Friday, December 2, 2011

EXCLUSIVE: Armistead Maupin Confirms New Tales of the City Novel

The author Armistead Maupin has revealed to a So So Gay writer that he has began the process of writing a brand new installment in the beloved Tales of the City series. Through his Twitter account, Maupin announced the novel would focus on the nonagenarian transsexual Mrs Madrigal, the wise and witty mother-figure to Michael, Mary Ann and Mona, and should be expected to become available “within the next two years”.

The Days of Anna Madrigal continues a similar pattern laid down by the two most recent novels in the series – Michael Tolliver Lives in 2007 and Mary Ann in Autumn in 2010 – by returning to focus on one particular central character, as opposed to the multiple-storyline serialised format of the earlier instalments. It seems Maupin is still in a period of creativity regarding the Tales series, after an eighteen year drought between Sure of You in 1989 and Michael Tolliver Lives. The collection remains enormously popular with it’s solid base of loyal readers. Being introduced to the first novel is seen by some as a rite of passage for young gay men and women with its blissfully positive and open-minded portrayal of liberal men and women, young and old, in 1970s San Francisco.

Cut and Paste

ARA JANSEN, The West Australian
Updated December 2, 2011, 12:00 pm

Get ready to redefine what you know about the Scissor Sisters. The band Bono called the best pop band in the world are brash, racy and buckets of naughty fun but they don't have any problem taking a sharp turn each time they make an album.

Known for stomping dance-pop singles like Take Your Mama, Filthy/Gorgeous and I Don't Feel Like Dancin', the Brit-Award winning and Grammy-nominated American quartet's coming fourth album is "very different" from their previous ones, doesn't have as much of a theatrical edge and is driven by beats.

"The last album was very cold and had lots of sex and dark moods, which is why I loved it," frontman Jake Shears says from his parents' home in Virginia, where he spent Thanksgiving last week having a rare few-days break. "This one has a real emotional quality, a real honesty and a romantic and loving feeling. It's summery and sunny and I think connects emotionally."

The lightening up was also reflected in the process of writing and recording which the Scissor Sisters' co-singer and songwriter says came with ease and a sense of joy not truly present since their debut album.

"When you have people around you who have no question that you can do something, it makes you believe it too," he says of the collaborators the band worked with this time around. "Great songs come from that confidence.

"I really think people are going to fall in love with this music. I feel so great about it. We're doing things we've never done before and taking turns which will put jaws on the floor. Be ready for some big surprises."

He vowed to do his "damndest" to get a couple stage-ready for us to hear during the band's Australian visit on the Summadayze bill next month.

Not only have the Scissor Sisters made an album he truly loves, the year has been one of new adventures for Shears, whose real name is Jason Sellards. The band started 2011 by touring with Lady Gaga before Shears worked on his first musical.

He co-wrote the songs for the musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City novels which follow the lives and loves of a group of gay and straight friends living in San Francisco. He worked with playwright Jeff Whitty and director Jason Moore of the Tony- Award winning Avenue Q.

The singer is a long-time fan of the Maupin books and has described them as a rite of passage for gay men, after he was given a copy of Tales of the City as a teenager. Because he "can't act his way out of a paper bag" Shears was totally happy to work behind the scenes writing the score and lyrics with Scissor Sisters collaborator JJ Garden. He did, however, sit in the audience almost every night of the San Franciscan summer season and cry.

"I don't think I have ever been so emotional about something," he says.

"Sitting with a full house and to hear the first notes on stage every night, I cried my eyes out and white-knuckled it to the end. It was a really emotional experience but someday I would love to do it again."

There's talk of another production being staged and he hopes it will make its way to Broadway or the West End at some point.

From there, Shears jumped straight into the new Scissor Sisters album. After taking four years to deliver 2010's Night Work - the follow-up to 2006's Ta-Dah - and shelving one early version, the band's new album is just about finished and will come out in the first half of next year.

Shears' experience with Tales of the City influenced the album. He says that watching from the audience gave him a hint of what fans experience.

"It just reminded me how important that connection is. At the same time as working on the musical I was DJing as Crystal Pepsi with my friend Jeremy Lingvall and we were playing pretty hard and intense dance and squelchy, noisy techno," he says.

"I loved that extreme and that I can live my life in this way and dabble in things that are different from another. That also informed this record."

Scissor Sisters play Summadayze at Sir James Mitchell Park, South Perth on January 3. Tickets from Ticketmaster outlets.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

2011 BroadwayWorld San Francisco Awards

Congratulations to Wesley Taylor, Judy Kaye, Betsy Wolfe and Mary Birdsong who were all nominated for their works in the "Tales" musical. You can vote for them here. Just enter your email address and follow the instructions. -Armistead on Facebook

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Good Read

BBC Radio 4

"Tales of the City" has been featured on "A Good Read" from BBC Radio 4 originally broadcast on October 25, 2011.

