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America’s Class of 2020 to ‘Graduate Together’ in special broadcast event

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For high school seniors graduating during the COVID pandemic, nothing can truly make up for being robbed of the ceremony and celebration that traditionally accompany their big night, but the Class of 2020 will at least get the consolation of being honored like no graduating class before them – with a star-studded multimedia special event that will air nationwide on Saturday, as the Blade joins more than 30 broadcast and cable networks and online streaming channels to present “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020.”

The hour-long, commercial-free event is the result of a partnership between XQ Institute,The LeBron James Family Foundation, and ​The Entertainment Industry Foundation, and pays joyful tribute to this year’s more than 3 million high school graduates across the nation. With content curated by high school students and educators throughout the country, with the support of the American Federation of Teachers, “Graduate Together” will include a collection of commencement messages, musical performances, and inspirational vignettes – as well as an impressive lineup of talent.

Scheduled to appear is none other than President Barack Obama, who will be joined by a long list of celebrity names: LeBron James, Kane Brown, Bad Bunny, Timothée Chalamet, Chika, Lana Condor, YBN Cordae, Charli D’Amelio, Dixie D’Amelio, David Dobrik, Dolan Twins, Loren Gray, Kevin Hart, H.E.R., Chris Harrison, the Jonas Brothers featuring KAROL G, Alicia Keys, Liza Koshy, Julianne Moore, Maren Morris, National Teacher of the Year Rodney Robinson, Kumail Nanjiani, Shaquille O’Neal, Brandan Bmike Odums, Ben Platt, Henry Platt, Jonah Platt, Megan Rapinoe, Yara Shahidi, Lena Waithe, Olivia Wilde, Pharrell Williams, Malala Yousafzai, and Zendaya are all on the roster.

The show will be carried by more than 30 broadcast and cable networks and online streaming channels across the US, including broadcast outlets ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC, as well as California Music Channel, CNN, The CW, FOX Business Network, FOX News Channel, Freeform, MSNBC, and Univision. Closed-captioning will be offered, and Univision will air a Spanish-language simulcast of the show. The broadcast will take place at 8 pm ET/PT, 7 PM CT, on Saturday, May 16.

In addition to both the Los Angeles Blade and Washington Blade websites, streaming will be available on ABC News Live, Associated Press, Bleacher Report, Complex Networks, Facebook App, FOX Now, Hulu,NBC News NOW, NowThis, PEOPLE, Roland Martin Unfiltered, Reuters, The Roku Channel, SiriusXM, TikTok, Twitter, USO, and YouTube. Giving access to the event to an even larger audience, Associated Press and Reuters will carry the show to global media organizations, and USO is making it available to every U.S. military base around the world, allowing high school seniors and their families to celebrate their graduation with their stateside peers.

The Los Angeles Blade and the Washington Blade will also join Complex Networks, CNN, ESPN, Freeform, NowThis, PEOPLE magazine and PeopleTV, Roland Martin Unfiltered, and Univision Blade in providing special editorial coverage of the event.

All streaming partners will share the simulcast at 8 PM PT/11 PM ET.

Immediately following the broadcast, the celebration will continue as TikTok hosts the official #GraduateTogether After Party, featuring a wide range of DJs including Dillon Francis. This additional special event will be filled with music, laughter, dance, and guest cameos, and can be enjoyed by tuning in to the GraduateTogether and Complex TikTok accounts at 9 PM ET/PT.

Leading up to the primetime event and beyond, graduates and their families will have the opportunity to interact with the #GraduateTogether campaign via social media. Twitter has released a special hashtag emoji to honor the high school Class of 2020 and is hosting a virtual watch party, allowing anyone to join the conversation by using the #GraduateTogether hashtag. High school seniors can also submit portraits using a special Snapchat Lens to Inside Out’s ​largest-ever high school yearbook, giving every graduate a place to share their photo and stories while making a collective statement.  In addition, XQ Institute has assembled the ​#GraduateTogether Virtual High School Graduation Toolkit, a step-by-step guide that translates key moments of the typical high school graduation experience into a virtual environment, so participants can remain socially distant while the celebration remains student-centered, community-inspired, and accessible to all. 

Corporate and philanthropic giving associated with #GraduateTogether will benefit ​DonorsChoose ​ and ​America’s Food Fund​ to help meet student needs in some of our nation’s most underserved and under-resourced communities.

For more information about “Graduate Together” (both the event and the campaign), you can visit their website at https://www.graduatetogether2020.com/.

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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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