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‘Noah’s Arc’ cast checks in on eve of weekend Zoom reunion

Groundbreaking Black gay series was first of its kind in mid-2000s

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Noah's Arc, gay news, Washington Blade
The cast of ‘Noah’s Arc’ during its original mid-2000s run. From left are Christian Vincent (Ricky), Rodney Chester (Alex), Darryl Stephens (Noah) and Doug Spearman (Chance). (Photo courtesy LOGO)

Intimacy, relationships, parenting, sexual health and social justice: these are just some of the topics covered in “Noah’s Arc,” the hit 2005-2006 series covering the daily life of a group of gay, Black men in Los Angeles. 

Often described as being ahead of its time, this show was the first series to feature an all-Black, LGBTQ cast, making history in the industry. Dubbed a gay version of “Golden Girls” or “Sex and the City,” the show developed an active fan base that still loves it and its cast. 

The cast and creator Patrik-Ian Polk are set to reunite for a new episode “Noah’s Arc: The ’Rona Chronicles.” The group finds themselves navigating the global health crisis and mass protests for social justice and equal rights after a 12-year hiatus. It airs Sunday, July 5 at 8 p.m. EST (5 p.m. PST) on YouTube and Facebook Live. GLAAD and Impulse D.C. are supporting sponsors. Several LGBT charitable groups such as the Birmingham AIDS outreach, GLITS (Gays & Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society), In the Meantime Men’s Group and D.C.’s own CASA Ruby are beneficiaries. Look for the event page on Eventbrite. Gilead will present the show dubbed “social distancing & social unrest brings them together.” 

The starring characters of the show including Noah (Darryl Stephens), Alex (Rodney Chester), Ricky (Christian Vincent), Chance (Doug Spearman) and Wade (Jensen Atwood) will unite to film the episode. 
Wrapping after two seasons on Logo TV and a 2008 feature film (“Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom”) that follows Noah (Stephens) and Wade’s (Atwood) marriage, the cast said they’re looking forward to reuniting. 

The program will begin with a pre-show tailgate party hosted by the Mobilizing Our Brothers Initiative, streaming testimonials from fans and clips from the original series. After the episode airs, there will be a live Q&A with the cast, including Stephens, Atwood, Chester, Spearman and Vincent. Karamo Brown of “Queer Eye” will moderate. 

The Blade spoke by phone last week with cast members Chester (Alex), Jenson (Wade) and Stephens (Noah) to talk about their excitement for the reunion and what the group has been up to since the show ended. 

Rodney Chester (Alex) 

Portraying Alex Kirby, a confident and outspoken HIV counselor, Chester says he’s excited to reunite with the cast and “pick up where we left off” 12 years ago. 

Alex opens his own non-profit HIV-awareness treatment center called the Black AIDS Institute in the show, and Chester says the real-life Black AIDS Institute helped develop “Noah’s Arc.” 

Chester says the character of Alex and others on the show helped contribute to the valuable messaging on the Black LGBTQ experience in TV and films seen in 2020. Successful LGBTQ Black men who owned their own non-profit were nonexistent at the time. 

“We pioneered positive messaging that we are seeing today,” he says. 

He learned a great deal about sexual health and HIV throughout the process of filming the show and even learned how to conduct STD testing. 

Chester met (“Noah’s Arc” creator) Polk through playing Alexis in the movie “Punks,” a romantic comedy that follows a group of Black LGBTQ men in West Hollywood in the late ’90s. Chester, who played Alexis in the film, was connected to Polk from there. The part of Alex was written specifically by Polk for Chester to play. 

“He wanted to get my energy on stage. It was fun, I never had someone write a character for me before,” Chester says. 

This event could also kickstart the possibility of a reboot of the show, Chester says, which would possibly revolve around the parents of the characters. 

Chester has been filling his time with acting and other creative projects since the show aired. Recently, he played Kevin in “As I Am,” a movie about a young Black LGBTQ man confronting his past and suppressed identity. The movie is in the process of finding a distributor.

Looking back on the original episodes of the sitcom, Chester is proud of the work his cast and Polk did to put the show on screen.  

“I am happy to display positive characters … we don’t fight,” he says. “We show positive friendships. We are all best friends.”

Jensen Atwood (Wade) 

Darryl Stephens (left) and Jensen Atwood in 2010. (Photo by Greg Hernandez via Wikimedia)

Wade, a screenwriter who struggles with his sexual identity upon meeting Noah, showed the process of a hyper-“straight” man coming to terms with being LGBTQ — a rare representation at the turn of the 21st Century. 

