A New Generation Says Shalom to Sesame Street

Originally published on

If you’re around my age, you might remember a series of specials that brought our favorite Sesame Street Muppets and a bunch of Jewish celebrities that probably meant nothing to you as a pre-schooler (Itzhak Perlman?!?) visiting their Israeli counterparts on Rechov Sumsum in a mash-up known as Shalom Sesame. Depending on when you encountered these videos and how good your memory is, you might either feel warm nostalgia or faint embarrassment for the attempt to teach American Jewish kids Hebrew language and Israeli culture through the quick-cuts and funny bits Sesame Street is known for the world over.

Looking back on those shows as an adult… at best they have a quaint datedness to them.  At worst, you end up with unfortunate (and unforeseen) double entendres like in this clip, where Big Bird builds a security wall down the middle of Sesame Street:

Luckily, our kids won’t have to travel back in time to discover a Sesame Street that speaks to them in both English and Hebrew.  Sesame Workshop has produced a new Shalom Sesame for a new generation.  New episodes are available now on DVD, with additional interactive activities premiering online in December.  (If you’re looking for some previews, make sure you become a fan of Shalom Sesame on Facebook. They’ve been offering up great video clips to their fans for several weeks now.)  Continue reading New Rep’s Cherry Docs: Exploring Our Capacity to Love and Hate

Originally published on

Does every person have the capacity to hate?  Does every person have the capacity to love?  These questions are at the heart of Cherry Docs, a provocative play by David Gow on stage at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown.

The play tells the story of Danny Dunkleman (Benjamin Evett), a secular Jew from Toronto whose job as a public defender lands him on the case of Mike Downey (Tim Eliot), a skinhead who has killed a Pakistani man. When we meet both men, they are full of (self-)righteous anger.  Mike is angry at the world for the crummy hand he’s been dealt in life as a poor, uneducated white man who can’t hold down a job. Danny is angry that such men as Mike exist, although his commitment to liberal ideals of justice for all keep him on the case.

created at: 2010-10-25Despite having every reason to hate each other, Danny sees potential in Mike’s intelligence and challenges him to rise to his own defense.  Danny in turn respects that Mike treats him as a human being and not simply an embodiment of skinhead ideology. While the men certainly don’t become friends, Evett and Eliot portray a nuanced courtship of sorts that makes their mutual seduction totally believable.

Confined to one small, claustrophobic set (designed by Jenna McFarland Lord), director David R. Gammons’ staging emphasizes the ways in which hatred (and the prison system) can rob individuals of their humanity.  Eliot stalks his cell like a caged lion, and in a climactic moment, Evett takes on the role of a lion tamer at the expense of a folding chair.

For all its simmer — and there’s plenty — the play lost me at the climactic moment.  I won’t spoil it for you, but when Mike, having come to the brink of renouncing his skinhead philosophies, collapses back into a rant about the Zionist Occupation Government, Danny reacts in a way that, to this Jew, felt totally improbable.

Despite my inability to accept the pivotal moment in the show, I found a lot to like in the production.  Most importantly, a week after seeing it, I’m still thinking about the questions it raises. In a world where issues of discrimination and racially-based recriminations still make headlines every week, it’s important to step back and ask ourselves where we fit in the equation of love and hate. Cherry Docs reminds us that we may be surprised to find the answer.

Cherry Docs is playing at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, Charles  Mosesian Theater, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA 02472, through November 7. Tickets are Full Price $28-$58. Seniors $7 off full price. Student rush $14. Call: 617-923-8487 or buy online at

There are free post-performance discussions following the evening performance on October 30th and matinée on October 31st.

Photo by Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures.

It’s Not Where You Start: The Day After That

Originally posted on It’s Not Where You Start.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an ally. With the recent surge in online awareness-raising around GLBT teen suicides, I’ve noticed many of my straight friends are hearing the word ally used in this sense for the first time. But I’m going to reflect on myself as an ally, specifically with regards to transgender inclusion and rights.

Some of us in the queer world say “GLBT” out of habit all the time, when the truth is, we often only mean “gay,” or “gay & lesbian,” or somewhat less often, “gay, lesbian, and bisexual.” Gender-variant people — whether they identify as a gender other than the one that usually goes with their biological makeup, or they experience gender in a way that doesn’t fit neatly into the two boxes our society provides — have a lot in common with GLB people in terms of being second-class citizens. But the ways in which transgender, genderqueer, and other gender-variant people are threatened in our society are unique — and often exist within gay/lesbian/bisexual spaces as well.

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It’s Not Where You Start: By My Side

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, particularly online, for the various movements to stem the tide of GLBT-suicides and anti-GLBT bullying. From It Gets Better to Make It Better to Do Not Stand Idly By to Spirit Day, my Twitter, Facebook, and RSS feeds have been overwhelmed with friends, acquaintances, and strangers proclaiming their support.

In the past, I have generally been somewhat skeptical about these sorts of campaigns. What real impact do we make by proclaiming our support for something that most people who know us already assume we support?

