Posts tagged “actor

Throwback Thursday: My Finest Acting Moment

DynastySo today’s ‪#‎TBT‬ comes with a story… When I started at UCLA, I wanted to be an actor. The truth was, though, that as I hadn’t yet explored my soul, I wasn’t very good; all artifice and posing. My favorite shows at the time were DYNASTY and KNOTS LANDING, and when they were on, I’d hide in my dorm room with a towel blocking the bottom of the door, so no one would think I was there and disturb me. I was convinced it was my destiny to end up on DYNASTY. I thought–if only the casting director would see me–they’d write a role for me as the teen son of Alexis: a brooding, sexy, tormented young man. I was so thoroughly certain this would happen that I actually practiced my DYNASTY title sequence, walking and turning to look directly into camera, smoldering, as if caught unaware.

As luck would have it, I heard about a special day-long Cold Reading class on campus, taught by none other than the casting director of DYNASTY. I knew that once I made an impression on him, I would find myself on the show. I spent much time picking out just the right outfit and concentrated on this brooding character I’d conjured in my imagination.

There were about 100 actors in the class that day, which was held in a lecture hall, so very little chance of me even meeting the man; still, I felt certain. The whole morning he talked about the key points to cold reading, which requires you to not have any preconceived ideas about the scene, as you have no time to even read it. It is all about being “in the moment.” Finally, as we broke for lunch, they announced that when we returned, one guy and one girl would be selected at random to cold read for the class. MY CHANCE–AT LAST!

All through lunch I ran through imaginary scenes in my head, each one more emotive and darker than the last. I probably even practiced my squinty “sexy pout” a time or two. After lunch, he asked for volunteers who wanted to read, and every hand in the class shot up, including mine. And he picked me! (I knew it!!!)

As the woman and I stood up and walked to the front of the room, we were handed our sides. We began to read, and I tackled it with all the force and passion I’d been storing up since my early days of first watching DYNASTY. I was intense, in a bad way–but befitting an Aaron Spelling production. I was Hamlet, only to find out mid-scene that the piece I was reading was witty, light Noel Coward-quipy comedy. I was utterly mortified, having committed to this part, but had no choice but to see my folly through to the end. After we finished and I returned to my seat, I could feel the other actors shrink away from me, fearful of catching my bad-acting bug.

Which is why I’m a writer.

‪#‎DontCountYourChickens‬ ‪#‎EpicFail‬ ‪#‎WorstAuditionEver‬ ‪#‎IamJoanCollinsSon‬


Interview with Author of Out Gay Star Leslie Cheung’s Biography

Book Cover - Leslie Cheung - FinalA film and music superstar in his homeland of Hong Kong and throughout Asia, Leslie Cheung broke barriers as an out gay man, finding international success acting in such films as Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together. Acclaim, awards, and fans followed, which made it all the more shocking when, on April 1, 2003, Cheung lept from the 24th floor of a hotel room to his death. Nigel Collett’s extraordinarily detailed new biography provides a glimpse into Cheung’s path to stardom, his relationships and struggles, and the pitfalls of fame. The author of Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Collett kindly shared more with me about the man ranked as the favorite actor in the 100 years of Chinese cinema and whom CNN called the “Most Beautiful Man from Hong Kong Cinema.”

Kergan Edwards-Stout: Like many Americans, Leslie Cheung first appeared on my radar with his starring roles in Farewell My Concubine and Happy Together. You had a similar experience. What is your earliest recollection of him?

Nigel Collett: I watched Farewell My Concubine in ’97 and saw him then onscreen for the first time. Alas, I never met him or saw him in the flesh, though I was in Hong Kong the day he died, and drove by the Mandarin Hotel when the mountain of flowers was being gathered on the road side where he fell. As I discovered more about him, I came to see the story as a classic tragedy–a gay man brave enough to be himself in the brash entertainment world of this city, felled from a uniquely prominent position by a condition beyond his control.

Edwards-Stout: Long before making a splash in the U.S., Cheung was a huge star in Hong Kong and Asia. You write about how, for almost 30 years, he was at the forefront of the Asian art and music scene.

Collett: Leslie overcame a complete absence of education or training to establish himself first as a TV star, then as a film star and singer, by dint of his own talent and irrepressible self-confidence. He was in the forefront of all the major entertainment waves that turned Hong Kong into an independent cultural entity in the ‘80s and ‘90s and for many he came to encapsulate the city itself. His appeal was far wider, though, for his films and music reached out to Mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and the great Chinese diaspora across the world. He is probably the biggest Hong Kong star worldwide ever.

Leslie CheugnEdwards-Stout: Like many struggling actors and singers, Cheung didn’t experience fame immediately. He had a great number of steps forward, only to face setbacks. What about his personality was instrumental in moving himself toward success?

Collett: Leslie had huge belief in himself. In his early days, no one thought he could sing, and no one taught him to act. He had huge dedication and patience in getting what he did exactly as he wanted it to be. He was humble enough to learn from other stars and to credit them when he did, but he was never a follower. He was always seeking to take his art to the next level, to be cutting edge. He had no typical role or single type of music. His career was a flowing pattern of development and change.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung was friendly with Danny Chan, a fellow entertainer and Hong Kong star, but eventually their friendship ended. What brought them together, and what drove them apart?

