Category Archives: Theatre

BREAK A LEG! (a showbiz suggestion taken too far) – Matt Roper in New York

I’ll Say She Is

Bleary-eyed but still smiling Matt Roper, early this morning

Bleary-eyed but still smiling Matt Roper, early this morning

This morning, I was supposed to Skype English performer Matt Roper in New York at 0630 UK time (0130 New York time) to talk about the first off-Broadway preview night of I’ll Say She Is, the ‘lost’ Marx Brothers show in which he plays Chico.

Matt was not online at 0630.

At 0641 UK, I got an e-mail – “John! Problems this end! We’re at the theatre. Disaster tonight! – The ‘butler’ in the show fell and we had to dial an ambulance! I’ll be home in an hour (3am)!”

We eventually talked at 08.30 UK / 03.30 New York time.

“You look bleary-eyed,” I said.

“It’s the middle of a heat wave,” Matt told me. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C) today. It’s nearly four in the morning now and it’s 76 degrees (24C) outside!”

“What happened to the butler?” I asked.

“You’ve seen the Marx Bros films,” said Matt. “The dowager character played by Margaret Dumont has a sort of butler/footman. He broke his leg.”

“Oh, wonderful!” I said with genuine enthusiasm, thinking of the publicity potential.

“Your Satanic grin!” said Matt. “You’re loving this, John, aren’t you?”

“Well,” I admitted. “That old theatrical good-luck wish – Break a leg! – he really did take it too literally – and on the first preview night!”

(Top to bottom; L-R - (Photo by Mark X Hopkins)) Matt Walters as Zeppo, Noah Diamond as Groucho, Matt Roper as Chico, and Seth Sheldon as Harpo

(Top to bottom; L-R – Photo by Mark X Hopkins)
Matt Walters as Zeppo, Noah Diamond as Groucho, Matt Roper as Chico, and Seth Sheldon as Harpo

“I think,” said Matt, “it was when he was going off stage, coming down a step. Something like that. He slipped. It’s a big loss, because a lot of his sequences are with Harpo, because Harpo is the one who is stealing all the family silverware. We have a good understudy, but we’re going to miss this guy because his comic timing is brilliant.”

“How long will it take to mend?” I asked.

“I don’t know. The ambulance came and he was whisked away. He might be able to perform on opening night at the Connelly Theater on Thursday on crutches: we might be able to work that into the show.”

“So what,” I asked, “other than people breaking their legs, has been the most difficult thing for you?”

“Learning to play the piano for the last eight weeks. Chico had such a particular style of playing.”

“All the funny hand movements,” I agreed. “Could you play the piano ‘normally’ before?”

“A little bit. Obviously, for my Wilfredo act, I sing and write music but, when the Chico’s hands start going, that’s something completely different. If you hit the wrong key on a piano, it’s invasive, right? But it went fine tonight.”

Les Dawson: comedian & piano player extraordinary

Les Dawson: comedian & piano player extraordinary

“If you can play the piano to begin with,” I said, “it must be really difficult to play oddly. It must have been really difficult for Les Dawson to play off-key because he could actually play properly.”

“Yes,” agreed Matt (whose father George Roper was one of Granada TV’s legendary 1970s Northern Comedians) “because Les was a very accomplished pianist. I mean, before he became famous, he was making money as a pianist. He spent months in a brothel in Paris playing piano.”

“He did?” I asked.

“Yeah. I mean, Les Dawson had this great ambition to become a poet and a novelist but, back in the 1940s and 1950s, because of his working class background, he felt he couldn’t, so he ended up making a living playing piano in all sorts of places.”

“Anyway,” I said, “back to the Marx Bros.”

I’ll Say She Is website

Premiering on Thursday off-Broadway

“Well I’ll Say She Is,” said Matt, “pre-dates musical theatre as we know it. It pre-dates Show Boat. It’s a revue, really. This is the show that really made the Marx Bros. It got them off the vaudeville circuit. They had been ready to give up. They had had enough by 1923/1924. They had been going for about 15 years and had made a lot of enemies on the vaudeville circuit.”

“So it’s more of a revue than a story?” I asked.

“It has a very loose plot, which may be why it was never made into a film. It’s a series of sketches, really, with a lot of music and the chorus girls and so on. But it does have a plot. The niece of the Margaret Dumont character is a high society girl on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and there is a sequence in the show called Cinderella Backwards. She longs to be poor and in the gutter and experiencing the gritty side of life.”

“How did you,” I asked, “an Englishman, get the part of a New York Jew playing an Italian-American?”

“I was doing a gig at a supper club called Pangea, on the bill with Sabrina Chap, a singer-songwriter, and we just got chatting and she said: I’m musical directing this Marx Bros musical. We have still to cast Zeppo and Chico. So I sent an e-mail to the producers and they said: It’s funny you should write, because we have heard about you through other people. Why don’t you come in and read for us? That’s how. Just circumstance.

