ATX Television Festival 2015 Roundup

Austin Texas art

Posted by Sage

It’s the year of cons at Head Over Feels, with three new-to-us events making an appearance on our schedule. First up: ATX, an Austin television festival that’s grown exponentially in popularity in its short history. I hit this one without Kim, though I also wasn’t the only HOF representative in town. (Oooohhhh…SUSPENSE.) ATX is a quirky con, programming-wise. And the events are staggered and in several different buildings, which alleviates the “I LIVE HERE NOW” insanity of your standard multi-day geek gathering. The eyes were clear, the hearts full, and Austin even more fantastic than I expected. Texas forever.

Queer As Folk 15th Anniversary Reunion Panel

Queer as Folk reunion panel atx

Peter Paige (Emmett), Gale Harold (Brian Kinney – SWOON), Randy Harrison (Justin), and Robert Gant (Ben)

To be perfectly honest, it was the announcement of a Queer As Folk reunion panel that got my wheels turning about ATX to begin with. QAF is the first series that I consumed entirely on DVD. (In other words: baby’s first binge watch.) Over five seasons and dozens of discs, I fell madly in love with the denizens of this fictionalized and vibrant Pittsburgh, PA; Babylon, the gay club of my dreams; and Brian Kinney: man, myth, legendary lay.

The final tally of cast members on the panel totaled less than half of the show’s main ensemble. But they were all represented by Robert when he reported that a revival of some kind has been discussed…and that each and every cast member is up for it. Petitions started circulating immediately on the internet. I don’t know how feasible a full-scale relaunch is. But at the very least, Showtime should pony up for a mini-series.

Queer as Folk reunion panel atx

Keep on telling me what I want to hear, Robert.

More highlights from the QAF panel!

  • The panel started off with a five-minute montage of the triumphs, great loves and crushing tragedies of my beloved characters. There was much hand-waving and a few stray tears. They lived, okay?
  • Scott Lowell (Ted) is currently starring in The Elephant Man on The West End and so sent an adorably dorky “hello” video from the show’s motherland. I’d been complaining to my friend Becky about Gale/Randy shippers, but then they leaned casually on each other to see the screen properly and I ate crow.
  • Showrunners Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman were also in the house. They recounted the history of their involvement in the show, which began when another Showtime project fell through. They knew that they’d have to “match or exceed” the graphic content of the British version to make the remake even worth doing. I’d say they succeeded.
  • Casting was a horrendous process, because the major agencies refused to send their clients in to read. Many of the cast, including Randy and Gale, were without representation at the time. Sharon Gless was the only actor considered for the role of Debbie Novotny. She flew herself in on her own dime from Chicago, where she was doing some stage work. And, as every QAF devotee must know by now, they reiterated that Peter originally read for Teddy and was asked to submit for Emmett as well.
  • The production’s start date was pushed repeatedly because Ron and Dan could not find their Brian Kinney. They got a call at their office from their casting director the day that Gale came in. “He’s here. Come over right away.” I can’t imagine anyone else playing that part.
  • On the day of his screen test, Peter was sent a 21-page nudity rider. Its content, paraphrased: “This is the kind of show this is. If you are not down to do this, do not take this job.” His manager got cold feet and told him to walk, but Peter couldn’t. “I’ll kill myself if I have to watch anyone else do this show.”
  • When asked about how they’d considered the potential impact of the show, Randy said, “I was excited to do it, because I knew what it would mean socially and politically if it worked. And Gale: “My primary concern was not to let down friends of mine who I’d grown up with.”
  • The first few days on set were weird for some, as Queer As Folk refused to play it safe, right from the start. Not for Gale. “Randy and I dove in so deep, so soon.” Peter: “Good choice of words.” Gale: “I was teaching him some wrestling moves…and that’s all.”
  • Part of the process of putting the show out there was for the actors to decide if they’d go public with their own sexuality. Scott and Gale (both straight) decided to avoid the conversation, as they thought it would bring on unnecessary scrutiny. Peter thought the idea of his keeping quiet while playing such an out-and-proud character was ludicrous; “I can play coy with the best of them, but…I don’t know how Sean Hayes did it all those years.”
  • Robert was in his own coming out process when the series started airing, so it was incredibly significant to him personally to join the show.
  • “The first thing you need to know is that it’s all about sex,” are the first words spoken in the pilot. Ron took this opportunity to clarify Michael’s voiceover and the role sex plays in the show. It’s not an entirely surface one. “It’s about how sex relates to all of our lives.”
  • Peter addressed the chilly and sometimes angry reception his character received from some of their audience. “I forgave myself for something in playing Emmett,” he said, explaining his theory that viewers’ dislike of Mr. Honeycutt’s flamboyant personality had to do with their own shame. “We stopped apologizing for the stereotypes. We started owning them and transcending them.”
  • Soon after getting started, the main cast were already perfectly comfortable throwing off their clothes and rolling around in bed together. Still, some tricky situations with guest actors resulted in the enactment of a required “sex meeting” with the actors, writers, and director so concerns could be addressed before anyone got it on. The process took time to perfect. Randy: “It took them a while to figure out cock socks.”
  • “Hi, I’m Peter, you’ll be blowing me.” Peter, on guest stars.
  • Moderator Lesley Headland from the Hollywood Reporter asked the panel to talk about one of the show’s most difficult storylines: Justin bashing. “I have a story,” Randy began. “But you’re not going to like it.” And that’s how the conversation turned to the line of cast and crew members waiting to smack Randy Harrison in the head with a Nerf bat instead of a grave discussion of the season one finale’s social impact.