Collett: Leslie and Danny were brought together by a gay star of an earlier generation, the highly flamboyant Roman Tam. They were both gay, both unattached, and though they weren’t each other’s types, they were looking for fun. They burned the midnight oil together. It was showbiz that broke them apart. Danny’s singing career took off first, and he was at the start a classier act on screen. Leslie had to play second fiddle, and didn’t enjoy that. It was Danny, though, who caused the breach. He could see Leslie was by far the better actor and resented him. After the breach, there’s no sign Danny minded much, but Leslie did.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung first found international recognition through his starring role in John Woo’s film, A Better Tomorrow, and later with Farewell My Concubine. How did Cheung deal with this increased level of notoriety?

Collett: Leslie was always conflicted about his fame. Stardom and success was what he sought, but he did not like the shallow lifestyle and perpetual hounding by the media which it brought. He wanted to treat people honestly and live what most would have felt was almost a simple life, but he couldn’t. He hated the way the media lied about him and hounded him about his sexual orientation. It drove him to Canada to escape and be himself, but he couldn’t shake off the need to achieve, to be a star. It was one of the conflicts, I guess, that came together in the clinical depression which eventually killed him.

Edwards-Stout: You write extensively about Cheung’s success in music, with which many Americans may not be familiar…

Collett: Leslie started out wanting only to be a singer, but he couldn’t sing. Audiences taunted him with having a ‘chicken’ thin voice and booed him off stage. It took him years of training and working on his voice before he could turn his belief in his voice into reality. When he did, he found the sweetest, silkiest Cantonese singing voice of his generation. He could be really raucous and loud, too; some of his early numbers were more like western sixties rock than anything of the time, but he got them dancing in the aisles at all his shows

leslie daffyEdwards-Stout: While initially, in his early days of stardom, Cheung publicly dated women, you detail his life as a gay man. Eventually, he came out as openly gay, which is rare for any celebrity, let alone in his cultural environment. In sketching out Cheung’s early days, you note that nothing about his story foretold the fame he would eventually achieve. But what led to his strength in living as an openly gay star?

Collett: I think it was the same huge belief in himself that made him a successful performer and allowed him to come out in public, something no other major Hong Kong star had done and which none would do again till 2013. His coming out was helped by the megastar status he had achieved. Before he reached his pinnacle, he had to be as discreet as most. By the time he was back in Hong Kong in the ‘90s, he was virtually unassailable. Even them he wrapped himself in a cloud of uncertainty which only gradually dissipated. Many young gay men today accuse him of timidity, but I think that is totally unfair. For his day, he was the bravest man in Hong Kong’s entertainment world. At the end of his life, he had given Hong Kong the message that it didn’t matter whether you loved a man or a woman, as long as you loved. That was revolutionary back then.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung took a huge leap, starring in the gay-themed Happy Together, which he knew would likely lead to being asked about his sexuality.

Collett: Leslie’s acceptance of an openly gay, and in fact a very sluttish, role in Happy Together was, I think, timed deliberately. He was in the process of drawing back the veil about himself. Hong Kong was gradually changing, opening up a little. It was time, he thought, to push the envelope. Wong Kar Wai’s art house films were as safe a way to do this as any. He was expected to be outrageous, off beat. In the event, the film had no adverse effect on Leslie or his career at all, rather it helped establish his position as an actor internationally.

Edwards-Stout: Cheung found happiness in his relationship with Daffy Tong, his childhood friend and later lover, who survived him in death. What made their relationship work?

Collett: Daffy was the rock on which Leslie stood. His mercurial talent needed a stable base from which to flourish. Daffy put up with it all, never let him down, never betrayed him, was always there to go back to. More than this, Daffy was a highly talented man, a financial expert who could manage their joint lives and relieve Leslie of all their worries. Daffy, too, was an elegant, very attractive man. They were opposites that made a whole.

Edwards-Stout: Battling depression, Cheung eventually took his own life. In your view, was this a result of years spent living in the closet, mental health issues, career challenges…?

Collett: There must have been things that sparked off the depression which killed Leslie, but we don’t really know what. It had to be something to do with his career, perhaps the attacks he’d received in his last world tour concerts, or his personal life, conflicted thoughts about his mother, maybe. Once it took hold, the depression was both physically and mentally debilitating, humiliating to a man who had always put such store by his abilities, looks and relationship with his public. It destroyed his life to such an extent that it was better to abandon all he loved and die rather than carry on. That point of blackness is inconceivable to anyone who has not gone through such mental pain. The effect of mental illness is still a taboo subject in Hong Kong, and Chinese society generally. Leslie’s life will help those families struggling with depression to know it can affect anyone, that it is just a medical condition, and that you have to get help.

Edwards-Stout: In life and death, Cheung has amassed a devoted following of fans. What do they gravitate to, and what legacy has he left them?

Collett: Leslie’s fans came to him through their love of his music and his performances on the screen, both large and small, but they stayed with him, and even now, over 11 years after his death, they stay with him because of his warmth, simplicity and humbleness of character. Leslie valued people for who they were, no matter how great or small their place in the world. He was kind, genuine, and generous. He touched each of the fans he came in contact with, and they love him still.

