LATE NIGHT LAVENDER

LATE NIGHT LAVENDER

Sunday, September 28, 2014

MEET THE "TRAVELIN' BEARS"!





 MEET THE "TRAVELIN' BEARS"!

What good is hibernating alone in your cave?  Come see the Bears play!  (And then, feel free to jump right into the fun...!)  Bear-alicious couple Randy and Tony, the "Travelin' Bears", aren't exactly what you'd call homebodies.  Are you the kind of guy who counts down the days until the next Southern Decadence in New Orleans, or who never misses events like CLAW in Cleveland or IML in Chicago?  If so, chances are you may have already met this handsome duo anywhere from the bourbon factories in Lexington, Kentucky to the downtown bars of New York City's West Village.   Through their interactive Travelin' Bears Facebook page, the two share their stories and photos about their wild and woofy adventures throughout the year with their fellow Bears and Bear admirers.   Randy and Tony are proof that a couple who plays together stays together.  They started dating in 2001, and they cemented their commitment by "making it official" in New York City's Central Park last April.  Their wedding was officiated by Will Harrell, AKA drag performer/activist Candy Samples, "Queen of the Bears"!

The two took some between packing for their next trip to speak to me about "The Travelin' Bears"!








JR: Hello gentlemen. Thanks for speaking with me. So, where did the idea for "The Traveling Bears" Facebook group come from?

Tony:  We love to explore new cities.  But after suffering one too many bad meals, it occurred to me how much time we spend trying to figure out the best place to stay, which bars are fun, and which local attractions are worth the price of admission... and that it would be great if there was one place where we could record our good experiences and ask our friends to do the same.
After trying a few stand alone apps, nothing really fit the bill.  Then I thought, Why not use Facebook?  All our closest friends are already active on "the 'Book".

JR:  How true! Or, at least until "the next big social networking thing" comes along, right? (Laughs) So, what was the craziest or most surreal experience that you two have had in your travels?

Randy: "Surreal bad" is easy.  When we were planning our New York City elopement, we were looking to maximize the trip by going as cheaply as we could.  We found a hotel listed online, right off of Times Square that said "old, clean, great staff, but really, really small."  And I should add, "really affordable".  So against the recommendation of our awesome Travel Agent, Troy Richardson of DecacentDucks.com, we booked it.  Surreal it was!  I could touch the wall with my foot while touching the other with my hand.  I had to wake Tony up in the middle of the night to use the restroom because there wasn't enough space between the bed and the wall to walk.
JR: Oh my! 
Tony:  The most surreal in a sexy way for me was when we attended our first CLAW (Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend) event in 2013.  The surreal moment came when we went to the RECON party at the building that connects Cleveland's Mean Bull Bar (now one of my favorite Cleveland bars) and the Cleveland FLEX Club.  The RECON party hit all of my budding BDSM hot buttons with play areas for every imaginable fetish.  Now, I will admit that golden showers is not one of mine.  But faced with the decision to go wait in a long line downstairs at the bar, I was encouraged to just walk back to that stall and expedite matters.  I did so.  It was empty, and I began to take care of business.  I will admit when the hot boy hit the floor and lifted his legs to direct his ass at my stream, I finally figured out what all the fuss was about!  One of the hottest moments of that event for me!
Randy:  For me, it was getting stripped naked and groped by a big group of Bears in the central atrium of the Clarion Hotel at Midwest Bearfest last year.  Or, was it being mostly naked (just my leather jock and harness) in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel at IML (International Mr. Leather Weekend) and getting groped and fondled by a big group of Leathermen.  Or, was it being stripped naked by a big group of hot men on the balcony of the Omni Royal Orleans hotel during the Sunday parade at Southern Decadence last year while hapless straight people eating at the balcony restaurant across the street got a show with their dinner!  Are you sensing a theme?

JR: Yes, I sure am!  Woof!!!  So, out of all the Bear and Leather events you guys have been to, which one was your favorite?

Tony:  Hands-down, my favorite Leather event is CLAW held each spring in Cleveland.  Having already gone to IML, one of the Travelin' Bears members suggested we try CLAW.   We really loved the experience.  If you are interested in exploring the leather and/or BDSM community, CLAW is great because the focus is on education and socializing.  We met a lot of great guys.
Randy:  It's all of the hot fun of IML, without the Contest elements.  The vender mart is smaller, but we still manage to find some "must haves" for our growing leather collection.

JR: Yes, I agree.  There's always more luggage on the return trip!  So, what's a yearly event that you NEVER miss?
Tony:  While not strictly a "Bear" event, Southern Decadence in New Orleans is absolutely, positively, my favorite event of the year.  Next year will be my 12th and will be Randy's 14th.  What makes it the best "Bear" event for us is that when we went back for the first time post-Katrina, Randy found these pictures online of these hot Bears all at a pool party.  He emailed the poster, who turned us on to the Decadent Ducks.  Over the past seven years, the Ducks have become some of our closest friends.  Meeting up with them at Southern Decadence is the single event I look forward to each year.
Randy: He's not kidding.  He does a countdown each year during the 100 days leading up to Southern Decadence and at all major holidays beforehand.  When others are saying "Merry Christmas", Tony is saying "Only 249 days to Southern Decadence!"
Tony:  It drives some of my FB friends crazy!  I've even lost a few over it.  But my fellow Ducks get it!  Seriously, I try to describe what the Ducks mean to me by saying "Imagine going to a family reunion if you really liked everyone in your family!"

