Queer Voices

January 31st 2024 Queer Voices

January 31, 2024 Queer Voices
Queer Voices
January 31st 2024 Queer Voices
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

On tonight’s Queer Voices, we speak with Allison Mathis, a candidate for 338th Judicial District Court Judge of Harris County. She is a native Houstonian who grew up in Spring Branch. When she was a teenager, she watched her brilliant, funny aunt struggle with a crack cocaine addiction that destroyed her life and sent her in and out of prison for years. She also watched several friends lose their bright futures due to their entanglement in the legal system due to non-violent drug offenses. She worked her way through a bachelor's degree in English at UH-Downtown as a coffee shop waitress, which was perfect for her because she loved books, coffee, and serving people. She went on to get a master's degree in Literature, but realized that as much as she loved reading and teaching, she could not escape the overwhelming feeling that she needed to do something involving the broken criminal justice system. She went to South Texas College of Law and graduated cum laude in 2012. We speak with Allison her race to become judge and why criminal justice is important to the LGBTQ community

 Then we speak with Destiny Smith a transgender theater actor based in Houston. Destiny graduated from Lamar University with a BS in Theater and Dance and now works fulltime as the Lighting Programmer and Technician at Stages Theater. We speak with Destiny about “Translucent”, a Queer Theater she is working to bring to Houston. You can see Destiny’s brilliant work in current productions at Stages Theater.

 Finally we speak Nora Hahn who is starring as Ann Richards in the Garden Theater’s production of “Ann”. This inspiring and hilarious play brings us face to face with a complex, colorful and captivating character bigger than the state from which she hailed. Written by Emmy Award winner Holland Taylor, Ann takes a revealing look at the impassioned woman who enriched the lives of her followers, friends and family. “Ann” runs February 2-11 at MATCH.

Speaker 1:

Hello everybody, this is Queer Voices, a home-produced podcast that has grown out of a radio show that's been on the air in Houston, texas, for several decades. This week, brian Levinca talks with Allison Mathis, candidate for the 338th Criminal District Court.

Speaker 2:

I think it's important for us to keep our communities safe. I think that we all want to make sure that we can go about our daily lives and not feel threatened or frightened, and there are some people that can't stop hurting people, and those should be the ones that we hold in the jail.

Speaker 1:

Deborah Moncri-Fell has a conversation with Destiny Smith, who is a transgender theater artist based in Houston.

Speaker 3:

One summer I didn't really have a lot of gigs going on and I had time to kind of sit with myself and like reflect about everything that was happening in my life and how I was feeling about myself and my career, and I realized that I did a lot of work towards my career, but I didn't do a lot of work towards myself as a person. In fall 2021, I transitioned.

Speaker 1:

And Brett Cullum talks with Nora Hahn, who plays Anne Richards in Anne, and Logan Vaden, who is the artistic director of Garden Theater. The queer voices starts now.

Speaker 4:

This is Brian Levinca, and today I'm interviewing Allison Mathis, who is a candidate for the 338th Criminal District Court. Welcome to Queer Voices, allison.

Speaker 2:

Thank you, it's so good to be here.

Speaker 4:

This is an LGBTQ radio program, so why is criminal justice important to our community?

Speaker 2:

Oh man, there are a lot of reasons and I think that it's really good that you asked that question, because I think a lot of people realize how much the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts racial minorities, but I'm not sure that they understand how much it impacts the LGBTQIA community disproportionately and kind of what these criminal races can mean, these criminal judicial races can mean for the community. So I guess one of the major issues for me right now that I think impacts the community is the state of the Harris County Jail. Probably you've seen a little bit on the news about some of the things that are happening there. It's really overcrowded and the conditions are not good. People are getting hurt there pretty often and the county's actually dedicated $40 million over this next year to bust people in the jail to other jails, to jails in other states and jails in other cities far away, and I just think that money could be way better used. Even if people are being held in the Harris County Jail, that's really expensive. It costs like almost $40,000 a year to hold somebody in the jail and for that amount of money we could change some lives. You know, I think it's important for us to keep our community safe. I think that we all want to make sure that we can go about our daily lives and not feel threatened or frightened, and there are some people that can't stop hurting people, and those should be the ones that we hold in the jail, not the ones who maybe just have a drug problem and need access to resources, or the ones who have mental health problems and need access to medication.

Speaker 4:

I've heard that the Harris County Jail serves as the largest psychiatric ward in the state of Texas. Is that right?

Speaker 2:

That's correct, yeah, and so I mean you, can you know? The way that I've heard it said is that Harris County Jail is the largest mental health provider in the state of Texas, and I think that you know, just because it's big doesn't mean it's good, and I think if you talk to any of the individuals working there, they are. There are a lot of people working at the jail who are very kind and they're very compassionate and they're motivated to do their job, but they just are. They just do not have the ability to do it with the resources that they have available to them. You know, it's just, it's just really problematic we have to think about when a judge makes a decision about whether somebody should have to sit in jail while they're waiting for trial. They have to think about what that really means and and with the way the jail is right now, I think we should be extremely mindful of what it means when we send somebody to the jail.

Speaker 4:

With all that being said, how did you get into law and what will you do if you were elected to office?

