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Pop culture casserole 2018 remix

‘Pose’ pops, Gaga soars, ‘Drag Race’ goes mainstream and Emmys gayer than ever

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pop culture 2018, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Pose’ pops, Rippon becomes America’s sweetheart, Gaga soars and ‘A Fantastic Woman’ wins an Oscar.

No. 10 — Highly gay Broadway year

Broadway, of course, is always gay to some extent but 2018 seemed gayer than ever with revivals of landmark gay-themed works such as Mart Crowley’s “The Boys in the Band,” Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America” and Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy.” 

“Boys,” which debuted 50 years ago, made its Broadway debut at the Booth Theatre in late April and ran until early August with an all-gay cast including Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons and Zachary Quinto. It got mixed reviews. “I wish I could report that …. I shuddered and sobbed in sympahy but even trimmed from two acts to an intermission-free 110 minutes, the show left me largely impatient and unmoved,” a New York Times critic wrote.

In February, the Royal National Theatre production of “Angels in America,” Kushner’s landmark, two-part AIDS-themed masterpiece, transferred to Broadway for an 18-week engagement at the Neil Simon Theatre with Andrew Garfield and Nathan Lane in the cast. The 25th-anniversary revival won three Tonys out of a record 11 nominations. The Times said the play “courses into your system like a transfusion of new blood … when you hit the streets afterward, every one of your senses is singing.”

Less overall successful was a slimmed-down revival of Harvey Fierstein’s 1980s piece “Torch Song Triology,” a classic about a drag performer looking for love and family. The revival, starring Michael Urie and Mercedes Ruehl got strong reviews but may have been a victim of gay Broadway fatigue after “Boys” and “Angels.” It closes Jan. 6 after weeks of weak ticket sales, the New York Times reports.

Oh, and Bette Midler returned to her Tony-winning role in “Hello Dolly!” at the Shubert Theatre July 17-Aug. 25. (JD)

No. 9 — Breakout year for Troye Sivan

Troye Sivan, gay news, Washington Blade

Troye Sivan cracked the mainstream with his ‘Bloom’ album this year. (Photo courtesy Universal)

Former YouTube star Troye Sivan solidified his status as an A-list “legit” pop star this year with the release of his sophomore album “Bloom,” which peaked at no. four on the Billboard 200 sales chart. Lead single “My My My!” became Sivan’s second no. 1 Billboard dance hit, though it only made it to no. 80 on the Hot 100. 

Sivan performed on “Saturday Night Live” and made several other high-profile media appearances. He toured the “Bloom” record (he played D.C.’s The Anthem in October) and shot an iconic, gender-bending video for the song “Bloom.” 

The 23-year-old South Africa native (raised in Australia) headlined at Capital Pride in June and co-starred in the acclaimed conversion therapy drama “Boy Erased.” 

Troye Sivan, Capital Pride Festival, gay news, Washington Blade

Troye Sivan previewed material from his new album ‘Bloom’ this summer at Capital Pride where he headlined. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A Troye Sivan concert leaves one with two major impressions,” the Blade wrote of his fall tour. “One, it’s amazing the magic he can weave using so little and two, the juxtaposition of his sonic/video/TV show performances — where he comes off as an androgynous, gay sex-starved coquette gyrating lasciviously — dovetails quite nicely with his stage/interview persona where he’s self deprecating, down to earth, sweet seeming, even anodyne.”

Sivan tours Europe and Asia through winter and spring, 2019. (JD) 

No. 8 — Celebs come out in droves

Cory Michael Smith (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Once upon a time coming out was considered a move that could ruin a celebrity’s career. Times have changed and 2018 was the year many celebrities announced their gender identities and sexualities with empowerment. 

Actress and singer Janelle Monáe told Rolling Stone she identifies as pansexual. Actress Tessa Thompson, who has been rumored to be in a relationship with Monáe, revealed this year that she is bisexual. 

During a Q&A, a fan asked Paris Jackson if she is bi. “That’s what you guys call it, so I guess, but who needs labels?” Jackson said. This was her first time publicly addressing her sexuality but she says she’s been out since she was 14.

Singer Jason Mraz subtly came out in a poem for Billboard’s “Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community” writing, “We still have a long way to go. But know. I am bi your side. All ways.” He told Billboard he’s had sexual experiences with men and considers his sexuality “two spirit.”