Christopher Frayling's choice: Ill Fares The Land: A Treatise On Our Present Discontents by Professor Tony Judt
Publ. Penguin

Nikki Bedi's choice: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Publ. Harper Perennial

Harriet Gilbert's choice: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Publ. Black Swan

Listen to the program here

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dear Me: A Letter To My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

Armistead Maupins is one of 75 contributors to the new book "Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self" to be released October 25, 2011 (US) by Joseph Galliano.

These nuggets of wisdom are offered by an Academy Award–nominated actor (James Woods), a popular comedian (Aasif Mandvi), and a world-famous novelist (Jodi Picoult) to their sixteen-year-old selves. No matter how accomplished and confident they seem today, at sixteen, they were like the rest of us—often unsure, frequently confused, and usually in need of a little reassurance.

In Dear Me, 75 celebrities, writers, musicians, athletes, and actors have written letters to their younger selves that give words of comfort, warning, humor, and advice. These letters present intimate, moving, and witty insights into some of the world’s most intriguing and admired individuals. By turns funny, surprising, raw, and uplifting, this singular collection captures the universal conditions that are youth, life, and growing up.

Proceeds from the book benefit Doctors without Borders.

For more information, visit

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ziemienski named Sonoma Treasure

Sep 26, 2011 - 07:16 PM

Dennis Ziemienski, an internationally-known Glen Ellen artist and prominent supporter of Sonoma Valley art events, has been named the 2011 Sonoma Treasure Artist.

Ziemienski's work is collected across the country and beyond and has been featured prominently in countless Sonoma Valley nonprofit campaigns. He created the inaugural posters for the Sonoma International Film Festival, the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art Wet Paint event and the Sonoma Valley Olive Festival, among others.

Ziemineski has donated numerous paintings for auction lots to raise funds for Valley nonprofits, and organizations his work has benefited include the Sonoma Community Center, Friends of Sebastiani Theatre, Sonoma Plein Air, Sonoma Salute to the Arts,  Sonoma Jazz Plus, the Glen Ellen Village Fair and Dunbar Elementary School.

His paintings are featured on many well-known book covers including, "Tales of the City," by Armisted Maupin and several covers for authors James Lee Burke and Elmore Leonard.

He was chosen to create the poster for Super Bowl XXIX, the 2006 Kentucky Derby, the California Railway Museum in Sacramento, the San Francisco Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Ziemienski has taught at the California College of the Arts, the Academy of Art in San Francisco, Syracuse University graduate class, Hartford University Masters Program and the Sonoma Community Center. And he has volunteered his time to teach art throughout the Sonoma Valley, including at Hanna Boys Center, Dunbar Elementary School and the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art.

In 2011 he has had three separate solo exhibitions in Santa Fe, Jackson Hole, Wyo., and Los Angeles.

Ziemienski is married to artist Anne Ziemienski and their daughter, Sofia Ziemienski, is a 2010 graduate of  Sonoma Valley High School.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Alastair Reid obituary

Director of television drama, including the ground-breaking Tales of the City and Traffik

Peter Ansorge
Friday 9 September 2011 18.42 BST

Alastair Reid, who has died aged 72, was one of Britain's finest directors of television drama. In 1989 he directed all six episodes of Simon Moore's epic drug drama Traffik for Channel 4, which won him both a Bafta and an International Emmy. The Oscar-winning film Traffic (2000) was based on the mini-series; the consensus among critics today is that Alastair's Traffik is the more successful of the two productions.

In 1991 he directed the five-part Selling Hitler, adapted by Howard Schuman from Robert Harris's book, with Barry Humphries as Rupert Murdoch and Alan Bennett as Hugh Trevor-Roper. Then came Tales of the City (1993), an adaptation by Richard Kramer of Armistead Maupin's novel set in the San Francisco of the 1970s, and the only instance to date of an American drama series being entirely funded by a British broadcaster – Channel 4. Tales of the City had always been intended as a co-production – but pre-HBO American television couldn't countenance onscreen kissing between men.

Alan Poul, the American producer, says that when Tales of the City was finally transmitted in the US, with great success, it "forever changed the landscape of American television", paving the way for shows such as Six Feet Under and Sex and the City. It was quite an experience for me, as head of drama at Channel 4, to visit the set in Los Angeles and to be told by both Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney that Alastair was the best director they had ever worked with.

Alastair was born in Edinburgh. His father was a schools inspector and his mother a well-known antiques dealer. Alastair graduated from Edinburgh College of Art, with the intention of becoming a painter. He then studied directing at the Bristol Old Vic. In 1960 he was taken on as a trainee director by Lew Grade at ATV where he worked on the UK's first twice-weekly evening soap opera, Emergency – Ward 10.

He directed well over 100 episodes, which were broadcast live. By his last year on the Ward, Alastair had become extremely bored and chose to direct a whole episode entirely from the point of view of the characters' feet. Unfortunately, Grade happened to be watching at the time. He rang the studio gallery during the commercial break and demanded that the cameras return to their standard positions for the second half of the show.

