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Lauded Canadian figure skater Shawn Sawyer finds new vistas in Cirque du Soleil production

Camaraderie, characterizations and challenge keep him engaged on the ice

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Shawn Sawyer, gay news, Washington Blade

Shawn Sawyer says Cirque du Soleil offers a safe, fun environment for LGBT performers. (Photo courtesy Cirque du Soleil)

‘Crystal by Cirque du Soleil’

 

Capital One Arena

 

Dec. 5-9

 

Afternoon and evening shows each day

 

$52-140

 

ticketmaster.com

 

cirquedusoleil.com/crystal

Cirque du Soleil has long been known for pushing the acrobatic envelope and its latest production “Crystal by Cirque du Soleil” proves again why the entertainment troupe is one of the most innovative and exciting performances around.

By blending circus arts and the world of ice skating, the production showcases a whimsical frozen playground where figure skaters partner with top acrobatics on aerial and ice feats. The show is at Capital One Arena Dec. 5-9.

Among the performers is Canadian figure skater Shawn Sawyer, a former Olympian who is gay. The 33-year-old first laced a pair of hockey skates as a small child and transitioned to figure skates when he was 9. From there, he quickly became serious about the sport.

Shawn Sawyer with cast mates in ‘Crystal.’ (Photo by Matt Beard; courtesy Cirque du Soleil)

“I pretty much tried every sport and dabbled in everything, following my brother in whatever sport he was doing. Figure skating was the first activity I did myself and I fell in love with it,” Sawyer says. “I started skating competitively right away and was doing international competitions by the time I was 12.”

Sawyer rose through the figure skating ranks, becoming a 2011 Canadian national silver medalist and a three-time Canadian national bronze medalist. He was proud to represent Canada at the 2006 Torino Olympics, finishing 12th.

“It was bigger than I thought it was going to be,” Sawyer says. “Once I got there, I was blown away. The first couple of days was hard to take it all in, but I settled in and found a good balance with my coach and teammates and it was just incredible.”

Those who follow the figure skating game understand that most skaters skate counter-clockwise, but he is that rare skater who skates clockwise. Additionally, Sawyer’s I and Y positions in spins and spirals were his trademark moves in competitions, even though male skaters aren’t awarded points for spirals.

“Probably one out of 40 skaters skate clockwise, so it’s pretty rare, but it’s more comfortable that way for me and I just started training that way,” he says. “As a male figure skater, there are no points given for flexibility and spirals, though that’s changing now a little. But I do them well and I knew the audience would like it, so I picked the audience’s opinions over the judges.”

He’s putting those moves to good use in “Crystal.” Directed by Shana Carroll and Sebastien Soldevila, this 42nd Cirque du Soleil production glides into a world that springs to colorful life with astounding visual projections and a soundtrack that seamlessly blends popular music with the signature sound of Cirque du Soleil.

“I love the daily rituals of getting to the arena, eating and training all day and getting ready for the show,” Sawyer says. “I love that adrenaline coming into my system. And at the end of the day, when you get applause, it’s always nice to feel so appreciated.”

After retiring from competitive skating, Sawyer figured he’d be doing ice shows but never really thought that would include working for Cirque du Soleil. He learned of the concept from figure skating legend Kurt Browning and his interest was piqued.

“Before skating, I had other dreams. I was always a fan of when the circus came to town and just had this fascination,” Sawyer says. “My parents used to tell me that one day they would take me to Cirque du Soleil and the day they finally did, it just was the most amazing thing. I wanted to one day to be part of it if they ever tackled the ice element.”

He was thrilled that they opened that door last year. In “Crystal,” the title character embarks on an exhilarating tale of self-discovery as she dives into a world of her own imagination, which takes her into a surreal world at high speed to become what she was always destined: confident, liberated and empowered. Sawyer portrays one of the many characters she encounters and helps to reach her elusive destination.

“I’m here with the skates on my feet and I have various roles in the show,” Sawyer says. “We are there to support Crystal throughout her journey. Throughout the different themes of the show, we evolve and have a big celebration at the end.”

You can expect to see Sawyer doing triple jumps, backflips (which he was not allowed to do in competitions) and other incredible ice feats.

“I have an amplitude of energy that never runs out,” he says. “I love showing off my individual element.”

There are 43 members of the troupe, about half of them skaters. But there are no labels for the skaters — they aren’t hockey or figure skaters (as sometimes some ice shows have conflicts between the two), all the walls come down and they call themselves skaters.

It’s that same acceptance and openness that Sawyer feels as a gay member of the troupe.