Former Disney star Garrett Clayton came out as gay on Instagram after reflecting on filming his upcoming movie “Reach,” which tells the story of a teenager who contemplates suicide as a result of bullying. Clayton opened up that he and his boyfriend have had similar bullying experiences. 

Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie shared with Paper that “you could qualify me as pansexual” and said that he is simply attracted to people. Actor Amandla Stenberg, who came out as non-binary and bisexual in 2016, announced they are gay and have “a romantic love for women” in a profile for Wonderland. Rebecca Sugar, “Steven Universe” creator and Silver Spring, Md., native, came out as non-binary. Pop star Rita Ora received backlash for her song “Girls,” which critics argued exploited bisexual and lesbian relationships. Ora revealed that the song mirrored her own experiences and that she has had romantic relationships with women. 

“Glee” star Kevin Michael McHale came out as gay with the help of Ariana Grande tweeting, “#NoTearsLeftToCry is gayer than me and I ACCEPT. Ty @ArianaGrande.”

Actor Lee Pace confirmed his sexual orientation by revealing he has dated both men and women.

Journalist Ronan Farrow publicly declared he is “part of the LGBT community” while being honored with the Point Courage award for his work covering the #MeToo movement and transgender issues. He stated: ”being a part of the LGBT community — which recognized that reporting I was doing early on and elevated it, and has been such a stalwart source of support through the sexual assault reporting I did involving survivors who felt equally invisible. That has been an incredible source of strength for me.”

Other celebrities who came out this year include “Broad City” star Abbi Jacobson (bisexual), actress/singer Alyson Stoner (bisexual), “Gotham” actor Cory Michael Smith (queer) and singer Daya (bisexual). (MC) 

No. 7 — ‘A Star is Born’

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in ‘A Star is Born.’ (Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures)

“A Star is Born” is a quintessential tragic love story and rags-to-riches film trope that has become one of Hollywood’s favorite movies to crank out to the masses. The 2018 version follows the classic plot of country music superstar Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) who helps rookie singer/songwriter Ally (Lady Gaga) kickstart her career. 

Along the way, the pair fall in love while struggling with addiction and navigating fame. The film gave the co-leads monumental firsts in their careers. For Gaga, it’s her first lead role in a major motion picture. Meanwhile, Cooper made his directorial debut. 

Lady Gaga also became an unexpected meme for repeating a variation of the quote “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life,” in reference to Cooper, numerous times during the film’s press run. 

Despite it being the fourth remake following the original 1937 version, the 1954 musical starring Judy Garland, the 1976 rock musical led by Barbra Streisand and a 2013 Bollywood version, audiences and critics alike proved they were far from tired of the tale.“A Star is Born,” Lady Gaga, Cooper and Sam Elliot have all earned nominations ranging from the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards. The film’s soundtrack is also nominated for a Grammy Award. It’s unclear if the movie will snatch any trophies but “A Star is Born” is already a winner for capturing attention yet again. (MC)

No. 6 — ‘Pose’ dramatizes late ‘80s ball culture

‘Pose’ is another hit from TV titan Ryan Murphy. (Photo courtesy FX)

“Pose,” Ryan Murphy’s latest television project, was co-created with Brad Falchuk and Steven Canals and made history with the largest cast of transgender characters in a fictional TV show. 

The groundbreaking series focuses on the black and Latinx ball culture and the luxury yuppie Trump era in New York City in the late ‘80s. Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista (Mj Rodriguez) decides to leave the House of Abundance and become the founder and mother of the House of Evangelista. Blanca gathers together her makeshift group to try to compete with the legendary House of Abundance. However, balls aren’t their only worry as their family confronts the looming AIDS epidemic, finds and loses love and faces the everyday struggles of being transgender or gay.

Out actor Billy Porter portrays Pray Tell, the ball emcee and Blanca’s best friend. His role earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor/Television Series Drama.

The series also was praised for adding transgender talent behind the camera. Transgender activist Janet Mock penned scripts, along with transgender writer Our Lady J, for a few episodes and served as director. Silas Howard, a transgender activist, writer and director, also directed an episode. “Pose” will continue into 2019 as the show was green-lit for a second season. (MC) 

No. 5 — Big year for gay movies

Gay-themed movies are released every year but they’re getting a little bit more mainstream with increasingly A-list budgets. This year was especially strong.