JR: (Laughs)  What city has the hottest and hairiest Bears?
Randy:  Chicago.  You will always find the hottest bears at the Sofo Tap in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago.
Tony:  The Sofo has become our second favorite Chi-town hang out.  The guys are so hot and we've met some of the friendliest Bears there.  And if you are lucky, you might even find some of those Bears down the road at Jackhammer or Touché letting it all hang out.
Randy:  And, you can count on seeing a few of them again on Sunday singing along during "Showtunes Sunday" at Sidetrack in Boystown.  If you are fortunate enough to spend a Sunday afternoon in Boystown, after brunch, the place to be is Sidetrack.  If anyone ever creates a 100% gay church, you know it will feature showtunes!

JR:  As well it should!  Showtunes are great for raising spirits!  So, tell me a little bit more about you two. When did you first meet?
Tony:  We used to joke that we met at a church picnic, but the truth is: We met online.  This was way before Grindr, Growlr and Scruff.
Randy: It was even before Facebook or even MySpace!
Tony:  I'm not afraid to admit it - we met on AOL Chat!  Back in 2001.  After we first met and he asked for my phone number, I thought "Right, like this hot young guy is gonna call me."  And then, he did.  Let's just say, I fell fast and hard!
Randy:  I literally had to stop him from saying those three little worlds-- after like three dates!
Tony: And when I finally let it slip, we were coming out from our weekly "Will and Grace" viewing party at a local hangout.  As we parted, it just slipped out and I started to freak.  In my mind, I was like "Shit!  He's told me it's too soon, and now I've messed it up!"... and he was so sweet.  He was like "It's OK!  I love you too." My heart melted into his hands, and he's had it ever since.

JR: Please, guys.  I'm gonna start crying.  And Leathermen don't cry, at least not in public!  (Laughs)  Now, while we are on the subject: You recently got married in New York City, right? Congratulations! What was that experience like?
Randy:  It was absolutely perfect for us.
Tony: I wouldn't change a thing.  It was exactly as I dreamed it would be.
Randy: When DOMA was overturned, we decided it was time.  And since neither Kentucky where we live or Ohio where we work allow for marriage equality, we decided New York would be the perfect place to elope.  We are very fortunate that both our families are supportive, but we knew it would be a financial hardship on many of them-- and not wanting to exclude anyone, we decided eloping was best.
Tony:  Last fall, we asked one of our best friends, Will Harrell (AKA Candy Samples) if he would witness for us since he lives in NYC.  A few weeks later, he decided to become ordained and asked if we would allow him to perform the ceremony.  We were so honored.  Now that we needed witnesses again, four of our closest Cincinnati friends asked if they could join us.  Randy indulged my Beatles fixation and agreed to hold the ceremony at Strawberry Field in Central Park.  And on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in April, on the 13th anniversary of the day we met, Randy and I were wed.

JR: Congratulations again!  As two sexy guys yourselves, what do both of you consider sexy in a guy?
Tony:  We both like a wide array of men. For me personally, I have two giant weaknesses - the guy with what I call the "froopy doo" - short hair with just a little spike at the center (which Randy was sporting the day I met him!); and, any and all gingers!  Ginger muscle men and ginger Bears especially.
Randy:  For me, my weaknesses are bald men with facial hair, furry  men, and guys with hot asses!
Tony:  While we are on gingers, I have quite a thing for Blu Kennedy... so Jed, if you can help with a introduction, I'd be forever in your debt!










JR: (Laughs)  I'll see what I can do... Maybe as an anniversary present for the two of you! So, lastly: Where is the next destination for The Traveling Bears? And how can we keep up with your experiences?
Tony: Up next is Midwest Bearfest in Indianapolis begin held December 11th thru the 14th.  This will be our second time attending and this year.  It sounds really cool.
Randy: They have rented an indoor water park and will be holding special "Bears only" events that weekend.  Lots of hot guys and lots of wet fur!
JR: Well, I always loved the wet look! (Laughs)
Tony: Following that, we are on a budget hold until we see how Uncle Sam treats us in the spring, then we'll start planning out the summer.
Randy: We've not made it to Las Vegas in a few years so that 's a possibility.  This past winter we explored Fort Lauderdale, and it was a great break from the winter cold of the Midwest.  We had a blast staying at the Cabanas all- male guest house.  So, returning there... or maybe Key West where QMitch Jones' Gay Bingo is a must do.
Tony:  I'd also like to make it for the AIDS Walk NYC event this spring.  The past two years, I've been a virtual walker on Candy Samples' Candy Wrappers team.  I'd love to really walk with the team this year. 
JR: Yes!  As you know, I worship at the altar of Candy Samples!
Tony: Our Travelin' Bears Facebook group is the best way to keep up with us.  And as I always do with our members, I encourage you to join and share your travel adventures.  My dream is for the group to be a rich collection of "Best Trip" advice: where to go, where to stay, what to eat, and where the best hangouts are.
Randy:  It's also a great place to post candid shots of any man-candy you encounter!  We've got some pretty dedicated "bird-watchers" who contribute shots of the best men sited in a given city.
Tony:  And for those "not safe for FB" shots, I also have a tumblr account for Travelin' Bears at www.DecadentDude.Tumblr.com.
JR: Yes, I took a look.  Whoa!!! Thanks for speaking with me, gentlemen!  And "Keep on Travelin'"! ...