“In North America, it’s quite more accepting than it was before. Coming from figure skating world, I’m used to the acceptance, but there has been some negative feedback along the way, but that’s life,” he says. “I feel comfortable in my skin and comfortable in my skin in this company. I can show my personality and be myself.”

There is a little group of performers who are LGBT in the company and a larger group in the greater Cirque du Soleil entity.

“They call us the ‘village’ and we get along really well, but we’re not a clique; we’re all a big family here,” Sawyer says. “We do talk with others in the other Cirque shows and send Instagrams of us playing around with make-up or lip-synching to Britney Spears. Just things to show our personalities and have fun.”

Arena shows like this usually last about five years but Sawyer isn’t sure how long “Crystal” will go on, but he’s hoping to tour internationally with the show.

“I’m really comfortable and like the company and where my career has brought me,” he says. “I’d like to stick with Cirque in the future, whether that means sticking with performing or learning something else with the company, there could be other doors opening in the future.”

Shawn Sawyer says he would like to tour internationally with current show ‘Crystal.’ (Photo by Matt Beard; courtesy Cirque du Soleil)

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What’s new at Rehoboth Beach for summer 2024

Higher parking fees, Pamala moves to Diego’s, and more

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Rehoboth favorites Magnolia Applebottom and Pamala Stanley are reunited this summer at Diego’s. (Blade file photo by John Bator)

Another Rehoboth Beach season is upon us. I have been going to the beach for more years than I can count, and always love it. Some now consider Rehoboth a year-round community, and in many ways they are right. But summer still brings out tens of thousands of tourists, from day-trippers, to those with second homes at the beach. Others book a weekend, or longer, at the many great hotels. They all come to the beach for the sun and sand, food, and drink. Some like to relax, others to party, and you can do both in Rehoboth. 

So here is some of the good (and a little of the bad) of what’s new this season. First the bad: Parking at a meter will now cost you $4 an hour. Meters are in effect May 15-Sept. 15. Parking permits for all the non-metered spaces in town are also fairly expensive. You can find information on both transferable and individual permits, online.

Now for the good — and there is lots of it. First, Aqua Bar & Grill has reopened for the season. During Women’s Fest they were packed, with many sitting around the outdoor heaters, and that included lots of good looking men. I recommend taking advantage of the Tuesday Burger night. Then the Blue Moon just announced John Francis Flynn will be on the piano from May 26-June 26, Sunday to Thursday, 6-8:30 p.m. He will then be back again on the same schedule from July 30-Sept. 11. During July, Nate Buccieri returns to town for a month-long runs of shows.

My favorite place at the beach, The Coffee Mill, in the mews between Rehoboth and Baltimore Avenues, opens every morning at 7 a.m. Whenever I am at the beach I am there. Mel, who also owns Brashhh! on 1st Street, announced he is starting his own clothing line, called FEARLESS! 

The Purple Parrot, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year so be sure to spend some time there raising a glass. The Summer House last year opened the upscale Libation Room, with drinks like a Bacon Maple Old Fashioned. This year, they opened a nice garden looking out on Rehoboth Avenue, with a fountain. With the renewed interest in vinyl records you may want to stop in at Extended Play. Traveling a little beyond the town is the new 302 Local, located in Coastal Station behind Iron Hill Brewery. It is themed as a 1920s-era speakeasy. If you are in town on a Sunday for T-dance, you will have the chance to hear Pamala Stanley perform at Diego’s Bar and Nightclub. This is the perfect venue for Pamala’s talents in an indoor-outdoor setting that is already drawing packed crowds. Don’t miss it. Speaking of Diego’s, Pamala and Best Rehoboth Drag Queen winner Magnolia Applebottom are reunited there this summer. Don’t miss Magnolia’s Memorial Day Thursday party on May 23 from 8-10 p.m. featuring “naughtee bingo.”

If you are looking for culture Rehoboth has some of that as well. There’s Clear Space Theater on Baltimore Avenue. This year’s shows include The Bodyguard, The Roommates, Jersey Boys, Rock of Ages and The Prom. Tickets sell fast so I suggest you book early and they are available online. Then there is the Pride Film Festival, June 14-16. More information on that can be found at CAMP Rehoboth, the LGBTQ community center. CAMP plans the annual Sunfestival each Labor Day weekend, a not-to-miss event each year. On the CAMP website you can also find information on its speaker series, concerts, and other special events that will be going on during summer. This year Rehoboth Beach Pride takes place July 18-21. Sussex Pride is taking the lead on the festival, which will happen at the Convention Center July 20 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. If you visit CAMP, or are just walking up Baltimore Avenue, make sure you pick up a copy of the Blade in the box in front of the building.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the other restaurants and clubs in town. Just a reminder, during season you often need reservations. Come to the beach often enough, and you can try them all: The Pines (and their Monday steak night) and Top of the Pines are at the epicenter of the fun on Baltimore Avenue. Freddie’s Beach Bar and Restaurant offers a busy summer of events and entertainment. Rigby’s remains a go-to spot for the LGBTQ community on Rehoboth Avenue. Bodhi Kitchen is back in its second year offering delicious modern Asian cuisine “with a twist.” These are only a few of the great places to eat and drink at the beach.