“Love, Simon,” a teen dramedy, opened in March and told of Simon Spier, a closeted gay high school student forced to balance friends, family and a blackmailer threatening to out him. It made back more than three times what it cost to make with worldwide grosses totaling about $66 million. It has a 92 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

“The Miseducation of Cameron Post” opened in the U.S. in August and told of the title character caught in a same-sex “encounter,” who gets shipped off to “conversion” therapy camp where she discovers solidarity with her fellow enrollees. It stands at 86 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and tells its story with “wit, compassion and an affecting overall generosity of spirit,” according to an aggregate review.

“Boy Erased” took a more serious glimpse at “conversion” therapy with a biographical adaptation of Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name. Starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe, it opened in the U.S. in November to strong reviews and is up for two Golden Globe Awards. A Blade review praised the strong cast for carrying the film. It’s 80 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. 

And “Bohemian Rhapsody” depicts British rock band Queen with its late flamboyant lead singer Freddie Mercury who was gay (or perhaps bi; Mercury never officially came out). Long delayed, it finally debuted in the U.S. in November and has grossed nearly $600 million worldwide. At about $50 million, it had the highest budget of any of the aforementioned movies. A Blade review called it “full of exuberant energy and good-natured high spirits” and said it’s “an impossible film not to get caught up in.” (JD) 

A scene from ‘Love Simon.’ (Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox)

No. 4 — “A Fantastic Woman” wins Oscar

Daniela Vega, gay news, Washington Blade

Daniela Vega in ‘A Fantastic Woman.” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

“A Fantastic Woman,” a 2017 Chilean drama, tells of Marina (Daniela Vega), a young trans woman in Santiago, Chile who experiences abuse and harrassment following the sudden death of her boyfriend Orlando, an older man who had recently moved in with her. 

This Sony Pictures Classics release could have been one of the 2017 year in review stories —  it won two major awards at the Berlin International Film Festival — but it went on to even greater acclaim this year winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the first Chilean film to win this category. Openly trans star Daniela Vega became the first trans person to present at the Oscars at the Academy’s 90th annual ceremony on March 4. 

It holds at 94 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. An aggregate review said it handles “its timely, sensitive subject matter with care.”  (JD) 

Daniela Vega at the Academy Awards. (screen capture via ABC)

No. 3 — Biggest year in  “RuPaul’s Drag Race” herstory

Aquaria was the breakout star of ‘Drag Race’ season 10. (Photo courtesy Project Publicity)

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a veteran in reality TV. The show premiered in 2009, but the drag competition show has only recently gained mainstream attention with its switch from airing on Logo to VH1. 

“RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3” brought back seasoned queens from seasons past including Trixie Mattel (season seven), Shangela (season two and three), BenDeLaCreme (season six), Kennedy Davenport (season seven), among others. DeLa appeared to be the girl to beat as she won challenge after challenge.

For “All Stars,” Ru required the lip-sync winner to send one of their own home. As DeLa kept slaying the competition, she eventually eliminated herself because she couldn’t take the pressure of sending her sisters home. After her departure, Shangela became a fan favorite with many viewers believing she would win. However, Trixie won the title causing an uproar on social media from Shangela fans who wanted their fave to say “Halleloo” to the crown.

Season 10 ushered in 13 new queens and one returning queen. Eureka was welcomed back to compete after being removed from the show in season nine due to an injury. The final four came down to Aquaria, Eureka, Kameron Michaels and Asia O’Hara. The final lip-sync featured a poorly constructed butterfly release from O’Hara that earned her the boot. 

Aquaria, the self-proclaimed “bitch from New York City,” was crowned the winner after being a consistent judge favorite “turning looks” for the mini, maxi and runway challenges. Her win didn’t come as too much of a surprise but it was herstory-making. Aquaria became the youngest queen to ever win the competition at 21 years old. The fierce competition made season 10 the most viewed season in the show’s history. 