Speaker 2:

I got into law because, in part because my best friend got into law he actually went to law school about a year and a half before me and I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I had just finished a master's degree in literature and I loved it and I loved reading novels and eating bonbons and talking about why Nabokov hates Freud. But I also like kind of felt a draw to do more things with the criminal justice system because I had had some friends who had gotten into trouble and been arrested and had gone through it and I had one friend who was falsely convicted and I had a lot of friends who had experienced drug abuse and had ended up, you know, substance addiction, and had ended up in the jail and talking to them about their experiences and kind of living through some of that with them. So anyway, I went to law school and when I first got out I practiced for about a year and a half with my best friend, who actually he and I used to go to hatch together back when we were kids in Montrose and so I mean we've known each other for our whole adult lives since we were in high school and so we practiced together and it was really fun. And then about a year and a half later I got a job offer in the Republic of Palau, which is a little island nation in Micronesia, and so I went over there and I was the public defender there for a while. There was actually a gay bar in the Republic of Palau and I have been there. It's a lot of fun. And so after that I came back, I practiced in Texas and then I got a job offer in New Mexico. I practiced there for a while. My husband and I I had my daughter out there, my husband stayed home and took care of her. We lived in a little yurt in northern New Mexico, southern Colorado, and I was a public defender out there. And then I moved to tribal court, the Swinomesh Indian Tribal Reservation, and I was there public defender for a while. I had some jury trials on the reservation. It was really, really interesting. And then I got a job offer back here back home in Harris County at the Harris County Public Defender's Office. I did that for a little while and then I got an offer to lead an office, a new office, that was defending Operation Lone Star cases. So Operation Lone Star is the terrible policy by Governor Abbott that criminalized as migrants for coming across the border, and so I was responsible for helping train and manage attorneys defending those cases, and the things I saw while I did that job were some of the most horrible things I've seen in my whole career the conditions that people are being held in, and so I did that for a while. Actually, I had, I think, a total of three transgender clients while I was working in that job and the things that are happening to transgender migrants and transgender people in the jail that the border are unspeakable, and I will never forget that.

Speaker 4:

I was reading on your website that you filed a post-partner application for George Floyd. Can you talk about that?

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah, sure. While I was at the Public Defender's Office, one of the things that I was doing was that I was doing something called post-conviction work, and so that's like after somebody's been convicted. So we had a list of people whose cases we wanted to investigate. One of them was George Floyd, and I didn't come up with the list, actually, and when I was looking at the name I thought there's no way that's the George Floyd. And sure enough it was. He had been arrested in Houston by a corrupt police officer who was later charged with murder for the botched raids botched Harding Street raids where he allegedly falsified a warrant and busted into some people's houses. So that same police officer arrested George Floyd and had arrested him in 2009. And so he arrested him for allegedly dealing a small amount of cocaine, and Floyd ended up in the Harris County Jail for about 10 months. He finally pled guilty to a time served offer. So basically, he pled guilty and then was released. So a lot of people feel pressured to plead guilty when you say, look, you know the offer is for you to plead guilty and get out today. Well, yeah, of course you know, or you can keep sitting in there and waiting for trial. So he pled guilty and was released, and it turns out all these years later that the police officer set him up I mean, like the evidence was pretty clear when I was reviewing it. So I filed a posthumous part of an application text to one of the only places in the country where you can apply for a pardon posthumously after somebody dies, and so I was the one who filed that pardon application on behalf of Mr Floyd and his family. And it was actually really kind of interesting procedurally, because he the way that it would work is that it goes up to the board of pardons and peroles and they decide whether they're going to recommend that the governor grant the pardon or not. So it went up to them and they recommended that the governor grant it, which just about floored me, because all these people are appointed by Governor Abbott and he's not the world's most generous when it comes to granting pardons. So then I waited and waited to see what Abbott would do, and it turns out that the board all of a sudden, somehow, mysteriously, just decided that they had made a procedural mistake and they rescinded their recommendation all of a sudden, and then they reconsidered it for about six months and then they came back and they said actually we changed our minds. We're not going to recommend that he get the pardon application. So I think there was something kind of fishy going on there and I'm not really sure what it was still, but it was a really interesting experience and one of the things that came out of it that I was really hoping for was that we got more people who were kind of impacted by the police officer and by wrongful convictions in general to apply to the public defender's office to kind of know that we were there to help with this specific kind of relief because we got some publicity around it. So, anyway, yeah, that was one of the really cool experiences in my career was getting to do that.

Speaker 4:

We're speaking with Allison Mathis, a candidate for the 338th Criminal District Court. Alison, you know my friend, kevin Carpenter. How do you know Kevin Carpenter?

Speaker 2:

Kevin and I go back a long way.

Speaker 4:

Probably not as far as I do, because I went to high school with him.

Speaker 2:

Well, okay, so I knew him. He had already graduated, but I was still in high school.

Speaker 4:

So that's a long time.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it is, we're getting old, we're showing our age, yeah. So my best friend in high school came out of the closet and he met Kevin, and then we all started going to crossroads together.

Speaker 4:

Back in the day.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and actually the friend of mine who introduced me to Kevin is the one that I first practiced law with, kind of the reason that I ended up going to law school. So we've all been pretty close for a long time. He's a charming individual.

