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Entries in Gay history (2)

Monday
Aug142017

Call Answered: Max Vernon: The View UpStairs: Original Cast Recording

Max Vernon, Photo Credit: Frederic Lagrange PhotographyCast Recording designed by Robbie RozelleAfter two viewings of Max Vernon's The View UpStairs, I couldn't get this story out of my head. It has stayed with me for months. I keep wanting to learn more about this time in gay history when the UpStairs Lounge was burned to the ground. Additionally, I have been waiting for this cast recording to get released. I loved the music! Nathan Lee Graham, Michael Longoria, and Frenchie Davis, are just some of the vocal powerhouses that have stayed with me.

When it was announced The View UpStairs cast recording was being released by Broadway Records on August 11, I knew this was the right time to call Max. Luckily, he answered! I loved learning about the recording of the album, why he wrote this show, and what he learned from this run.

To download or purchase your copy of The View UpStairs, click here!

For more on Max be sure to visit http://maxvernon.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram!

1. On August 11, your show, The View UpStairs will be releasing its cast recording. What is it like to know that something you wrote the book, music, & lyrics for is getting a digital/CD release? Who is the first person to get a signed copy? Ever since I first started writing songs, I dreamed of having an artifact of my work that was beautiful from start to finish, but never had the resources to create something of that caliber. It took 15 years for the dream to become reality, but I really believe we have created one of the all time great rock musical records. Growing up I was that weird kid wearing kimonos at 14, watching David Lynch films, and listening to Kate Bush and Roxy Music. I hope for all the queer/glam/arty/weirdo kids coming up that this record means something to them.

First signed copy goes to my grandma!

"The View UpStairs" cast, Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon"The View UpStairs" cast, Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon2. What was the recording process like? What song took the longest to record? What song was recorded in a matter of "minutes"? I already love recording studios because they tend to feel so suffused with musical ghosts and memory, but our room at Avatar felt particularly magical. Being in the console room with the engineers playing back the mix while looking into this giant space filled with our band and incredible cast - I felt like I was on the Starship Enterprise, overseeing this army of fierce glam rock warrior divas.

I think "Some Kind of Paradise" took the longest, because it's our opening song so you *have* to get that exactly right to set the tone for the rest of the day. People needed that to know - are we gonna phone it in, or are we here to make one of the great cast albums of all time? It's 10am, people were just waking up like "Can I have a sip of this coffee?" and I said "Yeah, after you wail that high F# for Jesus!" Hello!

Michael Longoria did essentially a perfect straight through take of "Sex on Legs." It was on FIRE. When he finished, everyone around the room looked at each other in silence 'til I said, "Well damn! Okay." He went back to overdub some crazy melismas and screlted dolphin sonar high notes, but the entire song was done in less than ten minutes.

3. Can you share with us any funny stories that happened during the recording session(s)? Only one thing, but it's rated NC-17 so I can't say!!! Take me out for a drink first :)

Nathan Lee Graham in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt SneddonNathan Lee Graham, Jeremy Pope, Nancy Ticotin, Benjamin Howes in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon4. Let's talk about the show itself for a minute. What initially made you want to write this show? Why do you think this event is not as widely known about as say The Stonewall Riots? Before I went back to school for the financially savvy grad degree of musical theatre writing (ha), I was a gender & sexuality studies major undergrad. I was going pretty deep down the rabbit hole of queer theory - you know, Foucault, Butler, Cyborg Feminism, Disability as Queerness, etc - but none of my professors had even heard of the UpStairs Lounge Fire, which before Pulse was the worst attack on the LGBTQ community in history.

I knew I wanted to shine light on the event, but I really wrote the show with the intention of speaking specifically to my generation of the queer community - to the experience of feeling disconnected from one's history; wanting to reclaim that past to help us navigate through all the bigoted bullshit going on right now with Trump, etc. What I was not expecting was that some of the most emotional responses came from audience members in their sixties and above who had lived through the 70s and everything that followed. So much of queer theatre is centered on the tragedy of the AIDS crisis, that we don't often celebrate the raw sexuality of the 70s because it seems tainted in some way. I think for some of the older audience members, watching a piece created by a younger author that attempted to reclaim and honor their sacrifices was moving.

