Marcus Scott on Bodies of Resistance in Musical Theater

Marcus Scott’s musical theater work enjoyed its Feinstein’s/54 Below debut on May 24 in a concert entitled Wild Young Hearts: The Marcus Scott Songbook. His identities include “journalist-playwright-musical theater writer-educator-activist,” and, later, “black; for lack of a better term, queer; and socially awkward.” He frames his theater work as an “act of resistance” in “an industry where most of the gatekeepers are white, and nearly 90 percent of the artists produced are white.” There’s no wonder, really, why all his hats seem to be of a piece.

Scott began his multi-hyphenate career as an aspiring child actor in upstate New York. His first rude awakening came when, as the only black kid to audition for a musical headed for Broadway, he was laughed off the stage while singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from Mary Poppins. His performance was good, but the rich, white kids, with their stage moms there to help them run lines, were singing Sondheim; a lower-class black kid, in the audition room by himself, singing a Disney show tune, didn’t stand a chance. Fear kept him from auditioning for the rest of his childhood.

He went on to major in journalism, but his college’s production of Hair inspired him to take on a theater minor, which became a theater major. He got his MFA at NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program, then wrote for magazines around the nation, including SouleOutElleEssence, and many others, on a quest to teach himself how to be a Good Samaritan. (“When journalism is good, it is empathy at its finest,” he says.) He assisted his NYU mentor, Kirsten Childs, on Bella: An American Tall Tale as Playwrights Horizon’s 2016–17 Musical Theatre Fellow.

Scott’s musical, Cherry Bomb (winner of a Drama League Artist Residency in 2017), explores teenage suicide and the defunding of arts programs in public high schools. Its protagonist, Franklin—inspired by the black character of the same name from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip—is forced to come to grips with his complicity in the suicide of one of his peers. Dear Evan Hansen, which grossed $1.7 million this weekforestalls this kind of nuanced investigation of morality in a youth suicide story by way of pop psychology cliché.

Many of Scott’s songs are set to music by other composers, including Helen Park of KPOP, winner of the 2018 Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical. His catalogue spans from the Adam Guettel-esque, back-phrased jazz stylings of Avi Amon, to Kim Jinhyoung’s anthemic “On the Horizon.” The songs are tied together by their commitment to political resistance, even when the politics are personal. In fact, “On the Horizon” missed its intended 2016 première at Feinstein’s/54 Below when the venue canceled the engagement for which it was written on political grounds. He also writes his own music, which he categorizes as “Afro-Americana:” “a fusion of black musical genres that analyze, revitalize, and satirize Americana.”

When it comes to gatekeeping, Scott has worked against it his whole life. He’s heard old, white casting directors in the theater industry, on several occasions, bemoan the lack of “diverse” talent who can tap or sing standards, when in fact, six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald did just that in 2016’s Shuffle Along. Institutions tokenize “diverse” writers when they create “diversity fellowships.” Producers point to white, middle-aged women — the top buyers of Broadway tickets — as proof that “diverse” programming is impossible. At every level, the industry is staffed by people who are “comfortable doing the bare minimum.” To Scott, this laziness has led to “the least inspired Broadway season in recent memory.” It’s also economically unsound: “Do you know how much money black and brown people spend on entertainment?” (See also: Hamilton and Black Panther.)

Scott emphasizes that diversity cannot stop at race, though—people with different bodies, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities need to populate the industry: on stage, in creative roles, on marketing teams, in tech departments, as casting directors. For instance, “if you’re going to commission a story that has LGBT representation on stage, and the cast is a bunch of gay, white men, you’d better get some diverse perspectives in there.”

But he refuses to let the gatekeepers keep him from going after his “black boy joy.”

“It’s about being unbothered,” Scott says. “It’s about living your life. It’s about celebrating your blackness. It’s about celebrating your masculinity or femininity. It’s about celebrating the non-constraints of your blackness.”

Scott has largely lost his faith in journalism as a meaningful tool of resistance, but he continues to look to theater as a “walking First Amendment.” I asked him why theater is so important, especially in the “golden age of television” — he says that the stage has often served as a meaningful site of political upheaval. In his own words, “Theater is the one call to arms I think we have left. Revolutions have come from theater. Life is theater. Why not make fun of life? Why not engage in life? Why not question humanity? It’s a stand-your-ground, no-holds-barred declaration of life. We need theater more than ever.”

The National Black Theatre will hold a public reading of a new full-length play by Scott on June 19 at 7pm—watch their Facebook page for an upcoming announcement. His play, Tumbleweeds, will have a production at Dixon Place in late August, following a successful fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. More, and ongoing, information about Scott can be found on his website.

Images courtesy Marcus Scott

Azealia Banks Trades Twitter Barbs With Monet X Change, Criticizes ‘Drag Race’ Transmisogyny

Azealia Banks has had it … officially.