Remember to book your reservations for hotels and restaurants early. Rehoboth is a happening place and very busy. Here’s wishing you fun at the beach. 

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‘RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars’ cast visits D.C.

8 queens vie for $200,000 prize for charity in new season, premiering May 17

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The cast of the latest ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars’ season sashayed on the National Mall to promote the reality show's ninth season on Monday. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV; used with permission)

Donning sparkling and star-studded red, white, and blue attire on a gloomy, humid D.C. Monday, the cast of the latest “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” season sashayed on the National Mall to promote the reality show’s ninth season.  

This upcoming season is different than those in the past — eight queens are competing for a donation of $200,000 for the charity of their choosing, rather than a personal cash prize. 

Several cast members noted how it felt important to visit the nation’s capital, being authentically themselves and wearing drag. Nina West, who competed in season 11, likened drag to armor. 

“We’re here during a really specific time in history, that’s, I would say, markedly dark,” she told the Blade at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “And there’s an opportunity, as drag has always done, which is for our community as specifically LGBTQI+ people, to stand in our truth and be wonderful — like guardians and fighters for our community.” 

She’s competing for the Trevor Project, which is focused on suicide prevention and crisis intervention for young LGBTQ people. This season’s pivot to compete for charity made Nina West want to come back on the show for the All Stars season. She’s been offered the spot two times before this, she said, and this twist aligned with what she wanted to do. 

Several of the other queens mentioned that it’s an honor to be featured in this season, including season 5’s Roxxxy Andrews. She also competed in two subsequent All-Stars seasons. 

She chose the organization Miracle of Love, which provides HIV/AIDS prevention programming and assistance in central Florida. It’s a smaller, more local organization, which is why Roxxxy Andrews chose it. She wants to make its work more nationally known. Also, vying to win during a charity season makes the competition feel more rewarding, she said. 

Plastique Tiara of season 11 also noted it’s different competing for charity. She’s competing for the Asian American Foundation, which launched in 2021 in response to the rise in anti-Asian hate and aims to curb discrimination and violence through education and investments in nonprofits. 

“It’s more competitive because then you’re fighting not just only for yourself, but your ideas and the things that you love,” she said. 

Vanessa Vanjie of seasons 10 and 11 agreed that competing for charity adds a bit more pressure — she chose the ASPCA. And as onlookers near the Lincoln Memorial took pictures of and with the queens, she said she was relieved. 

“I was a little bit worried somebody would yell some slurs at us,” Vanessa Vanjie said. “Nothing happened. Everybody came to take pictures like Santa Claus in the middle of the mall.”

There’s a range of contestants from different seasons for this round of All Stars. Some queens hail from recent seasons, but Shannel competed on the show’s first season. To be a part of this new season is surreal, she said. 

She’s competing for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, which she has a close tie to. She’s dealt with anxiety her entire life. The association is focused on increasing awareness and improving diagnosis and treatment. 

“I always felt like I just wasn’t normal, sadly,” she said. “And so now being able to be able to do this season and to get back to that organization is like amazing to me.”

Gottmik, from season 13, is competing for Trans Lifeline — a nonprofit providing advocacy, a hotline and grants created by trans people, for trans people. Being able to do drag and give back is the “perfect scenario,” Gottmik said. 

Gottmik was the first openly trans man on Drag Race, which was overwhelming when first on the show. Gottmik felt pressure to be the “perfect example,” but later realized that they didn’t have to worry so much. 

“I just want to show people that trans people are real people. We can express ourselves however we want to express ourselves, through drag, through whatever it may be,” Gottmik said. 

The new season will be available to stream on Paramount+ on May 17. 

The cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race pose with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at The Little Gay Pub on Monday. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MTV; used with permission)
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Pride season has begun

LGBTQ parades, festivals to be held throughout region in coming months

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A scene from last Sunday’s Pride festival in Roanoke, Va. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ Pride festivals, parades and other events have been scheduled in large cities and small towns throughout the region. Pride events around the world culminate in June, but organizers in some municipalities have elected to hold celebrations in other months.