Friday, September 26, 2014

LAVERNE COX, SUPERSTAR, ON "THE T WORD" and more...

LAVERNE COX, SUPERSTAR, ON "THE T WORD" and more...

The second week of September at Baruch College in New York City was an especially lively one.  It was the week of "GENDERFLUID"-- "a festival of transformative arts from transgender and genderfluid artists" at The Baruch Performing Arts Center.  Indeed, one of the most anticipated nights of the festival was Tuesday, September 9th.  That evening, the auditorium was packed from wall to wall... and the reason for that was Emmy-nominated actress and transgender activist Laverne Cox.  The lovely Ms. Cox is a bona fide superstar.  She plays the character of Sophia Burset on the popular Netflix series "Orange Is the New Black", and has cemented her status in pop culture as  "the first transwoman of color to have a leading role on a mainstream scripted television show."  Cox was also the first transperson to appear on the cover of "Time" Magazine (or, as fellow "gender outlaw" Kate Bornstein enthusiastically declared, "Time FUCKING Magazine!"), which named Cox' Sophia Burset as the fourth most influential fictional character of 2013.  That night, Ms. Cox was appearing in a live discussion with her identical twin brother M. Lamar: an artist, musician, and activist who, like his sibling, also envisions a more gender-fluid society.  He does this in his own proudly renegade style.  On his official website www.MLamar.com, his bio reads: "M. Lamar writes songs that are at once a product of his African American heritage, drawing heavily from the negro spiritual. Combined with his operatic voice and piano playing that is at once interested in western classical music and dissonant black metal, Lamar’s sound makes one think that things are so catastrophic that the world might end at the conclusion of one of his tracks."   On the site you'll also find music samples, some eye-popping photos, and several writings about the M. Lamar mystique.







     This is the first speaking engagement Cox and Lamar have done together. After being introduced by author/ playwright/performance artist/gender theorist (and fellow GENDERFLUID performer!) Kate Bornstein, the twins took their seats on stage.  At first sight for audience members, it may seem that these two colorful personalities were as different as two people can be: Laverne was dressed in a gasp-inspiring white dress, with long blonde hair and high fashion model makeup (She was fresh from a Fashion Week event, by the way!).  M. Lamar's look was clearly influenced by old school vintage leather culture and melanophilic Goth, right on down to the heavy black eye makeup.  Later on, it became clear that the two also had some very different attitudes about the phenomenon known as "celebrity" which they are now a part of.  Artistically, the duo have different pathways in dealing with inequality in regards to race, economic status, and gender.  Nevertheless, on stage, the twins enjoyed a witty repartee that could have only been created by their shared upbringing in childhood.  Today, they both own the same vision of a more accepting, enlightened world as we approach 2015.  They are also both gifted speakers who have no trouble with keeping the audience mentally and visually stimulated.

Laverne Cox may be one of TV’s most exciting actresses, but attendees who anticipated a pop culture gossip-fest got much more food for thought than they expected.  Laverne and Lamar took their opportunity to discuss the intertwining social phenomenons of  gender, sexual orientation, race, economic status, and freedom of expression (personal and artistic).  The results were no less than fascinating and provocative... and often, very funny.  Cox and Lamar were raised by a single mother in the Deep South. Laverne initially found her spiritual escape through dancing before finding her calling in acting.  Lamar pointed out that from early on, because he was the more stereotypically "boyish" of the two, he was reluctantly assigned the role of the male paternal figure from an early age.  Lamar found his escape through punk rock culture: a statistical anomaly for an African-American man.  But as the audience soon learned, nothing about M. Lamar was “conventional”.   He considers the work of “controversial” late artist Robert Mapplethorpe to be one of his influences, and makes some interesting observations-- such as his theory that the whip often used on the slave by the master in American plantation culture was likely a symbol of black male penis envy.  Lamar's rebellious attitude against patriarchy (usually of the white male variety), capitalism, and corporate America may be perceived as “confrontational”, but his musing were so deft and often so funny that it was hard to use that “c” word... until the artist himself proudly declared himself as... you guessed it... "confrontational"!  A few times during the presentation, M. Lamar poked some fun at singer Beyonce, of whom Laverne is a fan.  He also took some snipes at corporate America, which of course controls mainstream television.  In her patent smooth grace, Laverne responded that as a dedicated actress, it is her job and responsibility to play the part that she is given, and playing a particular part does not necessarily imply an all-encompassing embrace of the system which she, through destiny, is now a part of.  Via applause, the audience enthusiastically agreed.  On a more worldy scale, Cox is using her celebrity for more far-reaching results.  She is devoted to bringing attention to the specific needs of transgendered owmen-- especially transgendered women of color, who are at an alarmingly higher rate of physical violence than other LGBT’s. She also reminds her fellow LGBT’s and our allies that it is a mistake for us to allow society to apply its decades-old, unyielding paternalism to all gay, lesbian, bisexual, and especially transgendered individuals.  To reach our goals, we must first discover what it is that each of us as individuals want and need, and then move towards attaining them... but, as she reiterated, "on our own terms"!   

Most titillatingly, Cox gave the audience some hot-off-the-press news: the premiere of  “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word” by MTV and LOGO TV.  Both networks will simultaneously premiere the special, of which Cox is Producer and Host.  The hour-long documentary will premiere at 7 PM on Oct. 17, coinciding with LGBT Spirit Day on Oct. 16.  “The T Word” will look at seven transgender youth from across the country and their determination to lead their lives as the people they are meant to be. The film examines the struggles of coming out, bullying, and anti-transgender violence for the youth as well as the intersection of transgender identities and race in their lives.