Nigel Collett’s Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing can be found at Amazon and other fine booksellers. Originally posted on KerganEdwards-Stout.com.


AIDS @ 32: For Whom the Bell Tolls (32 Notables Share Their Stories)

Having lost friends, co-workers, and a lover, Shane Sawick, to AIDS, I am all too acutely aware of the personal impact the disease has had on my life. Coming of age during the height of the epidemic, my experiences in HIV education and activism fundamentally shaped me, forever altering my very core. However, in the years since, the media has largely ignored the disease, as have many in the LGBT community. This veil of silence is both odd and frightening, ignoring the impact the disease had on an entire generation and relegating gay and lesbian people, once again, to a place of shame.

As June 5, 2013, marks the 32nd year since the first report of the disease which would go on to be known as AIDS, I was curious as to the toll the disease has taken on others. I reached out to both those who directly faced the onslaught, as well as those younger who have never known a world without AIDS, to find out how 32 years of HIV/AIDS has impacted their lives. Here are 32 voices, on the 32nd year of AIDS.

Tuc Watkins“Becoming sexually active in the early ‘90s was a scary time. AIDS was widespread, but safe sex education was spreading too. I learned how to protect myself. And I did. I am concerned that today’s youth, especially gay youth, think that if they contract HIV/AIDS they can ‘just take some pills’ and everything will be okay. Safe sex education must continue and be more encompassing than billboards that oversimplify contracting HIV/AIDS by showing a bottle of pills as a ‘prescription’ to fighting the disease.“
Tuc Watkins, actor (Desperate Housewives, One Life to Live)

Greg Louganis“It has been almost 25 years since my diagnosis of being HIV positive. At the time, the only drug available was AZT, which was to be taken as 2 pills, every four hours, around the clock, which was not conducive to a good night’s rest when training for the Olympics! I survived another battle ten years later, when I thought I was saying good-bye to my friends and family. I was wasting away to almost nothing, boarding a plane to go thousands of miles from my home, checking into a hospital under an assumed name. I didn’t claim it on my insurance, as I was fearful of anyone knowing my diagnosis. Today, my life couldn’t be more exciting. HIV has given me perspective, pushing me to not put off my passions. Now, in my 50s, I’ve taken up trapeze, and look forward to both an incredible scuba diving trip next year and a sky dive this year. The fact is I live ‘with’ a virus called HIV; it is a part of me, at times challenging, but those questions of how or why are irrelevant. I have been incredibly blessed to have had such support after telling the world my status. Yes, I have my haters, but I give them as little energy as possible. No one truly knows how long we have, so I have chosen a joyous and happy life!”
Greg Louganis, author and four-time gold medal Olympian

Trebor Healey“Coming out into the AIDS epidemic made it all the harder to come to terms with one’s sexuality. To live in an embattled community facing oppression and discrimination as well as annihilation was overwhelming and often infuriating. I developed an enormous regard for my community through ACT UP, Queer Nation and the many service organizations that mushroomed up to deal heroically with the crisis. I worked at a hospice through many of those years and treasure the love, brotherhood, and community I saw there. We grew up politically, spiritually, socially, we found out who are friends were. AIDS was a teacher in many ways, and when I could stay in my heart, I’d find it could teach me. It was a hard teacher, a tough love thing, but it politicized me and woke me up in so many ways that I’ve done volunteer, community, and progressive political work ever since. Of course, oftentimes the loss was overwhelmingly sad, reminding us to live in the now, and love one another fiercely and fully. And to always remember those we lost, and to honor them by strengthening our community and keeping our hearts open and strong and just.”
Trebor Healey, two-time Ferro-Grumley award-winning author (A Horse Called Sorrow, Through It Came Bright Colors)

StevenFales“I never wanted to become positive and tried to avoid it. My father-in-law died of AIDS in 1984. I had a sister-in-law who was positive and who has since died. But a crystal meth binge got me one night. Thank goodness the meds today make it possible to one day see my grandchildren and to be undetectable for the right guy. We’re learning too slowly, but we are learning! One clean and sober day at a time.”
Steven Fales, actor and playwright (Confessions of a Mormon Boy)

Frank Bruni“I’m 48, have been ‘out’ since the age of 18, and had many acquaintances and friends who, in the mid-1980s and late 1980s and even early 1990s, got sick and died. Only a few were close friends, and it saddens and horrifies me that they’re no longer here. But what really saddens and horrifies me isn’t personal loss: it’s our country’s loss. Our world’s loss. So much talent, so much verve, so much humor, so much mischief, so much generosity: all gone. For me the legacy of AIDS—which, I hasten to point out, is still with us, not to be overlooked or belittled—is an awareness of how unpredictably and mercilessly the future can disappear, how randomly disease can strike, and also how dangerous and shortsighted it is for people themselves and for society in general not to confront public health threats immediately, vigorously, honestly and without denial or prejudice. The sadness that sticks with me is less about the friends gone than about the revelation of human and societal shortcomings.”
Frank Bruni, columnist, The New York Times