Queer As Folk reunion panel atx

  • When the topic of a revival came up, Robert championed “the Dallas approach” or the integration of a new generation of characters. It would be an efficient way of launching into some new themes, since the landscape of the LGBTQ looks a lot different 15 years later. Also, Baby Gus would be about Justin’s age in the pilot by now, which ought to strike fear into the hearts of his mothers.
  • Would Brian and Justin be domestically together in that dream revival? Ron and Dan weren’t confident of that. Their goal throughout the series was to show different kinds of relationships, none less important for being non-traditional. Brian and Justin have a bond. They’ll always come back to each other, even if they’re physically apart or even with other people. To help us understand this, Ron read us Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet. Don’t look at me.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

My only complaint about the panel paralleled a complaint that many had with the series in general. Where were the lesbians? I believe that Michelle Clunie was on the panel list at some point before ATX actually rolled around, so it’s a shame we didn’t actually get her perspective on the portrayal of that relationship. But still, the male-heavy dais could have at least mentioned Lindsey and Melanie. It was an uncomfortable reminder that the ladies’ storylines were usually less compelling than the guys’ and almost always revolved around marriage, motherhood, and that one time that Lindsey turned straight. Any potential reboot needs to address this imbalance.

queer as folk reunion panel atx

FNL Tailgate

FNL Tailgate

The Friday Night Light extras casting agency used to have a MySpace page back when that sort of thing was necessary, and I spent many an afternoon that I should have been working looking at album after album of regular humans standing next to Tim Riggins in his home jersey and pads. I really feel like I fulfilled some portion of my destiny in Austin on this night.

The show filmed in Austin and the surrounding areas throughout the course of its five seasons, so many of the actors still consider the town home. For the third year, ATX hosted a free FNL tailgate screening in the lot behind the Hotel San Jose. Leading up to the event, fans were able to vote for the episode that would be screened. The winner, by a landslide, was season one classic “Mud Bowl.” Let’s get dirty.

tami taylor mud bowl

“Cows agree with me. I don’t see why you can’t agree with me.”

FNL Tailgate

Cast members in attendance included Derek Phillips (Billy Riggins), Stacey Oristano (Mindy Collette Riggins), Humanoid Goddess Adrienne Palicki (Tyra Collette), Angela Rawna (Regina Howard, Vince’s mom) Katherine Willis (Joanne Street, Jason’s mom), Steven Walters (Creepy Glenn before Matt Weiner’s son was Creepy Glenn), and Louanne Stephens (GRANDMA SARACEN, THE WORLD’S BEST NAN). There were tacos and cheap beers for sale; Delta Spirit, whose “Devil Knows Your Dead” soundtracked the final montage of the series, played a few sets; and the cast gamely mingled and posed for pictures.

FNL Tailgate

I do not recommend standing next to Adrienne Palicki if you can avoid it. She is sweet as anything, but who would not pale in comparison TO THE SUN? Stacey Oristano liked my dress. Derek Phillips is like, real life man handsome. Still, it was Louanne Stephens who won this round. She held court at a folding table, hugging each and every fan who came over to meet her, signing the glossy photos of her and Zach Gilford posing at a Panthers home game; and proudly displaying the #7 supporter pin that she MADE HERSELF. Grandma Saracen always reminded me a bit of my own grandmother. She passed away two summers ago, so I’m very grateful that Louanne made a sincere effort to connect with everyone she met. I needed that hug.