Alastair went on to direct highly popular series such as South Riding (1974) and Shades of Greene (1975, from Graham Greene's short stories) for ITV but it was a stint at David Rose's innovative drama department at the BBC's Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham that proved a turning point. There he directed two series of the ground-breaking crime drama Gangsters (1976-77), a highly eccentric musical Curriculee Curricula (1978), with words by Alan Plater and music by Dave Greenslade, and David Rudkin's astonishing futuristic nightmare Artemis 81 (1981), starring Daniel Day‑Lewis and Sting.

Gangsters brought multi-racial Britain to a mainstream audience on BBC1 as never before, or indeed since. At the time BBC drama productions were a mix of studio and outside filming. The joins always showed. For Gangsters, Alastair introduced a handheld camera into the studio that created a seamless match with film.

Alastair planned and storyboarded like Hitchcock, who was his hero. Gangsters contains a brilliant homage to the crop-spraying sequence in North By Northwest, while Vertigo was a crucial influence on both Artemis 81 and the San Francisco of Tales of the City. After Gangsters came Hazell (1979) for ITV, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1980) with David Hemmings and the first episode of Inspector Morse (1987), followed soon afterwards by Traffik.

Nostromo (1996) was Alastair's last major work, filmed for the BBC in Colombia in the midst of a drugs war, during which he befriended the Nobel-prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez and his mentor, Alvaro Mutis.

With his wife Jane, a gifted set designer, Alastair opened a vineyard at their house in Stoke St Gregory in Somerset. Famous names would visit, receiving the same welcome from Alastair and Jane off-set as they had once experienced on it. Day-Lewis spent a famous night there – not in the house, but outside in a tent, calling out to the wilderness, preparing for his 1992 role in The Last of the Mohicans.

Alastair is survived by Jane, his son Alex, his stepdaughters Lucy and Leo, and his two grandchildren.

• Alastair Reid, television director, born 21 July 1939; died 17 August 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tour of the Tales

Larry Rhodes,  creator of the website, has added a new "Links" page with a lot of information pertaining to San Francisco, and particularly "Tales of the City".  Larry is adding more tours soon.  Check out his website, and follow him on Twitter at!/ToursOfTheTales for the latest updates!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Parker Posey

By Joel Keller August 22, 2011

The actor: Parker Posey excels at playing prickly, condescending snobs as well as free-spirited ingénues. She made her name in the ’90s in a series of cult-hit independent movies like Dazed And Confused, The Daytrippers, Clockwatchers, and Party Girl, then went on to more memorable roles, including making regular appearances in the mostly improvised Christopher Guest movies. On Aug. 22, she starts a four-episode stint on the Showtime comedy series The Big C, playing a new friend for the teenage son of Laura Linney’s character.

The Big C (2011)—“Poppy” 

The A.V. Club: What’s the name of your character and what’s the role?

Parker Posey: Do you have the name? I forgot her name. I just got in from Canada. I just drove a 12-hour drive that should have been 10 hours. So I’m kind of like, rolling around. I’m trying to stretch my back out. I’m gonna say Darlene. [Laughs.] I play a woman with a little bit of arrested development, someone who has someone in her family that is sick, and I meet Gabriel [Basso]’s character in an online chat room for kids with cancer. I still see myself as a kid, I have intimacy issues, which explains why I befriend, a 15-year-old. We have a lot in common. There’s a lot of laughter, a lot of silliness, and it was a good time.

AVC: Any weirdness with playing the girlfriend of a teenager?

PP: No. No, I’m not his girlfriend.

AVC: Then was there any weirdness in the dynamic, or when you read the role, did you think she was a little oddball?

PP: I really didn’t want her to be too weird. I was begging, I’m like, “Please don’t make her too weird.” But I think weird is fine. I think there’s room for some. You know, it’s a half-hour comedy about cancer. There are all sorts of personalities and complexes that these characters have in that show to make them funny and tragic and worthy of the big personality of television. You kind of have to stick out when you’re on TV.

AVC: What is it about the character that spoke to you when you read the script?

PP: Well, I ran into Laura Linney on the street, and my mom’s friends had just been in town and they were just talking about her show. And I said, “You know, my mom’s friends really, they love your show.” And she said, “You should come on and do it.” And that’s how it started. I was pitched the part from the creator, Jenny Bicks, on the phone, so I never read anything. The idea was really interesting to me. There’s certainly a lot of people out there who have family and friends who have cancer.

AVC: The prospect of working with Laura Linney couldn’t have hurt either, right?

PP: Oh my God, I know. Well you see, 20 years ago, one of my very first jobs was with Laura in a PBS show called Tales Of The City that was a six-part show based on Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City. Then Showtime picked up the second book, More Tales Of The City. So I worked with her a day on that in Montreal. It was really a long time ago. And I’ve worked with John Benjamin Hickey [who plays Linney’s brother on The Big C] in The Anniversary Party. He played my husband. I’ve never had the honor of working with Oliver Platt [who plays Linney’s husband], but I’ve certainly seen him around. So they’ve got a bunch of great actors. So it felt really good just to get up and go to work not too far from New York where I live. So I really, really enjoyed that.