“Chico,” I suggested, “is possibly not as interesting as Groucho and Harpo?”

Chico Marx - interestingly naughty man

Chico Marx – interestingly naughty man

“No,” Matt disagreed, “he is very interesting. The story goes that, as a young boy, in this great immigrant city of New York, he used to defend himself from gangs by adopting accents. There were anti-Semitic attacks and so on. If he ran into an Irish gang in the Lower East Side, he would pretend to be Irish. If he ran into a gang of Italians, he would pretend to be Italian. And that was how his Italian persona developed from a young age.

“And he was a compulsive gambler. He lost ALL of his money in crap games and poker. The Marx Bros movie A Night in Casablanca was made specifically so that Chico had some money to live off.

“Somebody once asked him How much money do you think you’ve lost gambling? and his reply was Ask Harpo how much money he has made and that’s how much I’ve lost. If he saw a drop of rain on a pane of glass, he would bet on which direction the drop would run down. He was a naughty, naughty boy.”

“He was called Chico,” I said, “because he was a womaniser?”

“Yes. His wife actually spied on him and caught him with a chorus girl and his response was: I wasn’t kissing her, I was only whispering in her mouth.”

“I had better let you get to sleep,” I told Matt.

I did not say Break a leg.

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We Are Thomasse. They are talented.

Yesterday’s blog was taken from a conversation I had over a month ago because ironically, when I stopped posting daily blogs, I still had the same or worse amount of time free. Today’s is the same.

We Are Thomasse at the Museum of Comedy

We Are Thomasse were at the Museum of Comedy last month

Over a month ago, I saw American-based comedy sketch duo We Are Thomasse at the Museum of Comedy in London. They flew in on the Thursday, did the show on Friday, attended a wedding on Saturday (their real reason for flying over) and flew out on Sunday.

We Are Thomasse are British-born Nick Afka Thomas and US-born Sarah Ann Masse (Thomas + Masse = Thomasse).

“So,” I said to Sarah at the Museum of Comedy after the show, “You were living and working in New York and your manager was in LA And now you are moving to LA for the pitch season?”

“Yeah. Our manager had us go out. We went out to Los Angeles four times last year. We went on a whim to a sketch festival and really had a good time and decided to go back. In LA, it’s a theatre called iO West and they said any time were back in town they’d put us on their main stage, which they did.

“It’s really nice to have a place to perform every month. We had a monthly show in New York for a year at the PIT – the People’s Improv Theatre.”

“And,” I asked, “you post regular online stuff?”

“Yes. On our YouTube channel. We do the online sketches every fortnight. We filmed a lot between June and September last year and then a few in December and January and we’re now releasing them every two weeks.”

“How did the two of you meet?” I asked.

“Through a mutual friend. The only thing I knew about Nick when I met him was that he was a maths tutor and wrote books about Sudoku. He came second in the National Sudoku Championships. I had no idea he was an actor and writer.

“We just got on really well and he moved back to London; but I was in New York. So we spent the next five months typing to each other online every day. We started writing together then. Then he came back out to New York to do a play with me.”

I was talking to Sarah alone. Nick was schmoozing the rest of the room.

“He’s very well-spoken,” I said.

“Though,” said Sarah, “every now and then an Estuary sound comes out of his quaint, posh accent. He was born in Peterborough and grew up between England and Switzerland – because his dad got a job there and…”

“I thought you were going to say he went to finishing school there!” I told her.

“No, he went to Eton,” she told me.

“Well then,” I said, “he’s only one step away from getting some superhero lead in a Marvel film…”

“And later,” added Sarah, “he was back there teaching at Eton.”

Trans-Atlantic opposites attract - We Are Thomasse

Trans-Atlantic opposites attract, complement and compliment

A few days after this conversation, Nick e-mailed me:

“When I was talking to Sarah about how much you already knew about me, I realized that she hadn’t been filling you in on her own credits, so you must not have heard about what an interesting life she’s had. It’s totally different from mine, which keeps in line with our ‘opposites attract’ thing: husband-wife, British-American etc.

“Whereas I was at a fancy school and university, Sarah was home-schooled from the age of 11 and made the decision that she didn’t want to go to university at all (saving thousands and thousands in pointless debt). She began auditioning professionally at 18, did the famous (at least famous in the US) Williamstown Theater Festival two years in a row and started her own highly-acclaimed theatre company when she was 21… I didn’t even get out of drama school until I was 23! I have to be honest: Sarah is responsible for a majority of those punchlines in the show.

