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GLAAD to present Ryan Murphy with Vito Russo Award

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Ryan Murphy at the 2018 unveiling of his star on Hollywood Boulevard (Photo via Instagram)

LGBTQ entertainment mastermind Ryan Murphy has been announced by GLAAD as the winner of one of its most prestigious honors, the LGBTQ media advocacy group revealed on Thursday.

Murphy, the award-winning screenwriter, producer, and director behind “Glee,” “American Horror Story,” “Feud,” and “Pose,” among a host of other LGBTQ fan-favorite projects across various media, will be honored as part of the 31st Annual GLAAD Media Awards in the Spring. The GLAAD Media Awards honor media for fair, accurate, and inclusive representations of LGBTQ people and issues, this year with over 175 previously-announced nominees competing in 30 categories.

In addition to the competitive awards, GLAAD also presents several special awards, honoring specific individuals who have used their platform in the media to advance the cause of LGBTQ acceptance worldwide.

The world’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization had previously revealed Taylor Swift and Janet Mock as the 2020 recipients of the Vanguard Award and the Stephen F. Kolzak Award, respectively, with the awards to be presented at a ceremony in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 16.

The new announcement names Murphy as the recipient of the Vito Russo Award. Russo, a founder of GLAAD and a celebrated ACT UP activist, pushed open doors for LGBTQ performers and stories to be included in the news and entertainment media. The award named in his honor is presented annually to an openly LGBTQ media professional who has made a significant difference in accelerating LGBTQ acceptance; previous honorees include Billy Porter, Anderson Cooper, Ricky Martin, Andy Cohen, Cynthia Nixon, RuPaul, Rosie O’Donnell, Tom Ford, Samira Wiley, Thomas Roberts, George Takei, Alan Cumming, Craig Zadan, Liz Smith, and Neil Meron, among others. Murphy will receive the honor at an earlier GLAAD Media Awards presentation at the Hilton Midtown in New York on Thursday, March 19. 

In a statement, GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said, “Ryan Murphy is a talented trailblazer behind some of the most innovative and popular LGBTQ projects in television, theater and film history, and he continues to bring underrepresented LGBTQ voices to the table in ways that raise the bar in Hollywood. Ryan’s unique and gifted brand of storytelling has not only entertained the masses, but provided LGBTQ youth with characters who inspire them to live boldly and proudly.”

It’s not the first time the Emmy, Golden Globe, Tony, and Peabody-winning LGBTQ media mogul has been honored by GLAAD. He has previously been nominated for GLAAD Media Awards for multiple projects, winning for shows like “Pose,” “Glee,” “American Horror Story: Asylum,” “The New Normal,” “Popular,” and “American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” This year he is nominated again in two categories, Outstanding Comedy Series (for “The Politician,” his most recent Neflix series) and Outstanding Drama Series (for “Pose,” which made history by featuring the largest transgender series regular cast and the largest LGBTQ cast ever for a scripted series).

Murphy’s work has not been limited to episodic television. He has been lauded for his film version of “Running With Scissors,” as well as for his HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s seminal AIDS drama, “The Normal Heart,” which was a previous winner at the GLAAD Media Awards in addition to several Emmy and Golden Globe honors.

On stage, he produced the Tony-winning 2018 Broadway revival of the iconic LGBTQ play “The Boys in the Band,” which featured a cast of out actors that included Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer. He has produced a film version of the stage hit, slated for release this year.

Also coming soon are the upcoming series “Ratched” and “Hollywood,” both co-written, directed and produced by Murphy, who is also set to direct the feature film adaptation of “The Prom,” the hit Broadway musical about a gay high school teenager who stands up against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in her small town. It will have a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and James Corden, among others.

Murphy has not just promoted LGBTQ acceptance through his work in the entertainment industry. He’s also used his platform to elevate  LGBTQ and minority voices in other ways: in 2018,he announced that all profits from “Pose” would be donated to charitable organizations working with LGBTQ people, such as the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, and Callen-Lorde Community Health Center; last year, he hosted a special benefit performance of “The Prom,” in with proceeds going to LGBTQ organizations including the Hetrick-Martin Institute, GLAAD, and The Trevor Project. He previously launched an initiative called Half, which aims to create equal opportunities for women and minorities behind the camera in Hollywood. Less than a year later, his own Ryan Murphy Television had a director’s slate that featured 60% women, with 90% being women and/or minorities. 

Murphy has also been recognized for his trailblazing accomplishments and impact. In 2018, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 2019, he was selected as a ‘Titan’ for the Time Magazine’s annual 100 Most Influential People list. 

