Lovely Signs of Life

I’ve just had the chance to view a screener of Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Adam Wachter’s short film Sign and if I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be “beautiful.”

Sign is the story of a relationship told entirely through sign language. It’s a bold choice, using a language that the vast majority of your audience is likely not to know and to eschew title cards or captions. It is, however, the correct choice.

John McGinty and Preston Sadleir are the couple at the center of the piece and there is never a moment when they are not sublime. McGinty has one of the most expressive faces and, for a young actor, he shows such a masterly of subtleness that I found it difficult to pull my focus away from him. That, of course, would be my loss, as Sadleir matches him note for note.

As a deaf actor, McGinty is, perhaps expectedly, a master signer and his signing is effortless. Sadleir, the hearing actor, who, in the story, learns ASL to better communicate with his new boyfriend, has a nice arc as you watch the clumsy early signing become more and more deft as the story progresses.

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Preston Sadleir (l) is Ben and John McGinty is Aaron in the terrific short film, Sign.

Keenan-Bolger is, of course, one of Broadway’s Keenan-Bolger siblings whose individual and collective talents seem utterly boundless. He has, in addition to acting and singing and dancing, made quite the second career as a content creator, director, YA author, and filmmaker. He’s a dab hand behind the camera as well as in front. A gifted comedic actor (do yourself a favor and watch him in the web series Submissions Only, which he co-created with Kate Wetherhead), he shows a more sensitive and mature side here. His direction is smart and his cinematography shows he’s ready for a full-length project next.

Don’t think he’s given up the cheeky wit, though. Here, Sadleir’s Ben is seen teaching himself ASL with a Signing for Dummies book; our main couple watch a program on television that’s actually another Keenan-Bolger short, The Ceiling Fan; and he even puts his real-life boyfriend in as a Grindr trick!

Sign is billed as a “silent film,” but that’s giving short shrift to Wachter, whose score is note perfect throughout. It is the foundation upon which these vignettes rest and it seems to me that it functions more than mere underscoring and, instead, buttresses the scenes as a recitative for sign language. His variations on the same musical theme work to ensure that this series of short, disjointed scenes mesh together in a cohesive whole. It might help that Wachter wrote the story as well.

The “truth in journalism” part of this is that I had access to the screener because I gave to the crowd funding initiative for this film. It was worth every penny. Find out if its playing at a local film festival by visiting their website or following the film on Facebook and if you find that it’s playing nearby, then go! You’ll not regret it.

So Long, Larias

I’ve marveled over the years about both the reach of my occasional posts and the staying power of one particular one from 2013. It’s less about me and more about the power of serial storytelling.

blog-salatutYouTuber “MissFinlandia88” started subtitling the gay love story between Elias Vikstedt and Lari Väänänen on the Finnish soap Salatut Elämät (more or less, Secret Lives) about five years ago. In early January 2013, I first wrote about this pairing and how, thanks to one intrepid YouTuber, the show and this couple gained a worldwide English-speaking fanbase. It has been the most-read post on this blog since the beginning.

Social media, you see, works along the same constructs as a soap opera.

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Paavola (left) and Roslöf portrayed Elias and Lari on a Finnish soap opera, known around the world thanks to an intrepid YouTuber who subtitled their scenes for an English-speaking audience.

Sadly, for fans of the Elias and Lari pairing — now known worldwide by the portmanteau Larias — the show has decided to kill off Elias, a shock twist that’s left fans reeling.

Elias came on as an already-out high school student and the son of one of the show’s long-serving characters. He fell for, and had a closeted romance with hockey star, Lari, whose tortured coming-out was the basis for much of their early story. But, it was less about the writing and more about the chemistry between the actors Petteri Paavola (Elias) and Ronny Roslöf (Lari) that propelled the story and sparked the imaginations of the fans.

When Paavola left the show for several months last year, Roslöf’s character took up with older doctor Kalle and now, in spite of Kalle’s recent rampant alcoholism, maybe he’ll once again take up with the grief-stricken Lari, who’s still recovering from a recent gunshot wound. (He was accidentally shot by Elias.) It’s a soap, remember!

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In a recent Instagram post (above) Paavola thanked the couple’s fans and MissFinlandia88 who “took our story around the world.” He also thanked English-speaking fans on YouTube.

Well, all good things come to an end. For Paavola, who has been moonlighting as a real estate agent, he’ll still keep in touch with his on-screen ‘better half.’ The duo have become good friends and even play hockey on the same team. You never know where even a made-up gay relationship will take you.

To start over and watch everything, check out MissFinlandia88’s YouTube channel.

Takei “Disappointed” in Gay Sulu

With all due respect to George Takei, whom we can all agree is awesome, I think the revelation that Hikaru Sulu is gay in the soon-to-be-released film Star Trek: Beyond is a fine thing.

Screenwriter and Scotty portrayer Simon Pegg says that it was done as an homage to Takei, who is openly gay, but Takei says he’s disappointed in the choice to take a character who has always been straight and suddenly make him gay 50 years after he was introduced in the original series. He says it’s against the vision of creator George Roddenberry.