After the discussion, I asked Laverne Cox how she feels about the controversy surrounding another “T word”: the term “tranny”, which is not a new word within the LGBT lexicon, but has recently been identified and discussed in the mainstream media as more of a derogatory word or slur-- far more than it was in, for example, the ‘90’s.  She tells me, “I honestly believe that language is important.  And, to quote (Tram) Ngyuen, ‘Language is a place of struggle.’  But for me, I am not interested in weighing in that debate.  I am much more interested in having discussions like we had tonight, where we move beyond that.  I think it’s been way too divisive, and it would be just way too divisive to weigh in on that!”

Laverne Cox
will continue to speak at colleges all over the United States.  Visit www.LaverneCox.com for more info on her speaking tour and more. M. Lamar's solo art exhibition “Negrogothic, A Manifesto: The Aesthetics of M. Lamar” runs through October 12th at Participant Inc. at 253 East Houston St., NYC.  Call (212)254-4334 or visit www.ParticipantInc.com for more info.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

SATURDAY NIGHT SUPERSTAR: "An Evening With Holly Woodlawn" in NYC


SATURDAY NIGHT SUPERSTAR:
"An Evening With Holly Woodlawn" in NYC

 
Cult film director Paul Morrissey cast Holly Woodlawn in the stark drug- and sex-themed drama "Trash" (sometimes called "Andy Warhol's 'Trash'") in 1970.  It was Ms. Woodlawn's first film.  "Trash" received a respectable amount of attention and success in the United States among cinemaphiles and critics.  It received even more success in some European countries-- especially Germany, where "Trash" became the second highest grossing film in 1971 after "Easy Rider".  Director George Cukor ("Born Yesterday", "My Fair Lady") famously instigated a write-in campaign to have Woodlawn nominated for an Academy Award.  Unfortunately, that didn't happen. Woodlawn's talent  promised to propel her celebrity further than many of her colorful peers in that legendary cult of personalities at The Factory.  She would turn out to be underused in the cinema in the next few decades.  However, Holly Woodlawn's unique persona and life story-- which often overshadowed her talent-- is assuredly something that no other performer past or present could ever own.  In her long career, the star has acted in several independent films, but has more often appeared as herself in documentaries, where she speaks about those heady and hedonistic days of New York City in the 60's and 70's.  We've come a long way from the time when viewing  underground films like "Heat" or "Flesh" in a theater was an event you'd attend to be "seen" (usually by other Superstar wannabe's also waiting to be "seen"...).  Yet, thanks to home video, we can still visit a New York City where we recognize the landmarks and street signs, but which culturally seems like a completely different planet as we approach 2015.  For lovers of cinema or New York City history, it's often a titillating experience. 

Both cinema aficionados and lovers of New York City history had plenty to be titillated about on Saturday, September 13th, when the week-long "GENDERFLUID: Festival of Transformative Arts" at Baruch Performing Arts Center wrapped up in a big way with "An Evening With Holly Woodlawn".  The evening was a little bit of everything: some storytelling, some music, and even some cinema, when a montage of Holly's most eye-popping moments on the big screen was shown.  Throughout the evening, the sometimes fragile but always funny self-proclaimed "Puerto Rican Jewess" told stories about her friendships with such fellow icons as Divine and Lee Black Childes.  She sang two songs, one of which was a campy over-the-top lost gem called "Cooking Breakfast For The One I Love" from the musical "Be Yourself" ("The coffee is steaming, Oh boy what I'm dreaming; While I'm cooking breakfast, For the one I love!").  It was every bit as kitschy as you're imagining. Paul Morrissey himslef was in attendance to speak about Holly, calling her persona "extraordinary" and praising her acting: "She was better than I ever could have imagined!"  Culture vulture/writer Michael Musto moderated an audience Q&A with the star.  Musto and Woodlawn have a history together: Michael co-starred with Holly back in the '80's in a play called "The Sound of Muzak". (That play featured lines like "Shut your Van Trapp!" and song lyrics like "Cocaine that stays on my nose and false lashes".)  Musto's photo appears in Woodlawn's autobiography "A Low Life in High Heels".  When talking about that book, Musto shared how Woodlawn sent out letters to everyone asking, "Do you remember my life?  Because I don't!"  Madonna, interestingly, had once optioned the book for a movie version and wanted to star as late Warhol Superstar Candy Darling.

Holly spoke about her unorthodox yet fascinating career, starting at the beginning.  She told the audience, "I never wanted to be an actress!"  Being in her 20's, she just wanted to hang out with cool people.  Indeed, she soon found herself hanging out with some VERY cool people: Holly remembered being on the set of "Trash" with Morrissey, lighting man Jed Johnson, and hunky actor Joe D'Allessandro, who played her sexy but impotent boyfriend.   When her "boyfriend" in the movie rejected her, a beer bottle became Holly's co-star for a deliciously demented scene of auto-erotica.  Woodlawn praised Morrissey as being the best director ever-- because there was no script, and therefore "no memorizing!"  Woodlawn  missed the premiere of "Trash" because she was in jail.  That story is in her book, but there was even more that the audience that night learned about that now-infamous incident!  Woodlawn's follow-up feature film was Morrissey's "Women in Revolt" (AKA "Andy Warhol's Women"), which also starred Candy Darling and another late Superstar, Jackie Curtis.