I think The UpStairs Lounge Fire is not as widely known as Stonewall for a variety of reasons: It happened in the South, where gay rights and gay lib politics were essentially non-existent. Many patrons at the UpStairs Lounge refused to give interviews on camera for fear of being outed, which could lead to being fired or denied housing. The police, media, churches, and local government officials all essentially ignored the attack, which helped it lapse from public consciousness. Finally, the likely arsonist, Rodger Dale Nunez, was a gay hustler who'd been thrown out of the club by his own community for harassing patrons at a glory hole in the bathroom. That doesn't fit a clean, convenient narrative of a hate crime for our community.

5. What did you learn from the Off-Broadway run that might inform future runs to those who mount The View UpStairs? Our midnight Friday and Saturday shows were always the best because the audience came with a drink or two already in them and ready to go on a muthaf*ckin time travelin gay glam rock VOYAGE. The actors could feel that energy and they would go wild and start improving crazy, insane bits that had everyone in stitches. That kind of freedom and wildness is so crucial to what this show is all about. Our superfans (we call them "voyeurs") who saw the show anywhere from 10 to 34 times, started coming with glitter already on their faces, ready to get cruised, dance, and flirt with our actors. I think future theatres need to embrace that spirit and cultivate that cult following as a means of generating community!

Frenchie Davis in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt SneddonFrenchie Davis, Taylor Frey, Jeremy Pope in "The View UpStairs", Photo Credit: Kurt Sneddon6. What was one of the most memorable things you heard from audience members about the show? Did you hear from any of the survivors or their family/friends? One of the most incredible things was actually, one night after a show, I went out with some friends to Odessa Diner for some midnight pierogis. We started joking about my show's glowing dildo chandelier, the drag queen's confetti lactating breasts, how my dad wishes I would stop talking about fisting in my interviews, etc. I notice there's a very butch lumberjack kind of a man sitting in a booth behind us and he starts to tense up. I'm thinking any minute he's going to come over and assault us for our very public display of art-faggotry. He walks over with a grimace on his face and bellows "Are you talking about that show about the UpStairs Lounge Fire!?" And then the butch all melts away, and he proceeds to tell us he's actually a gay poet who went to all these clubs in the 70s and remembers the fire firsthand. A month later he sent me a collection of his poems.

7. Which character in the show most resembles you? "Wes," the main character, is somewhat autobiographical - a bit of a satire of all my worst qualities x 100.

8. Since the title character in the show is a young fashion designer and you certainly seem to have an eye for fashion. Do you have aspirations to have your own clothing line? What designers inspire you? Thanks! It was all just kind of borne from necessity. When I was 18 and first starting to perform my songs around the city I wanted to be dressed head to toe in Alexander McQueen couture, but didn't have $20,000 for a blazer, so I bought a glue gun and started making my own sh*t instead and cultivating an eye for all the strange, colorful, sequined power bitch blazers that the grannies of the upper east side were throwing away. Recently I've started tricking out looks for other artists - I just finished stoning a shirt for Charles Busch's Fire Island Cabaret to give a kind of Marie Antoinette trompe l'oeil necklace effect. All of my favorite designers are dutch: Iris Van Herpen, Dries Van Noten, Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester. I'd love to do a Max Vernon inspired capsule collection if anyone cool wanted to collab...call me!

Max VernonMax Vernon9. The View UpStairs takes the audience on a  journey of seduction and self-exploration. What is one seductive tale from your life you can share with us? Last week, while waiting for the Q train some guy came up to me around 9 am and said "Hey can I ask a question? Are you single? Cause you know I wanna fuck you in the park behind a tree right?" He was barefoot and seemed probably insane but he was kinda cute actually! That mighta been my soulmate right there! Hey, if any of you boys are feelin' thirsty who knows, he might still be at Prospect Park.