The show won five Emmys this year out of 12 nominations. A “Holi-slay Spectacular” aired Dec. 7 to mixed reviews. “All Stars” season four began Dec. 14 and will continue into the new year. Season 11 has been announced but no premiere date is set. (MC) 

No. 2 — The gayest Emmys ever

‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ wins at the 70th annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles in September. (ATAS ceremony screen capture via NBC broadcast)

The 2018 Emmy Awards may have been the gayest Emmys in the history of the award show. 

The ceremony opened with a dance number featuring out “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kate McKinnon, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star Tituss Burgess and RuPaul. The rest of the night was filled with LGBT wins and appearances. 

Ryan Murphy’s “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” won Outstanding Directing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special and Darren Criss’ portrayal of spree killer Andrew Cunanan earned him a win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or a Movie. 

Australian comedian Hannah Gadbys, who received critical acclaim for her Netflix special “Nanette,” made an appearance to present the award Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” secured its fifth Emmy win this year with Outstanding Reality Competition Series. RuPaul, Michelle Visage, Ross Matthews and Carson Kressley all accepted the award on stage where Ru delivered his signature phrase, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen up in here? Now let the music play” to the star-studded Emmys crowd. 

The “Queer Eye” cast continued its pop culture reign with Bobby Berk, Karamo Brown, Tan France, Antoni Porowski and Jonathan Van Ness all appearing as presenters. The Fab Five has been traveling around the Atlanta area to upgrade the lives of men and women on everything from grooming and fashion to personal development. The series released two seasons in just six months but already won the Emmy’s top reality show honor, and the show’s first Emmy, for Best Structured Reality Program. (MC) 

No. 1 — Adam Rippon, America’s sweetheart

Adam Rippon (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Figure skating is, of course, Adam Rippon’s initial claim to fame but in 2018, he became much more than that. 

Rippon’s skating career was highly uneven. He was the 2016 U.S. national champion but until this year, had never previously qualified for the Olympics and never placed higher than sixth at the World Championships. 

It was controversial that he even made the Olympic team after coming in fourth at nationals. But skating officials decided Rippon was a stronger candidate for the team than Ross Miner who came in second at nationals. Rippon, Vincent Zhou and Nathan Chen went on to compete in Peyongchang, South Korea coming in 10th, sixth and fifth respectively. Chen and Rippon took home bronze medals (along with several other U.S. skaters) in the team event which incorporates all skating disciplines. That made Rippon the first openly gay Olympic athlete to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. 

He and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy were the gay toast of the Olympics. Rippon especially stayed in the headlines for refusing to meet with Vice President Mike Pence because of his anti-gay views and his spacey, ditzy on-camera interviews with NBC’s Andrea Joyce, the best straightwoman to Rippon’s antics as one could have imagined. 

Gus Kenworthy and Adam Rippon (Photo via Instagram)

That cemented Rippon’s status as the gay celebrity du jour and he went on to several high profile media appearances, magazine covers and a win on season 26 of “Dancing With the Stars.” Oh, and yeah, there was that harness he wore to the Oscars and the nude photo spread in ESPN Magazine. 

Rippon, now retired from competitive skating at 29, is a judge on “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” and guest on the “Will & Grace” reboot. 

Rippon has been praised for being “unabashedly nelly, effeminate, bawdy and obviously gay in a way we’ve been asked to cover up,” as writer Alxander Chee wrote. (JD) 

HONORABLE MENTION — Kathy Griffin makes lemonade

Kathy Griffin (Photo courtesy Griffin)

Kathy Griffin attends White House Correspondents’ Association dinner as guest of the Blade. In April, the Washington Blade invited Griffin to its table to thank her for her LGBT advocacy work over the years. At the dinner, Griffin had a run-in with Deputy White House Press Secretary Hogan Gidley in which she told him, “Suck my dick.” The exchange garnered international media attention and Griffin landed on multiple talk shows after the dinner. 