“It’s a shame we don’t yet do songs, since her singing voice is absolutely breathtaking – She used to be a musical theatre actress, working with some pretty big names. We haven’t figured out how to incorporate that yet, but hopefully one day we’ll begin to have a musical side.”

Now, flashing back to my chat with Sarah at the Museum of Comedy:

“Working together,” I suggested, “is often not a good idea if you are a couple.””

“Well, we started working and writing together before we started dating. In the five months that we were not dating – just talking online – we started writing characters for what would become a web series. Nick always wanted to do sketches and a sketch show.

“Eventually we got round to doing a few of our sketches in other people’s shows and then we applied to a festival in New York and got in and – Oh no! We’d better put a show together! – and, since then, for just over a year now, we’ve been doing a version of this show.”

At this point, Nick joined us.

We Are Thomasse drawing attention to their existence

We Are Thomasse are drawing attention to their existence

“The big thing for us at the moment,” he said, “is to draw people’s attention to the fact we even exist. There are so many YouTube channels and so many sketch people out there that how do you know what’s worth seeing?”

“Why bother with Britain at all,” I asked, “when you are doing fine based in the US?”

“We are British-American, so we want to keep that connection on both sides. We are interested in appearing in Edinburgh. I went to the Fringe a couple of times – once with the Oxford Revue and once with NewsRevue.”

“You were in NewsRevue?” I asked.

“One of the things I took from that experience,” said Nick, “was the speed of change, the pace of it. If you fly at it, even if there is a bad sketch, you are through really quickly. Sarah and I have kept our change-overs (between sketches) to about ten seconds or less. In NewsRevue, I think we were doing 4 seconds, but they had two more people to be able to do that.

“In America and in a lot of sketch shows I’ve seen in Britain, the gap between sketches can be so long that the energy that has been built up just gets dissipated. That was a big thing with us from the start, which is one of the reasons why we do all our changes on the stage.”

“So your career will be sketch shows for ever more?” I asked.

“We are talking to a director,” Nick replied, “about doing a play where the two of us play all the characters.”

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Beth Vyse – How breast cancer turned her from an actress into a comedian

Beth Vyse, eating daffodils

Beth Vyse – showing her animal side earlier this week in Soho

When I met Beth Vyse in London’s Soho Theatre this week, she had come straight from lecturing drama students in acting at the University of Rochester in Kent.

“I didn’t know you lectured,” I said.

I think research can be over-rated.

“Oh yes,” she told me. “I teach at LAMDA. I’ve worked at Rose Bruford, the Manchester Met – all the big Uni colleges.”

“Worked at?” I asked.

“Taught at. Directed at,” said Beth.

“You know a bit about drama, then?” I asked.

“I know a lot about Chekhov and Ibsen and Shakespeare and that kind of stuff. I performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company a few times when I first left drama school – small parts in three Shakespeares and then I understudied the leads. I was in Taming of The Shrew, The Tamer Tamed, Measure For Measure and…”

The Tamer Tamed?” I asked.

“It’s the sequel to Taming of the Shrew,” Beth told me. “By John Fletcher.”

“Were you teaching Jacobean stuff in Rochester today?” I asked.

“I was doing animal studies with them. They study animals and the physiology of animals and how they’re weighted and how they walk and communicate and eat. They find the characters within the movement of animals.”

“Surely,” I said, “there are a limited number of roles to play in Planet of the Apes and Star Wars?”

“You can use it in anything,” Beth told me. “My comedy career, perchance.”

“When were you last a camel?” I asked.

A golden-headed tamarin (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

A golden-headed tamarin – it screeches (Photograph by Hans Hillewaert)

“I haven’t done a camel,” admitted Beth, “but I’ve done a golden-headed tamarin many a time. Facial expressions. Eating.”

She started making screeching noises like a small monkey.

“I also teach at Soho Theatre,” Beth said. “I teach at the Comedy Lab Plus. I work with people who are already on the circuit, sketch performers, some performance artists, some cabaret performers, some normal stand-ups. I help them to try different things, shape their sets, make them more theatrical, use the audience, eye contact, that sort of thing.”

“You always wanted to study drama at university?” I asked.

“I applied to five universities. I wanted to be a town planner. But I thought: Why not apply to one drama school? So I did. And I got an audition at Rose Bruford, got in and the rest is history.”

“Why town planning?” I asked. “That says to me: a mind that wants to organise.

“I’m quite organised when it comes to certain things,” Beth agreed. “Not with some others.”

“You want,” I asked, “to make sense of the anarchy of life?”

“Yeah… Well, that’s why I teach as well. It helps me make sense of things.”

“You want,” I suggested, “to have control – not in a bad way – over the anarchy?”

“Yeah,” said Beth. “I’m always in control. It might look like I’m completely not, but I think I am. I never let it go too much.”

