Queer Voices

April 17th 2024 Queer Voices

April 17, 2024 Queer Voices
April 17th 2024 Queer Voices
Queer Voices
More Info
Queer Voices
April 17th 2024 Queer Voices
Apr 17, 2024
Queer Voices

Send us a Text Message.

Imagine stepping into the sequined boots of a pop culture icon; that's the exhilarating challenge Ella Perez takes on night after night as Babe Cher in "The Cher Show." As I sit with her, we peel back the curtain on channeling Cher's spirit without falling into imitation—no easy feat when you're portraying the Goddess of Pop. Ella's own voyage of musical discovery lends an intimate touch to our conversation, as we marvel at the enduring influence of Cher over generations, and the thrills of performing for diverse fans who find a piece of themselves in her songs.

The dynamics backstage can be as captivating as the show itself, and Ella returns to share tales from the touring trenches. The bond between the cast of "The Cher Show" is palpable, a family forged in the spotlight, sharing both laughter and support as they crisscross the country. Our heartfelt discussion doesn't shy away from the show's impact on the LGBTQIA+ community, or the dreams that glimmer on the horizon for Ella and the cast. The universal quest for authenticity, so central to Cher's legacy, rings out as a powerful message for us all.

As the episode waltzes through a variety of intriguing topics, we're joined by an ensemble of voices that enrich the tapestry of our conversation. From Dan Knetchges' insights into Theatre Under the Stars' upcoming season to Davis Mendoza Darusman's candid exploration of pansexuality, each narrative thread weaves into the next. Julia Grossman's leap from food trucks to Fusion Eats serves as a delectable side dish to our main course, reminding us of the transformative power of passion, be it under the stage lights or in the bustling heart of a kitchen. Join us for an episode that celebrates the stories that bind us, challenge us, and inspire us to keep reaching for the stars.

Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Send us a Text Message.

Imagine stepping into the sequined boots of a pop culture icon; that's the exhilarating challenge Ella Perez takes on night after night as Babe Cher in "The Cher Show." As I sit with her, we peel back the curtain on channeling Cher's spirit without falling into imitation—no easy feat when you're portraying the Goddess of Pop. Ella's own voyage of musical discovery lends an intimate touch to our conversation, as we marvel at the enduring influence of Cher over generations, and the thrills of performing for diverse fans who find a piece of themselves in her songs.

The dynamics backstage can be as captivating as the show itself, and Ella returns to share tales from the touring trenches. The bond between the cast of "The Cher Show" is palpable, a family forged in the spotlight, sharing both laughter and support as they crisscross the country. Our heartfelt discussion doesn't shy away from the show's impact on the LGBTQIA+ community, or the dreams that glimmer on the horizon for Ella and the cast. The universal quest for authenticity, so central to Cher's legacy, rings out as a powerful message for us all.

As the episode waltzes through a variety of intriguing topics, we're joined by an ensemble of voices that enrich the tapestry of our conversation. From Dan Knetchges' insights into Theatre Under the Stars' upcoming season to Davis Mendoza Darusman's candid exploration of pansexuality, each narrative thread weaves into the next. Julia Grossman's leap from food trucks to Fusion Eats serves as a delectable side dish to our main course, reminding us of the transformative power of passion, be it under the stage lights or in the bustling heart of a kitchen. Join us for an episode that celebrates the stories that bind us, challenge us, and inspire us to keep reaching for the stars.

Queer Voices airs in Houston Texas on 90.1FM KPFT and is heard as a podcast here. Queer Voices hopes to entertain as well as illuminate LGBTQ issues in Houston and beyond. Check out our socials at:

https://www.facebook.com/QueerVoicesKPFT/ and
https://www.instagram.com/queervoices90.1kpft/

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, brett Cullum has three conversations for us. First, Brett talks with Ella Perez about her role as Babe Cher in the Cher Show musical hosted by Houston's Theatre Under the Stars. Brett and Ella talk about Cher's early days and her status as an LGBT icon. Then Brett talks with Dan Connectus, the artistic director of Theatre Under the Stars, about their 2024-2025 season, about their 2024-2025 season.

Speaker 2:

Some of the choices are the model that Tuts has grown into is. For us to still be vibrant, we have to include some tours, and so part of that piece of the puzzle are what tours are available to us.

Speaker 1:

And Brett and Davis Mendoza talk about what it means to be pansexual and why that's different from being bisexual.

Speaker 3:

I think there are a lot of very valid, very warranted efforts to expand the bisexuality as two plus, and I'm definitely not going to be somebody that's going to define somebody's sexual orientation for them.

Speaker 1:

Also, Brian LaVinca talks with Julia Grossman about Fusion. Eats. Queer Voices starts now.

Speaker 4:

I am Brett Cullum. The Cher Show is coming to Houston April 16th through the 28th at the Hobby Center. It is a musical biography of legendary music icon and LGBTQIA plus icon, Cher. The production is a tour brought in by Tuts and right now I am joined by a cast member named Ella Perez who plays Babe Cher. I got all excited because I thought I said Baby Cher, but it's Babe Cher. So welcome to the Queer Voices, Ella.

Speaker 5:

Hi, I'm so happy to be here.

Speaker 4:

I am so happy to have you. I have been waiting for this show all season long. I mean out of all the touch ones, I was like that's the one that we have to go to. So the first question I have to ask you is have you ever met the real Cher?

Speaker 5:

Oh my God, not yet Okay and I hope one day she's gonna pop in and see it. But I always said like if she does come, no one can tell me until like after the show's over.

Speaker 4:

No, I would die.

Speaker 5:

Like no way.

Speaker 4:

Yeah, I was talking to Gabby, who was here previously with the Tuts tour, and she played Gloria Estefan and they actually had to interact and I was like God, that's got to be nerve wracking. And that's my next question is how in the heck do you play somebody that's still alive and not get?