Jackie Beat“I cannot tell you how many tears I have cried with friends upon learning they had tested positive. Back then, we just assumed that HIV was a death sentence. For many it was, but for others, it was actually the start of a brand new—albeit challenging—life. I thank God for the progress we’ve made, but when I meet young people whose attitude is ‘I’ll just take a pill for the rest of my life,’ it scares me. It’s 2013 and I still have the same message I had 25 years ago: SAFE SEX.”
Jackie Beat, entertainer

RobertMichaelMorris“The disease began to touch those I knew and loved: a wonderful actor, a brilliant jack of all trades, a former student who was so handsome and full of life, a young dancer friend from A Chorus Line… Their commonality was not only the arts, it was youth. They were all too young with too much to live for and too much to share. Suddenly, because I knew these guys, every death after hammered my heart; hammered by complete strangers. I cursed God a little, but I became more open to everyone, not just my personal circle of friends. And I still think it is just so damned unfair.”
Robert Michael Morris, playwright, actor (Running Wilde, The Comeback)

Michael Musto“From the beginning, the community fielded the horror of AIDS with a mixture of shock, grief, denial, terror, and rage that not nearly enough was being done about it by the powers that be. As the community was devastated, many of the survivors became politicized and created a culture that by now has become legendary in its power and impact. Decades later, AIDS is still there and still devastating, and we’re going through all the same emotions about it, but we’ve learned through our battle scars and emerged with a lot of fight in us, which helps as we demand equal rights in marriage, the military, and everywhere else.”
Michael Musto, author, former columnist, Village Voice

MichaelVaccaro“In 2009, I lost my husband, Antonio Vaccaro. He was 38. He was the person I thought I’d be with for the rest of my life. I was shattered. It happened suddenly. It was unexpected. Nobody thought that anyone would die of AIDS in 2009. But he did. And people do. I thought I’d gotten used to loss, having lived through the ’80s and ’90s, and going to memorials and funerals every Saturday for years. Having seen my community destroyed and decimated. But you never get used to it. It’s never easy. Antonio was the hardest. He was my strength, and it was taken away, and I’ve had to learn how to survive and be strong on my own. I’ve been forced to find my strength again, but I will never again find my innocence, or ever really feel completely safe. And then there’s the underlying sadness continually shocking you, threatening the happiness.”
Michael Vaccaro, actor (Child of the ‘70s, Deleted Scenes, The Endless Possibility of Sky)

Greg Cason“I was listening to a portable radio as I strolled to my high school to pick up my diploma just two weeks after graduation in 1981. To me, the world was about to finally open up when I heard the announcement of a new disease that appeared to be affecting gay men. At that moment, I knew life ahead would be changed. I entered UCLA that fall and would soon find myself visiting friends between classes as they were hospitalized in the AIDS ward. Illness and funerals became commonplace. There seemed to be only three emotions: fear, compassion, and grief. And, it was like the majority of the outside world didn’t care. Those were my early adult years. I could say the toll was the loss of friends, devastation to my community, and the hopes for the future. But, this crisis didn’t defeat us; it made us (and me specifically) more determined. Those who suffered and passed experienced the biggest toll—as did the world that lost their talent and loving spirits.”
Dr. Greg Cason, psychologist, star of Bravo’s LA Shrinks

Del Shores“One of my greatest joys was rewriting the ‘Ty’ monologue when I adapted my stage play Sordid Lives to film. In the play, the character talked of a friend who died because of AIDS. In the movie, I added a line because of the new meds that gave hope to so many. As I’ve watched the evolution of the AIDS epidemic, I think of all the amazing plays, films and television shows which addressed and chronicled the evolution of this epidemic. I think of the groundbreaking television film An Early Frost and the education that art has given this epidemic. Later, we, the writers of Queer As Folk, were able to tell more stories that addressed those living with HIV and AIDS. I hope I live to see the film that chronicles the discovery of the cure—when the last chapter of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is written in life and in our art.”
Del Shores, playwright (Sordid Lives, Southern Baptist Sissies)

LadyBunny“Of course I’m delighted that new drugs have largely stopped making AIDS a death sentence. But to see young people who apparently think of these drugs as a cure is horrifying. HIV transmission is treated casually—or even as inevitable—and I don’t understand my friends who are getting tested every few months. Doesn’t that prove that they aren’t practicing safe sex? We do know how to prevent HIV transmission, so why aren’t we doing it? Are we even talking about AIDS enough? One young friend of mine didn’t even know that the disease can have a decade-long incubation period during which symptoms don’t show. The younger generation didn’t watch their friends waste away as my generation did, so they don’t know the horrors first hand. Infections are up among youth as they actively seek out barebacking. And it saddens me that looks-obsessed gay men may have come to the conclusion that there isn’t much point in living until you’re old and no longer desirable. I hope we are more than that and, as the great Larry Kramer points out, we should value each others humanity more. We aren’t just pieces of meat with an expiration date after which we become trolls. We’re supposed to be a community.”
Lady Bunny, DJ, entertainer, founder of Wigstock