After successfully getting RuPaul’s track “Call Me Mother” removed from Spotify for claims of plagiarism, Banks tweeted on Monday evening, dissatisfied with the fact that the song, and its parent album American, were back on the streaming platform.

In a since-deleted tweet, Banks called RuPaul “scum” and added, “Fuck all yall hairy asscrack ass drag race bitches.” She said, “I don’t want to see any of y’all suffocated nutsack ass drag queens in a silk gown performing any of my music on that dumbass show ever again.”

Azealia Banks tweet

In response to Banks’ tweets, Season 10 queen Monet X Change wrote, “I will no longer perform my Azealia mix … EVER” calling the rapper “rotted trash.”

Banks responded by talking about Monet X Change’s “mildew ass girdle” while Monet X Change called Banks a “tired bitch with preschool reads.” Monet then went on to say that the LGBTQ community is the only reason Banks has a career.

After Banks and Monet finished tweeting each other, Banks tweeted out an essay about her own place in ballroom and queer cultures.

“Just because I’m queer doesn’t mean we walk step and step,” Banks tweeted. “The white gays always find a way to inject their selfish ass ideas about how queer people are supposed to be into EVERYTHING I do.”

She added, “Black queer women have a different fucking life from gay white men. Stop trying to police my queer experience and tell me how to be. You guys are honestly suffocating and I wish you would go away and stay away for good.”

Banks went on to call white gay men “tyrants.”

 

“I’ve been actively trying to live my best black queer female life and you keep trying to force me to consider you when you have absolutely no consideration for me. I just want you guys to go the fuck away,” she said.

Banks was previously highly critical of Drag Race in a series of Tweets on Sunday.

In a tweet on Sunday, Banks brought up RuPaul’s controversial remarks that trans women who had begun a physical transition would not be allowed to compete on Drag Race.

“Ru won’t let the trans girls in because she knows they will SLAY the house down,” Banks wrote. “If a woman wants to be a drag queen she can. I dunno what y’all boys keep tal[lking] bout–women can’t be drag queens. If women can’t be drag queens then neither can you. You can’t be a caricature of a woman and then try to dis[clude] her. Ridiculous.”

She added, “Y’all sit up here and beg for respect and inclusivity then turn around and tell others they can’t be included. You want your femininity to be respected but won’t allow an actual woman to participate in any gay male affairs. Makes no sense.”

To end her thoughts, Banks said she’s a fan of Violet Chachki, Aja, Shea Coulee and Sasha Velour — who she called “the bald one” — but separate from their participation in Drag Race.

Aja responded to the controversy on Twitter on Tuesday.

“I don’t need to curse anyone out, make a scene or break my character,” Aja wrote. “I think that bashing an entire part of the queer community while using queerness as a crutch is counterproductive and isn’t okay because it sends the same non-inclusive message about queerness into the world.”

‘Orange is the New Black’ Season 6 Gets a Release Date and Teaser

This morning, a brand-new teaser dropped for the new season of Orange is the New Black, and it’s…a whole lot of nothing! But exciting, nonetheless.

The trailer depicts dusty orange smoke floating through a dilapidated Litchfield prison, previous home to the characters in the first five seasons, with the mysterious legendary chicken clucking on a window sill.

“This is a whole new world,” coos the voice of Piper Chapman (Taylor Schilling), as signage reads “To the max,” alluding to the sixth season, which will likely take place in a maximum security facility. Netflix tweeted out the teaser trailer, captioning the video “Bye bye, Litch.”

Last season, the show ended in a tense standoff between Litchfield inmates and riot police, who de-escalated a three-day prison riot. The fate of the lead inmates remains unclear, as many have been separated and shipped off to different facilities, while many of them are sure to face catastrophic punishments (especially because some were caught red-handed in the kidnapping of a guard).

We’re not sure what exactly Season 6 has in store, but Orange is the New Black has consistently made a point to center queerness in its LGBTQ characters, actors, and writers, as well as shining a light on social issues such as injustices in the American prison system. Adrienne C. Moore, the actress who plays Black Cindy, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the divide between lead characters on Season 5.

“Toward the end of Season 5, there were some people that were agreeing to stick together, and there were some people that were looking out for themselves,” she said, hinting, “We’ll see the repercussions of those decisions in this next season.”

The show’s creator Jenji Kohan hopes to sprinkle social commentary about Trump and the current fraught political climate into Season 6. 

“Season 5 is Season 5,” the showrunner says, “but for 6, I don’t think anyone can help but incorporate some of the feelings associated with what’s going on and the divisions and all that stuff.”

Season 6 of Netflix’s flagship dramedy starts streaming Friday, July 27th. The show has been renewed for a seventh season, although it’s unclear if Season 7 will be its last.