10. After The View UpStairs finished its Off-Broadway run, you got hit with a wave of Brooke Shields post-partum emotions and you took some time to go deal with that. Now that you are back, why do you think you got to depressed after the show? What was it like to take those months to yourself? How do you feel this rejuvenation made you stronger? Imagine spending 5 years creating a show with a cast full of characters you deeply love, and then having to watch them die every night for three months! That's a lot. And to have such a political show hit NY right after the election, there was so much catharsis happening with the audiences as well who would come up to me after the show because I dress like Bea Arthur on acid. I loved connecting with those people and all the fancy 2am cocktails at Noho Star spending up that royalty money, but once the show ended I kinda collapsed from exhaustion. I just stayed in bed for three weeks doing snail mucus face masks, eating gelato, and watching reruns of Two Fat Ladies.

My next show, KPOP at Ars Nova, was in pre-production only a month later. So, after a mini-hibernation and a few chemical peels, I shook off the post-partum blues and got pregnant again. Now I have pink hair, a floor covered in teal rhinestones, and a 32-song all electronic half Korean score ready to go. We start performances Sept 5th!

Max Vernon, Photo Credit: Frederic Lagrange PhotographyMore on Max:

Max Vernon is a composer/lyricist, playwright, and performer. Described by the New Yorker as "equal parts bohemia and Broadway," Max's work has been performed and developed at Ars Nova, Actors Theatre of Louisville (Wondrous Strange, Humana Festival 2016), Berkeley Rep, Dixon Place, Disney Creative Entertainment, Goodspeed Opera House, Keen Company, LaMaMa, Naked Angels, New Dramatists, Ma-Yi, Pride Films and Plays (Chicago), Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Theatreworks USA, and Two River Theater (NJ), among others.

He is a recipient of the Jonathan Larson Grant, New York Stage and Film's Founders Award, New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship, and the JFund Award from the Jerome Foundation. He has been a Dramatist Guild Theatre Fellow, and an artist in residence at Rhinebeck Writer’s Retreat and the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony. He is currently a member of Ars Nova's Uncharted, and former member of the Civilians' R&D Group. He has performed over a hundred concerts in New York City, including sold out shows at Joe's Pub (Frisk Me: The Songs of Max Vernon), Lincoln Center (LC Originals) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Civilians' Let Me Ascertain You).

His musicals include The View UpStairs (NYU, Pride Films and Plays, Invisible Wall Productions), 30 Million (Keen Company) and WIRED (Ars Nova) Developing: KPOP! (Ars Nova/Ma-Yi/Woodshed Collective); Co-Op (Ars Nova, Naked Angels Radio); Show & Tell (Jerome Foundation, Civilians R&D Group); Nincest (Berkeley Rep Ground Floor); Better for Night (Weiner Theatricals/Randy Weiner). He hopes to one day dismantle patriarchy and steal your grandma's sequin blazer. MFA: NYU - Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program.

Friday
Apr142017

Call Answered: Robert L. Camina: Upstairs Inferno Documentary

Robert L. CaminaThe thing I love most about Facebook is the way it connects people. Robert L. Camina and I have been friends for a few years, so when I found out he was a filmmaker and that his new documentary Upstairs Inferno, about the deadly 1973 New Orleans gay bar arson was the subject, I called Robert and he answered. It was really great connecting with Robert in this way. From this interview, I learned so much about him, his filmmaking process, and more about this tragic time in gay history that is not very well known.