On the subject of how she "identifies" herself, Holly Woodlawn has always been-- well, let's say "Holly Woodlawn-esque".  In the late 1970’s, talk show host Geraldo Rivera interviewed Holly on TV and  asked her: “What are you? Are you a woman trapped in a man’s body? A transvestite? A transsexual?” Holly famously replied, “But darling, what difference does it make, as long as you look FAB-ULOUS?” No doubt asking the question that everyone wanted to know the answer to, Musto  asked Holly a variation of the same question Geraldo asked decades earlier. Woodlawn answered, "I do not consider myself a transvestite, transport, transistor, transformer... I have taken enough subways!"  She added, "I am who I am, and I will always be this person!"  Musto also asked Holly if, as a comedienne, she could be as funny without all her colorful  trappings like her wig, makeup, and sequined wardrobe. Her response was to ask the audience "Are you ready?!" before pulling off her blonde wig.  Never missing an opp for a pop culture zinger, Musto responded with, "I'd like to see Barbara Walters do that!"

Based upon the audience's enthusiasm, it's clear that Holly Woodlawn has found her place in the crazy world of celebrity as an envied raconteur.  If there's any doubt about that, I leave you with one of her best anecdotes from the evening, which drove the audience into wild applause.

"I just moved to a new apartment.  The entire wall is mirrored.  Well, the first day, I got up and looked and went 'Agggghhhhh!'... The shreik of life!  Then it was, 'I'm 67.  Hmmm.... Ehhhh?!'... Then it was 'Just go to the bathroom, wash your face, come out, and... JUST DEAL WITH IT! This is who you are!  Be proud... and happy... and dammit, be GOOD!'"  Now, that's Superstar advice for all of us!


                                                 (Holly Woodlawn with the author)

Friday, September 12, 2014

REFLECTIONS OF A GAY JESUS: James Brandon Speaks About "CORPUS CHRISTI: PLAYING WITH REDEMPTION"

REFLECTIONS OF A GAY JESUS:
James Brandon Speaks About "CORPUS CHRISTI: PLAYING WITH REDEMPTION"

 Exclusive Interview!








Playwright Terrence McNally has a body of work that is no less than spectacular.  Since 1964, he has received four Tony Awards, an Emmy Award, and several other accolades for his resume of plays and other writings. 2014 proved to be an exciting year for McNally: His newest work "Mothers and Sons", which opened on Broadway in March of this year, was nominated for a Tony for Best Play, with Tyne Daly being nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.  It's not enough to just say that many of McNally's plays have gay themes.  It's more accurate to say that he has written fully-realized, living-and-breathing stories of gay men's lives through the decades.  Most of McNally's plays have received overwhelming praise both from his peers in the theater community and from the masses.  However, McNally's 1997 passion play "Corpus Christi" became more famous (Some would say "infamous".) for protests rather than for the play itself.   "Corpus Christi" was McNally's dramatization of the story of Jesus and the Apostles, depicting them as gay men in 1950's Texas and featuring a same-sex marriage.  Largely fueled by rumors of overt sexual content in the play which didn't even exist, the announcement of the off-Broadway opening of "Corpus Christi" was greeted by passionate protesters who labeled it as "blasphemous" and "anti-Catholic".  Citing safety reasons, the play was withdrawn.  However, it actually did see an opening on October 13, 1998.  The play closed on November 29.

Fast forward to 2006.  An energetic and passionate group of actors decided to resurrect "Corpus Christi" at a small church in North Hollywood, California.  The play was directed by Nic Arnzen, with James Brandon in the role of Joshua, the Jesus-inspired character.  What was planned as a six-show run became an unexpected and inspiring journey which lasted for years, and changed the lives of its participants.  The play became a mission.  Arnzen and Brandon decided to create a documentary about their experiences with the staging of the play and its reception as they took it around the world.  The movie became "Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption", which had its first sneak preview at the Atlanta Film Festival on May 7, 2011.  The life-affirming message behind the passion play "Corpus Christi" has stayed the same through the years.  Similarly, however, the reactionary drama experienced by the current company sadly seemed to echo the 1998 New York City premiere as well.  Brandon told me, "On our journey, we've had some intense moments where we even considered not doing it.  We don't want to put anyone in danger.  It's a play, just a play... and not worth 'this'!"  He points out that the troupe encountered potential danger in places where it was least expected, such as when a sneak preview of a version of the film was shown at the Castro Theater in San Francisco in 2012.  Brandon recalls, "How could that be?  We are in the mecca of the gay world... and we are getting protested here.  It just goes to show that it exists everywhere; it doesn't matter where you are. We can say how all of us are progressive and that we are moving forward.  All of that is true... but there is still deep-seated homophobia that still needs to be addressed.  And that is very clear to me in the journey that we've experienced.  It doesn't shock me that these things still happen, and that's why the mission must continue".

James Brandon spoke with me about "Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption": the movie and the mission.