“So your show scripts are very tight?” I asked.

Poster image for Beth Vyse Going Dark!

Poster image for one of Beth’s earlier shows – Going Dark!

Going Dark! was really scripted. Get Up With Hands! was scripted. As Funny As Cancer is the least scripted. I wrote lots of it, but I’ve also left room for audience members to come and play the different parts in the story – to play the Chinese doctor, to play Michael Jackson, my mum, my dad. They have to read my cancer diagnosis and that’s pretty hard for anyone. It’s funny but dark and dangerous and weird.”

“And you are a Weirdo,” I said. “I missed the Weirdos Christmas Panto AND your Edinburgh show As Funny As Cancer last year. I’m embarrassed.”

“We had a chat in the street in Edinburgh,” Beth reminded me.

“Oh God, did we?” I asked.

“It was when the Guardian article about me came out.”

The Guardian piece was headlined:

FAKE BREASTS, PING-PONG BALLS AND TEARS IN A COMIC EXPLORATION OF CANCER

Beth Vyse - As funny As Cancer

Beth Vyse – the poster for As Funny As Cancer

Beth told me: “You said I had a bigger picture than the Queen of Spain got when she died.”

“I think there was about two-thirds of a page on you,” I said.

“We have gone off course,” Beth mused.

“It happens,” I said. “When is your show next week?”

“On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at the Proud Archivist in Haggerston.”

“This is your Edinburgh Fringe show As Funny As Cancer…”

“Yes.”

“You started as an actress and then became a comedian.”

“I was always an actor and then I got breast cancer when I was 28 and everything got kind-of thrown up in the air, really, and the acting kind-of dried up because I didn’t really care and then… Well, I always wanted to be a comedian. I wanted to be the David Bowie of comedy or the Kate Bush of comedy – Someone who is kind of weird and experimental and changes themselves each time. I mean, I’m nowhere near doing that. I’m teaching animal studies in Rochester!”

“Well,” I said, “David Bowie and Kate Bush’s early performances were both influenced by mime. I saw David Bowie when he was a mime and…”

“I always wanted to do comedy,” said Beth, trying to get me back on track, “but I was never brave enough. So, when I got breast cancer at 28, I decided I was going to write some comedy and get up and perform it. I thought: You don’t know how long life is and you don’t know how long you’ve got. Why don’t I just try it? What have I got to lose?

“So I started writing with a friend of mine and we took a show to Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it and I’ve just been doing more comedy ever since. My comedy is big and grotesque and raw and it’s all to do with me having breast cancer. Everything I do is, really. Once it happens to you, you can’t really change that.”

“But you didn’t talk,” I said, “about breast cancer in your shows before this one.”

Beth Vyse as Olive Hands

Olive Hands: “No-one would have known what it was about.”

“I didn’t talk about it until the five-years all-clear. Before this show, no-one would have known it had anything to do with me having cancer. I played this woman Olive Hands who was a big, grotesque, daytime TV presenter. All she wanted was fame and she had a really nice family at home but never went. A constant want for something. But why? Why would anyone want this type of thing? It was all to do with that theme of wanting something you couldn’t have. In one show, Olive Hands is ill and this is where it all came from. It seemed mental and silly; no-one would have known what it was about.”

“You got the all-clear after five years?”

“Yes. I hadn’t really let anyone know except my close family and got the five-years all-clear and decided last year was the right year to do As Funny As Cancer. I’m taking the show to Leicester, Manchester, Exeter and, in April, New Zealand and I might be going to Los Angeles later in the year.”

“And the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I might take As Funny As Cancer up again, but also a new show. I want to have Gareth Morinan in it, playing Noel Edmonds. I’m quite obsessed with Deal or No Deal. It makes me cry!”

“Why?” I asked.

“People just suddenly win £40,000. I find it very emotional and it’s all done on complete chance. The idea is so stupid and ridiculous, but I find it very emotional and I’m interested in why it gets me like that. It is just boxes with numbers on them. It’s all complete chance.”

“Like life,” I said.

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Comedy and variety in Bethnal Green + crime, stripping and porn films in Rome

Rich Rose (left, without shirt) and Gareth Ellis (right, in dress) last night

Rose (left, without shirt) and Ellis (right, in dress) last night

Things are on the up. There seem to be a rising number of comedy clubs in London which are not just putting on very samey bills of 5-male-comics-doing-stand-up. There are several now staging genuine variety nights and filling their venues.

Among them are the highly-esteemed Pull the Other One comedy nights in Nunhead and Peckham, the occasional Spectacular Spectrum of Now shows in King’s Cross and the occasional Brainwash Comedy nights run by Ellis & Rose at the Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green.