James Duke Mason“As a young gay man, the history of the gay movement and the AIDS epidemic helped to make me who I am and create the identity that I live by today. Hearing the stories of friends who are HIV-positive, as well as reading the works of Paul Monette and Larry Kramer, who were pioneers in spreading the word about the crisis, inspired me to become an activist. I am so thankful to them for informing me and making me a better human being as a result. We should do everything we can to ensure that other gay youth are aware of our community’s history; we can never forget our brothers we lost.”
James Duke Mason, activist, actor (Disappear Here)

Patricia Nell Warren“What’s the toll? On a personal level, it’s the dear friends and associates lost to AIDS. I still miss them—Philip Labhart, Mike Ward, and others. There’s also the toll of seeing a tragic reversal of direction that healthcare policy has taken in our society. U.S. healthcare puts us 37th on the list, behind EU countries with universal healthcare. Indeed, the U.S. is taking better care of poverty-stricken PWAs in Africa than we are taking of our own poverty-stricken citizens who live with HIV/AIDS. That could be the final toll of AIDS—the people who die not because of the virus itself, but because they couldn’t afford or access the current treatment.”
Patricia Nell Warren, author (The Front Runner, My West), columnist (Bilerico Project, Arts & Understanding)

TylerCurry“As a gay man in his late 20’s, the AIDS epidemic has always been a sort of looming dark shadow over my life and the lives of my friends. We are the generation once removed from the initial horror of the epidemic. So, instead of taking charge, we have begun to avoid the topic all together. Now, it’s time to recommit to the conversation and stop being afraid of the dark.”
Tyler Curry, writer, activist

Mel White“AIDS destroyed the body of Thomas Montgomery, my very first lover. His ashes are scattered over Mt. Hood in Oregon. I still cry when I think of his untimely death. The real horror and heartbreak of AIDS can only be grasped one death at a time. I’m grateful for the meds that keep other close friends alive. I’m just hoping that those ‘miraculous’ meds won’t deceive any more of our bright and beautiful young men into taking unnecessary chances. I am too old to watch another generation grow sick and die…one good friend at a time.”
Reverend Mel White, author of Stranger at the Gate: to be Gay and Christian in America and the co-founder of Soulforce

Peter Staley“To be honest, fighting AIDS is often depressing and exhausting. Many of us walked away, or have taken long breaks from the work. When we talk of the glory and beauty in this fight, it’s the communal response that we’re talking about, not AIDS itself. AIDS is horrible, and relentless. In the same way HIV will kill you if you ignore your infection, HIV will damage a community’s health if the community ignores it. With over 30,000 new infections in gay men each year in this country, mostly in young gay men, where’s our communal response now? I feel blessed to have witnessed ACT UP’s glory years. With today’s assimilationist politics, I doubt I’ll ever witness that same sense of community again. But I hate sounding like some grumpy old activist. I’m not. Truth be told, there’s much to admire in today’s LGBT youth. I have no doubt they’ll make their mark.”
Peter Staley, activist (featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague); founder & advisory editor, AIDSmeds

Richard Kramer“The challenge for me has been to try to find a way to grieve for things that had still to happen, that were yet to come. I have a friend who, after a vivid dinner or conversation, says ‘Well, we just made a memory.’ How many memories were not made because the friends I was planning to make them with never got the chance to make them? Can you make a new memory around an absence? I think I’ve tried to do that, with many friends who are gone. They know who they are.”
Richard Kramer, novelist (These Things Happen)

Darryl Stephens“Having moved to the Bay Area for college in the 90s, when ACT UP’s ‘SILENCE = DEATH’ campaign was ubiquitous, much of my gay identity was forged in the Castro. By then, the gay community had already organized to fight AIDS, people knew how the disease was transmitted, and the focus had shifted from panic and death-sentences to prevention, education and early detection. But that didn’t change the fact that AIDS was inescapable if you were a man who slept with men. I knew to get tested every six months and I knew that blood and semen were to be avoided at all costs. I knew that condoms were nonnegotiable. I lived through being young and gay in the Castro in the 90s because others had dedicated their lives to finding out and then teaching me how to protect myself.”
Darryl Stephens, actor (Noah’s Arc), author, vocalist

Dana Miller“I have resisted this question for almost 30 years; just run from it, never really looking it square in the face. I have indeed let AIDS alter my life without debate. Seeing hundreds perish from a plague, then dealing with the bureaucracy that came with organization, has been close to defeating—though not quite. AIDS impacted my life in almost every way possible. How to live and love, without a doubt. I truly hate all that it has done, yet would not change a moment of my participation in the war.”
Dana Miller, AIDS activist, former board member AIDS Project Los Angeles & Elton John AIDS Foundation

Michael Nava“My most vivid memory of the beginning of the AIDS epidemic is of the level of ignorance about it among both gay and straight people. Two examples: my friend Luis arguing with me about safe sex, which he claimed was a conspiracy by heterosexuals to stop gay men from fucking. Luis later died. And at an early demonstration against the Reagan Administration, I was approached by a straight woman who wanted to know what the protest was about. ‘AIDS,’ I replied. She looked puzzled and asked, ‘The diet candy?’ (Ayds was an appetite suppressant candy popular in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.) This was in 1984. And then the real nightmare began.”
Michael Nava, five-time Lambda Literary award-winning author