Tales Of The City (1993)—“Connie Bradshaw”

PP: I played Connie Bradshaw, Mary Ann Singleton’s friend from her hometown, and I believe the only person that she knew in San Francisco when she moved there. I played a young woman who was sleeping around, had a big heart, turned to some bad relationship with a real player, right? And you know, she danced a lot. I remember shooting a disco scene and when I saw Laura, she said, “Do you still have that shirt?” And I do still have it. I have this great, long-sleeved shirt with a horse printed on it. That kind of influenced me for dressing the part on The Big C, where I’m kind of the female version of John Hickey: counter-culture, baggy, bell-bottom jeans, flannel shirt, grubby, drives a Dodge Dart—you know, kind of stuck in the past, or born at the wrong time.

AVC: Tales Of The City was pretty risqué for public television. Was there a feeling around the set of, “Hey, we’re doing something new and revolutionary”? 

PP: I know! That was a big deal. Yeah, I remember that. Yeah, you know, there was [that feeling], but to me it felt like an independent movie that was going to be shown on TV. There was a lot of excitement about it because the books are so loved. Armistead was around all the time. We had a great director, Alastair Reid, that was such a sweetheart and so fun. There was just a lot of laughing. We had a really good time. And then there was a big letdown when they didn’t get the second part [filmed], and then there’s also a third part. Eventually, Connie has a daughter and dies [during childbirth], and she gives her daughter to Mary Anne, and her dying words are, “Name her Shawna.” And she leaves us. I’m still looking forward to playing that, although I don’t think it’s going to get produced. But it was such a great serial. Have you read Armistead Maupin? He has a really good book on tape called The Night Listener that’s kind of autobiographical that he reads. I remember listening to it on an airplane and really enjoying it. Working in San Francisco is the best. I love San Francisco. It’s one of my favorite cities. I just had so much fun.

More Tales Of The City (1998)—“Connie Bradshaw”

AVC: What was the difference when you came back to do the sequel for Showtime a few years later?

PP: The big difference was we were in Montreal. That was the really big difference, and going like, “Why Montreal?” Oh, you can’t afford San Francisco. San Francisco’s such a character. So it’s a shame that we couldn’t shoot there. Maybe they did some exteriors there. I only worked a day. And I think Armistead wrote, I think he might have written me into that. I can’t remember what I played. I think it was something like a new-ager, something at a flotation tank or some kind of new age spa.
Clockwatchers (1997)—“Margaret Burre”

PP: That’s a good little movie. You know what’s really good in that movie? The music was really good. I mean, the cinematography was really good. The movie’s by two sisters named Jill and Karen Sprecher. I remember really loving my part in that. There’s this woman in the workplace named Margaret who hates her job. She thinks any job in an office is not the way to live. She thinks she’s invisible. She carves into her desk, you know, “Margaret was here.” There’s a big scandal because someone was taking money from the tip jars. It’s nothing, but it’s a big drama in the office. And because Margaret’s really loud, people start to turn on her and she gets taken away from the premises. I remember having to shoot this scene where I get carried away, and I was so mad—I wasn’t mad, I was upset, because the camera was literally on the floor. And what I didn’t know was that I was really already in it, and feeling like this huge injustice that I was losing my job. I was walking around going like, “I can’t believe the camera’s on the floor” and I’m about to be taken out of here by the police. You do these little movies that are 20 days, you know, they go so fast and you’re so in it. There’s no time to even go to the craft-service table to eat a carrot stick. It’s just fast and focused.

AVC: Were you upset that the movie was ending and trying to use it to get into your character?

PP: No! No! I was upset because I think I was just kind of taken with the part. Margaret wasn’t seen, then I wasn’t seen, and it just kind of all bled together. The camera department became the corporate system that she was so mad at. I remember this one scene, I have a roommate that works for an airline, that I never see. When the Toni Collette character comes over, I offer her something to drink and it’s like a tray of airplane food, and airplane liquor bottles. [It was] a lonely, kind of trickster part. And then I wore my roommate’s flight jacket to work, her stewardess outfit. I was doing all these provocative things. Like, Margaret would steal from the restaurant. I think she stole a bunch of matches or something, like lemon drops, saying this thing, “Well, they take from me, why can I not take from them?” Just this real counter-culture rebel.

AVC: Do you have an affinity for those kind of parts? A lot of your early career was these kind of independent movies.

PP: Well, I think that’s because that’s what was around. I don’t know. I feel like it was also around a time where they could write things for me. Like, people could write a part and then I would do it, you know? Like The Daytrippers or Party Girl was written for me. But I don’t know if Jill and Karen had it in mind when they wrote Margaret for me to play. But also, you know, you couldn’t get someone that demanded a salary. Directors couldn’t go to an agency like CAA and get Winona Ryder for their little million-dollar movie. But they could come to me and my agent, and go, “Is she doing anything, will she work for free?” And I’d say yeah. It’s great. And that’s it. It’s nothing deeper than that. Of course, it’s all changed now.

Party Girl (1995)—“Mary”

AVC: But you said the part in Party Girl, for instance, was written for you.