I saw a Brainwash show last night, headlined by Harry Hill who, although he could be described as a straight stand-up, is considerably more weird than that.

I won’t even attempt to explain what was going on here

I won’t even attempt to explain what was going on here

Tom Ward was, I suppose, the genuine token stand-up act. Other acts on the bill were sketch trio The Birthday Girls, Neil Frost (of The Spectacular Spectrum of Now) as moustachioed Victorian ‘Gentleman Johnson’ who ended up in a boxing match with a genuinely feisty girl from the audience, Casual Violence creator James Hamilton in a double character act, Mr Susie only partially on planet Earth and Lipstick & Wax doing a standard but nonetheless astonishing magic act.

So… one stand-up, six excellent variety acts, not a dud anywhere and Ellis & Rose impressively managing to be both effective MCs and constantly anarchic in themselves.

Perhaps London comedy clubs are changing.

They certainly have to.

Joe Palermo, Italian stallion, tonight

Joe Palermo, Italian stallion, in Soho tonight

In the meantime, people are preparing potential Edinburgh Fringe shows for next year.

One of the most interesting could be Joe Palermo’s Mémoires of an Italian Stallion.

I saw an initial try-out tonight which took around 70 minutes and did not get even halfway through the story, which involves his somewhat colourful life.

From what I heard tonight and during a post-show chat at the Grouchy Club, I reckon his story might take about four hours or longer to tell – if heavily edited.

It will be interesting to see how this fits into a 55-minute Edinburgh Fringe slot. The briefest of headings would include:

  • him as a child in Italy (watching porn on TV in the back garden)
  • attempts to be a Roman teenage gigolo
  • crime and the drug trade
  • athletics
  • modelling and becoming a male stripper
  • porn movie experiences
  • encounters with ‘proper’ movie people including stories of Cinecittà, famous actors and spaghetti western people

Joe says: “The show at this stage is mainly for a male audience, however open minded women or girls are welcome.”

I told him I thought Edinburgh audiences might crucify him atop Arthur’s Seat for sexism.

But, if his Mémoires of an Italian Stallion show does make the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016, it will surely be an interesting ride.

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Memories of producer Calvin Wynter

Calvin Wynter

Calvin – as remembered by Fringe-goers

Fringe producer Calvin Wynter’s funeral was in New York at the weekend.

Below is a piece written by a performer who was there. 

But, before that, here is what Julian Caddy, who co-founded the Sweet venues at the Edinburgh Fringe, posted on his Facebook page on 4th November:


I am shocked to hear of the sudden death of Calvin Wynter, Director of Inbrook, creator of the Brooklyn Fringe. He was a regular in my and many other people’s Edinburgh life for over a decade. I always enjoyed our chats and we programmed several of his shows at Sweet over the years, most memorable being that extraordinary Jacques Brel show (you’ll remember it well if you were there).

Calvin when he was younger

Calvin when he was younger and a bit hairier

I will always remember his ability to seemingly have no sleep whatsoever. He had local Skype phone numbers all across the world before anyone else did and you could call him at any time, day or night, and he would always pick up, or he would be calling you, any time you like – or not like!

At Edinburgh Fringe he was a fixture at every promoter’s event and VIP bar, always there with the height of professionalism and politeness. We used to joke about him being like a mafia boss with his sharp suits, softly spoken New York accent and entourage. He was a man who made sure that he knew everyone and that everyone knew him.

Calvin with his 2nd wife Joelle

Calvin seen relaxing with his second wife Joelle

But I think we never really knew him closely. Then again I get the impression that here was a man who lived for his work and for whom not giving 100% would always be regarded as being inadequate: work-life balance was an anathema. So I guess that means he was definitely one of us. The Fringe crowd, who with a look, a nod, just know what it’s like.

Rest in peace buddy.


Now the piece by someone who attended his funeral:


The funeral was small, but nice. Hard to believe such a large man could fit in that urn. Still don’t know the cause of death. I imagine something was written on the death certificate, but his cousin said they don’t really know what befell him. I didn’t go to the interment. Didn’t know how to get to Flushing Cemetery, which is, apparently, a very attractive place. Louis Armstrong and other luminaries are buried there, as are Calvin’s parents. I may make my way out there sometime this week to pay my respects directly.

Calvin Wynter (second from right)

Young Calvin at college in 1977 (second from right) aged 18

An older cousin said he was The Last of the Wynters. She named all the Wynters of their time, the final generation or two. Hearing of his childhood breadth and derring do was instructive.

Sounded both more believable and more impressive than when he told of it.

Childhood and beyond – world traveler, some kind of target shooter, skeet shooter or something I believe, science buff, went to Bronx Science high school, later on a skydiver. Some of his Wall Street colleagues were there. He was a large figure to them. They all talked about how shocking it was when they first saw “theater Cal.”