Dean Pitchford“I didn’t realize how closely I had brushed up against the plague until we were well into it. While Gaetan Dugas was often referred to as Patient Zero, my wonderful Yale roommate Enno Poersch was designated Patient One years after his death, and his boyfriend, Nick Rock, Patient Two. By then, I had sat by numerous hospital beds, held dozens of hands gone cold, and attended too many memorials to count. The most searing memory, however, is of the day my dear friend Vito Russo called to tell me of his diagnosis. The news wrecked me. ‘Now I have a terrible favor to ask,’ he said. He couldn’t bear to tell our mutual friend, Craig Zadan, with whom he was extremely close; would I? Of course, I did. And Craig and I wept together–not just for Vito, but for all the loved ones who had gone before and those we had yet to lose. At the time, I couldn’t imagine I would ever be called upon again to deliver as devastating and heartbreaking a message. But, of course, I was. And I did.”
Dean Pitchford, Oscar-winning songwriter, screenwriter (Footloose), author

Sheryl Lee Ralph“I remember an ugly time in America when good people, kind people, people of all religions, faiths and beliefs turned their backs on their sick and dying children because they had ‘that’ disease. I remember going to the hospital to visit sick friends, but there was no hospital bed for them. You would often find them laid out on a gurney, pushed up against a wall out in some hallway, unattended and dying for help. But there was no help for them. Because I can never forget, I continue to do the divinely inspired victoriously aware DIVA work that I do. I founded the DIVA Foundation 23 years ago as a living breathing memorial to the many friends I lost to AIDS, and we have simply dared to care after all these years. Simply dared to raise our voices in song and commitment to fight the good fight against HIV/AIDS because I remember when the disease had no name.”
Sheryl Lee Ralph, Tony-nominated actress, founder of DIVAS Simply Singing and the DIVA Foundation

Ken Schneck“I exist at that weird nexus of being too young to have personally seen the devastation of the 1980s but too old to be ignorant how HIV/AIDS had decimated a huge part of the LGBT landscape. I remember being 15 years old and reading And the Band Played On, all the while thinking, ‘Why did this happen?!?’ Only after I came out did I realize that my real question was, ‘Why did this happen to my people?’ My personal goal is, as it has ever been, to remind people and myself that, in some ways, we’re still where we were and have an absurdly long way to go.”
Ken Schneck, producer/host, This Show Is So Gay

Charles Perez“I recently participated in AIDS Walk 2013. I first did the AIDS Walk in 1987. As I walked, I thought about all my friends, all my peers who didn’t get to be 30, or 40, or now 50. I felt the hole in my spirit that remains for each one of them even decades later. I thought about Scott, who built tree forts with me. I thought about the unspoken teenage attraction between us. I thought about our coming out to each other and his shortly-thereafter death. I thought about the life he might have had and the stories, dreams, disappointments and victories we may have shared. Instead, there’s a place-marker… and a deep gratitude for his having been here. In between – there is just space where our friendship may have been. That’s the biggest toll. Space, where there might have been more of what we were together.”
Charles Perez, speaker, writer, former ABC anchorman/reporter

Gregory G Allen“Moving to NYC in the late 80s, one of my first jobs was working for a cleaning service operated by a gay couple. I watched as the illness took over one of them until he was no longer able to perform his job. That was the start of attending funeral after funeral. Losing friends throughout the years was terrible in itself, but many gay men also spent those decades wondering ‘will it be me?’ or ‘why am I still here?’ Any survivor of a war, epidemic, or disaster has that guilt.”
Gregory G. Allen, author (Well With My Soul, Patchwork of Me, Cool Side of the Pillow)

Judith Light“It has made me even more passionate to educate our young and stand up for human rights.”
Judith Light, Emmy and Tony award-winning actress, activist

Tom Ammiano“It was the death of innocence in many ways. The toll it took was being stripped of your support system. I could look through my phone book and see 20, 30, 40 people dead within a year. My partner died after we had been together 17 years. He died just as I was elected to the Board of Supervisors. If losing people wasn’t bad enough, we were mistreated in death. EMTs would sometimes not pick up the body or treat it disrespectfully. It taught you to fight. It informs who you are for the rest of your life. Even now when someone dies, it brings it all back. You think of it all the time.”
California State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano

Glenn Gaylord“It would be so easy to list out the devastating losses I’ve experienced since the dawn of the AIDS epidemic, including, to a certain extent, the loss of my own youth. I could talk about the endless memorial services, the hands held in hospital rooms, the many ways people near and dear to me were stopped cold in their tracks. To do so, however, would be to give too much power to a teensy weensy virus and to play the victim card. Instead, I prefer to think about the toll I’ve taken on AIDS. I’ve kinda kicked its ass. I’ve thrived and have sent the message, ‘You do that to my friends and my family, and you’re gonna have to deal with me!’ I may lose this battle, but not without a knockdown, drag-out, Dynasty-level throw-down-in-the-fountain catfight!”
Glenn Gaylord, director (I Do, Eating Out 3: All You Can Eat), screenwriter/producer/lyricist (Leave It On the Floor)