Speaker 4:

You mentioned that you went to Hatch back in the day. Can you talk about that?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean parts of it. I mean, I guess the statute of limitations has passed. Yeah, I went just as an ally, I guess, and I met a whole bunch. I was part of one of the first proms and, oh man, I had so much fun. We had a little gang of hatchlings running around. That was back when Deb Murphy was there, well, and then after that, when I was in college, she actually hired me. She hired me and Sparkles Justin Frazier who else was in the Alex Morris I think and we did outreach. We did community outreach, anti-meth outreach, and that was great. That was a wonderful little side hustle for college students. Yeah, I have a lot of really fond memories at that time. Somebody asked me in another interview how I plan to stay in touch with the LGBTQIA community. I was having a hard time answering it because I feel like I'm part of it. I don't feel like it's something that I feel very much. I think that the LGBTQIA community is more inclusive than any other community that I've ever been a part of or been let to feel a part of. And I feel like I'm a part of it. I feel like it's hard to say how will you stay in touch with the community. I live it. This is my home.

Speaker 4:

The colors of the rainbows are vast and there's all different portions of our community, so that's why we're so inclusive is because we have to welcome everybody. Okay, allison, so in the last few minutes, why are you running for office?

Speaker 2:

Well, the reason that I'm running is really because of the cruelty that I've seen coming out of the current judge's court and I think I can do better. I have a lot of great ideas from all the diverse places that I've practiced and I can bring a lot of really good, positive changes to the bench, and I really think it's important for judges to know what the community wants and needs, and to do that, I think you have to be an active part of the community. I mean, the community is who determines what justice is, and so I feel like I'm the candidate who is involved in that, and I will welcome any of you listening to this or anyone else, into my courtroom any time of day or night, anytime. I'm open, because I think that it's so important for people to understand the law and feel like the law is accessible to them and not just some arcane system that only lawyers can understand. And I promise that everything I do will be transparent and I will endeavor to be proud of every decision that I make.

Speaker 4:

I want to let you know that Queer Voices does not endorse in races. We just present the candidates and their roles and their opinions of the LGBT community. Thank you for coming on to Queer Voices.

Speaker 5:

This radio program, queer Voices, has existed since the 1970s. On KPFT. We have this little crew of folks working every week to produce what's no longer unique because we're almost mainstream now, but we're still an important voice that might not otherwise get heard because it's not on that many places. So KPFT is very important to give voices to those who might not otherwise have voices. So, as Glenn always says, you participate by listening. You should also participate by supporting the station. So please go to kpfftorg and make your donation right away. This is Deborah Moncree-Sbell, and today I'm talking with Destiny Smith. Destiny is a transgender theater artist based in Houston, and she graduated from Lamar University with a BS in theater and dance and now works full-time at Stages Houston as the lighting programmer and technician. Her work as a designer has been featured in Switzerland at Stages, the world premiere of so you Can Look Ahead at Lamar University, the arena choreographed by Amy Elizabeth, and numerous dance festivals and concerts by Lamar University in aimed dance. Her favorite shows that she's programmed at Stages are the Drag, wonder Rats, pantosno White and the Seven Dorks, plums Sugar, the Rise of Lauren Anderson and Black superhero magic mama Destiny is currently working on building her own theater company, translucent, with intentions of it being a fully queer theater in Houston. She's excited for what awaits her on this journey and how it could benefit the transgender and LGBTQIA plus community. Destiny, I know you're not all that old You're a fairly young person but it seems like you've been doing a lot. Tell me, first of all, a little bit about your journey.

Speaker 3:

I come from rural Texas. I've been in Texas all my life, have traveled outside of very few times. I, of course, I went to Lamar, where my first semester in I was a business major and halfway through I decided to change it to theater and I've been doing theater ever since. And I moved to Houston in December 2021 and have been enjoying everything that Houston has to offer ever since.

Speaker 5:

Had you had any performing experience prior to college?

Speaker 3:

Yes, I went to high school in a small town called Saratoga, texas, where I was acting. I started acting my sophomore year and I continued throughout my senior year.

Speaker 5:

You identify as transgender. So at what stage in this journey did you come to that identity, and how has it manifested itself?

Speaker 3:

For a long time I didn't really think I was trans. It starts out as one of those. I had a friend in high school who she transitioned after college and whenever I got into college, I realized that she transitioned and I started talking to her about it more and more as the years progressed and, no matter what, I was always just like no, I'm not trans, this isn't me. It was a lot of internalized transphobia that I was raised with. And then, whenever my senior year of college came around and I spent one summer, I didn't really have a lot of gigs going on and I had time to kind of sit with myself and reflect about everything that was happening in my life and how I was feeling about myself and my career, and I realized that I did a lot of work towards my career, but I didn't do a lot of work towards myself as a person. In fall 2021, I transitioned from male to female and I started hormones through a gender affirming care provider called PLOOM.

Speaker 5:

I imagine I mean anyone can well imagine coming from that background and some of the challenges that you faced. Did performing help you with all of that?

Speaker 3:

Performing kind of made me realize that I didn't want to be a man, because I stopped acting around my junior year of college. That was really when COVID hit. I kind of like took a break from acting because I wasn't necessarily comfortable with the people that I was portraying on stage and it was just men, it was solely men that I was portraying on stage, and that was a point where I was like what I used to find comfort in. I no longer was really feeling that, and so I took a step back, and that's when, like the soul searching kind of started happening. I would love to be on stage again, but I don't know if that's going to happen within the next couple of years.