Atwood described the reunion as “surreal.” He says the cast has been trying to coordinate a reunion since the show wrapped and is excited to be back with the group and get “back to the foundations of Wade.” 

Because of the way the show tackled more sensitive issues “head on” that were barely covered in other TV or film programs, as Atwood says, “Noah’s Arc” was a catalyst for LGBTQ Pride.  

When the show first aired in 2005, being gay was still seen as being an uncomfortable topic, Jenson says.

When viewers and fans of the show would see him in public and ask him about the show, “their voice would change to a lower tone and almost whisper ‘Noah’s Arc.’” 

Now, Atwood says that attitude and stigma toward being LGBTQ and gay lifestyle has diminished and now LGBTQ is more a topic of pride and positivity. 

Comparing the mid-2000s and 2020, Atwood says there has been a palpable societal impact in attitudes toward LGBTQ people and feels proud of the work he and the team did and will continue to do for “The ’Rona Chronicles.”

“People 15 years later still talk about it like it’s a brand-new show. I would say we all succeeded in the cast,” he says.

Atwood has kept his sexuality private for his career, as well, and has avoided speaking openly about his identity on public platforms. He says it’s “personal.” 

He says playing Wade was “a challenge.” Atwood says he did not “associate with gay love,” but used the knowledge of love he did have to round out his character. 

“It was confusing because it was a world that I’m not a part of. I was fearful that I wouldn’t be able to give the respect that the character needed,” he says.

He says his career since wrapping “Noah’s Arc” has been “nonstop.” Previous projects include national commercials, short films and putting out an album with his band Dreamkillaz, a rock band based in Los Angeles. 

Similar to the rest of the cast, Atwood says he’s excited to bring “The ’Rona Chronicles” to “Noah’s Arc” fans. 

“I think the fans definitely deserve it. And the fans have been wanting it. And more than anything, I’m excited. I’m excited for the fans,” he says. 

From left, Jensen Atwood (Wade), Darryl Stephens (Noah) and Christian Vincent (Ricky) in the 2012 reunion movie ’Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom.’ (file photo courtesy LOGO)

Darryl Stephens (Noah)

The first year he played the title role on “Noah’s Arc,” actor Darryl Stephens also played gay characters in two other movies, the 2006 releases “Boy Culture” and “Another Gay Movie.” Although the three characters were all gay, he thought they were diverse enough that he didn’t worry about getting pigeonholed as an actor. 

“What I didn’t understand at the time was that TV characters resonate with audiences differently than film characters,” the 46-year-old, openly gay actor says. “Because TV characters visit you in your living room every week. … People in the street don’t scream, ‘Andrew’ or ‘Angel,’ they scream, ‘Noah,’ right?” 

So while he has played mostly gay roles since “Noah’s Arc,” (“It’s shifted a little bit more now toward bitchy desk clerks,” he says), “Arc” was also a blessing, he says. 

“Oh my god, I wish I had friends like you guys.”

“Oh my god, I want a relationship like you had with Wade.”

“Oh my god, you were the first character I could really relate to,” and on and on the recurring comments go. 

Stephens says it’s gratifying.

“I’ve worked a lot and nothing in my life has had the impact that this show and that character has had for me,” he says. 

Playing Noah, he says, allowed him to get in touch with his softer side. He calls Noah “fragile” and an “sensitive, emotionally expressive Black gay man,” qualities he hasn’t seen as much in his subsequent roles. 

As of this June 26 interview, Stephens had not yet seen a reunion script — which will find the actors in character reuniting via Zoom — but says he’s curious to see how Noah will have matured.

So if the show had such a loyal audience, why was the run — 17 episodes plus the movie — so short?

Stephens says LOGO was a fledgling network at the time that didn’t fully grasp what it had in the show.

He says in some ways, now, with limitless content hours available via streaming, a show like “Arc” would likely have lasted longer. On the other hand, he says, more queer characters on mainstream shows might lessen the demand for uber-queer shows.

“This notion that we need a show catered specifically to queer people became outdated,” he says. “Our stories started being told in the context of larger stories and I think once that was recognized, LOGO recalibrated.”

He’d be open to a reboot but says only if the characters and themes were fully brought up to date.

“What was very groundbreaking in 2005, 2006 is very run of the mill now,” he says. “We’d really have to tackle those issues from a new perspective.”

He remembers a scene in “Don’t Make Me Over” (season one, episode four) as his favorite of the series.

The issue of gay men dressing and acting as straight as possible made for rich acting material, he says. 
“Then we ended up blowing the lid off it with all the characters ending up in drag,” he says. 