Takei may have something there; after all, no one involved in the film reboot of the original series has had the benefit of knowing and working with Roddenberry. That said, I think if Roddenberry were alive today, he may well have approved.

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(clockwise from top left) George Takei as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, the original television series, John Cho as Sulu in the latest Star Trek motion picture series, Zachary Quinto as the latest Spock, and Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer on the starship Enterprise. Pegg also wrote the screenplay for the latest film.

Zachary Quinto, who portrays Spock in the franchise had this to say, as reported on Towleroad:

I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed. Any member of the LGBT community that takes issue with the normalized and positive portrayal of members of our community in Hollywood and in mainstream blockbuster cinema…I get it that he has had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character but, you know, as we established in the first ‘Star Trek’ film in 2009, we’ve created an alternate universe, and my hope is that eventually George can be strengthened by the enormously positive response from especially young people who are heartened by and inspired by this really tasteful and beautiful portrayal of something that I think is gaining acceptance and inclusion in our societies across the world, and should be.

Quinto’s remarks buttress Pegg’s in The Guardian:

He’s right, it is unfortunate, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character’, rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism?

Justin Lin, Doug Jung and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It just hasn’t come up before.

Pegg continued, saying:

The viewing audience weren’t open minded enough at the time and it must have forced Roddenberry to modulate his innovation. His mantra was always ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’. If he could have explored Sulu’s sexuality with George, he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully.

And he ended the interview with a sentiment that, I believe, we can all agree with:

Whatever dimension we inhabit, we all just want to be loved by those we love (and I love George Takei). I can’t speak for every reality but that must surely true of this one. Live long and prosper.

For Trek geeks, I think the point that the TOS (the original series) timeline and the Kelvin (movie reboot) timelines are different and therefore the canon is different. For folks pushing for inclusion, I can’t imagine a better universe to do that in than Star Trek. Except, perhaps, for our own.


Somewhat Related Post from 2013: Here

‘The Outs’ Creator Adam Goldman Talks Queer Storytelling on the Internet

Here’s a good article from Esquire about Adam Goldman and the second season of The Outs. I haven’t written too much about The Outs, even though it is the series that originally got me hooked into the world of web series in 2012.

I found season one deeply satisfying. I found season two perhaps even more satisfying. The characters felt deeper in many ways and, perhaps naively, I was not expecting Jack and Paul (Hunter Canning and Tommy Heleringer) to be the emotional center, the real beating heart, of the series, even though these two were always my favorite characters.

It’s elegantly written, wryly funny, deathly serious and intelligent. Goldman’s intelligence shines through in every scene. It’s worth a watch on Vimeo for that alone. (But Canning and Heleringer are just lovely!)

Source: ‘The Outs’ Creator Adam Goldman Talks Queer Storytelling on the Internet

In and ‘Outs’

Now, you know I’m biased when it comes to my gay web series’, so this feels a bit like I’m cheating, but…. The first episode of the second season of The Outs is out today and, I’m happy to report, it’s just as good as the previous season.

Adam Goldman and his  tribe of lovelies — Hunter Canning, Tommy Heleringer, Sasha Winters — are back; and delightful guest stars, such as Alan Cumming and Phillip Taratula will be popping up in later episodes. We get Welcome to Night Vale’s Cecil Baldwin in this episode.

It was quite delightful to check back in on these characters this morning and it’s great to see that Goldman is still working in top form. No one writes a perfectly formed gay, barbed epigram quite like Goldman.

Episodes of the second season of The Outs will be released weekly, beginning today, on Vimeo on Demand. The trailer’s above. Highly recommended.

PS — The first time I wrote about this show was back in 2012. Can it be that long ago? Oy.

Emmy Nods for EastSiders

Congrats to the EastSiders crew for their Daytime Emmy Award nominations. The second series, which debuted in October, was nominated in the new category of Outstanding Digital Drama Series. Van Hansis was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Digital Drama for his role as Thom. This is his fourth Daytime Emmy nomination, having been a contender three times for his portrayal of Luke Snyder on As The World Turns.

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Series creator/director/producer/co-star Kit Williamson may have had the best reaction, as evidenced by this Instagram post.

I’m glad that NATAS has seen sense and created the digital drama series categories. As we continue to uncouple “television”  from the “television set,” it’s important that we continue to recognize new ways to deliver content.

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Van Hansis and Kit Williamson in season two of EastSiders.

The content, though, stays the same. Well, let me reframe that thought. Most “entertainment” on traditional television stinks. Much of the best content is coming fast and furious in new delivery methods — EastSiders on Vimeo, House of Cards on Netflix, Transparent on Amazon — and I think while the death knell for traditional broadcast and cable networks has not yet sounded, the plans for the coffin may be being drawn up.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen EastSiders, what is the matter with you? Watch it now.