Speaker 5:

nervous about it. Yeah, yeah, it's a big responsibility and I think my biggest thing that I wanted to focus on was not making it like a character and making it like some like tasteless impression, because that's not necessarily what the show is about, and I think that the three of us do a really good job at doing like a hint of share. But there's still us like our director made it clear that she wanted to be like us but like we're paying tribute to share and like we're not necessarily like pretending to be share and like imitating share, and that's what we wanted to avoid. And I had to do like a lot of research and like watch a lot of footage and work on my share impression. Our our star, who's morgan scott, had a really, really good impression off the jump. So we like took a lot of things after her and listened to her all the time and kind of picked up on what she did.

Speaker 4:

But, yeah, I think we all do like a really nice little tribute to her and what she sounds like you know, in the share show there's a total of three of you, right, that are playing share different ages and different times and things like that and I'm guessing, because you're playing babe share and looking at you and seeing how young you are, I am guessing that you are playing a very early era of share.

Speaker 5:

Yes, yeah, I play share from when she's actually 10 years old up until she's about 20. Like this opening scene with me and the mom and I'm like in a little side pony town. I'm in first grade. We hear about how Cher was bullied in school because she didn't look like all the other kids in Southern California.

Speaker 4:

So what songs do you get to sing as Babe Cher?

Speaker 5:

So I get to do I sing you Better Sit Down, kid and Half Breed with Lucy Werner who plays Georgia. And I get to do I got you babe, with sunny, which is iconic, and the audience is always really, really excited for that one. It's one of my favorite moments in the show getting to sing that classic song. I do when the money's gone, all or nothing now that big vegas sequence it's. And during that sequence that's when lady taps me out because I we start the comedy hour, the sunny chair comedy hour, and babe is too shy and has like extreme stage fright. Where it comes to a point where Lady literally taps her on the shoulder, she's like, okay, it's time. For my part, like let's move on.

Speaker 5:

Yes, I get to sing a lot of the old Sonny and Cher classics which I love, and I get a really nice big number in Act Two, the Beat Goes On, which takes you through Cher's entire movie career and how she won her Oscar for Moonstruck. That's one of my favorite numbers in the show. Yeah, I can sing Woman's World. I don't even know if I could list all of them off the top of my head. I'm singing a lot.

Speaker 5:

Those are my favorites.

Speaker 4:

It sounds like it Were you a fan of Cher before you got this.

Speaker 5:

I can't say that I was a Cher fanatic and I knew her entire discographyography. I obviously knew who she was and I grew up listening to a lot of my parents' music growing up so she was definitely sprinkled in there. So I knew more songs than I thought I did going into it. But I always knew more of like who she was as like a pop culture icon and like a diva, like I always like knew about her Twitter and like I always loved watching her interviews and like her videos because she's always been so funny and like very authentic and I always really loved that about her. And then doing the show made me realize I knew more Cher songs than I thought I did.

Speaker 4:

I have to say Cher's official Twitter account is off the hook. It's so good.

Speaker 5:

It's crazy and we actually have a series on our Cher on her Instagram account where the three of us are going through Cher's Twitter and reading her tweets. Highly recommend giving it a watch. It's really funny. Her tweets are crazy.

Speaker 4:

I love them, I live for them.

Speaker 5:

It's hilarious.

Speaker 4:

This looks like from your biography that this may be one of your first big national tours.

Speaker 5:

Oh my God, it's crazy. I graduated college in May and I remember just seeing the casting. I was a little closer to graduation it was April, early May and I remember just seeing like the casting. I was like a little closer to graduation, it was like April, early May and I remember just like I was looking through Actors Access to see just like different things I could submit myself for, and I remember seeing this and I was like, oh, I'm the right height, I'm the right. Look, I think I could sing it. I remember I loved the Broadway production.

Speaker 5:

I was really into that in 2019, when it was really big and I just submitted my picture, my resume, and I was like we'll see what happens, like if they even see it, and they did. And then they asked me for some tapes. I had to film like a pretty lengthy tape. It was a like we would do like three full songs for this tape. I didn't hear anything for a little while and then they had me come in about I don't want to say like four times in person in New York City for some callbacks where I did some scenes, I did more of the same music and then really funny story my final day of callbacks. I did my thing. I did my dance call, did my songs, whatever, and then I went home because I knew they saw the girls in the morning, boys in the afternoon.

Speaker 5:

I'm on my train home. I live on long island, so it's about a 45 minute train from penn station in manhattan and I am like five minutes away from my stop at home and I get an email from the casting director and she's like hey, can you come back in like an hour and a half and learn this whole new song she had me learn the beat goes on, which wasn't in our audition packet. And I was like um, like yeah, sure. So I literally got off the train, hopped back on another one back in the opposite direction, back to New York, and I like spent the whole train ride like learning the songs and looking at the music and it was really freaky. I've never had anything like that happen to me before.

Speaker 5:

And then I went in and it was just me in the holding room, because all the boys were in there, it was just me. It was really scary. And then I was the last person they saw that day and they had me sing all the material, do all the sides, and then the new song. I found out I got the job. A couple days later from my agents, I got a phone call. I woke up from a nap to this phone call and I was like hello, like crazy, I couldn't believe it. I really, because this was like such, like a. I was like oh, I'll just submit for it and see what happens. Like there's no way I'm going to book a leading role in a national tour right out of school. Like am I out of my mind?

Speaker 4:

and we are speaking with Ella Perez of the Cher Show coming to Houston April 16th through the 28th. Okay, I have to ask you this because I read your bio. There is a part that we both played. I was the emcee in a production of Cabaret and I noticed that you had the same part in your biography. And I actually just interviewed Alan Cumming, who obviously did it on Broadway. The emcee, the emcee, yes. So how did that happen? How did you become a lady, mc?

Speaker 5:

Cabaret was my last musical at my college. It was my senior musical, so I went into this. I wanted to play Sally Bowles, and I still do. One day I'm going to do Cabaret again.

Speaker 7:

I have to play that part.