But this time around, for me, it’s been difference. The recent string of gay teen suicides has really upset me. I’ve been involved in GLBT activism for years now, so the abhorrent statistics about GLBT teen suicides aren’t news to me. But the juxtaposition of these suicides against the news of the day — the battles around Don’t Ask / Don’t Tell, gay marriage, even the publication of gay wedding announcements!! — it was too much for me. It reminded me of the days in 2004 when we waited for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s decision about gay marriage. Although I felt the arc of history curving in the right direction, I had to stop reading the newspaper every morning. The pages were filled with quotes from the anti-marriage people filled with such hatred — how could I not take it personally?

What has sustained me through this current crisis has been the public support of so many friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Instead of taking the words of the haters personally, I have chosen to take the words of those expressing support personally.

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It’s Not Where You Start: Freedom

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

With all of the activism I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks around GLBT visibility and rights, I’ve been thinking a lot about queer ethics. I spent high school figuring out what gay identity meant for myself and how that got negotiated in individual relationships. I was, generally speaking, in the closet.

And yet by the time I graduated I had a close circle of a dozen or so friends whom I had told, and another half-dozen or so guys with whom I had never had a conversation about gay identity, but I assure you they got the message.

I came out to my parents the day they dropped me off at college. A week later, as the period for choosing classes began, I discovered a freshman seminar on the subject of Homosexuality in American Literature and Culture since 18something something. Freshmen seminars were small classes of fifteen or fewer students with one professor. They were highly selective, with an application process that involved writing essays and having a one-on-one interview with the professor. And I knew I had to be in this class. Thus began stage two of my gay-identity formation: understanding who I was in relationship to a community and a history.
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It’s Not Where You Start: God Help the Outcasts

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Coming out is an ongoing process. The first time I told someone (out loud!) that I was gay was in 1993. It was New Year’s Eve, and for some reason I was home alone. TBS had a triple-feature of “sing-along” musicals — Grease, Viva Las Vegas, and West Side Story, each outfitted with lyrics & a bouncing ball to earn them the sing-along moniker — hosted by Tommy Tune. I watched the entire triple feature, and then some, while on the phone with my friend Amy, who was also spending the night at home, across town.

Why didn’t we just decide to meet somewhere? Neither of us drove yet, and I guess it didn’t occur to us to take a cab? Who knows. In some ways, the simultaneous intimacy and distance the phone provided was just what we needed. We were already at that point best friends. And we each had something we wanted to share with the other. So unfolded what we have come to refer to as our Epic 13-Hour Phone Call. (And yes, we called it that before epic became the most overused adjective of our generation.) I was so sure Amy was going to tell me she was gay. She didn’t. That didn’t come until many, many years later. She had a different revelation, but knowing that we each had something to share, something that made us worried and vulnerable, made it easier for me. Coming out is always a risk. Coming out the first time is terrifying. But knowing that we each were taking a risk equalized what is normally a treacherously uneven power dynamic. Of course, we both knew that we were devoted to each other and there was pretty much nothing either of us could have said that would have threatened our relationship. But that didn’t make it any less scary.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: Let Go (Canto de Ossanha)

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start

Ever since I saw this clip, in the documentary Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years, I’ve been obsessed with this song. It turns out I had heard it before — Rosemary Clooney & John Pizzarelli covered it on their album Brazil — but their version doesn’t have any of Mitzi’s fire. (Astrud Gilberto did a great version, though.)

Of course, the only reason I rented the Mitzi Gaynor DVD was because I was going to see Mitzi Gaynor live and in person, doing her one-woman-show (which was basically a club act with extra patter) at a theater in Boca. My parents are retirees, which means they have fulfilled the ultimate dream of their lives: they are snowbirds. For the goyim in the audience, “snowbirds” are what Jews call their parents (and grandparents) who spend summers in the north and winters in Florida. This means that when I go to visit them, I am often treated to shows aimed at their demographic, both on the condo circuit and beyond.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: Better

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

[Edited 10/7: Turns out that Make It Better and It Gets Better aren’t the same project. Both are worth checking out.]

Chances are, if you read my blog, then you’re probably aware of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. In response to the recent uptick in visibility of gay teen suicides — which I suspect is just that, an increase in visibility and not an increase in suicide incidence, since every study I’ve ever read has warned of the high suicide rate of gay teens in the USA — Savage and his husband made a YouTube video talking about their own difficult teen years and reassuring viewers that life got better for them, and it can get better for teens today.

The video has spawned an online movement of others making It Gets Better videos. And since many of my friends know I like to make online videos every now and then, I started getting messages asking if I was going to make one.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: You Must Love Me

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Don’t freak out, this isn’t a post about my love life. At least, not my romantic life. This is about my first love: musicals.

Within my general obsession with musical theater, there are a few areas I find particularly interesting, all of which can be grouped under the rubric of transformations. I am fascinated with the way stories are told and retold, and few storytelling arenas are as obsessed with retelling as musical theater.

I love to read/watch the books, plays, and movies that musicals were based on to see how the composers, lyricists, bookwriters, directors et al applied their craft. For example, my already huge admiration for Oscar Hammerstein II grew exponentially after reading Edna Ferber’s original novel Show Boat. The way that Hammerstein transformed the central metaphor of the book — Magnolia’s relationship with the Mississippi River — into the central metaphor of the show — Magnolia’s relationship with the musical stage — is genius.  Continue reading