Finally, here’s some Daytime Emmy trivia for you. Who was the first daytime performer recognized with an Emmy? That would be All My Children’s Mary Fickett in 1972 in a special daytime category at the primetime Emmys. Fickett played AMC matriarch Ruth Brent Martin for nearly 30 years.

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Fickett in the early years of All My Children.

However, the first person to take home a daytime statue for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama was Elizabeth Hubbard in 1974 for her portrayal of Dr. Althea Davis on The Doctors. Hubbard won an additional Daytime Emmy in 1976 for portraying First Lady Edith Wilson in an NBC special, but astonishingly — and despite eight additional nominations in the category — she never won for her quarter-century of assaying one of daytime’s greatest roles: Lucinda Walsh on As The World Turns.

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Hubbard as Lucinda Walsh, one of the all-time greats.

Hubbard played Van Hansis’ grandmother on ATWT. She’s nominated again this year as Outstanding Actress in a Digital Drama, for her role in Anacostia, the web series co-written and co-produced by Martha Byrne, who played Hubbard’s daughter and Hansis’ mother on As The World Turns.

You can use all that next time you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!

Limping One’s Way to Glory

“I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be young and desired,” writes Ryan O’Connell in a genius new essay on Thought Catalog.

He continues, “I, for once, would just like to be used and objectified.” Oh, Ryan, honey. Me, too!

Anyone who has ever had body issues, self-esteem issues or simply wasn’t pleased with what they saw staring back at them in the mirror — excluding bad hair days, beautiful people (and you know who you are) — needs to read this piece. He sums up so well what so many of us have been thinking.

The gay media is terrible — let me rephrase — is TERRIBLE at portraying “the other.” If you are not a ripped, muscly, hairless white boy in the tried and true Tab Hunter tradition, well, fuggedaboutit. Heaven forbid if you are overweight or over 40 or you have an overbite or you limp.

Of course, it’s not just the media. Have you ever been to a gay bar? 

The queer community is quick to be indignant so long as we can be indignant standing alongside some impossibly chiseled Ken doll. O’Connell again:

I know it’s embarrassing to admit all of this. Like, “Forget about my professional achievements and my cool brain. Just tell me I have a nice ass and that you’d like to come on my face!!!!” But TBH it’s how I feel a lot of the time.

Yep. I get it. Most of us, I would imagine, get it. It’s admitting that we get it; that’s the rub. In this essay and in his hilarious new book, I’m Special, O’Connell tells us all what it was like for him to grow up gay and with cerebral palsy and how excruciating — and really, sometimes hilariously funny — that could be.

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Gee, somebody left this poor crippled child to fend for himself in the back yard.

Again, I get it. I was born with they call a “congenital anomaly,” which sounds better than “birth defect” or “club foot,” which sounds positively medieval and gross. The doctors were always quick to point out that it was “environmental” rather than “genetic,” so no one would worry that a horn or tail might start growing at any minute. No, let’s just blame Mom and her screwed up uterus; that’s better.

I had a lot of surgeries and wore weird shoes on bars that held my feet in strange positions and a lot of other random treatments, but basically I was pronounced “cured” by about age five and all of the problems I’ve had in the intervening four decades — knee problems, ankle problems, sprains, stiffness, pain — are all, according to doctors, so much better than if I had never had anything done at all. And while this may be true, the fact of the matter is that the surgeries were a mask. They made my foot look like a normal foot (20 paces is everything!) but they didn’t make it function like a normal foot.

(I also learned early on to hide my limp, which will probably lead to hip problems or something as I age. When I’m tired or have been walking a long way or simply forget, I get, “Oh, why are you limping?” Since that answer involves a whole can of worms, my stock answer is, “War wound.” There are those occasional annoying souls that insist on a follow-up. “Which one?” Crimean or Peloponnesian are my stock answers. Sometimes I thrown in Boer. It usually never satisfies them but it does shut them up.)

Like O’Connell, I also found love when I didn’t think it possible and found that someone could love me warts and scars and crappy knees and belly and all, which is something that I never really ever conceived of. (For the record, some of that is dramatic license. I don’t have warts.) Today, nearly a decade and a half after finding him, I still stand in front of the mirror and wish that I was taller or slimmer (nearly always) or that my hair hadn’t gone grey when I was in my 20s or that my stupid leg wasn’t hurting bad this morning so I could elegantly descend the stairs spouting witticisms like I was a character in a Noël Coward play instead of ungracefully clomping down like an ogre.

It’s probably all in my head, but, hey, that’s where all body issues live. What I have learned over time is that I don’t dwell on them quite so much as I used to. For much of my young adulthood they crippled me — emotionally — because I knew I couldn’t be perfect and therefore I shouldn’t put myself out there because I would just get rejected anyway and if a guy didn’t reject me, what in the hell was wrong with him?

I’m well over all of that but it doesn’t mean that being physically different doesn’t suck. It does and it never goes away. Acknowledging it and just living your life are the keys, I suppose.

I think Ryan O’Connell is my new Spirit Animal.