Tyler St Mark“To comprehend the impact AIDS has had on my life you need only make a list of all of your friends, lovers, acquaintances, and coworkers. List them randomly as they come to mind until you reach 100. Then circle every third name. Imagine each of those circled, within a year or two, withering into an ancient, decaying, stinking bone heap. Not all of them at once but overlapping, several at a time, over a decade. Imagine the light leaving their eyes, the joy leaving their hearts, the music leaving their soul. Imagine which of them you would embrace as they took their last desperate breath. Imagine at what point on the list you could no longer do so. Imagine looking back twenty years later and wondering what life would have been like otherwise. Imagine wondering each day why you were not one of those names circled on the list.”
Tyler St. Mark, writer, publisher, a creator of one of the first AIDS awareness campaigns (Mother Cares, featuring Zelda Rubinstein)

John D'Amico“AIDS took away any excuse I might have had to live dishonestly. AIDS took away my fear of being found out, my fear of the critical eye and my fear of taking control of who I might become. AIDS will never return the stolen friends. AIDS will never return the stolen lovers. And AIDS will never allow us to think of our bodies as our own. AIDS took too much from too many and what it left was a version of me, and a version of us, and a version of our world that is better prepared. And yet, I wish it never existed at all.” Mayor Pro Tempore John D’Amico, City of West Hollywood

ShaneSawickShane Michael Sawick was an actor and coordinator of the Southern California AIDS Hotline, and the partner of this article’s author, novelist Kergan Edwards-Stout. Learn more about the life of Shane Sawick here (August 18, 1956-March 22, 1995)

Kergan Edwards-Stout’s debut novel about one man’s battle with AIDS, Songs for the New Depression, was winner of the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Award in the LGBTQ category, shortlisted for the Independent Literary Awards and named one of the Top Books of 2012 by Out in Print, among others.

Photo Credits: Tuc Watkins (Tuc Watkins), Greg Louganis (Bradford Rogne), Trebor Healey (Martin Cox), Steven Fales (Bryan Maynes), Frank Bruni (Soo-Jeong Kang), Jackie Beat (Austin Young), Robert Michael Morris (Robert Michael Morris), Michael Musto (Frankie C), Greg Cason (Bravo TV), Del Shores (Rosemary Alexander), Lady Bunny (Billy Erb), James Duke Mason (James Duke Mason), Patricia Nell Warren (John Selig), Tyler Curry (Tyler Curry), Mel White (Andrew Wilds), Peter Staley (Peter Staley), Richard Kramer (R. Avery), Darryl Stephens (Logan Alexander), Dana Miller (David Miller), Michael Nava (Michael Nava), Dean Pitchford (Peter Randolph), Sheryl Lee Ralph (Adam Bouska), Ken Schneck (This Show is So Gay), Charles Perez (Charles Perez), Gregory G. Allen (Tom Schopper), Judith Light (Walter McBride), Tom Ammiano (Tom Ammiano), Glenn Gaylord (David M. Gil), Tyler St. Mark (Greg Money), John D’Amico (City of West Hollywood), Shane Sawick (Ed Freeman)

Cross-posted on Huffington Post and LGBTQ Nation.


Hey, Rupert Everett, Come Meet Our Kids!

Dear Rupert,

I’ve been a fan of yours since 1984, when I first saw your wonderful film debut in Another Country.  At the time, I was a young gay man and had recently come out to my parents.  I was attempting to find identifiable versions of myself in the larger LGBT world and was using cinema, literature, and the arts as a starting place.  You, as your character was depicted in that film, represented an ideal gay man to me, which I had yet to see, in either real life or reel life.  Your character was everything I aspired to be.  You were smart, droll, handsome, and seemingly secure with your sexuality.  (Plus you got to snog the ever-adorable Cary Elwes, which scored points in my book.)  Call it youthful naiveté, but at that time I assumed that you yourself were much the same as your character, given you continued to live your life off-screen as an out gay man.

But being out doesn’t necessarily mean one is secure, does it, Rupert?  Being out doesn’t necessarily mean that a person feels whole and worthy.  As you and I both know, being out isn’t the same thing as being enlightened.

Your recent quote on gay parenting was a rude awakening for me, making me realize that, all this time, I’d given you far more credit than warranted.  While you may have played the gay father to Madonna’s child in The Next Best Thing (likely leading to endless sessions on the couch with your therapist), does that mean you’re qualified to speak out about LGBT parenting, or any kind of parenting?  Not really, but  here I sit, staring at your quote in the Sunday Times, where you say, “I can’t think of anything worse than being brought up by two gay dads.”  Given the lives we’ve both led, I can’t help but think, “Really, Rupert?  WTF?”

In all of the world’s endless possibilities, Rupert, you can’t imagine anything worse than a child being raised by gay men?