JR: Hi James.  Thank you for speaking with me.  Congratulations about "Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption" coming to DVD.  So, first off: Where did your interest in the play "Corpus Christi" originally come from?
JB: It was back in 2006.  Wow, it's incredible that it's been eight years!  I did the play with my friend Nic Arnzen, who was director.  The Church he was attending at the time asked him to do a play, and he thought "Corpus Christi" would be a great one to do, because he had done it before.  He thought it would be the perfect place to do the play, because it was a Church.  He wanted it to be a light, fun experience.  So, he asked a lot of his friends to audition.  I was very resistant at first, because I read the play and didn't "get it" fully.  I certainly "get it" now!  For me, "Corpus Christi" was way more religious than I thought it might be.  I had never heard of it before this point.  I didn't know anything about the 1998 turmoil in New York City.  All I knew was that it was about a "gay Jesus". I thought it sounded fun and interesting, and thought it would be more sensational.  I read it and found it to be more like the story I grew up with, because I was raised Catholic-- and I didn't like these "ghost stories"! (Laughs) I was resistant to the Catholic religion.  It had nothing to do with me not having a connection.  I think it's a beautiful outlet for people to experience God's love, and it doesn't just come in one specific form.  But for me, I was being told to feel a certain way, and I was always very resistant to that.  I never liked being TOLD how to feel.  I like to experience it on my own.  And, that was coupled with the fact that I was gay.  I didn't know it then, but in retrospect I understand why I probably wasn't connected to it at all.  So, when I first read the play, it didn't resonate with me.  But, I decided I would audition anyway.  I originally auditioned for the part of Judas, which I learned I was clearly not right for at all!  (Laughs)  Nic saw that too... and he asked if I'd read the part of Joshua, who is the Jesus character.  That night, he cast me in that role... and it just fit.  Nic saw that in me in the beginning, and I didn't even see it in myself.  I am grateful for that, because when we jumped in and started rehearsals, I learned that it was a really special piece.  It just grew from there.

JR: Wow!  So, where was the church that this production took place?
JB: It was The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of the Valley, in North Hollywood, California.  It was part of the whole MCC community, which was founded by Reverend Troy Perry.  It is just a tiny little church in the middle of the Valley, and maybe they have 50 congregants.  It is just a strange little area of town, and just a strange little building-- and incredibly beautiful.  It's just a sweet little community.  That's why it has been this journey: The whole foundation of it was built on true humbleness and a true desire to simply tell the story of the play.  We didn't do it at some huge venue in L.A. just to get publicity, and get noticed, and get reviews, and get "seen"...  None of that at all was in our consciousness when we started this.  We were all there because we believed in the story, and believed in what the play was all about.  It was founded on that.  It has that at its core, no matter where we take the show.  We always go back to that... and I honestly believe that's why the show has sustained as long as it has.  We were just meant to do six performances of this play at this little church, and we didn't even think anybody would ever even hear about it.  How could they?  We were in a tiny church in the middle of the Valley. (Laughs) And it just clicked.  It was magical.

JR: That's great to hear!   Now, "Corpus Christi" has been described again and again as "controversial", "infamous", notorious", etc.  They are words we throw around a lot in arts and entertainment.  In your opinion, do you feel that the play itself was "controversial"?  Or, was the so-called controversy based upon people's REACTIONS to the play-- mostly, the concept of a "gay Jesus"?
JB:  I feel very strongly about this actually.  I absolutely detest and hate the word "controversial" when it is associated with this play.  I think it's the furthest thing from it.  I guess that if that is how we can partly bring attention to the play, then I've embraced that part of it through the years.  But for a long time, we would not use that word in ANY of our productions.  It's just not true.  The only way it became that way was because of the media sensationalizing the play.  On top of that, it became a social turmoil because people hear the terms "gay" and "Jesus", and they didn't do any informed research as to what we were really about.  They hear that, and they just shut down and they're done.  Trust me, I have eight years of experience with it.  I've seen it.  It's a shame, because people will put that label on it without having the experience of the play.  I truly feel that people who saw the play because they believed it was controversial  had an experience after seeing it... and now, hopefully, they will get to see this film and have an even more personal experience with it.  That's one of our main intentions with doing this.  Hopefully they will realize, "Wait a minute.  This is not what we thought it was!  This is actually what the teachings are about... viewed through the lens of someone who is a child of God.  Why not?"  I think that if you look back on history, and if you believe in Jesus and that He existed, there are parallels.  His teachings at the time were incredible controversial.  Yet, He found that peace and love were the things that moved it forward.  And they became the most known teachings in our universe.  Who doesn't know about Jesus' teachings?  I believe that those are the similar parallels to an experience like this.  Terrence wrote the play because he grew up in a very similar household as I did: Catholic and conservative.  He didn't relate to the teachings, but he wanted to feel connected to them.  He thought, "Why not?  Why not make this experience for me and for people that I know and love, and my brothers and sisters, and let them have a Christian experience that they felt they couldn't have, but now can-- if it's viewed through THEIR eyes?"  That's what this is about.  Anything which anyone else puts on it is their own preconceived idea, without having the experience of it.  We always invite the protesters to sit down and watch it, which they never do.   We want to have an educated dialogue with the protesters afterward, but they never come in.  Not one.  I long for the day when they will come in and watch it and say, "Oh, wow!  OK, I get it now...!"   I think that  Terrence, in writing this play in 1998, opened up the most important dialogue of my generation and of the LGBT movement as we see it today.  I also think that the reason for this was because the play was so "controversial".  We talk about gay marriage today like we talk about putting butter on toast.  It's just everyday language now.  At the time, when "Corpus Christi" opened and these things were coming up, they weren't being talked about as they are now.  He really ignited the current conversations we were having today, through this experience.  Terrence wasn't the only one, of course... but certainly at the time, he was a huge voice in that.  I think that when you're a visionary, as he is, and you are saying things that people aren't ready to hear, you create controversy for people.  That's what stuck with this experience, in a way.  But we don't live in that space at all.  We address it but do not live in it.  That's not at all a part of what this is.

