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Janet Mock becomes first trans woman of color to direct and write a TV episode

The ‘Pose’ episode ‘Love is the Message’ made history

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Janet Mock (Photo via Instagram)

Janet Mock has made history as the first transgender woman of color to write and direct an episode of TV with the recent “Pose” episode “Love is the Message.”

Mock posted a throwback photo from the episode’s filming in honor of the episode airing on Sunday.

“This was taken under the amber light of the #posefx ballroom on my first shoot as a Director. Don’t let the smile fool you: I was nervous af about doing something I had never done before, a job that seemed to be reserved for white men, a position in the industry that rarely invited women and/or people of color to sit in the director’s chair,” Mock writes.

She also praised Ryan Murphy for supporting her when she was unsure about embarking on a job she didn’t have experience in. Mock also shared that she also supported herself through her own self doubt.

“I doubted whether I had the skills and experience to be a director. But I was pushed by @mrrpmurphy who told me I could (‘you’re naturally bossy…like me’) and used his Half Initiative to make it happen. But still I had to talk myself through self-doubt (like so many ‘firsts’ have done before me) by saying, ‘You wrote this script. You know these characters. You helped shape them, make them, move them. You got this, and your whole life as a black trans girl with all your experiences have prepared you for so many unknowns — from being the first in your family to go to college, to get a masters, to work as a journalist, to leave the safety of telling others stories to actually tell your own story, to write two memoirs that centered #girlslikeus, to be the first trans woman of color to be hired in a writer’s room…and yes, the first to write and direct an episode of television. You can do this, will do this and are deserving,'” Mock continued.

This was taken under the amber light of the #posefx ballroom on my first shoot as a Director. Don’t let the smile fool you: I was nervous af about doing something I had never done before, a job that seemed to be reserved for white men, a position in the industry that rarely invited women and/or people of color to sit in the director’s chair. I doubted whether I had the skills and experience to be a director. But I was pushed by @mrrpmurphy who told me I could (“you’re naturally bossy…like me”) and used his Half Initiative to make it happen. But still I had to talk myself through self-doubt (like so many “firsts” have done before me) by saying, “You wrote this script. You know these characters. You helped shape them, make them, move them. You got this, and your whole life as a black trans girl with all your experiences have prepared you for so many unknowns — from being the first in your family to go to college, to get a masters, to work as a journalist, to leave the safety of telling others stories to actually tell your own story, to write two memoirs that centered #girlslikeus, to be the first trans woman of color to be hired in a writer’s room…and yes, the first to write and direct an episode of television. You can do this, will do this and are deserving.” I couldn’t do it alone — no director can. I thank my mentors @mrrpmurphy & @gwynethhorderpayton for pushing, nurturing and supporting me, my DP @simondennis_dop for making it all seem so easy, my first AD Deanna Leslie Kelly, my production designer @jame03, HMU @wigorama @barryleemoe @sherrilaurence, @eriberryk and @tanasepopa for being architects, my editor Shelly Westerman, the marvelous @alexisvmw, my ❤ @svcanals and the entire crew and the cast especially @theebillyporter, @katemara, @indyamoore, @mjrodriguez7, @evanpeters, and our guest star @johnnysibilly who gave all of themselves to episode 6. LOVE IS THE MESSAGE — and there was no way to write, prep and shoot this script without that LOVE. I hope you enjoy “Love Is the Message” tonight on @fxnetworks. @poseonfx airs at 9PM.

A post shared by Janet Mock (@janetmock) on

Murphy praised Mock’s work on the episode tweeting, “I’m more proud of tonight’s ep of POSE co-written with the extraordinary Janet Mock than almost anything I’ve ever done. Janet directed this episode with class & heart. Again she breaks down walls & barriers & makes history as the first trans woman of color to direct an ep of TV.”

Mock also received special shout-outs from the “Pose” cast and Janelle Monáe.

 

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Photos

PHOTOS: International LGBTQ Leaders Conference opening reception

Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott

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Politicians and activists from around the world met and mingled at the JW Marriott. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The LGBTQ Victory Institute held an opening reception for the 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference at the JW Marriott on Thursday.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

Meet the husbands and creative partners behind ‘Christmas Angel’

A funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast

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Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner with pugs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron.

The Christmas Angel
Dec. 9-19
Creative Cauldron
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA 22046
Tickets:  $35. Students $20.
Masks and proof of vaccination are required
creativecauldron.org

“Ours is like a lava lamp,” says composer Matt Conner describing the collaborative creative process he shares with musical writing partner and husband Stephen Gregory Smith. “We move together in motion in a continual ebb and flow.” 

A couple for 23 years, married for eight, and making musicals together for 11, the talented pair’s current offering is “The Christmas Angel,” opening on Dec. 9 at Creative Cauldron in Fairfax. 

A musical adaptation of the same-named 1910 novel by Abbie Farwell Brown, it’s the story of Angelina Terry (Kanysha Williams), a wealthy embittered recluse who learns the lessons of Christmas from a box of old toys that she casts into the street. Also featured in the hour-long one-act are Ryan Sellers as Horton, Angelina’s butler, and Carl Williams who plays her brother. The angel and toys are brought to life by an ensemble of a dozen teens plucked from the company’s musical theater training program. 

Via phone from their home in Arlington, Smith and Conner shared thoughts on their new show and working style. In attendance are pug dogs Edgar Allan Pug and Lord Byron, whom they call Eddie and Byron in public – otherwise “it’s just too much,” says Conner whose ultimate fantasy involves living on a pug farm where he’d write music and present the occasional show.