Filming was arduous he says but not unusual. He expected long hours. What he remembers more, he says, is goofing off with his fellow castmates, all of whom are on board for the reunion. Stephens kept a few of Noah’s clothes — boots from the movie, a few T-shirts. He gave his mom the poncho Noah was gay bashed in. 

“I loved it but I just felt it was something I wouldn’t wear again,” he says. “She wears it every now and then.” 

The core cast stay somewhat in touch. He says he and Rodney Chester “talk all the time.” He and Doug Spearman have worked together and are both cast in an upcoming series called “Boy Culture.” He calls his relationship with series creator Patrik-Ian Polk “good.” 

“We respect each other,” he says, although, “we don’t talk that often. But when we do, it’s very, ‘hey girl.’ We fall right back into it.”

Stephens is in a relationship but won’t say more other than, “I’m very happy.” He lives in Los Angeles. 
If there’s been any downside to “Noah’s Arc,” Stephens says it’s mostly just that fans are sometimes underwhelmed when they seem him in person.

“This is gonna sound dumb, but people expect me to be way more fashionable than I am,” he says. “I’m a jeans-and-T-shirt dude down. Sometimes people see me on the street and they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not a fierce outfit.’ That’s one of the curses of being such a cutting edge, provocative dresser on TV.”

Darryl Stephens (Photo courtesy of Stephens)
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Tagg turns 10

D.C. magazine thriving post-pandemic with focus on queer women

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‘Tagg is a form of resistance,’ says editor Eboné Bell. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a 10-year-old YouTube video, owner and editor of Tagg magazine, Eboné Bell, — clad in a white cotton T-shirt, gray vest and matching gray fedora — smiled with all her pearly whites as a correspondent for the magazine interviewed her outside now-closed Cobalt, a gay club in downtown D.C. that hosted the magazine’s official launch in the fall of 2012. 

“I want to make sure that people know that this is a community publication,” Bell said in the video. “It’s about the women in this community and we wanted to make sure that they knew that ‘This is your magazine.’”

As one of just two queer womxn’s magazines in the country, Tagg has established itself as one of the nation’s leading and forthright LGBTQ publications that focuses on lesbian and queer culture, news, and events. The magazine is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.

Among the many beats Tagg covers, it has recently produced work on wide-ranging political issues such as the introduction of the LGBTQ+ History Education Act in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Supreme Court’s assault on reproductive rights through a reversal of its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling; and also attracted the attention of international queer celebrities, including Emmy-nominated actress Dominique Jackson through fundraisers.

“Tagg is a form of resistance,” Bell said in a Zoom interview with the Washington Blade. “I always say the best form of activism is visibility and we’re out there authentically us.”

Although the magazine was created to focus on lifestyle, pressing political issues that affect LGBTQ individuals pushed it to dive deeper into political coverage in efforts to bring visibility to LGBTQ issues that specifically affect queer femme individuals. 

“We know the majority of our readers are queer women,’ said Bell. “[So] we always ask ourselves, ‘How does this affect our community?’ We are intentional and deliberate about it.”

Rebecca Damante, a contributing writer to the magazine echoed Bell’s sentiments. 

“The movement can sometimes err toward gay white men and it’s good that we get to represent other groups,” said Damante. “I feel really lucky that a magazine like Tagg exists because it’s given me the chance to polish my writing skills and talk about queer representation in media and politics.”

Tagg’s coverage has attracted younger readers who visit the magazine’s website in search of community and belonging. Most readers range between the ages of 25 and 30, Bell said. 

“[The magazine] honestly just took on a life of its own,” said Bell. “It’s like they came to us [and] it makes perfect sense.”

Prior to the magazine becoming subscription-based and completely online, it was a free publication that readers could pick up in coffee shops and distribution boxes around D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

Battling the pandemic 

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, newsrooms across the world were forced to function virtually. Additionally, economic strife forced many publications to downsize staffs and — in some cases — cancel entire beats as ad revenue decreased, forcing them to find alternative ways to self-sustain financially. Tagg was no exception. 

“We didn’t fly unscathed,” said Bell. “[The pandemic] took a huge emotional toll on me because I thought we were going to close. I thought we were going to fail.”

However, the magazine was able to stand firm after a fundraiser titled “Save Tagg Magazine” yielded about $30,000 in donations from the community. 

The fundraiser involved a storefront on Tagg’s website where donations of LGBTQ merchandise were sold, including a book donated by soccer superstar Megan Rapinoe. 

There was also a virtual “Queerantine Con” — an event that was the brainchild of Dana Piccoli, editor of News Is Out— where prominent LGBTQ celebrities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Lea DeLaria and Kate Burrell, gave appearances to help raise money that eventually sustained the publication. 