Speaker 5:

But I went and so that's what I went into my audition for. I was like I have to book Sally Bowles in my senior musical cabaret. And then I got a callback. I got a callback for Sally Bowles and then I got a callback for the MC too and I was like okay, like interesting, I kind of love this whole gender-bent situation and I have a very close relationship with the woman who was directing the show and so I was like like oh, she's definitely just like wants to play with me and like see like what I do in the callback room. Like it was my last callback. She's like I bet she just wants to see me like freak out and like do a callback like that. So I tried to do like a somewhat german dialect and like I had to improv all of like you know, in the beginning during vilkerman, when she's introducing all of the kit kat girls and all the kit kat boys. I had to improv all of their little introductions and do all that for my callback. And I ended up getting the role of MC, which was not in my bingo card for my senior year. It was, Honestly, I was scared because I didn't really have much to base my performance on, because I've only ever seen performances of male or non-binary MCs and I was like, okay, I have to really really reinvent this role for myself.

Speaker 5:

And it honestly gave me a lot of freedom where I got to really play and make this character a version of the MC that we've never seen before. We've never seen a femme woman really play this role not that I've seen at least. It was so fun and it was really scary. At first I was so scared to make any like huge choices and I had felt like there was like the weight of the world on me. I felt like it was a lot of pressure playing a role like that. Mc carries the entire show. But as time went on I I got to have so much fun with that role and I learned so so much and I'm really really grateful that my, that my director trusted me with a role like that in a show like that. I'm so, so grateful Like it was incredible. I wouldn't have wanted to end my college career any other way. It was such an honor and I hold that show very, very close to my heart.

Speaker 4:

Well, I do too, Ella Definitely. We're talking to Ella Perez and she is working with the Cher Show playing Babe Cher, and I have to ask what's it like touring with this cast? Do you guys have fun or is it like all work?

Speaker 5:

This cast, I have to say, is full of the most incredible people that I've ever met.

Speaker 5:

And we do.

Speaker 5:

We have fun, we have lots of fun and you know we have some like really long hard days sometimes where it's like you know, we'll have like a one night morning I have to drive to a new city and do a show that night and then leave again to go somewhere else in the morning, and like those days can get really hard and like really exhausting.

Speaker 5:

But I don't know, I think the fact that we have such a strong like family bond between all of us, like even on the hard days we still have fun and we're always very supportive of each other and like if someone needs to take a night off or someone needs to call out, like we're always like okay, we're going to support this understudy that's going to come on, this swing that's going to swing on tonight, and we're going to get through this together and it's really really fun.

Speaker 5:

It's so exciting and we always try and make sure that we all have time to like explore the cities together and like go out after shows and like this cast is just really really special. And then, you know, I've heard some horror stories, some national horror casts that like don't necessarily get along the way that we do, but like I can honestly say that every single person in this cast is an amazing person and we all get along so so well, which makes this really hard job just that much easier, and I'm very thankful for that well, in houston you have to go out to some of the bars because there are drag versions of share everywhere and they would freak if any of you guys came in the door.

Speaker 4:

They would.

Speaker 5:

It will be in attendance.

Speaker 4:

We will be in attendance I'm gonna hold you to that, because I don't think that any of the other people have done that oh my god, I think we actually have to like come on we have to it's chair.

Speaker 5:

When we were miami there were some drag places that we went that had share impersonators and they we sold a lot of tickets there.

Speaker 4:

yeah, no, you should just ask to be spotlighted in the show. You can go on there. Do Sunny and Cher with one of the girls You'll be fine.

Speaker 5:

Right.

Speaker 4:

So I want to ask you this is such an exciting project for you and I know you're touring through but have you thought about what's next for Ella Perez? Have you thought where do I want to go from here? Now that I've shared Cher with the world? What's after that?

Speaker 5:

We do. We are very lucky that the tour got extended for another year of a tour and as of right now I am going to be on that second year tour because I don't think I'm finished with this show quite yet. Can't get enough, apparently. But my dream is to originate a role in a musical. That is like everything I could ever want, I think, and I think that this opportunity is really exciting for me to get my foot in the door and kind of get myself seen by more people, because I'm still, like you know, actively taping and auditioning for stuff, even while I'm working. That would be incredible. If something like that came along and I got to like create my own role in a brand new piece of work and like have it maybe go farther, to like a big regional theater or even broadway, that would be absolutely amazing. Like I want to record a cash recording so bad.

Speaker 4:

Oh, that's like my dream. That would be crazy just to have yourself on that. Well, I wanted to ask you about have you noticed that there's a large LGBTQIA plus presence in your audience? How does that? Do you feel that energy?

Speaker 5:

Oh, yes, absolutely, and we see lots of like glitter outfits and rainbows and like people of all sorts of like gender identities and things at our shows and it's really, really special because these they're usually in the front row and they're definitely like the most like active and enthusiastic and responsive audience members that we have, and we can always like point out those people who are like big, big big Cher fans, and I think it makes a lot of sense because Cher has always been her most authentic self through and through, no matter what, and that's what I think the queer community loves the most about her and admires the most about her, and I it makes me so, so happy that there's a place where these people can come and we can all just be together and celebrate this woman who has paved the way for so many people and has made so many people feel comfortable in their own skin.

Speaker 5:

Just something very unique about this show specifically We've had some amazing responses I'll get DMs in my Instagram account or my email of people who saw the show and they're like it really really like resonated with me and I felt because you know, like share also dealt with a lot of fear and and stage fright insecurity growing up, which is something it's like you see a person like sharing, no way does that woman insecure, but like you watch the show and you hear about all, see all the ups and downs of her career, I think that it just makes you feel very, very seen and that's something that the queer community really resonates with and it's really special that we get to provide that space for people every night. It's very, very it's a privileged position to be in and I'm really thankful.

Speaker 4:

Well, ella Perez, I cannot wait to see you. I've been waiting for this show all year. My husband is like one of the biggest Cher fans. We've seen her so many times. It will be an honor to see you bring it to life and do all of those favorite songs like from the the early days. I I'm excited for that. I mean, the beat goes on is literally like one of my favorite share songs oh my god, it's.

Speaker 4:

It's a number, it's a whole number so when you hear somebody screaming like a girl after it's me, all right I love you. Thank you so much.

Speaker 5:

Thank you guys, this was so fun.

Speaker 7:

This radio program we Are 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 kpftorg and make your donation right away.