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D.C. summer ablaze with events, concerts, art

A plethora of activity in wake of COVID restrictions loosening up

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After a year of public events being cancelled and residents staying cooped up in their homes due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, the “outside” is finally open and D.C. is effervescing with events. Check out ways to make up for lost time during the remaining months of this year’s summer season:

The Baltimore Museum of Art will open Women Behaving Badly: 400 Years of Power & Protest, an exhibition dedicated to the women who rebelled on Sunday, July 18. The exhibition combines prints, photographs, and books to tell the stories of past heroines and modern trailblazers, celebrating women throughout history who broke rules, transgressed boundaries, and insisted upon recognition of their human rights. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

Tschabalala Self: By My Self is on view at the BMA through Sept. 19, 2021. Explore 13 paintings and two related sculptures curated by Cecilia Wichmann that reveal artist Tschabalala Self’s depth, intricacy, and singularity. The exhibition explores how the compositional process generates meaning in Self’s work, reflecting her theory of selfhood as a consciousness that is at once produced by external images and by an ongoing reworking and evolving of forms into a new whole. Self was born in Harlem, New York, in 1990 and is based in New Haven, Conn. For more information, visit the BMA’s website

The 1455 Summer Festival will begin on Thursday, July 15 at 4 p.m., featuring a stellar lineup of literary leaders and creatives (many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community) who will share their insights into the art of storytelling. The lineup will include literary superstar Brian Broome, author of “Punch Me Up to the Gods,” and Booker-Prize-winning author “Shuggie Bain” and fashion designer Douglas Stuart, among others. Some of the festival’s events include “What Makes a Successful (Queer) Narrative?” a panel that’ll dissect queer storytelling throughout the years. There will also be a teen poetry contest with a $5,000 grand prize. For more information, visit the festival’s website.

The National Museum of Asian Art will open Hokusai: Mad about Painting on Saturday, Aug. 28. The exhibition will feature work by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) best known for his iconic woodblock print, “The Great Wave Off the Coast of Kanagawa” and a breathtaking painting titled “Breaking Waves” that was created 15 years after Great Wave at the height of Hokusai’s career. Drawing on the museum’s impressive Hokusai collection, visitors have the opportunity to see a new presentation, with artworks being added throughout the summer. In addition to Breaking Waves, the exhibition includes works large and small, from folding screens and hanging scrolls to paintings and drawings. For more information, visit the NMAA’s website.

Awesome Con will be from Friday, Aug. 20 to Sunday, Aug. 22. The event is D.C.’s own Comic Con, a celebration of geek culture, bringing more than 70,000 fans together with their favorite stars from across comics, movies, television, toys, games, and more. Awesome Con is home to Science Fair, Book Fair, Awesome Con Jr, Pride Alley, a celebration of queer creators and fans curated by GeeksOUT, and Destination Cosplay. For more information, visit awesomecon.com. 

A scene from 2019’s Awesome Con. This year’s event is slated for the weekend of Aug. 20. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Maryland Renaissance Festival will begin on Saturday, Aug. 28 and runs Saturdays and Sundays and Labor Day Monday through Sunday, Oct. 24 for nine weekends of thrills, feasting, handmade crafts, entertainment and merriment in Crownsville, near Annapolis, Md. The 27-acre Village of Revel Grove comes to life each autumn with more than 200 professional performers on 10 stages, a 3,000 seat arena with armored jousting on magnificent steeds and streets filled with village characters. For more information, visit rennfest.com. 

The National Museum of Women in the Arts will be open for special evening hours from Thursday, Aug. 5 to Friday, Aug. 6 from 5-8 p.m. The featured exhibitions are Mary Ellen Mark: Girlhood, which presents images photographer Mary Ellen Mark made throughout her career depicting girls and young women, and Selections from the Collection, which highlights historical and contemporary art by women around the world. Free timed tickets are required so that the museum can ensure the safety of patrons and their staff. Visit their website for more information. 

The 13th Annual Ukefest will begin on Friday, Aug. 13. Celebrating a decade dedicated to this small but mighty music maker, UkeFest Artistic Directors Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer return alongside extraordinary instructors like Peter Luongo, Kevin Carroll, Ginger Johnson and more. The program orientation will kick off on Friday night, followed by four days of classes and evening events. For those looking for more intensive skill development, Strathmore’s UkeFest is the only program of its kind that offers an advanced track. Admission is $225 and more information is available at Strathmore.org.

The Drive-In at Union Market will start at 7:30 p.m. every first Friday of the month through October. While watching films under the stars, enjoy dozens of local, regional, and international foods: Egyptian favorites by Fava Pot, night market noodles from Som Tam, ice cream locally churned by The Creamery, tasty takeout burgers from Lucky Buns and more. Movie audio will be transmitted through an FM transmitter on the radio and through speakers placed on Neal Place. All movies are shown with open captioning, and the movie plays rain or shine. Each showing costs $20 per car. For more information, visit unionmarketdc.com. 