“There was a time where I was ready to be like ‘I have to be OK that [Tagg] might not happen anymore,” said Bell. “But because of love and support, I’m here.” 

While the outpouring of love from community members who donated to the magazine helped keep the magazine alive, it was also a stark reminder that smaller publications, led by women of color, have access to fewer resources than mainstream outlets. 

“It’s statistically known that Black women-owned businesses get significantly less support, venture capital investments, things like that,” said Bell. “I saw similar outlets such as Tagg with white people making $100,000 a month.”

Bell added that Tagg had to work “10 times harder” to survive, and although the magazine didn’t cut back on the people who worked for it, it ended free access to the magazine in the DMV especially as the places that housed the magazine were no longer in business. The publication also moved to a subscription-based model that allowed it to ameliorate printing costs. 

Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tagg remains steadfast in its service to the LGBTQ community. The magazine hired an assistant editor in 2021 and has maintained a team of graphic designers, photographers, writers and an ad sales team who work to ensure fresh content is delivered to readers on a regular basis. 

For Bell, Tagg mirrors an important life experience — the moment she discovered Ladders, a lesbian magazine published throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. 

“To that young person coming up, I want you to see all the things that happened before them, all the people that came before them, all the stories that were being told” she said.

Eboné Bell (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
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Daisy Edgar-Jones knows why ‘the Crawdads sing’

Actress on process, perfecting a southern accent, and her queer following

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Daisy Edgar-Jones as Kya Clark. (Photo courtesy Sony/Columbia)

Daisy Edgar-Jones is an actor whose career is blossoming like her namesake. In recent years, she seems to be everywhere. LGBTQ viewers may recognize Edgar-Jones from her role as Delia Rawson in the recently canceled queer HBO series “Gentleman Jack.” She also played memorable parts in a pair of popular Hulu series, “Normal People” and “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Earlier this year, Edgar-Jones was seen as Noa in the black comedy/horror flick “Fresh” alongside Sebastian Stan. 

With her new movie, “Where the Crawdads Sing” (Sony/Columbia), she officially becomes a lead actress. Based on Delia Owens’ popular book club title of the same name, the movie spans a considerable period of time, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for the Blade.

BLADE: Daisy, had you read Delia Owens’s novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” before signing on to play Kya?

DAISY EDGAR-JONES: I read it during my audition process, as I was auditioning for the part. So, the two went hand in hand.

BLADE: What was it about the character of Kya that appealed to you as an actress?

EDGAR-JONES: There was so much about her that appealed to me. I think the fact that she is a very complicated woman. She’s a mixture of things. She’s gentle and she’s curious. She’s strong and she’s resilient. She felt like a real person. I love real character studies and it felt like a character I haven’t had a chance to delve into. It felt different from anyone I’ve played before. Her resilience was one that I really admired. So, I really wanted to spend some time with her.

BLADE: While Kya is in jail, accused of killing the character Chase, she is visited by a cat in her cell. Are you a cat person or do you prefer dogs?

EDGAR-JONES: I like both! I think I like the fact that dogs unconditionally love you. While a cat’s love can feel a bit conditional. I do think both are very cute. Probably, if I had to choose, it would be dogs.

BLADE: I’m a dog person, so I’m glad you said that.

EDGAR-JONES: [Laughs]

BLADE: Kya lives on the marsh and spends a lot of time on and in the water. Are you a swimmer or do you prefer to be on dry land?

EDGAR-JONES: I like swimming, I do. I grew up swimming a lot. If I’m ever on holidays, I like it to be by the sea or by a nice pool.

BLADE: Kya is also a gifted artist, and it is the thing that brings her great joy. Do you draw or paint?

EDGAR-JONES: I always doodle. I’m an avid doodler. I do love to draw and paint. I loved it at school. I wouldn’t say I was anywhere near as skilled as Kya. But I do love drawing if I get the chance to do it.

BLADE: Kya was born and raised in North Carolina. What can you tell me about your process when it comes to doing a southern accent or an American accent in general?

EDGAR-JONES: It’s obviously quite different from mine. I’ve been lucky that I’ve spent a lot of time working on various accents for different parts for a few years now, so I feel like I’m developed an ear for, I guess, the difference in tone and vowel sounds [laughs]. When it came to this, it was really important to get it right, of course. Kya has a very lyrical, gentle voice, which I think that North Carolina kind of sound really helped me to access. I worked with a brilliant accent coach who helped me out and I just listened and listened.

BLADE: While I was watching “Where the Crawdads Sing” I thought about how Kya could easily be a character from the LGBTQ community because she is considered an outsider, is shunned and ridiculed, and experiences physical and emotional harm. Do you also see the parallels?