Pride in the region has already begun with last weekend’s Mr., Miss, and Mx. Capital Pride Pageant held at Penn Social as well as Roanoke Pride Festival held in Elmwood Park in Roanoke, Va.

Below is a list of Pride events coming to the region.

MAY

Capital Trans Pride is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday, May 18 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library (901 G St., N.W.). The website for the event advertises workshops, panel discussions, a keynote address, a resource fair and more.  transpridewashingtondc.org

Equality Prince William Pride is scheduled for 12-4 p.m. on May 18 at the Harris Pavilion (9201 Center St.) in historic downtown Manassas, Va. equalityprincewilliam.org

D.C. Black Pride holds events throughout the city May 24-27. Highlights include an opening reception, dance parties and a community festival at Fort Dupont Park. The Westin Washington, DC Downtown (999 9th St., N.W.) is the host hotel, with several events scheduled there. dcblackpride.org

NOVA Pride and Safe Space NOVA will hold NOVA Pride Prom from 7-11 p.m. on May 31 at Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Va. The event is open to all high school students throughout the region, regardless of identity, from rising ninth grade students to graduating seniors. novapride.org

Capital Pride Honors will be held on May 31. The Capital Pride Alliance has announced on its website that nominations are open for awardees. The Honors celebrates excellence in the LGBTQ community and its allies. capitalpride.org

JUNE

Downtown Sykesville Connection is sponsoring Sykesville Pride Day in downtown Sykesville, Md. on June 1 from 12-4 p.m. downtownsykesville.com

Reston Pride will be held at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Va. on June 1 from 12-6 p.m. restonpride.org

Fairfax Pride, hosted by the City of Fairfax and George Mason University, will be held at Old Town Hall (3999 University Drive, Fairfax, Va.) on June 1 from 5-7 p.m. The event will include children’s activities and more. fairfaxva.gov

OEC Pride celebrates Pride with “art, dance, education, and fun” in Old Ellicott City.  The OEC Pride Festival is held along Main Street in Ellicott City, Md. on June 1 from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. visitoldellicottcity.com

Annapolis Pride has consistently drawn a giant crowd for a parade and festival in the quaint downtown of the Maryland capital. “The Voice” star L. Rodgers has been announced to headline the 2024 festival. The parade and festival will be held on June 1. annapolispride.org

The Alexandria LGBTQ+ Task Force Alexandria Pride is scheduled to be held at Alexandria City Hall from 3 – 6 p.m. on June 1 in Alexandria, Va. alexandriava.gov

The Portsmouth Pride Fest will be held at Festival Park adjacent to the Atlantic-Union Bank Pavilion in Portsmouth, Va. on June 1 from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. portsmouthprideva.com

The Delaware Pride Festival is a free event scheduled for June 1 at Legislative Hall in Dover, Del. from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.The event is billed as family friendly and open to people of all ages and sexual orientations. delawarepride.org

The City of Rockville is hosting Rockville Pride at Rockville Town Square (131 Gibbs St., Rockville, Md.) from 2-5 p.m. on June 2. The free event features live performances, information booths, and children’s activities. rockvillemd.gov

Equality Loudoun is hosting the ticketed Loudoun Pride Festival from 1-7 p.m. on June 2 at Claude Moore Park in Sterling, Va. The event features three stages, a “#Dragstravaganza,” a kid’s zone, an alcohol pavilion, a food hall and more. Tickets $5. eqloco.com

Culpepper Pride is slated to be held at Mountain Run Winery in Culpepper, Va. from 12-6 p.m. on June 2. The theme this year is “True Colors.” culpeperpride.org

The Southwest Virginia Pride Cookout Community Social is planned for 2 p.m. at the Charles R. Hill Senior Center in Vinton, Va. on June 2. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Capital Pride kicks off with the RIOT! Opening Party at Echostage starting at 9 p.m. on June 7. Tickets run from $27-$50 and can be purchased on the Capital Pride website. The event is set to feature Sapphire Cristál. capitalpride.org

Pride events continue over the weekend of June 8-9 in the nation’s capital with the Capital Pride Block Party featuring performers and a beverage garden, the massive Capital Pride Parade, Flashback: A totally Radical Tea Dance to be held at the end of the parade route, and the Capital Pride Festival and Concert. Visit capitalpride.org for more information. Other Pride events planned for the weekend in D.C. include a number of parties and the unforgettable (and free) Pride on the Pier & Fireworks Show at the Wharf sponsored by the Washington Blade from 2-10 p.m. prideonthepierdc.com