PP: No, it wasn’t. No. But I remember when they did press for that, people wanted to know, because they thought that it was written for me, right? And then I started making stuff up. Like I said, “Yeah, I was discovered at the makeup counter at Barney’s.” And that’s why. It was a total lie.

AVC: Do you ever read those clips again and just laugh at them?

PP: No! No, but I can tell you, it makes me laugh when you say you’re going to go through my résumé and talk about my movies, because I’ve lied on my résumé and I’ve made up names of movies, I’ve made up certain things about myself. Because it’s just, you know, whatever. I shouldn’t be taken that seriously.

AVC: What are some of the fun things you’ve made up?

PP: I don’t remember. But I know that when I hear them back, I’ll be like, “Oh, I was really bored.”

AVC: This was back in the ’90s, earlier in your career. Do you still do it now?

PP: [Laughs.] I don’t. I think that was early on, when I was doing a lot of press. Because you just get silly and it’s that horrible thing where you’re joking but the other person doesn’t think you’re joking, and there’s no time to clear it up.

Waiting For Guffman (1996)—“Libby Mae Brown”

AVC: Did Christopher Guest know you from your other projects? When did he come and say, “Hey, we want you to come in and do this part”?

PP: I was a dwarf extra on a movie called the Coneheads that Lorne Michaels produced with Dan Aykroyd and Chris Farley and David Spade. That was my first paycheck that was… [Starts shrieking and laughing.] [To someone off the phone.] Can you get me a towel? A spider just crawled on my back. [Back on the phone.] Hello? I’m so sorry! [Laughs.] Um, it was a really gnarly spider. It just scared the shit out of me!

So I guess a year goes by, and I happen to be in L.A., auditioning for a recurring part on Murphy Brown. This is when they would fly me in to audition for things, when TV was still in its narrative form. So I was in L.A. for a week and that’s when I met Chris Guest. Karen Murphy, his producer, had called Lorne Michaels and asked him if he knew anyone who could play 18 and improvise, and Lorne Michaels recommended me. So I went in and I met him, and we hung out for a half an hour. I’m from the South. I couldn’t wait to play that part, and already had so much to give to it. And I just couldn’t wait.

AVC: Was the improvisation something you’d done before? 

PP: I hated rehearsing in college. No one wanted to rehearse with me, because I would say, “You’re killing it.” I never wanted to overdo things or even rehearse because it always embarrassed me. I’m not that good at it. I’m not good at auditions either. I’m uncomfortable just being there on set. So no, I hadn’t done it. The first day, I was in the van and I was holding my knees up to my chest and my back was killing me, and Eugene [Levy] said, “That’s from holding in laughter.” Then I went to my room and drew a bath. I took a bath and I cried my eyes out. And I felt like I had been thrown into water that I just didn’t know. It’s not like, “Oh I’m gonna come up with something and say something funny,” for me at least. I think all the actors in that had various ways of improvising. It was really like, find your character and just be in the moment, and it was crazy. Chris would say, “You guys should come watch dailies,” and I said, “No, I really don’t want to.” He’s like, “Come on! What else are you going to do?”
So we watched them, and I couldn’t believe that it was all funny. It was really, really funny. And, you know, you would just talk until the mag rolls out. Everything everyone said, when they weren’t trying to be funny, was funny. It was so strange. I have so many memories from that, like Fred Willard sitting in one of those fold-up aluminum chairs in Lockhart, Texas, smoking a cigar and looking out into the little town. It leaves my mind reeling. I’d take a nap every day at lunch. I’d get so tired, right? But it was so much fun. By the time it was over, I was so sad. I think I felt like I would never see [Guest’s character] Corky again. It was like I lost that world.

Best In Show (2000)—“Meg Swan”

AVC: When he got you back together for Best In Show, did it feel kind of like...

PP: Different world! Different world. That’s dogs, you know? It’s so strange to me, because when I got back to New York [after Guffman], I went to the Joyce Theater and I saw Corky. I saw a gay man that had the same haircut, the same little earring, and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Oh my God, there’s Corky.” But Best In Show was totally, totally different. Totally different. I thought Guffman was, because we’d all rehearse and make up silly dances on Monday, on our day off. And oh my God, Chris cut himself out of those movies. That’s the sad thing. He had to edit it, and he was just like, “Ugh, enough.”

AVC: He’d rather show everybody else over himself?

PP: He just got bored. I think he was bored with himself. It’s just really hard to cut, because you have to cut for jokes. And it’s so funny, because, you leave those movies and everyone’s upset. All the actors are like, “Aw, Chris cut that scene,” and they’re really funny. These movies are really funny.

AVC: Which scene that got cut were you most unhappy to see go?

PP: It’s not from me. Do you want to get Fred Willard going? You can just [ask], “Fred, what did Chris cut of you in Best In Show?” But I don’t remember, honestly, I know he doesn’t like anything that gets too mean. Like where the joke is at the expense of someone else.

AVC: And Meg was a kind of prickly, mean character. 