EDGAR-JONES: I certainly do. I think that aspect of being an outsider is there, and this film does a really good job of showing how important it is to be kind to everyone. I think this film celebrates the goodness you can give to each other if you choose to be kind. Yes, I definitely see the parallels.

BLADE: Do you have an awareness of an LGBTQ following for your acting career?

EDGAR-JONES: I tend to stay off social media and am honestly not really aware of who follows me, but I do really hope the projects I’ve worked on resonate with everyone.

BLADE: Are there any upcoming acting projects that you’d like to mention?

EDGAR-JONES: None that I can talk of quite yet. But there are a few things that are coming up next year, so I’m really excited.

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CAMP Rehoboth’s president talks pandemic, planning, and the future

Wesley Combs marks six months in new role

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Wesley Combs took over as president of CAMP Rehoboth six months ago and is now focused on searching for a new permanent executive director. (Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)

June marks half a year since Wesley Combs stepped into his role as president of CAMP Rehoboth. In a conversation with the Blade, Combs recounted his first six months in the position — a time he said was characterized by transition and learning.

Since 1991, CAMP Rehoboth has worked to develop programming “inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities” in the Rehoboth Beach, Del. area, according to the nonprofit’s website. As president, Combs oversees the organization’s board of directors and executive director, helping determine areas of focus and ensure programming meets community needs.

For Combs, his more than three decades of involvement with CAMP Rehoboth have shaped the course of his life. In the summer of 1989 — just before the organization’s creation — he met his now-husband, who was then living in a beach house with Steve Elkins and Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth’s founders.

Since then, he has served as a financial supporter of the organization, noting that it has been crucial to fostering understanding that works against an “undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ sentiment” in Rehoboth Beach’s history that has, at times, propagated violence against LGBTQ community members.

In 2019, after Elkins passed away, Combs was called upon by CAMP Rehoboth’s Board of Directors to serve on a search committee for the organization’s next executive director. Later that year, he was invited to become a board member and, this past November, was elected president.

Combs noted that CAMP Rehoboth is also still recovering from the pandemic, and is working to restart programming paused in the switch to remote operations. In his first six months, he has sought to ensure that people feel “comfortable” visiting and engaging with CAMP Rehoboth again, and wants to ensure all community members can access its programming, including those from rural parts of Delaware and those without a means of getting downtown.

Still, Combs’s first six months were not without unexpected turns: On May 31, David Mariner stepped down from his role as CAMP Rehoboth executive director, necessitating a search for his replacement. Combs noted that he would help facilitate the search for an interim director to serve for the remainder of the year and ensure that there is “a stable transition of power.” CAMP Rehoboth last week announced it has named Lisa Evans to the interim director role.

Chris Beagle, whose term as president of CAMP Rehoboth preceded Combs’s own, noted that the experience of participating in a search committee with the organization will “better enable him to lead the process this time.”

Before completing his term, Beagle helped prepare Combs for the new role, noting that the “combination of his professional background, his executive leadership (and) his passion for the organization” make Combs a strong president. Regarding the results of the election, “I was extremely confident, and I remain extremely confident,” Beagle said.

Bob Witeck, a pioneer in LGBTQ marketing and communications, has known Combs for nearly four decades. The two founded a public relations firm together in 1993 and went on to work together for 20 years, with clients ranging from major businesses like Ford Motor Company to celebrities including Chaz Bono and Christopher Reeve. According to Witeck, Combs’s work in the firm is a testament to his commitment to LGBTQ advocacy.

“Our firm was the first founded primarily to work on issues specific to LGBTQ identities, because we wanted to counsel corporations about their marketing and media strategies and working in the LGBTQ market,” he explained. By helping develop communications strategies inclusive of those with LGBTQ identities, Combs established a background of LGBTQ advocacy that truly “made a mark,” Witeck said.

Witeck emphasized that, in his new position, Combs brings both business experience and a renewed focus on historically underrepresented in LGBTQ advocacy — including people with disabilities, trans people and people of color.

Looking to the rest of the year, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to host a larger-scale event during Labor Day weekend. In addition, the organization will revisit its strategic plan — first developed in 2019 but delayed due to the pandemic — and ensure it still meets the needs of the local community, Combs said. He added that he intends to reexamine the plan and other programming to ensure inclusivity for trans community members.

“CAMP Rehoboth continues to be a vital resource in the community,” he said. “The focus for the next two years is to make sure we’re doing and delivering services that meet the needs of everyone in our community.”

Wesley Combs, gay news, Washington Blade
Wesley Combs (Washington Blade photo by Daniel Truitt)
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