Speaker 4:

I am Brett Cullum. We have a new staff member, whom you may have already heard from, Davis Mendoza DeRoosman, who joins me. He has a ton of interesting things about them. He is a digital media manager, an important figure with the University of Houston's LGBTQIA plus group and has done stand-up comedy. So welcome, Davis, to Greer Voices.

Speaker 3:

Thank you so much, Fred. I'm excited to be on.

Speaker 4:

Tell me a little bit about your work with the University of Houston. Kind of what were you doing there and are you still kind of got your hand in that with the Alumni?

Speaker 3:

Association. So I currently serve as the vice president of the University of Houston LGBTQ Alumni Association, now renamed the Alumni Network. So I currently work with Jamie Gonzalez, who's the president, and we do a lot to raise money for queer cougs on campus and off with scholarships and financial aid and emergency crisis aid, which we're really excited to open back up. We haven't been able to disperse emergency crisis aid funding because we haven't had Red Dinner, we haven't had a lot of fundraisers that kind of really fund those sources, but we're excited to open that back up. So, in addition to that, I'm also the digital media manager with Houston in Action. It's a nonprofit coalition of about 50 to 60 Houston-based and Texas-based nonprofits working on issues like voter engagements, climate justice, criminal legal justice, lgbtq justice a lot of justices.

Speaker 4:

You're also a stand-up comic on the side sometimes. Is that correct?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I used to do stand-up and I've I still do, in the form of hosting events. It was bingo every tuesday 7 30 at got it tonight, but bingo every tuesday 7 30 at velvet oak tavern. I host trivia, host events like voter engagement events and just you know I have a lot of fun. I try.

Speaker 4:

Okay. So one thing that I was really curious about that kind of came up when we were talking about you is that you identify as pansexual. Can you tell me what that means to you?

Speaker 3:

Absolutely so.

Speaker 3:

Pansexuality to me means romantic sexual attraction, regardless of gender. It's more of the preference of either the personality or just each given person's physical features that go beyond gender identity, and so that was something that I explored in the past few years in the sense of, you know, I'm in a monogamous relationship with a woman, but I don't think that takes me away from my pansexuality, and so a couple of years ago, I started a LGBTQ plus reality dating show called Panning for Love, and it was for queer contestants, and they went on, you know, male, female, gender nonconforming, and they went on a series of blind speed dates with each other and at the end, you know, they matched up with whoever they wanted, but they had to pick each other. It was really dramatic, it was really fun, and that was kind of what I did to come out to my parents. That was what I used to kind of explain pansexuality to them. Their reaction to my being queer was very similar to their reaction to my being diagnosed with ADHD. They were like, oh okay, yeah, that makes sense.

Speaker 4:

Gosh, you know I had to do some research because I'm really interested in the term pansexual and I found out that it actually originated. Pansexual and pansexualism first used 1914, basically, and Sigmund Freud was one of the ones that kind of pioneered the use of the word. And what Freud was really doing was he was trying to say that everything was about sex, that we were motivated by sex, and somewhere in the 70s it kind of became a term that fell into the umbrella of bisexual. So it's a fairly new term to the queer community in comparison to a lot of others. And, speaking of your wife, she's very beautiful and I am always curious about you guys as a couple and she identifies as what herself.

Speaker 3:

She identifies as bisexual.

Speaker 4:

Do you guys talk about what the difference between bisexual and pan is? Is there a solid difference there?

Speaker 3:

We did just the other night, as I was telling her about this show that I was about to be on, kind of just to talk about it pansexuality itself and bisexuality. When you take the word bisexual and you take the Latin or whatever roots of it, bi implies two. And now I know there are people in the bisexual community who will push against that grammatical notion and that it's more than just two genders, two gender identities. And you know, while I definitely see validity in their arguments that bisexuality is, you know, could be an umbrella term for pansexuality as well, I feel like just more personally attached and identifying as pansexual, if not just for the pure grammatical sense of it.

Speaker 4:

To me the word almost acknowledges a binary kind of a male and female, and it really does kind of exclude maybe a non-binary presence or something like that, even though I know technically it may not be set out to do that. So I think that that's why we've seen this embracing of that word a lot more since the 90s is as the trans community has kind of emerged and had more identities with people with non-binary. I think that that's where kind of am I wrong? I mean, I think that's where pansexual kind of greets that and says hey, I'm open.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, that's definitely one of the reasons why I gravitate more towards that identity is because it feels more inclusive, even though you know bisexuality to many people can mean much more than I mentioned. Jamie Gonzalez earlier. She describes it as two plus. You know bisexuality is two plus and you know, while that makes a lot of sense and I can definitely get behind that, I think just the term pansexuality of it all just seems personally a bit more all-encompassing, especially with what I'm feeling.

Speaker 4:

One of the reasons I wanted to ask you about you both revealing your identities this way. I mean you could pass as just a normal heterosexual couple. What is important to you? That you guys have this on your identity?

Speaker 3:

I think for me it's living my truth, and my truth could not be further from straight. And so I think, recognizing that, you know, I think it was difficult at first because when you hear of a couple that are queer both of them it could be more than just monogamous, right, and I think what her and I have is purely happily, lovingly monogamy, and so that was something tricky to explain to people. It's like like you mentioned, like why you're passing as a heterosexual couple, why even put that label on it, and for me it's just because that's my truth.

Speaker 4:

When you were doing the dating show and you were trying to find participants and things like that. Is it easy to find this community? Do you have like a network? Is there the pansexual Community Center or anything where you go and raise a flag and say, hey, come.

Speaker 3:

I sure wish. I sure wish. I think for the reality dating show it was easy to find contestants because it was relatively low stakes. They didn't need to get married to the person they matched up with, they didn't need to commit to a long-term relationship. For the most part it was just fun going on speed dates with people that you never met before, and I think that was just. I approached kind of queer friends, people who didn't even identify as pansexual, but they were either queer or questioning and they wanted to kind of explore and this was that space for them to do so.