Speaker 5:

Well, many things are possible, so let's see how we can make that happen. Is what I say Tell me exactly what does a lighting technician programmer do?

Speaker 3:

So I primarily work as a lighting designer, engineer, programmer, technician. As a technician, I will help hang lights, I will help focus plots for the designer. As a programmer, I am more of their hands when it comes. If you think about like a lighting designer as a painter, I am more of the designer's hands. They will tell me, oh, I want these to do like this, or I want these lights to be at this and like these lights to be at this, and I will pull up and I will program the console and all of the lighting looks so that the designer can truly focus on what they're envisioning for, like the show, and I will be the one that's thinking about all the technical elements that goes into how the lighting rig functions and all of that so that the designer can focus more and, like, most of the time, this allows the designer to get more out of their art so that they have, so that they can really like, truly get everything that they want out of, like the piece that we're doing.

Speaker 5:

Lighting is one of those things in theater that if it is done the way it's supposed to be done, you don't notice it, but if it's done wrong you're going to know. And if you've ever seen a play being done before they've blocked the lighting and set it up, you can see just how much it adds to any kind of performance. This was something that you learned through your university training.

Speaker 3:

Yes, ma'am, I originally went for acting, but I learned at LaMarr University that I was able to sort of do both, and so I took the role as an actor and a lighting designer and technician there. That's where a lot of my and during that process there wasn't a lot of lighting design students, so I did have a lot of chances that I don't think I would have normally gotten at other universities during that time. But I did have a lot of like good support from my mentor and, like I had a lot of like good processes where I was actually able to sit down and think about creatively how can I challenge myself and how I was able to make things work that I didn't necessarily would have. It was definitely a great environment to learn that.

Speaker 5:

How did you end up coming to Stages? Because you were essentially pretty fresh, fresh to Houston and that's one of the larger theater companies in Houston.

Speaker 3:

Stages in 2021 put out a job opening position for this position that I am in and I applied through it. I was working with them at the time for Panto Little Mermaid and that was where, like, I got like my foot in the door and I was able to talk with them. They really and I really love Stages for everything that they have been able to give me and they have truly made me feel seen as a trans woman, and so that was a great, that was a great first step into the Houston theater scene for me.

Speaker 5:

I'm forgetting who the interview was with. It was with Ken McLaughlin that he brought up your name.

Speaker 3:

Oh yes.

Speaker 5:

Brett did an interview with Ken and he mentioned about you and your interest in starting a theater that would be inclusive of transgender, and I love the name, translucent. How wonderful is that? I mean it fits in with your lighting, it fits in with I mean you just get a sense just from that word. So it's a wonderful selection. How do you envision this taking place? Is it something that could be done? And one of those smaller companies are part of one of the larger companies.

Speaker 3:

We would act as our own smaller theater. How similar to the smaller theaters go through the match. We would be doing something of that similar caliber. Right now our first season is planned to go through the match.

Speaker 5:

Oh, my gosh Destiny. I didn't realize you were that far along.

Speaker 7:

Oh, the art.

Speaker 5:

Can you give us a hint of what's coming up?

Speaker 3:

I can. We have two readings to try to gather some community support and some hopefully get some financial prospects in it as well. We will. Also, we are currently planning to have our first show open in fall of 2024 with a show by Alice Hudson. Oh sorry, no, persephone. Hudson called Two Dead Horses Beating Each Other Off Forever. It's a hell of a title, features a mostly transgender cast. There's only one cis person in it and they're on the stage for maybe five seconds. But we're, we've started kind of pushing through and I'm finding that there's actually a lot of community support already behind it, both from Ken and the other people that I have met through my time here in the Houston theater scene.

Speaker 5:

And this is going to sound like a really stupid question, but I have to ask it there's that many transgender actors in Houston.

Speaker 3:

There's a pool of transgender actors here in Houston that I think that people don't really tap into and what I've found is a lot of transgender actors kind of get discouraged from acting because of they don't really see that there's a place for them on stage. Because there are trans actors here in Houston and some come, some go, some stay. I found that there's, there will always be, a pool of transgender actors here in Houston. I just don't think that they're given the chance that they deserve to, to really have their voices be heard on stage.

Speaker 5:

There's been a number of movies and television shows that have actually have real transgender people playing the part of transgender people, and there's been a couple of movies made. I haven't gotten to see it yet. There's one called Mutt. It has a transgender lead in it, the man called Otto. That Tom Hanks movie had a trans actor playing a trans part. Do you think trans actors should only play trans parts?

Speaker 3:

This is a question that I actually get quite a lot. I think there's room for trans actors to be able to play cysts roles. I I truly think that there is that position in theater for that, Because there are often characters where their gender identity is not necessary to the character. There's a lot of times where genders aren't really specified or it's like this could be played by a man or a woman. I truly think that making inclusive theater means being able to bring transgender people into roles that aren't specifically defined for transgender people.

Speaker 5:

And do you find the same is true in the opposite direction? Is it appropriate for a cisgender person to play a trans character?