I met his first wife, the one who, he said, expected to be a politician’s wife and was perfect for it. She did, indeed, look the part. I liked his ex-wife very much. She was surprised he spoke of her, which he did fairly frequently, when it was relevant, and always positively.

Truth is, however, I had forgotten she existed until she turned up at the funeral because it was such a different life she represented than the one I knew.

Calvin Wynter and Jay Amato

Calvin Wynter playing around with his friend Jay Amato

He referred to his friend Jay Amato as his brother. I assumed it was his biological brother he was talking about so, when I met Jay and he was this white guy, I was very surprised.

A delegation of Freemasons was there to acknowledge the loss of someone from their ranks.


The photos on this page were supplied by Jay Amato, who knew Calvin for the last 44 years. He tells me:

“There are many different looks, but they are all Calvin.”

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Drag king LoUis CYfer: “I was afraid of men and didn’t identify with femininity”

LoUis CYfer, drag king of London

LoUis CYfer, erratically-capitalised drag king of London Town

“You are happier being called… what?” I asked

“I don’t care what people refer to me as. I disassociate from this whole… Are you male or female? – No. I’m fabulous! – If you can inspire people and that’s your job and you get paid for that and you can live on that, what an honour!

“I play Soho every week and I’m off around the country every two weeks. We’re booking in a spring tour ending in Edinburgh next August – 27 nights at the Fringe.”

“What’s the show?” I asked.

Joan Retold – about Joan of Arc, but as if she was a Northerner from Sheffield. She’s a gender warrior in the modern day. We make the story of Joan of Arc a bit more centralised round the idea of being who you are. She keeps flipping back into the story and making comments about things like pottage.”

“And frottage?” I asked.

“Oh yes.”

“Why the name CYfer?” I asked.

“The name comes from my gay shame days. It created a lot of anxiety. I saw myself as something really bad. So, when I was coming up with a stage name, I thought Lucifer, then I masculinised to LoUis CYfer so he could behave really badly. I get people coming up to me saying: Now I know what the capital letters are for in your name: it spells LUCY.”

LoUis CYfer - Joan Retold

Lucy Jane Parkinson/LoUis CYfer reborn as Joan of Arc

LoUis CYfer’s real name is Lucy Jane Parkinson.

“When did you start performing?” I asked.

“I did my first proper show in the last year of junior school: I was probably about ten. It was Alice Through The Looking Glass and I was Alice. I wasn’t really a girly-girl. I had to wear a dress for the show and have a pet rabbit, so it was a challenge.

“It was my first standing ovation and I could hear all the clapping and I said to myself: Oh, this is definitely what I want to do. Just to see the smiles and know they’d enjoyed the whole show and, when I came out to take my bow, there was this really loud clapping and I was like: Whooaaa! That sense of acceptance and adulation. It’s addictive. It becomes addictive but then, as you get older, it becomes secondary to what you’re actually doing. Now I don’t do it for people clapping. That’s a nice added thing, but there’s so much more politics underneath my work now.”

I was in London’s Soho Theatre Bar yesterday, with this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith. We were talking to drag king LoUis CYfer. She was first mentioned in this blog in April this year.

LoUis won the Drag Idol Championship in Texas in 2014.

LoUis CYfer (left) with Sandra smith yesterday

LoUis CYfer (left) poses for photo with Sandra Smith yesterday

“So where,” Sandra asked LoUis, “are you on the trans spectrum?”

“I don’t identify as female,” LoUis replied, “even though biologically I am. I don’t identify as the social female or the social male. I don’t wish to be either one of them. I just wish to be more androgynous than anything.”

“I always thought of trans,” said Sandra, “as either male or female – one wanting to be the other… a woman wanting to be a bloke…”

“I don’t see it as being ‘a bloke’,” LoUis told her. “That’s how a lot of people see it and I think that’s where they keep going wrong with it and I think that’s why the suicide rate of people post-op-trans is 85% right now.

“Some people pin all their problems and all their social anxieties on the fact of them changing gender. They think, if they change, all-of-a-sudden they will fit in. They go through all this big massive block of their life to get just there and do it… and then nothing’s different. All-of-a-sudden, they’ve got this body that’s been medically butchered – all their hormones have been changed – their mind is struggling and none of their problems have been solved.

“If you have struggled to get through life as a female because of what’s happened with other females pushing you down because you don’t want to be a beautified woman… or if you’ve had some kind of difficult encounter with men… I don’t think the problem is gender.

Louis Cyfer

“Don’t live in binary. There’s no either/or”

“I don’t believe that transgenderism – fully-post-transitional – is the right thing to do for some people. They think if they flip over and become male that will fix their gender issues and it won’t.”