Unwind with an hour-long vinyasa outdoor yoga session taught by District Flow Yoga every Tuesday and Thursday on District Pier and every Sunday morning on Recreation Pier at The Wharf. Enjoy waterfront views and fresh air as you shed the stress of the day or greet the new one. The outdoor yoga class on Sunday, July 25 is hosted on Recreation Pier from 9-10 a.m. and costs $10. Tickets must be purchased on Eventbrite. For more information, visit wharfdc.com. 

FUTURES, the first building-wide exploration of the future on the National Mall, will open in the late summer and run through summer 2022. This exhibition is your guide to a vast array of interactives, artworks, technologies, and ideas that are glimpses into humanity’s next chapter. Smell a molecule. Clean your clothes in a wetland. Meditate with an AI robot. Travel through space and time. Watch water being harvested from the air. Become an emoji. The FUTURES is yours to decide, debate, delight. Patrons are encouraged to dream big, and imagine not just one future, but many possible futures on the horizon—playful, sustainable, inclusive. Visit the Arts and Industries Building’s website for more information. 

The National Portrait Gallery will open “Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands” on Friday, Aug. 27. Hung Liu (b. 1948) is a contemporary Chinese American artist, whose multilayered paintings have established new frameworks for understanding portraiture in relation to time, memory, and history. Often sourcing her subjects from photographs, Liu elevates overlooked individuals by amplifying the stories of those who have historically been invisible or unheard. More information is available at the gallery’s website.

 After a long COVID drought, music is back! The 9:30 Club has a schedule of shows starting in September, notably the return of the Bob Mould Band on Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. (tickets are $25 and still available). Tinashe performs her “333Tour” on Oct. 3 (tickets on sale July 16). Visit 930.com for the full schedule and hurry, because many shows are already selling out. 

Bob Mould, gay news, Washington Blade
The Bob Mould Band plays 9:30 Club on Sept. 18.

Meanwhile, at I.M.P.’s Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, more shows are headed our way, including James Taylor and his All-Star Band on Aug. 10. Wilco and Sleater-Kinney perform Aug. 20. For more throwback fixes, New Kids on the Block are slated for Aug. 4 and Alanis Morissette with Garbage and Liz Phair play on Aug. 31. Visit merriweathermusic.com for the full lineup. 

Wolf Trap has a full schedule of events planned this summer as well. Highlights include Renee Fleming on Aug. 6, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on Aug. 12, and ABBA the Concert on Aug. 15. Visit wolftrap.org for the full schedule.

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Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington celebrates 40th anniversary with virtual concert, retrospective

Veteran choir soldiers undeterred through pandemic with Zoom rehearsals

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Members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington gather in front of the Supreme Court on Sept. 3, 2013. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

GMCW Turns 40
Streaming begins Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m.
Available through June 20
Tickets: $25
gmcw.org

Discussion of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington quickly becomes emotional for its members both veteran and newbie(-ish). They’re the kind of strong feelings that only exist when one has sacrificed and invested in something.

“It’s an experience that touches our soul in a way that not that many LGBTQ+ people get to experience,” says tenor Javon Morris-Byam, a gay 28-year-old music teacher who joined three years ago. “We have music tying us together and in the end, we make a product that we can share with the public and that’s a humbling experience.”

Steve Herman, 79, is a founding member, though he doesn’t sing. One of a group of “non-singing members,” he joined in June 1981 and has helped over the decades painting scenery, designing ads, serving on the board and more. His partner at the time had joined the chorus as a singer.

A Gay Men’s Chorus performance in 1983. (Washington Blade archive photo by Leigh Mosley)

Now retired after 47 years in the federal government, he says the Chorus “has been a major centerpiece of my life.”

“This may sound corny, but I couldn’t imagine my life without the chorus,” Herman says.

The chorus is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend with a streaming concert simply dubbed “GMCW turns 40” that can be streamed starting Saturday, June 5 at 7 p.m. and can be viewed until June 20.