Upstairs Inferno is a poignant and timely documentary chronicling the deadly 1973 New Orleans gay bar arson: an event that remained the Largest Gay Mass Murder in U.S. History for 43 years. Upstairs Inferno is the most comprehensive and authoritative film about the fire and its aftermath. Upstairs Inferno brings humanity to the headlines by shining a light on the very painful effect the tragedy had on survivors, witnesses and loved ones. Their interviews are gut wrenching, yet insightful. Some of the people interviewed in the film haven't publicly discussed the fire until now, especially on camera. The film is narrated by New Orleans' own New York Times Best Selling Author, Christopher Rice.

Upstairs Inferno will be making its NYC premiere in the Manhattan Film Festival on Monday, April 24 with two screenings: 5pm (just added) & 7pm (SOLD OUT) at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street). The 7pm screening will be followed by a Q&A conducted by Robert himself. Click here for tickets!

For more on Robert be sure to visit http://www.caminaentertainment.com!

For more on Upstairs Inferno be sure to visit http://www.UpstairsInferno.com and follow the film on Facebook and Twitter!

1. Your latest documentary, Upstairs Inferno, documents the deadly 1973 New Orleans gay bar arson that was the largest gay mass murder for 43 years, until Pulse Nightclub. Why did you want to make a documentary about this tragic event? When I first heard about this tragedy a few years ago, I was shocked. I had never heard of it. The arson was a benchmark moment in history, but it wasn't part of the common LGBT history narrative. I felt that needed to change.  I wanted to educate audiences about this little known event and honor the victims and people affected by the deadly fire.

I didn't want to create a stagnant documentary, with only an exposition of facts. Through very honest and intimate interviews, I wanted to humanize the story and show the real impact the fire had on the victims' friends, families and the LGBT movement. It's easy to trivialize a situation when you gloss over a headline in a newspaper (or a Facebook post). There is something about SEEING and HEARING the story from those who experienced an event, that truly makes it "real." That's what possesses the potential to create change.

The victims are more than statistics, more then names in a newspaper clipping or even names on a plaque. These were unfinished lives, tragically cut short by a senseless act. The victims and their families and friends left to cope with the aftermath deserved better treatment than what they got. I thought, if I have an opportunity to provide any sort of legacy or light for them, I wanted to try.

Up Stairs Lounge2. The arson of the Up Stairs Lounge was the largest gay mass murder for 43 years. Why do you feel this story is not talked about as much as say The Stonewall Riots? You're right. This story hasn't been talked about much and I believe it was nearly forgotten. But why? I think it was because people directly affected by the fire didn't want to talk about it. The impression that I got was that people were embarrassed or ashamed to talk about the tragedy. The fire did not launch a revolution and the little activism that was spawned from the tragedy, fizzled out very quickly. I'm told that it didn't take long before New Orleans saw an indifference within the community after the fire. (However, there are mixed opinions on whether the fire was a birth of gay rights activism in New Orleans, which is something we explore in UPSTAIRS INFERNO.) Also, you have families that didn't claim their dead children. As a collective community, that is shameful and embarrassing. You also have a prime suspect who is a member of the LGBT community. Evidence points to the fact that this horrific crime was committed by one of our own. Furthermore, there isn't any official closure. Police weren't able to charge anyone with the crime. While the evidence points to a primary suspect committing the crime, there is no justice. Lastly, I think few people know about the story because it's been too painful for victims to talk about.

Up Stairs Lounge3. How do you feel the arson of the Up Stairs Lounge and the shooting at Pulse Nightclub are parallel of each other? For nearly 43 years, the June 24, 1973 arson at the Up Stairs Lounge, an event that claimed 32 lives, was considered "The Largest Gay Mass Murder in U.S. History." It’s with tremendous grief, we recognize that's no longer the case. With 49 patrons dead and families shattered, the June 12, 2016 mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub now holds that dubious title.  No one wanted to pass that moniker on and see a horror of this nature again. It was a stark reminder that while the LGBTQ community has achieved a lot in its fight for equality, there are many people who still feel that LGBTQ lives are expendable.

What we learned in the wake of the Up Stairs Lounge arson, is that this tragedy will have a tremendous psychological impact, not only for those directly impacted by the shooting, but throughout the entire LGBTQ community.

