative unimportance of awards like these in the greater scheme of things – makes it more difficult than ever, perhaps, to care.
With that in mind, here are the currently leading “official” predictions for the winners in the top six categories, based on a combination of Oscar history, industry buzz, review consensus, and plain old-fashioned gut instinct:
BEST PICTURE: “Nomadland” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are considered the front-runners, thanks to previous wins in the equivalent category at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, respectively. “Nomadland” is favored to win.
BEST DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao, who has taken the directing prize at both the Globes and the BAFTAs, seems a sure bet for “Nomadland.”
BEST ACTOR: Chadwick Boseman, whose death in 2020 after a secret battle with colon cancer devastated fans and co-workers alike, would seem the inevitable winner for his performance in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” even without his already-racked-up wins at the Globes, Critics’ Choice, and SAG Awards. If he takes it – and it’s almost certain he will – it would make him only the second Best Actor winner to be awarded the prize posthumously (the first was Peter Finch, for 1976’s “Network”).
BEST ACTRESS: There are no clear front-runners here. With one high-profile win each under their belt Davis (SAGs), Day (Globes), Frances McDormand (BAFTAs for “Nomadland”) and Carey Mulligan (Critics’ Choice for “Promising Young Woman”) are all positioned as possible winners. However, with Davis already making history with this performance as Oscar’s most-nominated Black actress, the appeal of also making her the first to win in both Actress categories (her performance in 2016’s “Fences” earned her the Best Supporting prize) might just give her the edge.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Having won for his performance as slain Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah” at all the other major film awards, Daniel Kaluuya is the definition of a “shoo-in.”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: As is often the case, this category might be the most wide-open. Buzz has favored both Yuh-Jung Youn (“Minari”) and Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”), but her win at the BAFTA Awards puts Youn in place as the probable frontrunner. If she wins, she will be only the second Asian actress to win an Oscar, after Miyoshi Umeki (1957’s “Sayonara”).
You can find out the winners when the Oscars air on ABC, Sunday April 25 at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET. But don’t worry – if you don’t care enough to watch, you can always Google it afterward.
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