This year, the GLAAD Media Awards, including the returning category for Outstanding Broadway Production. The Outstanding Kids & Family Programming category has been expanded to ten nominees, and GLAAD has also announced Special Recognition honors for Netflix’s “Special,” and for pioneering LGBTQ journalists Karen Ocamb (California Editor for the Blade), and Mark Segal.

For a full list of the nominees for the 31st Annual GLAAD Media Awards, click here.

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Theater

Tony Thomas brings ‘Tempestuous Elements’ to DC

Ann Julia Cooper play will be at Arena Stage through March 17

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Tony Thomas (Photo courtesy of Tony Thomas)

‘Tempestuous Elements’
Through March 17
Arena Stage 
1101 Sixth St., S.W.
$56-$95
Arenastage.org

Tony Thomas isn’t shy about his talent. The accomplished choreographer says, “With every show I work on, the artists continue to grow. They leave wanting to keep moving and to expand that part of their artistry.”

Over the years, he’s successfully carved out a niche as a choreographer of plays with music and/or movement. For many of these “playsicals” as he whimsically dubs them, his creative credit reads “choreography consultant.”

Once an actor who danced a lot, he’s now passionate about helping other actors do the same. Currently, he’s serving as choreographer and associate director for the world premiere production of “Tempestuous Elements,” at Arena Stage’s in the round Fichandler space. Penned by Kia Corthron and staged by Psalmayene 24, it’s the true-life story of Ann Julia Cooper (played by Gina Daniels), a Black principal at D.C.’s historic M Street School who, against all odds, fights for her students’ rights to an advanced curriculum. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Is this a D.C. story?

TONY THOMAS: In part. It’s more a story of its time. Anna understood she was poised to be somebody, but still feel the pushback. Superintendent white doesn’t approve of the classic curriculum she’s created for Black students. Hers is a turn of 20th century Black middle-class life with high tea and much finery. More importantly, Black people are being seen as human beings. It’s an opportunity to really be someone, but the fight isn’t over. People are boxed in another systemic way.

BLADE: And how does choreography work within a play?

THOMAS: With plays, I need to demonstrate the choreography. The actors want to see it. It’s not like with dancers when we speak the same vocabulary. 

I realize energy is one of my selling points. I’ll be 45 in April and apparently my turns and jumps are still on point.

BLADE Is there a difference between beautiful movement and not just actor movement?

THOMAS: There’s a difference. With “Tempestuous Elements,” I taught them a little ballet, warmed them up and imbued them with the dignity needed for the story they’re about to tell. Some of the cast already move like dancers while others understand tempo. When choreographing plays with movement, you have to trust the actors. 

BLADE: Is that tough for a trained dancer?

THOMAS: No, not really. I have a concert dance background — ballet, modern, jazz — and have studied with Debbie Allen, Shawn Cosby and Mike Malone. I don’t expect that level of training from actors. I like the freedom to move and put their characters into it. They’re not like ten concert dancers who need to look like one person. They are moving as characters — students, different adults.

BLADE: For a decade, you stepped away from showbiz? 

THOMAS: I stopped in my mid-20s. I turned Ailey down twice. Then I went to art school and pursued a degree in interior architecture at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. 

BLADE: And you returned theater? 

THOMAS: Now I do both theater and interior architecture, but in 2012 friends dared me to come along on an audition for the Broadway “West Side Story.” Well, I did and I booked a national tour. That got me back in the business. Not long after, I played Richie in “A Chorus Line” at Olney Theatre. And around 2015, I did “The Shipment” with Psalm, and ever since I’ve done all of the choreography and movement for his plays.

            BLADE: Tell me how you connect with “Tempestuous Elements”?

THOMAS: Who was your first teacher? We asked the actors to come to this production with that in mind, and to let that warm their hearts as we developed this original piece.

I grew up as a child actor doing TV, film and theater shuttling back and forth from D.C. to New York, and I took that from my mom who was an actor, singer, and dancer. I watched her teach, dress as a clown and put on parties for kids, and there were all sorts of performance-related things that I learned from her.

BLADE: And does that continue? 

THOMAS: Oh yeah. Increasingly, I enjoy being the process. I’ve grown past the point of just coming in and doing my job. I feel more invested. More and more, I want to be part of the creation process.

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Books

New book chronicles founding of gay-owned Falls Church News-Press

Nick Benton emerged as major influencer and nurturer of local talent

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The History Press released a book by D.C.-area journalist Charlie Clark in October entitled, “The Life and Times of the Falls Church News-Press” (a 192 page paperback). 