“With them,” I suggested, “it is a psychological problem not a physical problem, so a physical change won’t change the psychology.”

“Exactly,” agreed LoUis. “We don’t live in binary, so there is no either/or.”

“I have heard,” I told her, “people say: I always felt like I was a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body. But it sounds to me like you are saying, in the words of the song, I am what I am. We have established you don’t want to be a man as such: you do not want the operation.”

“Though,” said LoUis, “I think I will do top surgery. That’s where the breasts are removed. I’ve never felt a relationship to them and, with my job, it’s very difficult to keep binding them and keep binding them. So having them removed is more like an investment in my manifesto. For somebody to look at me and not know what I was – I would prefer that.”

LoUis CYfer (chats to Sandra Smith at the Soho Theatre

LoUis CYfer chats to Sandra Smith at Soho Theatre yesterday

“What do you feel like,” Sandra asked her, “regarding the outside world?”

“I don’t really know,” replied LoUis.

“When you were a kid?” asked Sandra.

“I felt,” said LoUis, “like I was a boy growing up in a girl’s body. I felt like I should have been a boy. I never felt like a boy, but I felt I should have been one.”

“So there was,” I said, “an element of that I felt like a man growing up in a woman’s body?”

“Yeah. But now I’ve become more intelligent and I understand gender a lot more, I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s a social construct that I’ve been open to. I think it was the people around me when I was growing up. I watched how they believed what gender was. It was very suppressant of females, very liberating of the power of masculinity. I didn’t agree with that, so I went off on a journey to find my own way and now I think now I’m surrounded by people who are quite like-minded and don’t judge me because I’m a female.”

“Did you have a sense of belonging as a kid?” Sandra asked.

“No. I felt very odd, very different. It was weird. I felt very special but rejected. I felt: I have something in me that needs to come out, like a little gold fire. It feels very very lovely, but I feel I can’t communicate properly with people.

“It made me terribly unhappy. I felt no-one understood me, no-one got me. I felt a bit alienated and rejected except by my grandma. When she found out I was gay, she didn’t mind. She would ask: Have you got a girlfriend? Have you got a friend?”

“When did you come out as gay?” I asked.

Louis Cyfer

LoUis CYfer – “Now I am not afraid of men”

“When I was 13. But I don’t identify as a lesbian now. I think you just fall in love with who you fall in love with. I think I backed myself into a corner with the lesbian thing, because I think I was afraid of men and didn’t identify with femininity. I was attracted to women, but I should have just stayed on that line of I’m exploring my bi-sexuality. Because now I look at people very differently. Now I am not afraid of men.”

“What made you afraid of men?” Sandra asked.

“I had some really bad experiences. I was raped when I was younger.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“It was two weeks after my 16th birthday. Growing up, I had some bad experiences and that was what really made me very afraid of men. I don’t think I went with women because something bad happened with men. I think I found softness and solitude in women and the femininity and the caring and the Mother Naturing – I loved that. It made me feel warm.”

“If,” I said, “you thought you were gay at 13 and got raped at 16, it has got no connection.”

LoUis CYfer strikes a pose as herself

LoUis CYfer strikes a dramatic pose as herself

“I was actually about 6 when I knew I wasn’t straight. I remember being in the car with my mum. I was sat in the back of the car and said to my mum I think I should have been a boy and she said Oh, don’t worry, everyone feels like that. So I said: Did you feel like that? And she said: No. And I never spoke about it again.”

“What,” I asked, “made you think at 6 you were gay? – You were not pubescent yet.”

“I knew something was different and I knew I didn’t like to be like they were on television. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew I didn’t want a family and a car and a this and a that.”

“Being trans,” I said, “is becoming terribly trendy now.”

“It is,” agreed LoUis. “And I think that’s bloody dangerous. People will start making the wrong decisions.”

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Theatre producer Calvin Wynter died. Here he gives his own view of himself.

Calvin Wynter: no hair, but a big Fringe

Calvin Wynter(1959-2015)

After yesterday’s blog about the death of Calvin Wynter last Thursday, I thought it might be interesting to post his own view of himself. He ran a fringe/off-Broadway theatrical promotion and production company called Inbrook in New York City.

Below is his own description of himself as part of that company.

Below that is an excerpt from a blog I wrote about him three years ago in November 2012 in which, again, he speaks about himself.


INBROOK

As Chairman & CEO of Inbrook, Calvin Wynter seeks to provide effective oversight and management of the company.

Calvin is an accredited promoter for Adelaide Fringe and The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He is a judge and industry panelist for The Boston Comedy Festival, New York Comedy Competition and The New York Underground Comedy Festival. Calvin is a regular panelist on the Midtown International Theatre Festival symposiums.

