The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Nov 14, 2013

Beards are changing history

Posted by Valerie Nahmad

By Sally Ollove, Bearded Ladies

We were deep in the rehearsal process for My Dinner with Dito: A How To Be Gay Cabaret when the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA was announced. That makes us Beards 2-for-2; we like to credit our first cabaret, Back in the Army, which centers on a gay soldier, with the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. It seems appropriate that just as we were contemplating what it means to be gay in 2013, so was the rest of the country.

Aside from enjoying the collaboration of director Elizabeth Stevens, actress Sarah Gliko, and Philly’s “Drag Queen King” Dito van Reigersberg (aka Martha Graham Cracker), My Dinner with Dito challenged us Beards—especially John Jarboe—to come out from behind the cardboard and expose our fleeting joys, deepest anxieties, and most raw memories. For a group built on playing with outrageous characters, playing ourselves was the biggest risk we could take.

Thanks in part to the Knight Foundation, we were able to enjoy a much longer rehearsal process than usual, which allowed us to explore a number of ideas that didn’t end up making it into the show. One of our favorites was a conversation between Dito and his Martha Graham Cracker wig in which Martha gave Dito a pep talk: “Be a fuss, Dito!” counseled Martha. Finally, near the end of our process, we found the frame of a gay seder, or gay-der in which we substituted pigs-in-a-blanket for bitter herbs and Judy Garland for that perpetually absent dinner guest, Elijah. Thanks to Terry Berch McNally and the London Grill, every audience member was able to eat-a-long with John and Dito (our favorite was the artichoke, which was prickly and tough on the outside like Elaine Stritch). No one much cared for the Rainbow Assimilation store-bought cookies!

Our challenges this summer weren’t all as gay-memoir-focused. We also collaborated with Eastern State Penitentiary for the 3rd time on their Bastille Day Celebration. Over 5,000 nobles and peasants gathered for our not-quite-completely inaccurate hour-long French history lesson, including Phillies fan Joan of Arc, the little sparrow Edith Piaf, the villainous Marie Antoinette and her entourage, and the giant baguette. And, of course, what celebration of France would be complete without break-dancing Ben Franklin? Hey, this is Philly, after all!

That was a lot for a summer. But we’re not done! This season, the Bearded Ladies are pleased to announce a Cabaret Invasion! Look for us popping up all over the city as we tear down the walls between artist and audience and turn everyday mundane things into art. And that’s not only a philosophy, but a clue about the subject of our upcoming project, to be announced soon!


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