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Netflix defends Dave Chappelle and suspends trans employee

LGBTQ Media watch group GLAAD responded saying that anti-LGBTQ content is technically against Netflix policy

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Screenshot via SKYNEWS Australia YouTube

LOS GATOS, Ca. – The outcry by LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and allies since the release last week of the Netflix Dave Chappelle’s comedy special The Closer, regarding transphobic and other anti-LGBTQ innuendo and statements by the comedian grew on Monday after the company suspended one of its Trans employees.

Adding more fuel to the ongoing controversy in a memorandum to the company’s staff members obtained by entertainment trade news magazine Variety, sent last week by Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, the company executive defended Chappelle.

“Chappelle is one of the most popular stand-up comedians today, and we have a long standing deal with him. His last special “Sticks & Stones,” also controversial, is our most watched, stickiest and most award winning stand-up special to date,” Sarandos wrote in the memo.

“As with our other talent, we work hard to support their creative freedom — even though this means there will always be content on Netflix some people believe is harmful,” he added.

Sarandos in his memo wrote, “Several of you have also asked where we draw the line on hate. We don’t allow titles on Netflix that are designed to incite hate or violence, and we don’t believe The Closer crosses that line. I recognize, however, that distinguishing between commentary and harm is hard, especially with stand-up comedy which exists to push boundaries. Some people find the art of stand-up to be mean-spirited but our members enjoy it, and it’s an important part of our content offering.”

LGBTQ Media watch group GLAAD responded to Sarandos’ memo saying that anti-LGBTQ content is technically against Netflix policy.

Netflix has a policy that content ‘designed to incite hate or violence’ is not allowed on the platform, but we all know that anti-LGBTQ content does exactly that,” the statement reads. “While Netflix is home to groundbreaking LGBTQ stories, now is the time for Netflix execs to listen to LGBTQ employees, industry leaders, and audiences and commit to living up to their own standards.”

After the special aired, Terra Field, an Out Trans Netflix senior software engineer based in San Francisco, posted a series of tweets that expressed anger over Chappelle’s blatant transphobia.

Field in her Twitter thread countered the position laid out by Sarandos, pointing out that Chappelle’s promoting the kind of ideology and speech can result in real-world consequences especially death for Trans people. 

In her tweets, Field writes, “Yesterday we launched another Chappelle special where he attacks the Trans community, and the very validity of transness – all while trying to pit us against other marginalized groups. You’re going to hear a lot of talk about ‘offense.’ We are not offended.” 

Field went on to say of Chappelle, “our existence is ‘funny’ to him – and when we object to his harm, we’re ‘offended.’” She then listed numerous names of Trans people, specifically highlighting Trans women of color, killed in hate crimes. The thread went viral and as of Monday, the initial tweet had more than 13,000 retweets and 35,000 likes.

In reporting by both The Verge and Variety on Monday, Field and two other employees were suspended by the company although Netflix denies that Field was suspended due to the twitter thread. A source in the company told Variety that Field, who identifies as queer and Trans, and the other employees were not invited to the virtual gathering last week of the company’s executives, the “QBR” — Netflix’s quarterly business review, a two-day affair that convenes the top 500 employees at the company.

“It is absolutely untrue to say that we have suspended any employees for tweeting about this show. Our employees are encouraged to disagree openly and we support their right to do so,” a Netflix spokesperson told Variety.

Neither Field nor Netflix responded to requests for comment Monday by the Blade.

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Theater

Signature’s acclaimed music director tackles ‘Sweeney Todd’

Kalbfleisch excited to conduct 15-piece orchestration

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Jon Kalbfleisch in action. (Photo by Christopher Mueller)

‘Sweeney Todd’
Through July 9
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, Va. 22206
$40-119
Sigtheatre.org

Typically, music directors play second fiddle to directors. “That’s just how it is in theater,” says Jon Kalbfleisch, longtime resident music director at Signature Theatre. “It’s different with opera. But those audiences have altogether different expectations.”

For the hugely talented Kalbfleisch, vying for attention has never been a concern. With 10 Helen Hayes Awards and an astounding 30 nominations under his belt, he’s had his time in the limelight, and more importantly, the out music director is focused on the work.

Currently he’s music directing his fourth production of composer Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” at Signature Theatre and he couldn’t be happier. He counts the famously hard to sing “Sweeney” as both his favorite Sondheim show and among his all-time favorite scores overall. He says “like all Sondheim shows it has a lot of challenges, the ensemble stuff is particularly hard and the finale is really tricky. When it goes perfectly though, it’s wonderful.”