Louanne Stephens

Matt and Grandma FNL

“You’re all my grandchildren!” Stop.

grandma

The muggy Texas heat just made that asphalt lot feel more like Dillon as we sat on folding chairs and blankets with beers and ice cream and watched the Panthers earn their spot at State. As if I deserved more than the privilege of an 10-foot-tall Tim Riggins, the tailgate also afforded me the opportunity to meet blog friends Molly and Traci, the hilarious ladies of Cookies & Sangria. Make sure you hop over to their site to read their recaps of the weekend (like ours, but with 200% more Gilmore Girls!) and then to subscribe, because they are the shit.

Cookies and Sangria

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“I’ll still feel the same around you.” – Why Boy Bands Will Always Matter

1d dance

Posted by Sage

A few weeks ago, I woke up to another must-see Amy Schumer sketch gone viral. And it brightened my day significantly. “Girl, You Don’t Need No Make-Up,” is typical Schumer wit: bouncy and bright, but with a razor-sharp edge of social commentary. I strongly suggest you watch the clip if you haven’t yet, but here’s the gist: As Amy gets ready to walk out the door and face her day, a boy band accosts her with an upbeat tribute to her natural beauty. As they sing about how much they prefer the “real” her to all the trappings of woman-dom, she cheerfully dismantles her entire morning routine. Faced with an actual au naturel lady, the band changes their tune, shoving pressed powder into her hand and crooning worriedly about how they can’t date “the ghost from The Ring.” It’s magnificent. A proper critique of the impossible standards that women face practically from birth.

you don't need no makeup

Though if you only read the headlines that accompanied the clip, you wouldn’t take it that way. “Amy Schumer Skewers One Direction.” “Watch Amy Schumer Make Fun of One Direction.” Okay. While the song in the video is absolutely a parody of “What Makes You Beautiful” and there’s a bargain-basement Harry Styles present, that’s not the end of the story. Methinks that Amy Schumer has better things to do than to write and produce scathing takedowns of four-year-old boy band songs. The song was the vehicle; the target was larger. Yet the same outlets that participate in promoting the very standards that Schumer is protesting decided to lump the blame on one harmless pop group, both to refuse accepting any responsibility and because, hello, clickbait. The headline “Amy Schumer Unleashes Giant Squid-Monster On One Direction” would also garner a lot of hits, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

liam haters gonna hate

The weird mass-framing of this sketch got me really miffed, and not just because I’m in the middle of a One Direction obsession spiral. (Nice to meet you, I’m 32.) It’s because the internet responded to a sketch calling out media sexism with more sexism. Boy bands are traditionally viewed as a feminine interest. Even less acceptable, they’re typically an interest of women who are young, one of the demos that’s given the least credence in pop culture and in society at large. Amy Schumer’s parody was about the relentless and contradictory appearance policing that women face; where filmmakers are barred from a Cannes red carpet for wearing flats at the very same time Midwestern teens are tossed out of prom for baring their shoulders; where magazines scream that yes, men will still want to have sex with us even if we don’t go to bed in eyeliner – as if that’s the be-all, end-all permission that we need to do whatever we damn well please with our own faces – at the very same time they’re running Kate Hudson’s professionally lit make-up-free “selfies” next to full page ads for $200 jars of La Mer. The media turned Schumer’s sketch into something petty, and, in the process, got their jabs in once again on young girls. This thing they like? It’s stupid. It’s stupid and silly and it doesn’t matter.

1d hug

Except that it does. (“It DOES.” – Ross Gellar.) Boy bands matter. They certainly mattered to me. (And continue to. Louis Tomlinson has many important tattoos.) This whole shitshow got me thinking about why that is; what, beyond a flurry of stampeding hormones, makes us love them so god damn much?

one direction slap

Falling in love with a boy band unlocks a chamber of your heart that, until you do, lies cold, dark, and empty, aside from the cobwebs. It is a fierce love, both unimaginably generous and perfectly selfish. I think part of society’s sneering attitude to teen girls comes from fear – fear of our intensity, of how hard we dedicate ourselves to things. That’s why every boy band who’s ever sat on a late night couch gets the question, “What’s the craaaaaaziest thing a fan has ever done to you?” Those raging lunatics, amirite? Animals, all of them. How is it less acceptable for Directioners to feel personally part of the band’s success than for fully grown adult men to beat each other up in parking lots over professional football games? At least those bitches picked up their phones and text-voted for the VMAs.