Speaker 4:

It's an interesting differentiation and I think that cis gay men get really hung up on defining themselves as these I've heard the term gold star gay where they've never been with a woman. And then there's somebody like me who, growing up, I was with women, I was with men, I was with a trans man, I was with a trans woman. I mean, I really kind of did all of the spectrum but I never really cemented my identity as pan or bi just because I feel like for the last 20 years I myself have been an exclusive gay coupling. But I was interested because when I recently interviewed somebody that was bisexual and they too were married to a man for over 20 years, they were talking about bi erasure and they were saying it's important to retain that identity. Do you feel kind of that pull of? I really need to carry this torch.

Speaker 3:

In many senses yes, and while I wouldn't go as far as to say there's pan erasure, I think there are a lot of very valid, very warranted efforts to expand the bisexuality as two plus, and I'm definitely not going to be somebody that's going to define somebody's sexual orientation for them and say well, you like more than two genders, so you're not bi, you're pan on me, but there is a sense of pride in being pansexual and being able to come to communities and spaces like this and share that story. And maybe there are people who might not identify as by themselves, but they don't know exactly what to identify as. I'm very proud to wave my pan flag and let them know that there are other identities that they can identify as.

Speaker 4:

I was going to have some fun with you, just really quickly. Do you know about any pansexual celebrity?

Speaker 3:

Not that I'm aware of.

Speaker 4:

I've got some names for you. Janelle Monáe is one. Miley Cyrus is actually one. She identifies as pan Demi Lovato. Also JoJo Siwa from the show A Gen Z celebrity.

Speaker 3:

I love that, bob the.

Speaker 4:

Drag Queen from RuPaul's Drag Race identifies as Pan Kesha, the singer she identifies as that. Wayne Brady famously kind of came out Kind of the comedian and he kind of got a lot of flack for it. So I thought that was interesting. He was a little bit older and of a different generation. Also along with him was Sarah Paul paulson and I think she got a little bit of stuff as well. And, believe it or not, amber heard that was the one that shocked me the most recently. You know, broke up with johnny depp and was on trial and all of that kind of stuff. But she has claimed that as her identity as well. So do you feel like you ever get any kind of criticism for it? I know that that when I was growing up, if you said, hey, I'm pansexual or hey, I'm bisexual, I know people will look at you and just say, hey, this is just the first stop to gay town, this is a phase, or you're going to go the other way and you're going to step into just a heterosexual mode all the time.

Speaker 3:

I don't think I've ever experienced anything like that. I think back in middle school was when I I don't think it really ever came out until after high school, just because I was never really sure I had almost exclusively been with women in high school and throughout. But kind of the only criticism that I ever really faced was kind of internal. It was mostly me questioning like when am I? You know the whole existential, you know, am I bi? Am I pan? I didn't even know that pansexuality was a thing until like college. But I just I knew that bi didn't fully incorporate what I was feeling and so any kind of pushback that I got was really from myself.

Speaker 4:

One thing I found interesting in researching this. I was looking at the percentages of people that identify as specific things, whether it be gay, lesbian, bi, trans, whatever letter you kind of adopt. But one of the things that really stuck out to me was they said that the number of people that label themselves as pansexual has actually doubled over the last couple of years. But as you noticed in my list of celebrities, a lot of Gen Z and younger generations Do you feel like that? That is kind of a generational thing.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely, I think, as more people are being aware of it. I think that's something that people are, especially younger people are easier to gravitate towards, just because perhaps we haven't had, you know, decades of understanding ourselves as one thing and then understanding or realizing that maybe something else is a better fit. And so I think you know Gen Z, younger generations, these are, it's kind of all new to them, and so if they learn something that they can attach to right off the bat, it's probably because terms like pansexuality are more broadly known and accepted, thankfully.

Speaker 4:

I believe my last question for you, davis, would be what are the challenges of being pansexual in the world today? What do you think are the obstacles you face or any kind of challenge to your identity from just the world in general?

Speaker 3:

I come from definitely a very privileged position of being in a happy monogamous relationship and that I never really have to worry about what others think about me or my sexuality, because I'm with my person.

Speaker 3:

I don't really need to care about what anyone else thinks about me. And while there is a sense of freedom with being pansexuality and kind of being able to go for whoever we are attracted to, just regardless of gender identity, I feel like if there were struggles, it would be from probably ignorant heterosexuals who refuse to acknowledge that bisexuality is a thing, pansexuality is a thing and no, you're either gay or you're straight. I think that's kind of something that I would hate to live in existence of explaining myself, but I think that's the reality for a lot of people. But also within our own communities, I think there's still a lot of progress to be made in terms of acceptance and understanding. You know, more than just the binary, more than just the letters of LGBTQIA P isn't anywhere in there, but I think, when it comes to the'm envisioning of uphill battles, that I think younger generations and more awareness to the term and sexual orientation I'm hoping that can only get better from here.

Speaker 4:

Well, davis Mendoza, jerusalem. Thank you so much for talking to me. This is a fascinating topic. It's something that I was not really aware of as an elder person in the gay community, so it was really fun to talk to you about this subject. It really kind of sparked a lot of curiosity in me, and I'm sure it does to anybody that's not as aware of it. I think it's almost like we have a binary for genders and then we have a trans community that challenges that. I think we have a binary for sexual preference too, and I think the pan community challenges that. So maybe that's a good corollary for you in that sense, I love that.

Speaker 3:

I love that, fred. Thank you so much for inviting me. I had such a pan-tastic time.

Speaker 1:

This is Queer Voices.

Speaker 4:

I am Brett Cullum and right now I'm being joined by Dan Connectus, who is the artistic director of Theater Under the Stars. This legendary Houston musical theater company has just announced an exciting new season for 2024 through 2025. And Dan is going to give us some insight into what we can expect. So welcome to Queer Voices, dan.

Speaker 2:

Welcome to me, thanks.

Speaker 4:

Happy to be here. We're certainly happy to have you here. Tell me a little bit about Theater Under the Stars, just in general first, and how you came to be a part of it. Theater Under the.