JR: You are right.  When people don't understand something, they either mock it or avoid it.  I knew, even before you  told me, that there probably wasn't a single one of those protesters who took you up on the offer to see the play.  Their agenda is likely larger than the play itself.
JB: From our experience, it seems like the protesters don't even know what they are doing.  They know they're protesting, but I don't think they understand why.  They are just THERE.  From what we learned, they don't even know what the play is about.  They just know that it is "wrong" for them... so they just show up and protest.  You know what?  I love it.  We all love it.  Every time I talk to them, I say, "I am passionate, and I believe as much in the story that we are telling as much as YOU are passionate about what YOU believe in.  So let's just meet right there.  Can we talk?"  Sometimes it's "Yes", sometimes it's "Not at all".  I believe in protest.  I believe in standing up for what you believe in.  I believe there needs to be an open dialogue for change to really happen.  Just standing out there fighting with nobody listening will not do anything.  That's not what it's about.  If the play and the new movie continue to create a dialogue within the faith communities-- which I think it can-- then I think this is why we should continue.  It's important to keep the dialogue open right now.  I really believe that this is the leading edge of the LGBT community: Faith Equality.  I think we are coming together as a community more so than ever before, and I believe it's because we are being acknowledged as equal citizens.  As that continues to rise, there is more that is going to be desired within our community-- and that comes from spirit.  It doesn't mean you have to be Catholic, or Buddhist, or whatever-- but it means that there's more than just getting drunk and having sex.  (Laughs)  I mean, all of that is a beautiful part of our community.  I get it.  But there's more to it... and I think that there's a lot of people craving that "more"... and they are not sure how to get it.  They don't feel they can go to a church or go pray, because they've never been taught that they can.  I think that's the next part of the movement.  I really do!

JR: Some people who are not members of our community, or allies of our community, may have a hard time believing that GLBT people can even BE spiritual, given the long history of some organized religions' hostility towards our community.  Yet most of the GLBT's who I know are very spiritual and even quite religious. 
JB:  I do think that a large part of it is that we have had to find our own way in the world,  It's one thing to grow up and be raised in a certain religion and to follow that, and live in that, and believe in that your entire life.  That's a beautiful way for some people.  But if you are raised in a way where you follow that, and live in that, and believe in that-- and are ALSO taught that you don't belong there, and that you are a sinner, AND have all that dogmatic stuff being thrown at you-- then you really do sort of  go on the journey of Jesus... or Buddha... or Mohammed.  They all went to a place to find the peace and love within.  I think that a lot of homosexuals have had to do that, because they have been told they don't belong.  How do they find that?  The only way to do that is to go on "the journey within" and find it for yourself.  I do think that is the highest level of spirit that you can have.  That IS your connection!  It is just going to get stronger as we get more united as a community.

JR: I look forward to that.  Now, just the idea of a "gay Jesus" character is enough to get a lot of people infuriated.  In fact, just the idea of Jesus even having ANY kind of sexual feelings gets many people so worked up.  In your opinion, why is this?
JB: The only way I can answer that is through my own experience: my eight years of doing this, and from hearing from so many people who don't believe in this.  In the beginning, sometimes you just wanted to have a conversation about it.  Sometimes it was good, and most often it wasn't... because people are very adamant about what they believe.  All I can deduce from all of that is that "their" Jesus is beyond sexuality.  "Their" Jesus is the highest form of sacredness... kind of like an untouchable.  He was above all of those human feelings: the essence of spirit.  I get e-mails often-- almost daily, actually-- from people who say that they love gay people but who don't "approve" of sin, and who want to help us "work through" our sins, because "we are all born with a sin and this is ours to work through"; there is that kind of dogmatic experience there that people still hold on to.  I usually answer these by saying: If you believed that Jesus lived, how could He go through His journey and experience these high emotions, but no sexual feelings?  That's one of the most basic, fundamental human emotions that one can have.  And, it's a beautiful way to express oneself.  I can't imagine how He could NOT have those.  Maybe He worked through these emotions and never acted upon them, but how could we ever know that?  This is how I interpreted that through my character's journey in the play.  It's not about Jesus being gay; it's about having the sexuality as a catalyst for a hugely beautiful, spiritual experience.  That's what his journey is in the show, and I can't imagine if Jesus lived that He didn't have some sort of similar experience.  It reminds me when people use Bible quotes to support their feelings-- and especially to use those quotes against gay people.  There's that one quote from Leviticus which everyone uses, "Thou shalt not lie with man...".  As we bring up in the play: If you are going to choose that prohibition, then you have to live by all 600 of them.  You can't just choose one, and you are not going to choose ALL of them... because they are all kind of ridiculous at this point.  So, to me, when people pick and choose how it's "supposed to be", it doesn't add up.  That's why I think people get so up and arms over it... because not only does it put a "spin" on their savior, but it just blows their mind.  It's way too much for them to even get into.  This story of "Corpus Christi" and the documentary about the play is that EVERYONE can have this experience of going on a journey and finding yourself.