Speaker 3:

I don't. That's the point where it it get. I I believe that there's a limitation to what cis people can or what trans people can play and as far as, like, the boundary goes, I think people aren't pushing that boundary. But seeing it from the opposite direction as well, I don't think cis people would fully understand the scope of what being trans is and what that truly means to people Like I. I wouldn't say for existence, for just for reference. If there was a, if there was a show where a woman it was about women's reproductive rights, I wouldn't say a trans woman would necessarily fit inside of that role. But maybe there was roles inside that show that the trans person could still play. But, for example, if there was a show that was about a trans woman and like her path as a trans woman, I don't think that a cis person could partake in that role because they don't understand what it's like to to necessarily feel what that person's feeling.

Speaker 5:

Did you happen to watch the Emmys I?

Speaker 3:

I did not.

Speaker 5:

Well, I highly suggest that if you did not see the Emmys and if you have Hulu, you can go and watch the replay, because I I watched it last night. It was a really good show and it was a celebration of 75 years of television. Can you believe that, 75 years of the Emmys? That's older than I am, just barely. And so there was a lot of reunions and trips down memory lane that, in memoriam, I bald, I cannot tell you, because these are the people that have touched our lives and they're also a RuPaul Dragbase, one for best reality, and the speech that RuPaul gave was so powerful and so moving and had all the queens up on stage and it was glorious. There was also a special award, the governor's award, that was given to Glad, and I was a little disappointed that they never actually said what Glad is by name. They just called it Glad and I and I'm trying to think of what the name is the gay lesbian AAD, I don't know all of that Anti-defamation, I guess is in there the speech, and I cannot recall her name, but the chair of Glad or the president of Glad. She made another very powerful speech and talked about how we need to see and hear transgender stories.

Speaker 3:

Exactly, I think it's so. I think we're especially in a time, especially right now with use, like with politics in general, where the only way for people to sort of feel empathetic about the transgender community is for us to hear our stories, and that's what translucent strives to do. Is we forefront? We are here to show up for transgender and queer and non-binary people as a whole, and I think it's so important to continuously like show out for our community, show up for the people who are winning these awards, for the trans people who are winning awards, and for a chance to at least get trans people in a place to start receiving more of those awards.

Speaker 5:

Are you the only trans person that works at stages?

Speaker 3:

No, I am currently one of three.

Speaker 5:

And now there's a lovely person that works the house the floor.

Speaker 3:

when I've attended performance yes, that's my that's actually my sister, rose Rose. Yeah, she is my, she is my chosen sister and she is actually has a role in Two Dead Horses. She is one of the main characters.

Speaker 5:

I always am interested to see what Rose is going to be wearing, and it just really.

Speaker 3:

She is a beautiful person.

Speaker 5:

Yes, and it warmed my heart so much when I went there. And here's a trans person and unapologetically trans and just always has a smile and makes you feel welcome, and so I really celebrate that. Stages is doing that. The alley in several past years has gotten into this thing of that gender mixing, like it doesn't really matter. Women play men parts, men play women's part, or so-called women's parts, and they also are doing it with races, like I'm telling you a story, and we can do this with diversity. I do want you to come back when you're ready to open Two Dead Horses. What else do you have planned, I think? Are you connected to any of the trans groups, the support groups or organizations?

Speaker 3:

I currently am not. We're still trying to get everything up and running as far as like an organization goes. What is for me as an artist? Currently, I am still working at stages and we're hitting off our next season. I'm taking more gigs as a designer and I'm keeping my eye out for the opportunities that are to come. I'm really excited about putting a full four like putting all my effort towards getting translucent off the ground and getting this into a theater that trans people can come to love. This is translucent right now is my baby, is my big pet project, so I will be devoting a lot more time to translucent than to most of my other projects that I have in the past.

Speaker 5:

It's very exciting. You're like all Star Trek, going boldly where no one's come before. I mean I guess they do have in other cities, I'm not familiar though. Do you know of any transgender theater companies?

Speaker 3:

I currently don't. One of my big things right now is at least trying to get this one in Houston going. I know that there are queer theaters still in the United States that are still running and there is, I know for sure. There's About Face in Chicago, there's a couple in New York and there's a couple in LA. There's, right now, my biggest, some of my biggest influences have been a trans woman that I I recently got in touch with. Her name is Lisa Friday. She is a trans woman who transitioned in the, I believe, late 90s, early 2000s and it's she has been and she is a successful trans woman in theater, which has been so exciting to see her and to see everything that she's doing outside of this. But right now, that's my, my currently my only view on trans theater outside of what I'm currently doing is has been her and the other trans individual trans artists.

Speaker 5:

Tell me a little bit more about your dance.

Speaker 3:

So I've been doing dance design since college. That was one of the plus sides to the Mar University was there's some. The theater and dance department is integrated, so my degree is in theater and dance, but it was nice to be able to get the opportunity to do dance design with them, and recently I had the pleasure one of my most favorite pieces that I've worked on in dance as a whole was with Travis Prokov. He is now at the University of Houston, but before that he was teaching at Lamar University and he was teaching aerial. But he had a piece that we did last spring I forget the name of it, but it was. It was a truly beautiful piece that was about being in the closet and trying to escape it, and it was that. That was one of the points where I kind of like sat down and like quickly, was like I want to work on more queer art I had. This was. This was definitely. That was definitely a turning point for me, where I saw this and I go this has more. This was more fulfilling to me than anything that I had ever done in the past, being just given the chance.