did you

It’s FUN, though. It is fun as hell, let me tell you. Loving a thing is so much more of a trip than feeling meh about a thing. When I think about it, I can still conjure that pleasantly cavernous feeling that developed in my stomach when *N Sync appeared on stage for the first time at the Pittsburgh stop on the “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” tour back in 1999. They were there, and so was I. I loved them so much, I felt sure I would die of it. I would drop dead on the sticky floor of the Star Lake Amphitheater, in my platform sandals and baby blue American Eagle tank top. (Justin’s favorite color, natch.) I’ve heard people speak similarly about the birth of their first child, which, okay. But how often does that happen? Once. I saw *N Sync in concert six times and that feeling never faded.

nsync live

This heart-breaking, earth-splitting love just takes over. And it can survive any cynicism thrown at it. I was repeatedly told as a teenager that I was “too old” for boy bands, while action figures and video games lined my brothers’ shelves, generating no comment. If anything, my interests were the more adult ones. They were born of a fascination – the siren call of boys. Cute boys, who could dance. (And I will come at anyone who tells me that boy band love doesn’t jive with a feminist identity. There’s nothing about paying five beautiful men to dance for me that’s not the very best of feminism. Carry on.) Nursing a band obsession satisfied my unquenchable interest in boy world, a place I still find exotic as an adult. Boy bands give us the opportunity to observe boys in their natural habitat, without fear of judgement or rejection. Because it starts with the music and the videos, but then it expands. It wants everything. We want to know these guys, beyond the Tiger Beat details. (Though those are still important. Apple Jacks are Justin Timberlake’s favorite cereal, pass it on.) No minutia is too boring. No brief interaction un-mined for personality traits and patterns. There’s a reason why girls flocked to see Never Say Never, The Jonas Brothers 3D movie, and This Is Us. Those movies give girls the opportunity to be both a fly on the wall and the center of everything. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the fans,” they say, and that’s you, oh my god. But also you’re one of the guys, there in the hotel room when Big Rob shakes Joe Jonas awake and in the venue when Louis rolls through on a skateboard and grabs a bucket of popcorn off a table. Being a teenage girl is the most terrifying. There’s humiliation around every corner. But not here. Not with these guys. They will never make you feel bad, or let you down.

narry coca cola

Like any entertainment delivered on such a massive scales, boy bands are marketed to within an inch of their lives. We know, okay? We just don’t care. Knowing that backstage machinations have been orchestrated to sell us “The Hot One,” “The Shy One,” “The Bad Boy,” etc. does nothing to stop the spread of our fervor. Because as soon as said band gets a foothold, they belong to us. The ownership changes. I don’t care how many focus groups have been held to discuss which one looks best with a goatee.

liam i like the idea of saving

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“This is sickness.” – Live Writer Commentary on “Dalek” and Enduring Dirt [Contained]’s Easy Laughter

dalek

Posted by Sage

Last week, I had a double dose of English playwright and screenwriter Robert Shearman. First, I sipped on a Twelfth Doctor cocktail while Shearman gave live commentary at The Way Station on his one and only Who episode, series one’s “Dalek.” Then I sat inches from the heavily-trafficked bar cart in the first New York production of his 1992 play, Easy Laughter. With those two pieces of work running around in my brain, I have made one assumption about the man. For being such a congenial gent IRL, Robert Shearman’s sure got a dark side.

"Doctor Who is for kids!"

“Doctor Who is for kids!”

Of course, every monologue and piece of dialogue drops a shade darker when delivered by Chris Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor. In fact, Shearman told us that Chris, who was “extraordinary to work with,” did things with the Doctor’s private encounter with the Dalek that the writer never expected. Eccles performed the scene in a “very non-Doctorish way,” which initially horrified Shearman – and then he saw the final product. (Fun fact for all you censorship heads: “Dalek” carries a higher advisory rating than the other episodes in the season because the Doctor purposely tortures the captive Dalek.) Shearman described Eccles as an actor without vanity, remembering that he insisted a take where his forceful delivery generated a pretty gross spit bubble that stayed on his lip not be reshot.