JR:  While we are on the subject of the documentary: What was the most personally rewarding or cathartic moment you had while making this film?  I'm sure there were many!
JB: One of the reasons why we even decided to make this documentary was because we went into this play thinking that it would only be for six performances, and that we'd all have a great time and then move on with our lives on to the next thing.  Even in those first performances that we were doing, we as a company were being changed.  We could not define it as clearly back then as we can today, but we were certainly being changed and being healed of old wounds.  Each one of us in the play comes from a very different background-- different ages, races, preferences, religions-- and we were feeling those changes as we were doing the play and were reaching audiences, and then afterwards having connections with strangers like we've never had before.  That was the catalyst for the documentary in the beginning: "Let's just pick up a camera and start shooting this experience."  It was special.  We couldn't put it into words yet, but we knew that something was happening which we felt the urge to capture.  We started sharing our own personal stories, and really experiencing some deep healing changes.  And, we started hearing from audiences that they were experiencing cathartic changes as well.  It seemed like something was reborn within everyone in the theater at that moment.  THAT was something we truly never expected... and it just kept building, and building, and building.  The only reason why we continued was because of our audiences.  We still don't get paid for this.  We just believe in the story so much that we do it whenever we are asked to do it.  If the basic necessities are provided for us, we WILL show up and do it... because we love it so much.  Audiences believed in it so much, which helped us move it forward.  So, I guess I can say that the most memorable experience for me in making the film was realizing the new hope in humanity.  I feel that we all have the same story: We just want to be loved.  You start to realize how small this world is... and that we are all in it together. If we could all look at the world together that way, how amazing that would be!  That's what I learned.

JR: Terrence McNally appears in the documentary.  What was the it like when you reached out to him?
JB: Early on, Nic reached out to Terrence and informed him that he wanted to cast women in some of the roles, and asked if that was OK.  The play was originally written for 13 young men.  Terrence immediately said to go for it, and he was thrilled that this was happening.  So, we did it, and opened the show, and within the third performance, someone who was directly connected to Terrence saw the show and called him.  He told Terrence, "You have to see the show.  This is what you wanted to write!"  So, he heard about it right away, and started following us and writing to us.  At the time, he was battling lung cancer and was really quite sick.  He was in and out of the hospital, and was going through a lot.  Terrence has said that knowing that the performances were happening-- and knowing about the positive reactions from the audience-- were part of his healing.  It helped him move forward, knowing that his play was finally being seen in a way that he really meant it to be seen at the time he wrote it.  At the time he wrote it, it never really COULD be seen because the experience was so tumultuous.  After that, we got connected to his husband Tom Kirdahy.  We were in Dublin in 2008 at The Dublin Gay Theater Festival... and Tom came out to surprise us.  We had never met him before.  He came backstage in a puddle of tears.  It was the most magical moment.  We all started crying.  It was our deeper connection to Terrence.  At that moment, Tom became Producer and helped us bring the show back to New York in 2008, for its 10 year anniversary.  That's when Terrence saw our show for the first time.  He has been a huge supporter of it ever since... and he has helped us in so many ways.  It's been a blessing.  He was a huge helper in making this film, and he helped us shape it.  From his perspective, it's been great that the show that he loves so much-- and was so heartbroken at how it was first received back in 1998-- was back.  It was written from such a place of inclusiveness and love and spirituality.  For it to be received with such vitriol at the time was heartbreaking for him.  I can't imagine how it must have been to have something you created-- your baby-- to be stomped all over.  The death threats were very real, and the actors and audience had to walk through metal detectors.  There were bomb-sniffing dogs.  It was a jarring experience, and even Terrence said he could never even watch the play because there had been protesters screaming in the background.  It was just not at all what he wanted.  He never thought the play would see the light of day again.  He just thought it would disappear because it was never seen for what he knew it could be seen for.  He has said to me many times that our production was the catalyst for him to feel redeemed again for the piece.  It was a beautiful thing to be a part of.      

JR: That is really moving to hear.  Now, lastly, what else are you currently working on?
JB: In this process, we created the "I Am Love Campaign", which is meant to create a further dialogue on everything we talked about: faith equality, religion-based bias within the community, homophobia... all the things that "Corpus Christi" and now this film addresses.  The campaign goes into the community for a weekend, and over the course of a weekend, we do performances of the play, show screenings of the play, and culminate in town hall dialogue with local leaders, community leaders, religious leaders, and gay leaders talking about issues that come up within the play-- and how it is connected with their community.  But also, it addresses specific issues that the community is dealing with, and how to collaborate together on a peaceful resolution to them. We know that when we go in and do the play, it brings up a lot of stuff for people.  We always do talkbacks after every show, but we eventually would have to go back home.  It was hard, because we knew a lot of dialogue was started, but we wanted it to continue and didn't know how.  That's how the "I Am Love Campaign" was started, so that hopefully once we leave, the dialogue continues.  We plan to go to a dozen or more cities with this campaign tour so that people can see the play, have an experience themselves, and help create peaceful dialogue within their community about all these issues.  But, we also have to raise the money for it-- and that's where we are at this point.  We are reaching out to different organizations to raise money, and hope it all comes into fruition.  We'll see!  If it was meant to be, then everything will show up for it.  Personally, beyond that, I have written a book which which will probably come out within the next year.  It is a mediation book about my experiences playing "gay Jesus": what I have learned from it, and how I can pass that on to others.  Lots of great things have come from this.  The possibilities are limitless!
JR: The possibilities are always limitless with inspiration, dedication, and spirit!  Thank you James!



 
"Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption" premieres on DVD on October 14th.  Visit www.BreakingGlassPictures.com for more information.  Learn more about the "I Am Love Campaign" at www.IAmLoveCampaign.org.