His theatre experience includes being Managing Partner & Artistic Director at 45 Bleecker Theatre. His team renovated, owned and operated 45 Bleecker Theatre that included two Off­Broadway Theatres The Green Room Theatre (150 seats), Bleecker Street Theatre (320 seats) with café and art gallery at 45 Bleecker Street in New York City. Calvin was Artistic Director & Managing Partner for The Green Room Venue. His organization restored, owned and operated this landmark 300 year old former church. The Green Room Venue (100 seats, 60 seats and 40 seats with two in performance space bars, café, art gallery and VIP lounge.) was located at 37 Guthrie Street in Edinburgh, Scotland. Calvin as Managing Director renovated and launched commercial productions at Gene Frankel Theatre (72 seats with lounge) at 24 Bond Street in New York City.

Previously, Calvin was a Managing Director of Corporate Finance at Lehman Brothers, a Vice President at Merrill Lynch in Equity Trading, and was Senior Managing Partner at the investment firm Scarborough & Company, Inc.

His social activism is chronicled in Black Corona the non­fiction best­seller. Calvin serves on the board of the Bleecker Street Opera as the Artistic Advisor.

Calvin studied acting with John Strasberg, member of the Strasberg family, well known for coaching such luminaries as Al Pacino and Marilyn Monroe.

Calvin Wynter graduated with an A.B. from Colgate University, was an exchange student at Université de Genève, attended Georgetown University, received a Regents & Bronx High School of Science diploma and graduated from Joseph Pulitzer Middle School Honors Program.


Calvin Wynter (bottom left) looks at the Green Room venue in Edinburgh, 2007

Calvin Wynter (bottom left) looks at the Green Room venue on Edinburgh’s Cowgate in 2007

SO IT GOES BLOG – 27th November 2012

I think I first met US promoter/publicist Calvin Wynter at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007, when he was involved in opening the new Green Room Venue, but he had been going there since 2004.

Yesterday, he told me: “I went to school in Geneva for a year and I had no idea the Edinburgh Fringe existed. My parents were avid theatre-goers and we were travelling to Europe almost every summer, but they had no idea the Edinburgh Fringe existed. When I was made aware that Edinburgh was the place to go then, in 2004, I went over with five shows. All sold out, were critically-acclaimed and one won the Richard Pryor Award. The following year, Richard Pryor’s daughter went over with us with six other shows.

“Now we’ve taken 135 shows to Edinburgh and we’ve done 250 shows worldwide. We’ve been at 50 festivals worldwide and toured 120 cities.”

And now, through his company Inbrook (of which I am an alleged creative consultant) he is staging his very own Fringe Festival – the Brooklyn Fringe, running 12th-21st July next year in New York.

“Are you getting any money from the local council?” I asked.

“This is the American Dream,” said Calvin. “You go out. You focus on being the best. And you are able to create something that serves the public need. It’s a team of performers and creatives that also – almost all of us – have backgrounds in the financial industry. We do it in such a way that it’s self-sufficient. We can’t depend on government. Arts funding has been cut throughout the United States. We are not dependent on public funding or donations or grants. As we see government and foundation funding evaporate… we just create a business model that works for all.”

“Your background is Wall Street,” I said.

“I retired 12 years ago, when I was 40 years old. I don’t need the money. I want to be creative. I want to help artists to grow.

“I was a performer as a child. Even when I was a baby, I was in a commercial for milk. But, when it came time for career selection, I ended up going to Wall Street and, just before I left Wall Street, I found out that I had – without my knowledge – been hiring actors, dancers, comedians. Every member of my staff was in not only one but the three major unions in the United States. Even in the case of members of staff from Britain, they were in British Equity.

“I had been unconsciously surrounding myself  with performers. So it was natural when one said You should pursue this that I went, in less than 90 days, from taking three acting classes to being in one off-Broadway show, in rehearsals for another, doing indie films at the weekend and setting up a production company that would go on to be nominated for a Drama Desk Award in less than 18 months. I leased a theatre – the Gene Frankel Theatre – renovated it, started putting on productions.”

“You were an actor?” I asked.

“I was an actor, a singer and dancer. I’ve just got back from producing a show in Amsterdam, scouting theatres in Berlin for touring and being taken to Prague to consult on a musical that was in a 1,000 seat theatre.”

“So you are an actor, singer and dancer who turned producer, promoter and publicist?”

“In one instance,” said Calvin, “we were even involved in producing a show in a car. Two actors in the fronts seats, two audience members in the back. Whether it’s an elevator, a boiler room, a toilet or a 1,000 seat theater we want to see Art.”

“And a businessman,” I added.

“Brooklyn Fringe venue registration applications are due by Monday, 28 January 2013,” Calvin told me.

“And a salesman,” I added.

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