Speaker 2:

Stars has been around I think about 55 years, maybe now 56 years, coming up on 25. And it was started outdoors at an outdoor amphitheater at a place called Miller Outdoor Theater. That has been around for even longer than Tuts has. And it was started one show by a guy who really didn't know anything about musical theater. He was an opera person and staged Bells Are Ringing and his name was Frank Young. Over the years, after that very first production in 1968, it eventually grew to be indoors at the music hall and then over the years they did many different shows. It was, you know, indoors. They would do one or two in the summer outdoors, still to honor where they started. Generally it grew and grew and grew into this very vibrant theater company within Houston and over the years they premiered many different musicals at a time when regional theater wasn't really doing that.

Speaker 2:

Frank Young was one of the founders of the National Association of Musical Theaters, which is a very prominent group now. He also got the city of Houston to tear down the music hall and build the Hobby Center. That was all his doing. And one of the great things is shocking and rare because in most theater companies an artistic director, especially a founding artistic director doesn't hang around that long and he was there almost 45 years.

Speaker 2:

And then in between there was a different administration and then shortly thereafter, about after three years of Frank Young leaving, I was brought on board with Hillary who is the executive director, and they changed the leadership structure to be bifurcated, which is Hillary. You know, I kind of say this Hillary handles the money, I handle the art and the vision. That's sort of the division and we kind of weave and bleed in the other way. But that kind of leadership is pretty cut and paste from a lot of different regional theaters. There are different models, but that's a very popular one. But previous to that it was Frank Young and that was it. That is really incredible and really wonderful that it's a Houston-based phenomenon.

Speaker 4:

I remember Frank. I actually saw a bunch of shows during his era. I mean, how could you not? He was here for 45 years, or whatever but it was great and I think that it was exciting that we have this homegrown theater that started off in a you know doing South Pacific, out in the wilds of Miller Outdoor Theater, I mean you know building all these things.

Speaker 4:

Your role, dan, is you are artistic director and, of course, you're in charge of the art side, like you said. So you get the unenviable task of planning your slate of productions. I mean, you get to design a season. Basically, how do you set out to do that? Is there some theme that you keep in mind?

Speaker 2:

No.

Speaker 4:

Or is there some quality in each piece?

Speaker 2:

Okay, no no theme, no theme. I think sometimes the theme gets trapped. I feel trapped as an artist with a theme, but I prefer more taking a survey of what's happening in the world from various people. But I'm also very entrenched nationally, internationally. I go to see everything. I try to see everything locally as well, just to get a sense of where we are in our world, in the space and everything. And I kind of start from there and choose shows. I mean the other thing too.

Speaker 2:

When I got this job, not for nothing, I said if you hire me, I'm going to choose the shows. It's on me. It would be foolish for you to hire an artistic director and then try to choose the season for the artistic director. Listen, but at the end of the day I'm going to die on my sword, not someone else's, or I'm going to live by my sword, not someone else's. I kind of also want to choose shows I want to see and I want to be a part of too, whether it's producing, whether it's directing. All of those factors kind of go in.

Speaker 2:

Our staff is pretty vocal as well in terms of what they like, what they don't like. Our board is as well. So it's a lot of voices being thrown in and then I kind of synthesize it and we pick. To be totally transparent, some of the choices are the model that Tuts has grown into is. For us to still be vibrant, we have to include some tours, and so part of that piece of the puzzle are what tours are available to us? Not all shows are available to us. We're also competing for those titles with Broadway Across America, and a lot of people don't know this, but Broadway Across America is also an investor in Broadway shows to get rights for those touring, so we're shut out from several of those titles. It's a Jenga puzzle Next year.

Speaker 4:

Walk me through the season which shows have you picked?

Speaker 2:

We're going to open with a tour of Dear Evan Hansen, who was a Tony Award winner for Best Musical, best Score. It's written by the team of Pasek and Paul who wrote the Greatest Showman Now, a lot of people. They wrote Dear Evan Hansen and then Greatest Showman came out. I believe that was the order. The music is really, really inspiring and the story is very moving. It really touched quite a few people when it premiered. So it's going to be a really great show and it's a tour. So that's what we're opening our season with.

Speaker 2:

The second show that we're going to be doing for Halloween is Little Shop of Horrors, which is one of my all-time favorite shows. It is based in on the movie, the B-movie of Roger Corman that starred Jack Nicholson as the dentist, which a lot of people don't know. Actually I think it was the Patient, oh, the Patient, excuse me, that's right. And then it was made into a musical, off-broadway a big sensation and then remade again into a movie musical. It's been on-Broadway, off-broadway. It's going to deliver what we're calling our thrills and chills and suspense in Halloween. We think it's going to be a perfect Halloween show. We're going to try to make it a little bit environmental, with some things happening and scaring and thrilling you in the audience. So Little Shop of Horrors is our Halloween slot. Then for Christmas, which tends to be our big holiday show, is the regional self-produced premiere of Frozen Disney's Frozen, which is an interesting story. It could be its own podcast of how we arrived at that. We had to go to Disney Theatrical, do a big presentation for them of how we would do it. They wanted a different version of it and they loved our version. So that's, we're going to be producing one of the first regional premieres of Frozen for the holidays.

Speaker 2:

Alongside that, we are also have a return engagement of the Ugly Christmas Sweater musical which we did last year. That'll be in our small space, which I kind of laugh at. Small space at like 500 seats, which most regional theaters don't even reach 500 seats. But that's our small theater and it is a 90-minute Christmas laugh-a-minute riot. It's set in an office party and this company is going to go bankrupt unless they come up with an idea to save the company. And what they do, what they come up with is we're going to make ugly Christmas sweaters. The audience participates, they're the employees of the company and it's a sing-along, all Christmas carols, you know, and it's pretty hilarious. So two things at christmas frozen, an ugly christmas sweater musical.

Speaker 2:

Then we have a tour of mean girls. Yes, so we have a tour of mean girls. That just had a movie premiere of the musical by tina fey so fun. Who hasn't experienced this phenomenon of popular girls trying to rule the school and those of us that weren't in that popular circle marginalized with a very funny score and it's going to be really great. That's going to be the first show of 25 Mean Girls of 25 Mean Girls.