Unlike after the 1973 New Orleans gay mass murder, most political leaders expressed compassion, grief and determination for justice after the shooting. Communities across the country and world held vigils, standing in solidarity with Orlando. That didn't happen in 1973. Nearly $8 million dollars was raised for Pulse victims through a GoFundMe account. In the aftermath of the Up Stairs Lounge arson, only $17,900 was raised through the National New Orleans Memorial Fund. Adjusted for inflation, that equals $96,951.90. That's a huge difference! And while the outpouring of compassion is far greater than in 1973, there are still community and religious leaders callously turning their backs to the victims and the LGBT community.

Upstairs Inferno4. What did you learn from making this documentary, both about that fateful night and in your directing skills of how you wanted to tell this story? The more I learned about the tragedy, the more important this project became. I believe it is crucial to acknowledge, preserve and honor our history as LGBT people, no matter where you live. The LGBT dialogue has changed SO much in the past few years. As popular attitudes shift around the world on LGBT issues, we risk losing the stories of the struggles that got us where we are today. It's our responsibility to honor the memories of those who came before us, including those who died at the Up Stairs Lounge. The people who experienced this tragedy paved the way for the freedoms enjoyed by the New Orleans LGBT community of today, as well as the overall LGBT movement. I wanted to create a film that honored their forgotten stories.

Making the film underscored the importance of sharing our stories. We must be visible. It's easier for people to hate and fear things they don't understand. No matter your background, in the end, we are more alike than we are different. I think stories like UPSTAIRS INFERNO reminds of us that.

5. Upstairs Inferno is going to make its NYC's premiere at the Manhattan Film Festival with a screening on April 24 at Cinema Village. What excites you about having this film show in New York City? It's NEW YORK CITY!!! I love this town! About 10 years ago, I was fortunate to live in Manhattan for a summer. (I must admit, I left a little piece of my heart there and I miss it a lot!) I attended a film program while living in New York, and the short film I directed there launched my professional filmmaking career. It's great to come full circle -- screening this full length film in the city where my journey began.

In addition, New York is considered by many to be the epicenter of the modern U.S. Gay Rights Movement.  A film about gay rights and gay history belongs in New York.

6. The narrator of Upstairs Inferno is New York Times best selling author Christopher Rice (son of legendary author Anne Rice). How did you approach him to be the narrator for this documentary? When looking for a narrator, I wanted someone who was passionate about LGBT issues and passionate about New Orleans. Chris immediately came to mind. Chris considers New Orleans his "hometown" and is very passionate about keeping its history alive! I knew that passion would come across in his narration. It's not something you can fake. As a New York Times best selling author, much of his writing is heavily influenced by the years he and his Mom (legendary vampire chronicler, Anne Rice) lived in New Orleans. I contacted him and he was immediately on-board!

"The View Upstairs" Off-Broadway7. With the hit Off-Broadway show The View Upstairs currently running, how do you feel this film compliments the show and vice versa? Theater is such a powerful medium! The View Upstairs, which is inspired by the Up Stairs Lounge fire, has introduced theatergoers to a tragic event in LGBT history that few people knew about. It has undoubtedly left audience members wanting to know more about the deadly arson, the actual people it affected, the devastating aftermath and its rightful place in LGBT history. There's so much more to the story. That's where UPSTAIRS INFERNO comes in. The documentary features the real life stories behind the deadly arson and its aftermath. The interviews with survivors and the family/friends of victims are gut wrenching, yet insightful. Some of the people interviewed in the film haven't publicly discussed the fire until now, especially on camera. I believe UPSTAIRS INFERNO brings humanity to the history-making headlines by shining a light on the very painful effect the tragedy had on survivors, witnesses and loved ones.

I am thrilled that the creative team and cast of The View Upstairs are planning to attend the UPSTAIRS INFERNO screening. I am glad that we get to share the city for one night, uniting to educate people about this nearly forgotten tragedy from our history.