A tale of revenge soaked in melodrama and dark humor, the 1979 hit musical set in grubby 19th century London is rife with memorable numbers including “The Worst Pies in London,” “A Little Priest,” “Johanna” and “Not While I’m Around.” In Signature’s current offering directed by Sarna Lapine, Sweeney, the disgruntled, murderous barber, and his ruthless pie-making accomplice Mrs. Lovett are played respectively by Broadway actors Nathaniel Stampley and Bryonha Marie.

Kalbfleisch first music directed “Sweeney” (Signature’s first ever musical) in 1991 at the company’s then home, the Gunston Arts Center in Arlington; his second Signature “Sweeney” starring Norm Lewis and Donna Migliaccio was in 1998 at Signature’s legendary garage space; and there was a third production in the MAX Theatre, their top-notch permanent home in Shirlington in 2010 with Ed Gero and Sherri L. Edelen.

“What makes the current production unique,” explains Kalbfleisch, who lives just a short walk from Signature, “is a 15-piece orchestration that Jonathan Tunick [famed longtime Sondheim collaborator] did for a production in the UK. When Tunick takes his own work and makes it for a small ensemble it feels utterly complete. The way he redid it, it doesn’t feel smaller than the original.”

Long before the cast convenes, Kalbfleisch begins his preparation, attacking a score as if he’s never seen it before. For several weeks, he rehearses the orchestra, ensemble, and leads separately and together. Once the show opens, he conducts the 15-piece orchestra at every performance. Arduous? Maybe. But he enjoys every moment.

A meticulous professional prone to generous laughter, Kalbfleisch’s first love is piano, but conducting runs a close second. He says “the opportunity to stand up and conduct 15 players with the terrific cast of ‘Sweeney’ that we have right now I’m in a very happy place.”

Like many talented young pianists, the Lawton, Okla., native was recruited into musical theater: “My high school’s choir director said you’re going to be my accompanist. Similarly, my band director volunteered me to play piano for the school music ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’ I had little choice.”

“The experience was lots of fun, but it never occurred to me that it would be a big part of my career.”

He studied classic piano at Cameron University in Oklahoma, and went on to earn a Master of Music, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It was in Texas that he really dipped his toe into music direction at a small professional theater with shows like “Pirates of Penzance” and a fully orchestrated “A Chorus Line.”

Over his more than 30-year tenure at Signature, Kalbfleisch has music directed 33 Sondheim musicals. As an integral part of Signature, a Tony Award-winning regional theater, he’s had the chance to collaborate with Broadway luminaries including Sondheim, Angela Lansbury, Chita Rivera, and Tunick. He’s humbled and happy by the way things have worked out.

Looking forward, Kalbfleisch is ready for more pared down, big music Sondheim shows. He says, “Matthew [Matthew Gardiner, Signature’s artistic director] is very appreciative of the music and keen on maintaining doing shows with as big of an orchestra that we can manage.”

He’s a terrifically busy guy. In addition to his work at Signature, Kalbfleisch is – among a zillion other things — the conductor of his hometown Lawton Philharmonic Orchestra and serves as the music director and organist at Capitol Hill United Methodist Church.

Sundays can be complicated. They might include church service, a matinee, and an evening performance. When his schedule is tight, it’s just eating, sleeping, and working and not much else.

And when “Sweeney” closes in July? Kalbfleisch says he’ll drop. Until the next job.

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Out & About

Virginia Queer Film Festival to debut

Inaugural event to hold screenings at ODU’s University Theater

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(Screen capture via Virginia Queer Film Festival YouTube)

The inaugural Virginia Queer Film Festival will start on Wednesday, June 14 on the campus of Old Dominion University at the University Theater.

More than 35 films, including short packages, features and documentaries, will be screened. In addition to the films, there will be filmmaker talkbacks, educational workshops and opening and closing ceremonies.

Tickets are available on the festival’s website.

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Out & About

Local tavern showcases queer songwriters

Quarry House Tavern to feature indie rock singers

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Kym Register and the Meltdown Rodeo live at Hi-Tone Cafe, Memphis, Tenn on Aug. 23, 2022. (Screen capture via Southern Punk Archive YouTube)

Three queer singers and songwriters will perform on Saturday, June 10 at 9:30 p.m. at Quarry House Tavern.

Indie rock singers Kym Register & Meltdown Rodeo, Tami Hart and Evil will perform. Evil, whose “depressed queer country” songs have been featured on Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time,” will open the show.

Tickets start at $15 and can be purchased in Quarry House’s website.

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