Speaker 2:

Then we are doing also one of the first regional premieres of Waitress, the Musical. That is a show that was written by Sara Bareilles. Some people don't know that it's based on the movie Waitress. It is a really fun show, great music. That score is just wonderful. If you're not familiar with Sara Bareilles' music, you really should be. It's really really quite wonderful. Waitress is our spring slot and I'm really really excited that we're going to be doing one of the regional premieres of that. That'll be in co-collaboration with Fifth Avenue Theatre, so it's going to start at Fifth Avenue Theater and then come to us. Incidentally, fifth Avenue Theater was also started by Frank Young, who started Theater Under the Stars, so a sister theater.

Speaker 2:

And then finally we are ending the season with Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights.

Speaker 2:

So before Hamilton there was In the Heights, and if you tied my arms behind my back and said which one do you like better, I would say In the Heights, I love. In the Heights. It's got such heart. It's about a group, a family and a community in Washington Heights and they're dealing with some pretty big decisions in life, but all done through such an eclectic score. Big decisions in life, but all done through such an eclectic score. Rap, hip-hop, broadway pop, broadway standards, regular pop it's all over the place in the best possible way. It's sort of like a smorgasbord of styles in that score and all the music is accompanied by really, really incredible dancing and energy. And I don't tell anybody but I think In the Heights is my favorite show of that season, of a ton of great shows. So that's the season. So, dear Evan Hansen, little Shop of Horrors, frozen, mean Girls, waitress and In the Heights. And then off our subscription. It's off subscription is the Ugly Christmas Sweater Musical, but if you subscribe you're the first one to get tickets to Ugly Christmas Sweater.

Speaker 4:

We are talking with Dan Connectus, who is the artistic director of Tuts. One thing you've just walked through the whole season with me and, if I can be so bold, I remember the Frank Young days, remember Tuts. Tuts had a certain brand for a very long time and I think that we associated Tuts with I want to say chestnut musicals in a weird way, and I've noticed that this season, the oldest show that you have here is from 1982, which is Little Shop. Everything else is like 2010 onwards. Did you purposefully just kind of say, hey, I want to do the newer pieces, some of the chips fell where they were.

Speaker 2:

It's very interesting because while I grew up on those chestnuts and I still, I'm directing one currently in Chicago Guys and Dolls. So that's really where my heart kind of lies. But I think the world changed and I feel like if we are a living arts organization and we're supposed to be sort of a church, if you will, or a respite from the outside world and or a place where people can come and congregate and we all breathe the same air that the actors are breathing, and all of that, I kind of think we have to change as well too. We have to adapt and we have to be open to telling new stories in new ways and bringing new people into the theater.

Speaker 2:

So while Tuts will never give up those chestnuts especially the good ones they are increasingly difficult to produce financially. They require huge forces. Normally South Pacific that you mentioned earlier is huge. It requires a lot, and so a lot of that takes a lot of preparation. Coming out of the pandemic, we wanted to be very mindful of our finances, so those kinds of decisions all factor in more than you would think in choosing a season, and so that does limit some of the options that we have, but in no way, shape or form will Tuts ever give up those chestnuts. And when we come back here next year, brett, and you ask me for an interview, I can probably guarantee you there'll be one or two of those chestnuts on that season.

Speaker 4:

I did want to segue in and you did a very nice job. You must be psychic because you knew my next question, sort of. I feel like a lot of the arts organizations here are facing a challenge after the pandemic. I feel like that we have shifted somehow, trying to attract people and trying to keep the subscriber bases and trying to get people back into the theater and things like that. What challenges are you guys seeing from an organization and how are you kind of addressing these new challenges?

Speaker 2:

The good news is that it's embedded in our mission that two things that have really helped us and we have not seen the attrition that other theaters in Houston have or nationally and part of that the two pillars that have really held strong for us are the community we're really based in community work with our education programs but also because it was born of the community. It wasn't somebody from the outside coming in and saying Houston needs musical theater. It really came from the community and we still have quite a few artists on our stage. The percentage is really heavily favored in Houston. So the community is a pillar for us and that's really helped us stay aloft.

Speaker 2:

But the other thing is musical theater is an American art form. It's a very easily digestible art form. Sometimes it's the first kind of thing people come to see. In terms of theater it's a lot easier than saying, hey, come see this Chekhov play that is translated from Russian or some other more avant-garde sort of piece. And so naturally in our mission those two pillars community and musical theater were forced to be popular because of the community and musical theater and that's really helped us sustain.

Speaker 2:

Costs have gone up tremendously in every area and so we're seeing the bad results of that, within our budgeting, it's getting a lot harder to make those budgets work. We're having to sell more tickets, we have to raise more money, we have to maybe do with less in terms of in certain areas, or figure out a way to make it seem like we have more when we really don't. I kind of say that about most theater, you know, since tale as old as time is that everyone's like, oh, look at all of the fabulous things. And I'm always like don't come backstage, don't look. There's masking tape holding this together, this prop together, or there's duct tape back here. And that's never more true, I think, for any arts organization, especially now. So there's good news for us. I mean, there's also challenging news, to be totally honest. Well, dan.

Speaker 4:

Connectus. Artistic Director of Tuts. We are all in this together and we are so excited to have had this time with you and I am thrilled about the new season. I will be front and center for most of these. I share your enthusiasm for Little.

Speaker 7:

Shop.

Speaker 4:

It's one of my favorite shows Me too, Definitely and I'm very excited to see what you guys do with each of these pieces. It's a very exciting season and we're thrilled just to sit back and watch the magic and the masking tape hold it all together.

Speaker 1:

This is Queer Voices.

Speaker 6:

This is Brian Levinke, and today I'm speaking with Julia Grossman, the owner of Fusion Eats. Welcome to the show, Julia.

Speaker 9:

Thank you, thanks for having me.

Speaker 6:

I've been to your place. I saw it being built and kind of constructed and it's in the neighborhood. So I wanted to talk to you about this location and how you got started and what was kind of the inspiration to this place.