PP: Yes, she was. You know, there was a lot of pill-taking and pot-smoking and alcohol with Meg that is not in the movie at all. There were interviews with me and [Michael Hitchcock’s character] Hamilton where I’m taking pills. I smoked, took a puff of the pipe before work, and Hamilton’s like, “Meg, what are you doing?” And she’s like, “What does it look like I’m doing?” He goes, “Do you know what time it is?” And I was just like, “Yes... [Laughs.] It’s like, 7:00.” But there’s other stuff too that was really funny that he cut. Like the dog pooped in [Hamilton’s] slippers, and I’m shouting at my maid. With stuff like that, you’re going, “Oh, why did he cut that?” It just didn’t move the movie along. Fred Willard worked three hours on that. He came in and left. He worked for two days. Isn’t that amazing? And he’s like, the last act of that film. The movie wouldn’t work without him.

AVC: So how was it working with the dogs in that kind of improvisational environment?

PP: I felt like it didn’t really matter, the dog, with Meg. She’s really just talking about herself. So that was something that my husband did. So I wasn’t at the training classes at all with him. We shot together, Michael Hitchcock and I. We had a pointer initially, so we shopped at J. Crew, but then the dog changed to a weimaraner, so we started shopping at Banana Republic. So there was a poodle, the standard poodle—Jane [Lynch] and Jennifer [Coolidge’s characters’] dog got fired because she was misbehaving. So there’s somewhere on tape that has auditions for the poodles that day. It was really funny. In the lobby of the Sheraton.  So there’s a scene where we’re grooming PJ—that was her real name, I don’t remember her name, I think it was Bea in the movie. Chris would say, “You know, let’s get the groomer over here, the owner, to come give another little talk, just to refresh how you position the dog on the table, and how you hold its neck and tail and all of that before they’re going to go out and show.” And as we’re just about to start to roll, she came up, she started critiquing the dog’s coat and said the dog would never win the competition, we’d never even be able to compete, that the coat was not perfect. And we’re like, “Well, we weren’t asking for a critique of the dog. We’re just, ‘How do you hold your scissors?’” So it was a really intense scene, and really, really funny and charming. There’s a really funny documentary on PBS about cat competitions and it’s really, really good. You see how different cat people are from dog people.

AVC: What was the difference?

PP: Longer hair. You know, cat earrings. I don’t know. Just more homey. Just a little witchier.

Parks And Recreation (2011)—“Lindsay Carlisle Shay”

AVC: The character you played on Parks And Rec seemed to have that same prickly personality. You seem to play that a lot: snooty, prickly, kind of condescending.

PP: Yeah, society lady. I think because I can look like that, do you know what I mean? And yeah, I get cast as funny, bitchy people. I like them. I think they’re funny.

AVC: Do you have any trepidation when you come in as a guest on an already established show?

PP: I was so happy to land in Parks And Rec. I don’t remember what I was doing. But yeah, what is this world? What’s the town? What’s the vibe? And I’d worked with Amy [Poehler] before, and I just love her. She’s so silly. I love that silly sense of humor. Absurd. And it’s kind of crazy; you shoot in a week. Those people go home at like, 5 o’clock. We shot in the Valley. It was 120 degrees. It was so hot. And Nicole Holofcener directed it. But it’s weird. It’s a different world. Like, the walls could move if they weren’t screwed in enough.

The Return Of Jezebel James (2008)—“Sarah Tompkins”

AVC: Amy Sherman-Palladino was coming off Gilmore Girls at the time, so Jezebel James got a lot of attention. Were you aware of all the attention the show was getting? And had you been a fan of Amy’s work before? 

PP: No. I read the pilot and thought it was interesting, and that the writing was really good. We shot it in New York and Amy didn’t like office scenes that had editing in them. So one day out of the week, we would shoot a Steadicam shot. On Wednesday, we’d have a film day, and then on Friday, we’d do it live, and it was a 60-page script a week. It was so hard. I would have these fantasies of words coming out of my tear ducts, or my ears. She was a stickler, too. It was like, “Don’t say ‘and,’ say ‘but.’” So it’s hard to do a seven-page scene and keep it fresh every time. So on Friday night at 1 o’clock, it was really, really hard. I don’t really like to repeat myself, because then it kind of loses the life of it. But TV can be very—you know, it’s so much a writer’s medium. It can just be all about the words. Some TV, it gets to be like that, where every word you say has been approved by the network.

AVC: Because her dialogue is very dense and rapid, how did you prepare?

PP: I had a reader. I had someone that would follow me around with my lines. [I read] every time I could have a little time off. But it was hard, because there’s only a few options when you play someone that talks that fast. And it’s neurotic and crazy, and someone that’s really ahead of themselves. They’re not really thinking when they speak.

AVC: How was it shooting in front of a studio audience?

PP: I did it on Will & Grace a little bit. It’s kind of like, “Why are you guys sitting there?” You know? It’s a little in-between.

AVC: Did you feel when you were onstage with the audience that the timing was off? Or did it feel right when you were filming it? 