How about a child being born to a father who is in jail for attempted murder?  Whose mother sees fit to pierce the ears of her then 6-month-old son, but cannot find the time to fix his club feet?  Who later takes this same son to a crack house, which is then raided by police, leading to a year and a half of foster care? (more…)


Steven Fales: A Gay Mormon Boy Grows Up

Actor/playwright Steven Fales first came to my attention with his groundbreaking solo play, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, which was a hit off-Broadway and in cities around the world.  The play chronicles Fales’ heartbreaking journey from being a devoted sixth-generation Mormon and father of two, to coming out as gay and being excommunicated from his church.  Along the way, he also details his painful divorce, a long-fought battle with drugs and alcohol, a stint in prostitution, to finally coming out the other side as an out and proud gay dad.

Intrigued by his story, I asked him to perform his play at Church of the Foothills, the progressive church I attend in the middle of conservative Orange County, California.  Getting to know Steven and his life story, it became clear that no one play could accurately communicate his entire life’s journey, so I wasn’t surprised to learn of his creation of two new solo plays, Missionary Position and Prodigal Dad, which complement his first.

Missionary Position was based on Fales’ journals and follows his Mormon mission to Portugal, while Prodigal Dad explores the link between parent and child, and how tenuous, yet intrinsic, that bond can be.  My partner Russ and I had the pleasure of having Fales read us an early draft of Prodigal Dad in our living room, and I can’t wait to see it fully realized on stage.

For the first time ever, Fales will be performing these three plays in repertory at Los Angeles’ Hudson Guild Theatre, in preparation for an off-Broadway run.  He graciously took time to share with me more about these plays, his life, and his continuing journey as a gay father.

Kergan Edwards-Stout:  When you first wrote Confessions of a Mormon Boy, did you ever envision you’d eventually have a series of plays, all based on your life?

Steven Fales:  Heck no! I thought Confessions of a Mormon Boy was going to be it. But then life continued to unfold. And as I got more courageous in telling more and more of my truth, I knew I had to write the others.  Although Missionary Position has certainly become a big crowd pleaser, Prodigal Dad is where my heart and soul resides. Bottom-line, I’m a dad. And I was always meant to be a dad. My work honors all prodigal parents who have come home to who they really are.

Edwards-Stout:  What led you to write Confessions of Mormon Boy in the first place?

Fales: Well, at the time, I was being excommunicated in a formal church court for the practice of homosexuality.  After all of the reparative therapy I had undergone, and all the sacrifice and service to the church and my family, I found it all so fantastical and barbaric.  It was clear that someone needed to write this.

Edwards-Stout:  That person ended up being you–

Fales:  I mean, Mormons excommunicate you with a smile! But I also realized that I was afraid, if I were to suddenly die, my children would not know who their father was. If I didn’t tell my own story, no one else would.

Edwards-Stout:  But you have relationships, of varying degree, to very prominent Mormons who are also writers, correct?  Your mother-in-law, Carol Lynn Pearson, wrote Good-bye, I Love You, and your ex-wife, Emily Pearson, wrote Dancing with Crazy.  Both of them are memoirs about their personal experiences of marrying gay men, their faith, and other themes which connect with yours.  Were you concerned about how they would tell your story?

Fales:  No matter how great our divas are, they will never be able to tell our own stories with the honesty and passion that we can. I also didn’t want my story white-washed by women who seem to be pro-gay, but are actually pro-gay for pay. They have built an empire on gay Mormon memoir. And neither of them is gay…and barely even Mormon.

(more…)


Artist Spotlight: Actor/Singer Michael Vaccaro

Having first cast Michael Vaccaro in a play 20 years ago, in which he was riveting, I’m pleased that our friendship has survived the many years since.  Michael has gone on to build up indie cred by starring in such movies as Todd Verow’s Deleted Scenes and the upcoming The Endless Possibility of Sky.  His roots, though, are in theater, and he has performed in countless shows, both in New York and Los Angeles.  He won a MAC award for Outstanding Musical Comedy Performer, and his first CD, Archangel, was a big success.  Now he is back with a second CD, Wait for Him, which was inspired by his husband, Antonio Vaccaro, who passed away in 2009.

Q & A: Michael Vaccaro

Congratulations on your new CD, Wait for Him.  What led you to make it?

As you know, my husband, Antonio, died in December 2009 at 38 years old. After about a year of grieving, it seemed that people were tired of me talking about him, but I wasn’t ready to stop. So, I had to find some creative way to funnel all those emotions into something tangible. A book, maybe? A screenplay?

Then I realized I could sing songs about him, for him, inspired by him, and as a memorial to him. Having this CD means that I have something to give to people, and then they get to experience him, too. I get to share him, and I don’t have to be the only person responsible for keeping his memory alive. He becomes bigger than just my memory of him.

The CD is a testament to how much we loved each other, and what a huge and important part of my life he was and continues to be.  My hope is that maybe people can be inspired by the idea that a great love like the one we shared is still possible. And, hopefully, I’ve created something beautiful out of tragedy.

Tell me about the title of the album.

In 2004, I found a poem called “Wait for Him.” It was so beautiful that I printed it out and kept it in my wallet, but I never knew the name of the author. On my first date with Antonio, in 2009, he mentioned that he liked poetry, and I pulled the poem out of my wallet, gave it to him, and told him it was my favorite poem. He took the small, crumbled up bit of paper, read the poem, looked up at me and said, “I wrote this.” I was instantly in love. (more…)