Selections will include “From Now On” (from “The Greatest Showman”), “Rise Up,” “Make Them Hear You” (from “Ragtime”), “Truly Brave” and a new song called “Harmony’s Never Too Late!” written for the occasion by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, composers of “Ragtime.” Video clips of past performances will also be included in a montage. Tickets are $25 at gmcw.org.

Thea Kano, the Chorus’s artistic director since 2014 (she was associate director for a decade prior), says “Make Them Hear You” has “kind of become our anthem over the last 10 years,” so contacting its composers for a commission made sense. They premiered it last summer virtually at the Chorus’s Summer Soiree, a COVID-induced postponement of its usual Spring Affair.

Thea Kano, center, joins members of the Chorus at the United States Supreme Court on the day of the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality decision in June of 2015.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kano, a straight ally, directs the Chorus with aid from Associate Conductor C. Paul Heins, Assistant Conductor Joshua Sommerville and accompanist Teddy Guerrant. Justin Fyala has been the Chorus’s executive director since 2016. Staff also includes Craig Cipollini (director of marketing), Kirk Sobell (director of patron services) and Alex Tang (accompanist).

Under the main Chorus umbrella are five ensembles: 17th Street Dance, a 14-member performance troupe started in 2016; Rock Creek Singers, a 32-voice chamber ensemble; GenOUT Youth Chorus, a teen choir of about 25; Potomac Fever, a 14-member harmony pop ensemble; and Seasons of Love, a 24-voice gospel choir.

GenOUT Youth Chorus. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Musically, the Chorus’s repertoire is eclectic.

“(We sing) everything from spiritual to glam rock to punk to traditional classical, and everything in between,” Morris-Byam says. “I love when the chorus is all together and able to produce a big powerful sound.”

Kano says working with Fyala is “a dream” and says under his leadership the Chorus is “in a very healthy financial place, which is wonderful and a very humble thing to be able to say right now particularly given that we’re in a pandemic — that’s not the case with a lot of arts organizations.”

The D.C. Chorus is a quasi-unofficial spin off of its San Francisco counterpart. During an early ’80s national tour, the San Francisco group performed at Washington’s Kennedy Center and had a profound effect on local audiences. Marsha Pearson, a straight woman who lived in Dupont Circle at the time and enjoyed hanging out with gay men, was one such person.

“I couldn’t believe we didn’t have one of these,” she told the Blade 10 years ago for a story on the Chorus’s 30th anniversary. “I thought, ‘We’re the nation’s capital, how come we don’t have this?’”

The Chorus performs at the popular gay nightclub Tracks in 1984. (Washington Blade photo by Doug Hinckle)

She hand wrote fliers — four to a sheet — had her sister photocopy them at her office, cut them up by hand and passed them out at Capital Pride in 1981. Accounts vary about how many showed up to the first practice at the long-defunct gay community center (no connection to the D.C. Center) on Church Street. Pearson remembers about 30. Others say it was more like 15-ish. It was June 28, 1981 and, by all accounts, an innocuous beginning.

Pearson never sang with the group — it was exclusively a men’s chorus. She asked if anybody had any conducting experience. The late Jim Richardson did and became the first director.

“I still remember the first chord,” Pearson told the Blade in 2011. “It was just a simple thing, you know, like do, mi, so, do, but I just got goosebumps. I was just elated that even one note came out, I was so excited. I got those same goosebumps at the anniversary concert last weekend. I put their CDs on and I get the same thing, especially on certain things they sing. You just can’t believe it sounds so great.”

Click here for more about the history of the group. A bio/history is also available at gmcw.org.

COVID has, of course, wreaked havoc on the operation. Thankfully, Kano says, no members have died from it, though a handful (she says fewer than 10 that she knows of), including Kano, have had it and recovered.

The Chorus continued its Sunday evening rehearsals via Zoom, which, because of the precision required for musical performance, was tougher to take online than, say, a business meeting. It never occurred to the Chorus leadership to take a hiatus.

“I look back now like, ‘Why didn’t we take some time off,’ but I think off the top of my head at the time it was like, “We sing and we’re a social justice organization and community is such a big part of who we are,’” Kano says. “And so for suddenly, with no notice, to have something that we love so much and are so passionate about …. to suddenly just turn the lights off, that wasn’t even an option.”