The News-Press was founded in 1991 by journalist and gay activist Nicholas Benton and has published more than 1,700 consecutive weekly editions since serving the inside-the-beltway Northern Virginia suburb of the City of Falls Church, a mere seven miles from the White House.

In its masthead, the News-Press says of itself, “Since 1991, an award-winning LGBT-owned general interest community newspaper.” It has been named the Business of the Year twice and Benton the Person of the Year by the Falls Church City Council. These are selected excerpts from the Clark book: 

“Its founder, Nicholas F. Benton, is a native Californian, college baseball player, degreed master of divinity, gay activist and journalist born “with printer’s ink in his veins” – or so he suspects. He launched the Falls Church News-Press largely as a one-man band. But with unflagging energy, he emerged as a major influencer and talent nurturer.

“Benton knows the key players, hosts frequent parties and can be see walking the streets and dining at eateries that make Falls Church homey. In editorials written every week by Benton himself, the editor strives to protect the city’s prize schools by pressing for property tax revenues and favoring development in the occasional battles with traditionalists who treasure the residential village. He made his mark on zoning disputes over how to tastefully attract commercial development. News-Press news sections combine small-town intimate coverage – plenty of photographs of smiling residents lined up for the camera – with exclusive accounts of action by the city council and the school board (at whose meetings Benton is sometimes the only member in attendance)….

“Some say it’s a miracle that Benton’s close-to-home news organ – backed neither by inherited wealth nor corporate investors – has survived three decades, given the current death knells for local news outlets…. The book you hold relays the tale of how Benton pulled things off. He takes virtually no vacations (beyond a few weekends). He pays staff writers (and offers health insurance) rather than engaging too many volunteers. He hires and mentors high school students. He gives the paper out for free and publishes letters that criticize. He donates to charities and cultivates youth readers by boosting high school and Little League sports, holiday parades, scouting and local history. His team covers charities, efforts to aid the homeless, published authors, theater productions, demands for low-income housing, struggling small businesses, gay rights and wars over parking. And Benton invites the public to his office parties..

“The News-Press is one of the things that make Falls Church special,” Mayor Dave Tarter told me as this book was in preparation. “The paper reinforces and enhances the sense of community of shared experiences” in covering stories that the Washington Post would not make space for. “It is a labor of love for Nick Benton, and it shows. Whether you love it or hate it, everyone reads the News-Press…” 

“…Benton enrolled at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley (class of 1969). This brought him to the University of California’s flagship school at the height of the antiwar, civil rights and student power protests, a time when the smell of the national guardsmen’s tear gas was familiar on campus. Benton was awarded his master of divinity diploma cum laude on June 13, 1969 (it is framed and displayed today in the News-Press office. He worked as a youth minister for three years at seminary but never pursued that as a career. He would later consider his newspaper ownership a close substitute to ministry…

“Benton remained in the Bay Area and worked for the famous alternative weekly, the Berkeley Barb, enjoying the freedom to publish on counterculture subjects from women’s liberation to rock music…While at the Barb Benton also came out as gay, just before the 1969 Stonewall Riot in New York’s Greenwich Village that launched the gay right movement. His articles, he later wrote, “promoted the notion that fully actualized, gay liberation had the potential to be socially transformative.” He penned the editorial for the first edition of the Gay Sunshine newspaper, and he coproduced a pair of issues of his own fledgling gay newspaper, the Effeminist…

“… By 1987, he had incorporated his own news service…It became the context for his decision in early December 1990 to launch the News-Press. He would pull it off by charming volunteer labor and combining it with his own seven-days-a-week style. Another secret to Benton’s success: he is “frugal.” There were no desks in the office, just boards and folding chairs. “Editor in Chief Nick Benton is too modest to blow his own horn,” wrote reader Robert O. Beach in a letter published in March 1998. “But he deserves tremendous credit for the vital contribution the News-Press makes to our community.”

“Environmental consultant and history activist Dave Eckert goes further. “The News-Press became the focal point of Falls Church,” he said in 2022. “Nick Benton wanted to do good journalism, get readers and advertisements, but in many ways the paper brought the city together. And in many ways it drove it apart.”

“… ‘We worked all night on that first issue,’ Benton recalled, ‘and as the deadline approached, as dawn began to break on March 27, we looked out our second-story windows to see that the cherry blossom trees on North Virginia Avenue had blossomed overnight. That was our sign to press ahead.’