Speaker 5:

Sounds like it was quite profound, and certainly through dance. Being in touch with your body has to be a real bonus to that.

Speaker 3:

It was absolutely stunning, it was so profound and it truly it was one of those pieces that, like, I resonated with as someone who who had to I a little bit about me was I was, I was outed by my family and so I didn't really have the chance to come out of the closet, and so that piece, specifically, was very, was very touching to me and it truly moved me as an artist.

Speaker 5:

Well again. Destiny Smith, thank you for being with us on Queer Voices.

Speaker 1:

This is Queer Voices.

Speaker 8:

This is Brett Cullum, and right now, on Queer Voices, I am joined by the producer and the cast of a show opening up on February 2nd at the Match Theatre. The production is Ann and it will be presented by the Garden Theatre. Now, the reason that I have the cast here is because this is a one woman show without Texas Governor Ann Richards, and also with me is Logan Vaden, artistic director for the Garden Theatre. Welcome to Queer Voices, nora and Logan. Thank you so much. So I know the esteemed out lesbian actress Holland Taylor originally wrote this show about Ann Richards and she called it an affectionate portrait and she performed it herself for several years. Do you want to produce this with Nora and the lead?

Speaker 7:

Yeah, so this is actually a little bit of a long story, going all the way back to 2009. Nora and I did a show together when I was 18 years old where I got to play opposite of her and her husband and I just fell in love with the Han family and over the years just have adored them and even their kiddos. Nora was at top of mind when we started producing shows for the Garden Theatre. I'm such a fan and I think even the very first show we ever produced I asked Nora to come and audition and just because of scheduling it's just never worked out. But once we got to, steel Magnolias, which was our spring show last year, did finally work out and Nora was our Clary. In the meantime I had seen the PBS broadcast of Ann starring Holland Taylor and had thought, oh my gosh, what a feat. I don't know if I know an actress that could do this. Wouldn't it be so cool if I did? And once we were rehearsing Steel Magnolias and I got to watch Nora in the rehearsal room, I realized that is our Ann. I didn't say anything to her. Steel Magnolias closed. It was just kind of filed in the back of my head and about a week after the show closed, nora sent me a message just saying thank you for allowing me to be in Steel Magnolias, and then she ended it with if you ever want to do, ann, I'm your girl. Now, here we are. We just happened to be thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time, so it's kind of serendipitous.

Speaker 8:

Sometimes serendipity is the way to go. Well, nora, I have a similar question for you. Why did you press Logan here to play Ann Richards?

Speaker 9:

Well, similar story. I had seen the PBS broadcast of Holland Taylor. Sadly I didn't get to see her do the show in person. But I mean, I grew up, you know young woman in Texas, you know, during her governorship and had always just admired her. She was a huge fan. But I hadn't really paid that much attention to the play. I had heard of it and I thought, well, that's kind of weird to play about Ann Richards, but okay. But then when I saw it man, you know, like Logan says in some of his marketing, you laugh, you cry. It just brought her to life and I bought the script, I mean literally two years ago in January. I can remember telling one of the jokes from the play because they're all so good. So I'd had it just sitting on my shelf and you know I would pull it out every now and then and read it. And then the PBS show was taken off the air and so I was like, darn it, I can't see it, I still like to do it. So I asked another theater in town and it just didn't work out. And so you know, with Logan I thought the garden's pretty new, but I don't know if it will fit into their schedule, but it's kind of the perfect play to fit in to a small window and certainly with a small theater. So I, just, on a whim, you know, I just said like I said I'm your girl and he went for it. Bless his heart. So I've been, it's been in my head for over a year. I've just been listening to it and I think it's now back on PBS. So don't watch it if your viewers are watching, because don't compare me to the Almighty, compare me to myself. But at any rate, it's just the story. Her life it's just. You know, there's nobody like her and I don't think there could be anyone like her in politics or in government these days. It's changed so much. But, my Lord, did we have a treasure when we had her?

Speaker 8:

Sure, I wouldn't worry about Holland Taylor, I would worry about Anne Bridges herself. What did you want to say?

Speaker 7:

I was going to jump in just really quick and say, producing the show had, it's, a major hurdle in the fact that we applied for the rights and thought we were just going to get them. And then, lo and behold the light. The licensing representative emailed me and said do you have an actress in mind already and is she an equity actress? Now, that's which equity is. Is the the Actors Union? Now, typically that is a question that's on your questionnaire when you're when you're applying for rights. And I just thought he was following up. What ended up happening is that Holland Taylor requires the actress to be an equity actress, which Nora is not. Nora has a day job and doesn't do this full time. And we immediately snapped into action because I was like, oh my God, they're going to say no and she has to do this, she has to do this. So I wrote a dissertation on why Nora Haan should play Anne Richards and that actually went to the desk of Holland Taylor for her to review and read. And it was Holland Taylor who approved Nora to play Anne Richards in this production and if, for some reason, nora couldn't do it, we weren't allowed to do it anymore, because because it had to be Nora, according to Holland Taylor. I take back what.

Speaker 8:

I said I would be scared of a dealer, but one of the things that's scary about playing Anne in Texas is it can be tricky because here we know her pretty well, we have a pretty good idea of her in our minds at least you know those that remember her. And Nora, what do you try to capture? What is the trick to becoming Anne Richards?