Speaker 9:

I did manage restaurants for a long time and I decided to do a food truck in Houston in 2010 and I got interested in the concepts from a couple of chefs in Los Angeles that were doing gourmet food trucks and I knew that eventually that concept would come to Houston and the race was pretty much on for me to get it built and on the street and I actually ended up being the first gourmet food truck in Houston and was on the cover of the Houston Business Journal and it just kind of took off from there. I ended up doing my first freestanding brick and mortar location in 2013 and here I am today with now we have three locations, and my new location is obviously my pride and joy and I'm just so happy to be in the neighborhood.

Speaker 6:

Why did you pick to be in Montrose?

Speaker 9:

Well, whenever I started my food truck, I would go do breakfast, I'd go do lunch, happy hour, go to the clubs, and so that's kind of where my stomping ground was, was right here in Montrose and I love it here. It felt very comfortable coming back to a place that I spent so much time serving food and after hours and happy hour, and so it was a lot of fun.

Speaker 6:

And it's a beautiful space. I mean you've put some effort into redoing that space.

Speaker 9:

Yep, we really, really did. I wanted it to be very welcoming and light and airy. I've always said I want brunches, I want to go back to the old La Strada days and bring people in to have a good time, and just wanted it to be. When you walk in, I want you to feel good.

Speaker 6:

You didn't grow up in Houston. Where did you grow up?

Speaker 9:

Well, I was born in Corpus and I was raised in Harlingen.

Speaker 6:

And you said you had a gay friend growing up.

Speaker 9:

I did I did. He was my best friend and, being in the Valley and being gay, that was very, very hard for him and he was such a beautiful, happy human being but he was treated so badly and it used to just break my heart and ultimately he ended up committing suicide and it really affected me very, very deeply. You know, I tell my other gay friends and I have a lot of them I tell them this story and I just think like it's like my child, I want to protect people and and make sure that people get treated fairly and I just it was really hard for me. It took me years to get over.

Speaker 6:

Actually, how old were you?

Speaker 9:

I never thought that happened, I was 17. Oh wow, yeah, very young. It was hard yeah.

Speaker 6:

So in your restaurant, how would you describe your food?

Speaker 9:

So we? Well, first of all I will tell you that David, who is my husband, he went to UT but then he went to school in Hyde Park, new York, at the CIA. He took to New York City for six years on and off Waverly Inn, oceana, gotham Grill, so his background in fine dining is pretty extensive. When we kind of came together, we knew that we wanted to put out a good product. We wanted it to be absolutely delicious, but we also wanted it to be approachable and be affordable. And I had come up with my truck it was Fusion Taco is the name of it and the trucks that I was interested in in Los Angeles did Korean barbecue and I, okay, well, they're doing Korean, but what if I also did something that was Thai influenced and Indian and Japanese?

Speaker 9:

So we kind of got together and created this menu that we do tempura shrimp and we do Thai rice bowls, and so it's basically putting, you know, global flavors together all on one menu. But we make it very authentic. We make everything from scratch and it, you know, nothing runs together. If we say it's going to be Thai, it's Thai. If we say it's going to be Indian, it's most definitely Indian. I got a lot of influence from my friend Kiran, who owns Kiran's restaurant on Richmond. She taught me a whole lot. She's one of my very dear friends.

Speaker 6:

And she does amazing food.

Speaker 9:

She sure does. I'm telling you she is an incredible chef. She really is. She taught me how to.

Speaker 9:

Actually there was this food truck competition and the secret ingredient was lamb. And I called her the night before and I'm like what am I going to do, what do you think I should do? And I called her the night before and I'm like what am I going to do? What do you think I should do? And she's like you need to do lamb keema. And so she kind of told me how to do it and I did it and I won. And so of course she definitely takes credit for that.

Speaker 9:

But she had my truck come over for some event that she was doing at her restaurant and she's like I said I'm going to do lamb keema. And she's like, okay, and so I did it. And she came onto the truck and she's like how did you make that? And I said you taught me how to make it. She's like no, no, it's way better than mine. And I'm like, good, great, that's awesome. But yeah, I've been in her kitchen and kind of spent some nights watching and kind of playing around and stuff, and kind of playing around and stuff. She's a really great human being.

Speaker 6:

Now you mentioned that you wanted to have organizations come to your uh restaurant and have meetings. Talk about that.

Speaker 9:

So have meetings, have fundraisers. Um, I just want to be involved in the community and do whatever I can to get the the word out. Um, for any organization that wants to work with us, I am doing something with Space City Pride FC. Next weekend on Sunday they're doing a little brunch party here for their organization and I was really interested to be involved with them because it's a youth organization. You know, giving them LGBTQ a safe place to do sports, you know soccer and you know having anything to do with children is kind of my thing for sure.

Speaker 6:

Now I understand that you know our good friend Jack Berger.

Speaker 9:

I certainly do, yes, I've known him for many years, a good friend, jack burger. I certainly do, yes, for many years. So jack and I um so david and I actually have a two-year-old, but I do have um other children from a previous marriage and back in the day jack burgers children and my children went to hebrew school together and they were great friends and they used to play together as kids and go to the synagogue and go to Hebrew school on Sundays, and so it was. They had a blast. So I've known Jack since 2002, very, very long time.

Speaker 6:

Very good and in the last few minutes, is there anything you want our listeners to know about you and your restaurant?

Speaker 9:

I just want everyone to know that we are here with you know, open arms and wanting to be part of the community. We try really, really hard on the food. We want to put out a good product and give everybody great customer service. We do brunch Saturday and Sunday. We have a great Taco Tuesday and a beautiful space and I hope everybody comes out and gives us a try.

Speaker 6:

If you're joining us. We've been speaking with Julia Grossman, the owner of Fusion Eats. Thank you for coming on, julia.

Speaker 9:

Thank you for having me.

Speaker 6:

This is Queer Voices.

Speaker 1:

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 Levinka. Andrew Edmondson and Deborah Moncrief-Bell are frequent contributors. Moncrief Bell our frequent contributors. The News Wrap segment is part of another podcast called this Way Out, which is produced in Los Angeles.

Speaker 8:

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.

Cher Show Musical
Touring With the Cher Show Cast
Exploring Identities
Theater Under the Stars 2024-2025 Season
Arts Challenges and Restaurant Success
Creating Global Flavors at Fusion Eats
Queer Voices Podcast Production Announcement