“After the proverbial all-nighter, his team of three drove to Gaithersburg, Md., to the Comprint Co. plant to witness the maiden print run. ‘When the press bell rang and everything started to move, it was a very special moment,’ Benton remembered. ‘As the papers started chugging onto a conveyor belt, I couldn’t help but stand on a box and loudly exclaim, ‘Let every tyrant tremble!’ The noise of the press drowned me out so that only a couple of pressmen gave me funny looks.’

“Back in Falls Church, young O’Brien had walked the streets crowing, ‘Have you heard the news? Come March 28, Falls Church is going to have its own newspaper!’”

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Travel

Quito and the Galápagos on Celebrity Flora: blog #4

Turtles, iguanas and birds abound

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Celebrity Flora

After Floreana Island we continued our tour of the Galápagos with stops first on Isabela Island, and then then the next day we continued to spend some time on a different part of Isabela Island, and then went on to Fernadina Island. Then Friday it was South Plaza and Santa Cruz Islands.

Each day there continued to be morning and afternoon excursions off the Flora. Some involved walking, and some were taking a tender around the Island. The first day on Isabela Island we had the option of a long walk and a short tender ride, or just a tender ride in the morning. They warned everyone it was a very rocky trail. I passed on that, and took the tender ride where we saw some amazing sights. Turtles in the water, hundreds of Iguanas on the rocks, and loads of birds of all kinds. Then it was back to the Flora for lunch and relaxing. We had a great lunch outside on Deck 7 in the Ocean Grill and Bar.  In the afternoon we were given the option of a short walk and swim, or just a short walk. Basically, the same thing. It only mattered as to what time you got on the tender to head back to the ship.  I took the short walk and saw tortoises up close, more Iguanas, various birds, including flamingos. We are seeing many of the same animals on most of the Island walks, but there always seems to be a new one, something a little different, and it has been so much fun. I have some great pictures. 

Then it was time for the cocktail of the day; a Margarita, served in the Discovery Lounge on Deck 4. That is the place where we get briefings from naturalists each day, and the place we meet to leave for our excursions. Dinner was at the Seaside restaurant, the indoor dining room, also on deck 4.  Then a lazy evening. They did show a movie in the Discovery Lounge, Life on Fire, about the active volcanos in the Galapagos. There are still five alone on Isabela Island.  It was Valentines Day and to celebrate the pastry chef baked heart shaped cookies. They were really good. I know because I tasted one of each kind. While I haven’t been blown away by the food in general, I think the Executive chef is maybe trying too hard to be different; the pastry and dessert chefs have done a yeoman’s job. Could just be I like sugar.

The next day’s morning options were either a short or long walk, and I did the short one. In the afternoon there was only one option, a tender ride. Then back to the ship for another cocktail of the day. This one called the Yellow Warbler, served again in the Discovery Lounge.  Before dinner there were some games, including a trivia challenge. Then dinner outside in the Ocean Grill and Bar. To eat dinner outside you needed to make a reservation and Mike and Scott did that and ten of us ate together. The evening ended with the option of another movie; Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life. There are TVs in the suites with a number of options, and if you are into the news like I am, they had the usual Celebrity channels available; FOX, MSNBC, and the BBC.

Friday dawned clear and the options were a short or long walk. This was to be a dry landing which meant you could step onto shore without getting your shoes wet. But it was not an easy walk as you were on some volcanic rock, and uneven paths. I decided to take a sea day, and stayed on the ship. I used the time to do some writing, including starting this blog, interviewing the Captain, and to relax with some friends who decided to do the same. We had lunch in the indoor dining room where they served a meal which they called Asian inspired. Some sushi and other dishes. The afternoon choices for those who wanted to head out were; a long fast-paced fitness walk, or a short walk. We did pass Daphne Major Island, and a naturalist told us about it. We could see it from our balconies on the Port side, or from deck 7 or 8. I headed to deck 7.

Then for those of us traveling with Scott and Dustin of My Lux Cruise, we got a reminder of our transatlantic cruises. They hosted a 6:15pm cocktail party in their suite. They do this regularly on the longer cruises. They had a great spread and a bartender. It was fun. Then the crew of the Flora wanted to pretend they were a bigger ship, and announced a ‘silent disco’ party in the Discovery Lounge at 9:00pm.  I was surprised at the silent disco as it didn’t seem to fit the Galapagos. But to be fair, there were many who did enjoy it. 

Now our last full day in the Galapagos will be tomorrow, Saturday, and it will be different. I will share that in my final blog, so hope you will keep reading them.

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