Speaker 9:

Yeah, I thought about that. You know that you can't just mimic her, because she was one of a kind and her accent is an East Texas accent, but it's also just sort of a good old girl Texas accent. So it's hard to get it exactly right. I wish I could, but I'm not quite there. But I think I just want to show as much as I can. You know, I can't be a mimic or a mime of her, but I just want to show what she was like, her energy and her passion, her compassion and, you know, for folks like I said, just to have an idea of who this person was, because she was one of a kind. She meant so much to so many and she cared so deeply about what she was doing that if I can just emulate some of that and portray that to the audience, that's really what I'm trying to do. I have to get out of my head. I can't be just like her. I watch videos of her, you know speeches and interviews all the time, but I just have to get into. I think it was Glenn Close who once said you don't become the character, the character becomes you, and so that's what I'm trying to do.

Speaker 8:

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but Anne was Texas governor from 1991 until 1995. What do you guys think made her so legendary? I mean, because she wasn't, she was four years. What impact of that governor should you think, lasts?

Speaker 9:

So she wanted people in public service to look like the population of the state. We talk about that a lot in the play. She wanted to open the doors to a new Texas. I don't think the Texas of today resembles what she did at the time, but what she did at the time was really bringing people of all walks of life and from every part of the state to participate in government. She didn't care you know what you did. It could be at any part of government public service but she just wanted to encourage women and minorities, people from every kind of background, to participate. That's part of what she did. I think she appointed like 3,000 people to office from those various walks of life. They filtered out at this point, but there are still some that are still serving. I think she also she took some very strong stance that people are still compassionate about today, whether it's gun rights or women's rights or just even some of the things she did budgetarily. She ran a clean budget and she was all for public schools and just creating a fair playing field for everybody. Like I say, it's different today, but, my goodness, at the time she did open a lot of doors and she broke a lot of ground. She made some people mad, but she also, at the end of the day, I think really from what I've seen of people who talk about her, people all over the world would just want to touch her, just wanted to be with her, and would say I voted for you. And she would say, but you live in New Jersey. And they'd say, but yeah, I wanted to vote for you. She just had that kind of appeal that just made people want to be a part of what she was doing.

Speaker 8:

Now, nora, in a show from the Garden Theater, bonnie and Clyde, you played Texas's first female governor, who was Miriam Ma Ferguson. How does that feel? How do you feel like there's a difference between the two?

Speaker 9:

A little bit, I think, with Ma. She certainly wrote on the coattails of her husband and Anne, when she got into office, was divorced. But I think that they were both for tough. I mean, that was the thing about Bonnie and Clyde Ma was the governor when they were committing a rampage through Texas and she had to work with all those good old boys to help basically rid us of this little dynamic duo that was just cutting across Texas. So they both were tough and I heard Anne say one time people say can a woman governor really be tough? They can't possibly. And she said most of the crime is committed against women. So yeah, I think we know a thing or two about how to govern and protect our people. So I think they probably. I tried to find out as much as I could about Ma Ferguson, but yeah, she was a tough old broad too. I'm sure there's some similarities.

Speaker 8:

We are talking with artistic director of the Garden Theater, Logan Vaden, and his leading actress for Anne Nora Hahn. Logan, tell me why you founded the Garden Theater and how long has it been around.

Speaker 7:

Sure. So in 2019, we lost one of our greatest theaters here in Houston, which was Obsidian Theater, which included their incredible space as well. I was lucky enough with the former theater company that I co-founded and ran. We performed in Obsidian quite a bit. All of my friends were part of the Obsidian what was basically a company of actors and that was really a community space, and once we lost it, I really felt like we lost a little bit of our community. I didn't get to see my friends as often. There was kind of a void of the kind of art that Obsidian was making. So in December of 2019, I called a group of people together a lot of them from Obsidian and said how would we like to start a theater company? Essentially and totally surprised them. Of course, I had each given them each about a bottle of wine before I asked, and now they all continue to sit on the board of directors to this day. Of course, the pandemic got in the way of opening when we were supposed to. The company started in 2020, january of 2020. We were going to announce in March for a late summer show of 2020, and all of that got put on hold. So we waited until January of 2021, which ended up being a blessing because we had a lot of time to plan. Since then, we've been around for about three years, we count since the announcement. It's been three years this month. We call ourselves semi-professional, and the way that we define that is everyone that we work with is either employed somewhere else or they're the bartender. That's the super talented singer, but they have to bartend in order to pay the bills, and we're the home for those people. So people can come to us. They know that they're going to do quality work and we're going to do quality work and put on good shows, something they can be proud of and still get to hone their craft and perform, and so that's why we're here, and we're so honored that the Houston Theatre community has accepted us with such wide and open arms over the last three years, really from the beginning.

Speaker 8:

Well, it's impressive. I've seen it from the start and I've been very impressed with every show. Very strong, you've got a great artistic vision. I think you're doing wonderful things here and you're exclusively at the match. So far, is that correct? The Midtown?

Speaker 7:

Correct, so we actually opened in a backyard. Oh, okay.

Speaker 8:

I wasn't at the backyard.