A GMCW rehearsal in 2007. (Washington Blade file photo by Henry Linser)

With the Chorus and dancers and GenOUT, there are about 200 current volunteer performers. It’s been slightly higher at times. Some were deterred by the thought of rehearsing via Zoom although some former members no longer in the D.C. area — even a few overseas — rejoined when virtual participation became possible.

The murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement last summer and beyond was a galvanizing event. The Chorus responded with its “Let Freedom Sing” concert, which Kano says celebrated the intersection of Black and LGBTQ people.

Featured soloists perform in ‘Let Freedom Sing.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

“It was our way of saying we raise our voice in solidarity with those facing injustice,” Kano says.

But does that get messy at times? Surely not everyone in a choir of this size is on the same page politically, even in a progressive city like D.C., right?

As a nonprofit, the Chorus avoids anything ostensibly political. Kano says the issue did arise when they were invited to sing at a Virginia-based gun-reform event last year. They participated, but carefully.

“So anytime you mentioned guns, it becomes political,” Kano says. “It’s not about whether or not we support the Second Amendment. It’s us standing in solidarity with those who have been victims of gun violence.”

Kano says there’s “a very good chance had this been a non-pandemic year,” they would have been invited to sing at the Biden-Harris inauguration, which she says they “absolutely” would have agreed to.

“We did wonder, though, a few years ago what we would have said if 45 were to ask us,” she says. “We didn’t spend a lot of time on it because we knew that wasn’t gonna happen,” she says with a chuckle.

The holiday shows for the Chorus often involve elaborate costumes, as in this scene in 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Herman says performing at big, pro-LGBTQ “statement”-type events is woven into the Chorus’s history and is understood.

“Every Christmas Eve, we’d sing for the patients at NIH,” he says. “We still do, only then it was primarily AIDS patients. We sang special concerts when the (AIDS) Quilt was first displayed and when there was a March on Washington. We did a lot of community work and outreach at a time when it was really needed.”

Morris-Byam says even today, with so much progress having been made, the Chorus still is needed. He, by the way, calls Kano “one of the most brilliant musicians I’ve ever met.”

“I believe the Chorus is a strong political statement in itself,” he says. “When we’re making a strong, joyful noise, it’s celebrating everything we are, what we can be, and everyone who has gotten us where we are.

The Chorus celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in a performance at Lincoln Theatre in 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There have been challenges over the years — finding new office space, patching together individual vocal parts for virtual performances — but no warring factions. Kano is, by most accounts, extremely well liked.

The future, Kano says, is bright. She hopes to resume in-person rehearsals in the fall. She spent a big chunk of early lockdown transcribing a Puccini “Gloria Mass” for tenor/bass chorus. She plans to program it with works by Cole Porter eventually.

Ultimately, Kano says, her goals for the Chorus are about making great art.

“Art comes first,” she says. “Because that’s how we deliver our mission. And if we put great art first, it’s going to attract great people. It’s going to both as members and as audience members and patrons, and therefore it’s going to attract great funding, and then all that goes right back into the arts we can further our expansion and our ability to get the mission out.”

Craig Cipollini leads the ‘Grease’ dance auditions in 2010. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)
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Billy Porter talks about his HIV diagnosis and keeping secrets

The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years in the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday

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Billy Porter appearing on Tamron Hall's show Wednesday (Screenshot via YouTube)

NEW YORK – Daytime talk show host Tamron Hall welcomed Broadway icon and star of the hit tv show “Pose,” Billy Porter on her show that aired Wednesday. The Tony, Emmy, and Grammy-Award winning actor revealed the secret he’s been keeping for 14 years that was made public in a piece for the Hollywood Reporter published Wednesday.

Porter discusses his HIV diagnosis from over a decade ago which the actor said he felt a sense of shame that compelled him to hide his condition from his castmates, collaborators and even his mother, and the responsibility that now has him speaking out. “The truth is the healing,” Porter said.

“I was on the precipice of obscurity for about a decade or so, but 2007 was the worst of it. By February, I had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. By March, I signed bankruptcy papers. And by June, I was diagnosed HIV-positive,” he wrote. “The shame of that time compounded with the shame that had already [accumulated] in my life silenced me, and I have lived with that shame in silence for 14 years. HIV-positive, where I come from, growing up in the Pentecostal church with a very religious family, is God’s punishment,” the actor wrote.

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