Rather than finish each other’s sentences, the duo (both Helen Hayes Award winners – Smith for acting and Conner for directing) expound on one another’s thoughts.

While Conner composes the music, Smith writes the book and lyrics, and together they co-direct. “But there’s no end and beginning where my job ends and his begins,” says Smith. “What we do complements each other’s work.”

Still, there are differences. Smith’s approach is focused. He writes pages at night and edits in the morning. Conner’s method is more relaxed, preferring to sit at the keyboard and talk rather than writing things down. But throughout the creative process, there’s never a moment when the project isn’t on their mind. They can be watching TV or buying milk when an exciting idea pops up, says Conner. 

A clever nod to Dickens, the novel is more than just a female “Christmas Carol,” says Smith. And in some spots, he’s beefed up the 55-page book, fleshing out both storyline and characters including the toys whose shabby appearance belies a youthful confidence. 

He adds, “Every holiday season you go to the attic and pull down the box, or boxes in my case, of holiday decorations and it’s all old but it’s new. That’s the nostalgic feeling of toys from the attic that we’re trying to find through the show.”

The music is a combination of traditional carols performed by a hand bell chorus, and original Christmas songs that intentionally sound very familiar. The score includes songs “Don’t Hide Your Light,” “The Sweetest Gift,” and “Yestermore” – the moment when the past, present, and future come together. 

Also, there’s Angelina’s Bah! Humbug! number “Fiddlesticks,” her great renunciation of the holidays. She believes the world a disappointing place to be, and the sooner realized the better. 

Conner and Smith aren’t new to Creative Cauldron. Through the company’s Bold New Works project, the team was commissioned to write five world premiere musicals in just five years. The result was “The Turn of the Screw,” “Monsters of the Villa Diodati,” “Kaleidoscope,” “Witch” and “On Air.”

Judging from some of the titles and their slightly macabre content, it seems the duo was better poised to write for Halloween than Christmas, but nonetheless, they were commissioned. Creative Cauldron’s producing director Laura Connors Hull brought them the obscure yet charming book that surprisingly had never before been reworked for stage or celluloid, and the pair got to work last spring. 

Conner and Smith agree, “The show is a lot of things rolled up into one.”

Not only is it a funny, redemptive world premiere with a diverse cast, but it’s also a story largely unknown to today’s audiences. Additionally, the show boasts intergenerational appeal while holding messages about Christmas, family, and finding light when you’re in a darker place. 

More information about Conner and Smith, including links to their music and popular podcast “The Conner & Smith Show,” can be found on their terrific website at connersmithmusicals.com.   

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Books

‘Capote’s Women’ is catnip to older pop culture fans

Revisiting iconic author’s seven ‘swans’

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(Book cover courtesy of Putnam)

Capote’s Women
By Laurence Leamer
C.2021, Putnam $28/356 pages

Her lips are locked tight.

Your best friend knows all your secrets, and she’s keeping them; you told her things you had to tell somebody, and she’s telling nobody. You always knew you could trust her; if you couldn’t, she wouldn’t be your BFF. But as in the new book “Capote’s Women” by Laurence Leamer, what kind of a friend are you?

For months, Truman Capote had been promising a blockbuster.

Following his success with “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood,” he was “one of the most famous authors in the world” but he needed a career-booster. The novel he was writing, he teased, would be about “his swans,” seven wealthy, fashionable women who quite personified “beauty, taste, and manners.”

His first swan was Barbara “Babe” Paley, whom he’d met on a trip with the David Selznicks to Jamaica. For Capote, “Babe was the epitome of class,” simply “perfect” in every way; it helped that the famously gay writer was no threat to Paley’s “madly jealous” husband.

Babe’s “dearest friend” was Nancy “Slim” Keith, who quickly learned that if a lady wanted her confidences kept, she didn’t tell Capote anything. She shouldn’t have trusted Babe, either: When Slim left for a European trip, Babe asked if Slim’s husband could accompany Babe’s friend, Pamela Hayward, to a play.

Slim was aware of Pamela’s predatory reputation, but what could she say?

Of course, Pamela, another of Truman’s swans, stole Slim’s man, a scandal that Capote loved.

Gloria Guinness was highly intelligent, possibly enough to be a spy in Nazi Germany. Lucy “C.Z.” Guest was an upper-crust “elitist” with a “magical aura.” Marella Agnelli “was born an Italian princess”; Lee Radziwill, of course, was Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister.

Through the late 1960s, Capote claimed to be writing his masterpiece, his tour de force based on his swans, but several deadlines passed for it. He was sure Answered Prayers “would turn him once again into the most talked-about author in America.”

Instead, when an excerpt from it was published, his swans got very ruffled feathers.

Every time you stand in line for groceries, the tabloids scream at you with so much drama that you either love it or hate it. Or, in the case of “Capote’s Women,” you cultivate it.

And that’s infinitely fun, as told by author Laurence Leamer.

Happily, though, Leamer doesn’t embellish or disrespect these women or Capote; he tells their tales in order, gently allowing readers’ heads to spin with the wild, globe-hopping goings-on but not to the point that it’s overdone. While most of this book is about these seven beautiful, wealthy, and serially married women – the Kardashians of their time, if you will – Capote is Leamer’s glue, and Truman gets his due, as well.

Readers who devour this book will be sure that the writer would’ve been very happy about that.

“Capote’s Women” should be like catnip to celeb-watchers of a Certain Age but even if you’re not, find it. If you’re a Hollywood fan, you’ll want to get a lock on it.

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