Shearman has the unique honor of being the writer who introduced the Daleks to a modern audience. Obviously, he felt the pressure of the job. “This is the only Doctor Who episode I don’t consider to be canon,” he told us. “Because I know I made it up.” Even watching the full episode that day was an unusual experience for him. He finds it difficult to go back to his own work, and guessed he hadn’t seen “Dalek” in its entirety in almost ten years. (I asked him about Series 8’s “Into the Dalek” and he said he was surprised and flattered that his episode was well-regarded enough to merit a bit of a sequel.) But from the moment the episode kicked off, it was clear that the writer remembered every moment of the process just fine. Even which actors shared their sandwiches (those were his favorites) and which extra broke his confidentiality agreement by selling photos of the updated creatures to a salivating British tabloid press.

dalek van statten

Fans have Shearman’s wife to thank for his characterization of the Daleks, especially that “oh shit” moment when one levitates up a flight of stairs. He did his best in his episode to address all the reasons she found the monsters a bit lame; to thank her, the no-nonsense Goddard took her name. Even more adorably, Bywater’s namesake is a schoolmate of Shearman’s, who introduced the writer to the show when they were just 11 years old. Aw.

In the Q&A session, Shearman went on to discuss the mascot-like nature of the modern-day Dalek. Its image has been used to sell practically everything: stuffed toys, salt & pepper shakers, the “I Dalek London” shirt I wore to the bar that day. And that’s disturbing, considering the villains were developed in 1963 to represent the fascist force that held the world in its grasp not two decades before. The Daleks are Nazis. They wield plungers and talk in funny voices, but that doesn’t change their hateful insides.

Easy Laughter Press

Courtesy of Dirt [Contained]

In Easy Laughter, produced by Dirt [Contained] Theatre Company, Shearman imagines a grotesque future where these ideas have fully taken hold. We meet a wholesome nuclear family unit, who’ve stepped right out of ’50s sitcom: wife Patsy (Maria Swisher), husband Dennis (Michael Broadhurst), son Toby (Jay William Thomas) and daughter Judy (Tana Sirois). Their interactions are both irritatingly effusive and worryingly robotic as they prepare for a holiday that resembles Christmas, but only just. The audience surrounds the action on three sides, the open fourth of the stage housing what we learn is the Christtide tree. As I mentioned earlier, my friends and I were sitting directly behind the bar cart, which was a popular spot as everyone from dad down on to the kids imbibes whiskey heavily throughout the play. I could’ve used a drink myself.

Easy Laughter is an unflinching, pitch-black satire. The horrifying history that made this family what they are unfolds throughout the play, but it takes no exposition to know from the very beginning that something is deeply, deeply wrong here. Patsy is almost vibrating with fear as she waits on her husband, children, and eventually, her visiting father-in-law (Nick Dematteo). Dennis takes confusing pride in being a glorified pencil-pusher; he’s the head of the family unit anyway, as his constant jabs and chastisements remind his wife. But he’s slowly being supplanted by his own son, a Rolf-looking motherfucker whose rosy cheeks and ridiculous short-pants can’t disguise his pulsating ambition and razor-sharp meanness. Little Judy still takes joy in the magic of Christtide and the celebrated miracle whose eventual reveal sent half of my audience into tears of revulsion and shock. Underneath their hearty apologies and compliments (“Thank you very much, indeed.”), the family looks like they’ll begin tearing each other apart at any moment. When the shared values are so in-human, even your loved ones are your enemies.

Shearman wrote the play as a student, and that makes so much sense to me. Easy Laughter goes hard; the idea is executed to extremes. It feels immediate. Subtlety is for the grown-ups, but we idealists don’t have time to fuck around. It’s an audience assault. The Dirt [Contained] production (the play’s first New York staging) fully commits, as do the actors. I was exhausted for them by the end of the piece; that kind of sustained mania has to be depleting, not to mention their very inhabiting of such a monstrous universe. Tana Sirois especially stood out. Casting adults as children doesn’t always work out (though Clifford holds a special place in my heart), but I nearly forgot that Sirois wasn’t actually 8-years-old. Stephen Massaro’s direction uses the space nicely, making the audience looking in on the Simpson family holiday about as uncomfortable as we could be. (Thanks, man.)  After the well-earned but subdued bows, we filed out of the theater, barely looking at each other the whole way.

Easy Laughter ended its run, but you can still support by voting for the production in the New York Innovative Theatre Awards.