PP: I think it’s something that people get used to when it’s a half-hour studio audience, the timing of the jokes, so that rhythmic “Someone says this, someone says that, and then you have the punchline.” So anything more in that format, people just aren’t used to. But I wasn’t really thinking about that. I wasn’t thinking about that when I was doing it. It was just a lot of dialogue. It felt like I was at boot camp.

AVC: So there’s obviously not a lot of room for improvisation there.

PP: I kept thinking she should write period plays from the ’40s, you know? There’s something about her jargon that’s very screwball. She’s got a real talent for it. I don’t read anything or follow up on whether it was a success or not. I just kinda take the jobs when they come and see how they turn out. But I’m glad I went through it. I’m glad I had that experience. It was probably one of my most difficult ones.

A Mighty Wind (2003)—“Sissy Knox”

PP: I think Eugene Levy’s work in that is so brilliant. He’s so good in that movie. So committed as a damaged guy, you know? I think what I took away from that was traveling and going on tour, and watching Catherine [O’Hara] and Eugene every night sing to each other. There’s a punk club in Washington, D.C., I think it begins with an S. I don’t remember. Well, we played there, and there were bands in the audience who knew those songs by heart. Watching Catherine and Eugene every night sing those love songs to each other was amazing. So moving.

AVC: How was the tour experience?

PP: I think we did seven or eight cities, maybe. I remember we went to Canada. We were in San Francisco, we did Town Hall, that was really amazing. Because there was a lot of singers in the group that just loved to harmonize. Like Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins and Catherine O’Hara, those three especially: When we were in the arena for Best In Show with the dog competitions, they were always harmonizing. People would just stand in groups and just be singing during breaks. I think that’s why Chris got that idea. He’s like “Oh wow, we should do something about music.”

AVC: How confident were you in your singing for the movie?

PP: I can carry a tune, but I am not a harmonizer. But I loved her. The Main Street Singer, it’s like they just found God. Everybody’s laughing all the time. I remember we did this exercise, I don’t know if it made it into the movie, but we would all stand in a circle and sing a song of the colors of the rainbow that Jane and Higgins made up. It was, [Singing up the scale] “Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet!” But we’d have our hands just inches away from each other’s crotch. [Laughs.] And that was the exercise we did. And that was part of our vocal warm-up.

AVC: The crotch part?

PP: Yeah, it’s just the vibrations. [Laughs.] It’s so silly. I loved how competitive Higgins and Jane were. They were really into practicing. Fred Willard had a moment that that didn’t make it into the song that I thought was so funny, where he had a bottle of Vermont’s Own Maple Syrup, in those little moonshine jars. You know those jugs that maple syrup comes in? And he’s holding up a shot glass and holding up that maple syrup, and he says, “I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, but every now and then, I just pour myself a shot of some of this stuff!” And he pours himself a shot of maple syrup and drinks it. [Laughs.]

AVC: It does seem like Fred Willard was the life of the set in those movies. 

PP: It just doesn’t stop. And he’d be like, “One more Chris. One more.” Chris would be like, “I think that’s fine. I think we got it.” [Laughs.] The big thing on set is that it’s very real. He’ll come up and he would say, “This could really happen. This isn’t too far from the truth. This is it. This isn’t really funny. This is how people are.” I get so many comments about, [how] people really relate to those characters, because they really see people who are really like that.

AVC: When you come off those movies and then you go back to doing scripted stuff like The Big C, is there an adjustment there?

PP: Yeah. There’s so much trust that you’re given as an actor. There’s so much freedom. When you go into something that’s scripted, especially in movies, sometimes there’s just more pressure and there’s an energy around it: “Will we be a success?” or, “We only have this amount of time to do it,” or whatever the pressures are, that never make their way into a Christopher Guest movie. Because it’s like the cameras aren’t even there. The main focus is what’s going to happen in front of camera, and it’s just kind of seamless. That’s what you strive for when you go on set. I think those movies are so special because of all of the people involved. It’s a huge group, but I feel like I’m still getting over the privilege to work like that. When you think about just the amount of faith and trust that Chris gives in everyone… Chris told me, “I had no idea Jennifer Coolidge was going to open her mouth and talk like that. I had no idea.” Isn’t that amazing? When you go into a situation in Hollywood and you have to read what’s in front of you on a piece of paper in a room full of other people, it’s hard. It’s a bummer. It can be so free to see that it could be so much more loose, and when it’s loose like that, people are free to have fun and take their time. I feel really lucky that I’m in that group.

But I got spoiled, creatively. I got really spoiled. And who knows. I don’t even know if he’s going to do another one. That’s the other thing. When I was in Canada, I ran into Catherine. And we were both talking, “I wonder if Chris is going to do another one?” Every time we see Bob Balaban, [we ask], “When’s he going to do another movie? When’s that gonna happen?” I mean, we all love each other. I love those people. I have a lot of love and respect for their intelligence and their sense of humor and their kindness. We need more of that.

As The World Turns (1991-1992)—“Tess Shelby”

AVC: A soap opera must be the opposite experience, because you’re pushing through every shooting, right?