Pride in the ‘Peake will be held at Summit Pointe (580 Belaire Ave.) in Chesapeake, Va. on June 9 from 12-5 p.m. The family-focused Pride event does not serve alcohol, but will feature community organizations, food trucks and more in a street festival. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Celebrate with a drag show, dancing and a lot of wine at Two Twisted Posts Winery in Purcellville, Va. for a Pride Party from 2-5 p.m. on June 15. twotwistedposts.com

Baltimore Pride holds one of the largest Pride parades in the region on June 15 in Baltimore. (2418 Saint Paul St.). The parade concludes with a block party and festival. Pride events are scheduled from June 14-16. baltimorepride.org

The fourth annual Catonsville Pride Fest will be held at the Catonsville Presbyterian Church (1400 Frederick Rd.) in Catonsville, Md. on June 15 from 3-6 p.m. The event features a High Heel Race, pony rides, face painting, local cuisine and more. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

The Ghent Business District Palace Shops have announced a Ghent Pride event from 5:30-9:30 p.m. on June 17 at the Palace Shops and Station (301 W 21st Street) in Norfolk, Va. ghentnorfolk.org

An event dedicated to celebrating the elders in the LGBTQ community, Silver Pride is scheduled for June 20 at 5:30-8:30 p.m. Location and more information to be announced soon. capitalpride.org

Visit the Hampton Roads PrideFest and Boat Parade for a truly unique Pride experience along the Elizabeth River. The full day of entertainment, education and celebration will be held on June 22 from 12-7 p.m. at Town Point Park (113 Waterside Dr.) in Norfolk, Va. hamptonroadspride.org

Frederick, Md. will hold its annual Frederick Pride Festival at Carroll Creek Linear Park on June 22 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Entertainers include CoCo Montrese of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” frederickpride.org

The fourth annual Pride at the Beach is scheduled for 2-10 p.m. on June 23 at Neptune’s Park (3001 Atlantic Ave.) in Virginia Beach, Va. The event features entertainment, community vendors, beachside DJ sets, food trucks and offers a “perfect conclusion to an unforgettable Pride weekend.” hamptonroadspride.org

Winchester Pride will hold its Mx. Winchester Pride Pageant at 15 N. Loudoun St. in Winchester, Va. on June 23 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance/$25 at the door. winchesterpride.com

The organizers of last year’s inaugural Ocean City Pride with a “parade” along the boardwalk in Ocean City, Md. have announced that they will be organizing a return this year with events from June 28-30. instagram.com

The third annual Arlington Pride Festival will be held at Long Bridge Park at National Landing (475 Long Bridge Dr.) in Arlington, Va. on June 29 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. arlvapride.com

FXBG Pride is holding its annual community Fredericksburg Pride March on June 29 from 10-11 a.m. at Riverfront Park (705 Sophia St.) in Fredericksburg, Va. Speeches begin at 10 a.m. and the procession starts at 10:30 a.m. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

Salisbury Pride “90’s Edition” is scheduled for 3 – 7 p.m. on June 29 in Downtown Salisbury, Md. Magnolia Applebottom is listed as the headliner and grand marshal. salisburyprideparade.com

The 2024 Suffolk Pride Festival is scheduled for Bennett’s Creek Park in Suffolk, Va. on June 30 from 12-7 p.m. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.

Expect music, entertainment and drag performances in the picturesque mountain town of Cumberland, Md. at the Cumberland Pride Festival on June 30 from 12-4 p.m. at Canal Place. cumberlandpride.org

Montgomery County’s annual Pride in the Plaza will be held on June 30 from 12-8 p.m. at Veterans Plaza (1 Veterans Place, Silver Spring, Md. liveinyourtruth.org

JULY

The sixth annual Westminster Pride Festival is scheduled for downtown Westminster, Md. on July 13 from 12-6 p.m. westminsterpride.org

Hagerstown Hopes is holding its annual Hagerstown Pride Festival in Doubs Woods Park (1307 Maryland Ave.) in Hagerstown, Md. on July 13 at 11 a.m. Visit the Facebook event page for more information.

The Rehoboth Beach Pride Festival will be held on July 20 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., with other Sussex Pride events scheduled throughout the weekend of July 18-21. sussexpride.org

Us Giving Us Richmond hosts Black Pride RVA in Richmond, Va. with events on July 19-21. ugrcrva.org

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