8. I read that you hope Upstairs Inferno helps remind people to seize the day. What event in your life reminded you to seize the day? And since that event, how have you seized the day? Earlier this month, I had a friend suddenly pass away. He was my age. I get really caught up in my work, but his passing was a stark reminder that tomorrow is not promised. With each passing day, I do my best not to be a workaholic, step away from the computer and spend more time with my partner, our puppies and my family and friends. You never know what tomorrow will bring. Life is fickle.

Brian Long and Robert L. Camina9. Upstairs Inferno is your second full length documentary, the first one being Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, which recounts the widely publicized and controversial June 28, 2009 police raid of a Fort Worth, Texas gay bar that resulted in multiple arrests and serious injuries. Before that, you wrote, directed and produced several short films. What made you want to switch from short films to documentaries? At my core, I am a storyteller. I am drawn to stories of the human condition. Whether it be through comedy, drama or documentaries, I prefer telling stories that fight for the underdogs and ultimately inspire us to be better people.

The switch from narrative short films to full length documentaries was not a premeditated decision. June 28, 2009, is a date that changed my life forever. That's when police and law enforcement officials violently raided a Texas gay bar, resulting in multiple arrests and serious injuries. That happened to be the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn raid and the parallels were haunting. I had many friends in the bar that night. As the day went on, the facts surrounding the raid were unclear and the future was uncertain. However, my instincts and outrage told me that I needed to capture what was happening on video and potentially create a short film. Little did I know, that decision would define my life for the next 2.5 years. Over the next few months, the story grew. It was quickly apparent that this project wouldn't be a short film, but a feature length film. Since the film's release, RAID OF THE RAINBOW LOUNGE has helped educate and enlighten audiences around the world. It's been a training tool for law enforcement and city officials across the nation. The film also received attention from the Office of the White House, Department of Justice and a division of the U.S. State Department. Documentaries are powerful tools. They possess the power to create change.  That's one reason why I like them and why I decided to take on the story of the Up Stairs Lounge arson.

10. If you could make a documentary about a living and dead celebrity, who would choose for each? Living celebrity: Dustin Lance Black. First of all, we have a few things in common: Not only do we share a passion for LGBT history, but we both grew up in San Antonio. But beyond that, I greatly admire him. He has done so much for our community through his activism and his storytelling. For years, he has been fighting hard to make our stories more visible. I'm sure that hasn't been easy and it'd be a privilege to tell his story.

Dead celebrity: Morris Kight. "Morris Kight" is not a name a lot of people know, but they should. We wouldn't be where we are without him. He was one of the architects of the modern gay rights movement, spearheading a non-violent movement for social reform.  Kight co-founded the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front in 1969. He went on to co-found the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center (now known as Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center). He was also a co-founder of the first Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade in 1970. He also conceptualized and co-founded many organizations that were created to advance the quality of life for all GLBT persons. More people need to know about Morris and his contributions to our fight for equality.

Robert L. Camina, Photo Credit: Gerry SzymanskiMore on Robert:

Robert L. Camina wrote, directed and produced several short films before premiering his first full length documentary, RAID OF THE RAINBOW LOUNGE (2012) to sold out audiences, rave reviews and a media frenzy. RAID OF THE RAINBOW LOUNGE recounts the widely publicized and controversial June 28, 2009 police raid of a Fort Worth, Texas gay bar that resulted in multiple arrests and serious injuries. The raid occurred on the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Inn raid. The film, narrated by TV icon Meredith Baxter, screened during 33 mainstream and LGBT film festivals across the United States, Mexico and Canada. The film won several awards including 5 "Best" Film and 3 "Audience Choice" Awards. The film also received attention from the Office of the White House, Department of Justice and a division of the U.S. State Department. At their invitation, the Library of Congress hosted a screening in October 2014. (www.RaidoftheRainbowLounge.com)