Speaker 7:

Yeah, so we did two concerts. I believe Match had not opened back up yet, but it was PET Outdoor Theatre, which was a pin limb, who's one of our great photographers of Houston Theatre, edgar Guajardo, who is a sound and lighting designer here that design as well. And then Thomas Helton, who's a musician. Thomas had this big backyard and said why don't we build a space to allow companies to just produce their work safely outside, spaced out seating? And that's where we started. We did two musical theater pop cabarets out there that were a ton of fun. And then we moved to the match and we've been there ever since.

Speaker 8:

Going back to Ann a little bit, and because this is Queer Voices, I have to bring up a little bit of a controversy that happened with Ann and the gay community. She was criticized heavily for involvement in a ratification of a Texas law that prohibited deviant sexual intercourse between individuals of the same sex and later she had to kind of backpedal. She definitely kind of said some things about that and it was a big blow to her support from the gay community of that time. Does the play deal with that controversy at all?

Speaker 9:

Do they address that or no, it's, and I read a little bit about that. She does just mention that she involved people from walks of life black, gay, hispanic and what have you. My understanding, just from reading some of the comments back and forth between different people, is that she had taken that part of the law out and then the Republicans put it back in so that the entire package that she was trying to pass would have failed. But certainly I've read so many letters from people who did appreciate what she did in opening the doors and certainly hiring a number of people and involving them in government from the community. But yeah, that was one of those things that's very controversial and I don't know enough about it to be intelligent, but I did read about it and that was disappointing to see. But certainly compared with some of the shenanigans that go on today, I kind of feel like we have worse things to deal with now. So, but I do recall what you're talking about.

Speaker 8:

Well, she is definitely a lesbian icon. I think that whenever I talk to the part of the community, the women, they really dig her. And part of the attraction, I think, is that am I correct? She divorced her husband right before she took office.

Speaker 9:

Yes, it may have been. I don't know how far before she took office. I want to say she was maybe in her mid 40s. I think we say that in the play I was well into my 40s and then when she took office she probably was 56. So it may have been 10 years.

Speaker 8:

Yeah, but she was basically a single woman running Texas, which is amazing.

Speaker 9:

And there's one line in the play where they talk about how her Lieutenant Governor said something like I don't want to talk to any of your hairy leg of zoo girls, and that may have been some of the people she was referring to. Bob Bullock was her Lieutenant Governor.

Speaker 8:

I wanted to ask you guys did you know that the Match Theatre debuted a rock opera about Ann Richards in 2019?

Speaker 7:

I did know that there are several people that have actually worked with the Garden and are working on our next show, refor Madness, that were part of that and helped write it and I believe there's an album of it, I believe, and my friends are on that album and yeah, it was really incredible. Yeah, I believe it showed Ann portrayed by several different women. I think that was kind of the point, so that you got to see all different walks of life portray Ann. It was really interesting.

Speaker 9:

Somebody asked me last night is this play a musical? And I was like no. But now you mention it. Maybe they did know what they were talking about.

Speaker 8:

They may have, and if you turn it into a musical, I'd be scared of Holland Taylor. Okay, all right, we've been talking with actress Nora Haan. She is the star of Ann, opening February 2nd and running through February 11th at the Match Theatre. She has been joined by artistic director Logan Vaden. And Logan, thank you for coming on. You're definitely one of my favorite producers in Houston right now at Theatre. It's such a joy to talk to both of you and I'm so excited that you're doing Ann, because Ann Richards I mean, how can you get any better than that, especially right now in this political climate? She's just such an icon.

Speaker 9:

I agree. I don't think there's anybody like her at the time, Certainly not now. You know there are some bad imitations, unfortunately, but nobody could be like her and we would be very fortunate to have somebody like Ann.

Speaker 7:

Agreed. Something that's lovely about the play is that she really she's really presented as someone for everyone. The play has no agenda. It's not heavy. It's not heavy-sided on the Democrat side. She makes a couple of jabs towards Republicans, but nothing bad whatsoever. So it's really lovely to see that she was a person for everybody and she truly meant that. I think our politicians these days say that consistently and we have seen on both sides that that is not true. So, yeah, she's a great lady and I'm really glad that we get to bring her to the stage. We're glad too.

Speaker 8:

Thank you both very, very much.

Speaker 1:

That was Brett Cullum talking with Nora Hahn, who plays Ann Richards in Ann, and Logan Vaden, who is the artistic director of Garden Theatre. The show runs February 2nd through the 11th at the Match Building in Midtown Houston. This has been Queer Voices, which is now a home-produced podcast and available from several podcasting sources. Check our webpage QueerVoicesorg for more information. Queer Voices' executive producer is Brian Levinca. Andrew Edmondson and Deborah Moncrief-Bell are frequent contributors. The News Wrap segment is part of another podcast called this Way Out, which is produced in Los Angeles.

Speaker 6:

Some of the material in this program has been edited to improve clarity and runtime. This program does not endorse any political views or animal species. Views, opinions and endorsements are those of the participants and the organizations they represent. In case of death, please discontinue use and discard remaining products.

Speaker 1:

For Queer Voices. I'm Glenn Holt.

Criminal Justice and LGBTQ+ Advocacy
Career, LGBTQ Advocacy, Running for Office
Transgender Theater Artist's Journey and Work
Discussion on Transgender Representation in Theater
Transgender Theater
Legacy and Impact of Anne Richards