PP: [Laughs.] They bring the kids in at the crack of dawn. We’ll be in a rehearsal hall at 6, and then around 7:30 you’re in the works. You’re in hair and makeup. I had a great time on that. That was great training. I remember sitting on a rock, or banging my foot against a rock on set, like on the lake, and it making a hollow sound. Like, “Oh, it’s not real.” Even the grass is plastic. Some of the directors were easy, kind of, “Camp it up and have fun with it,” and some of them took it really seriously. I remember when I first showed up on set, my first day, I took a nap in my dressing room and my [character’s] Aunt Barbara knocked on the door and she came in, and she was like, “Be careful what you say around here, because the walls have ears.” I thought that was so fabulously funny, especially since I was probably 21 years old. I just ran into her four or five years ago. Her name is Colleen Zenk. And she hadn’t aged a bit. She looked amazing. It was so good to see her. I remember learning lines and sitting on them. Unless [the actor] started screaming or cursing, that was what ended up on television. It was like, “That was great! Moving on.” You get two takes and you would move on, and you’re like, “What?” [Laughs.]  It was just bad, like, “Wow, I’m doing really bad acting.” I was straight from drama school, so I was projecting. But I had fun.

I did Dazed And Confused during that time. They wanted to give me a three-year contract, but I just got out of drama school and I told As The World Turns that I didn’t want to be anywhere for three years after being in school, so they gave me a year and a half. After a year, when they saw that I was getting a lot of independent work, the producer, Laurence Caso, came up to me—and I’ll never forget, it was so cold in the studio. It was like a meat locker. You’d put on your wardrobe and your pantyhose and everything else, and then I’d wear two robes and just walk around shivering, and go to the green room and talk on the phone. And he came up to me and he says, “Parker, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to get Holden in a coma before Labor Day. And that would have your contract be cut short. Is that all right?” I was like, “That’s amazing Laurence. Thank you so much.” He goes, “You’ll always have a place here if you ever want to come back. Just keep in touch.” And I cried. I thought he was so sweet. [Laughs.] “Holden needs to be in a coma by Labor Day.” So funny. I got my first couch and TV, and my first apartment that I lived in for 13 years, during my soap days. Then I did all those independent movies through the ’90s.

Dazed And Confused (1993)—“Darla Marks” 

PP: That movie is so popular. The Christopher Guest movies and Dazed And Confused are huge. I’m talking like, from bikers to strangers in a grocery store. That movie is so loved by so many people. This woman that I just worked with said that her autistic son who’s 11 knows every word to Dazed And Confused. I was like, “Come on set and be an extra.” So she was an extra. We had a 10-year reunion in 2004 or something. It showed at a drive-in in Austin to like, 6,000 people. We were all sitting down in the grass and people were standing up during the screening and quoting lines and singing songs to the screen, and drinking beer and smoking, and I crawled over to where Rick [Linklater] was sitting to just nudge him and say hi. He started laughing. He’s just giggling, and he goes, “I made a drive-in movie!” That’s genius. Because he did, and he didn’t know that’s what he was doing, but that’s exactly. That movie’s a drive-in movie.

AVC: And people have been quoting it, especially Matthew McConaughey’s character, for almost 20 years now.

PP: They’re still quoting me too, okay? [Laughs.]

The Daytrippers (1996)—“Jo Malone”

PP: I think The Daytrippers was a really special one, because it seems to capture what the independent film scene was like in New York in the ’90s. I had done a reading for Greg Mottola, that Campbell Scott and Liev Schreiber were in, about an MTV network. Investors came and said, “This movie’s going to be too much money. You can’t make this movie.” And Steven Soderbergh and Campbell Scott [tell Greg], “Just go and write a movie that you can shoot for a couple hundred thousand dollars.” So Greg said, “Okay, um, I’ll write something that shoots at my parents’ house, I’ll use my parents’ car, I have my apartment, I have my friend Andy’s apartment, we have Seth, we can use his apartment in Brooklyn, we can shoot in Campbell’s place.” And he pulled in all these favors. It was a 16-day shoot, 16 or 17 days. The production company was called Fiasco Productions, and the camera got stolen the first day. We brushed our own hair. We shot in film so it was like, we only had this amount of film and the sun is going down. Shooting in New York City. We were stealing shots. Anne Meara was hysterical. I just love her so much. I remember her in her bra and underwear getting dressed in Greg’s little apartment on Sullivan Street. Stanley Tucci and Hope Davis fighting in the apartment below when [her character] finds out, you know, when the end of the movie comes. It’s such a perfect movie. It took Greg almost 15 years to make another movie, which was Superbad.

After that, I remember doing, I think it was You’ve Got Mail. Meg Ryan had just read one of Greg’s scripts, and it’s a really, really good script. She didn’t know if she was going to do it or not. That was kind of when everything changed. At first, he could make movies with whoever he wanted. And then all of a sudden, the whole thing got co-opted by the studio system. So Greg moved out to Hollywood, and it took him forever just to make a movie again. And he’s so talented. It’s kinda sad. It’s kind of a bummer story, I’m sorry. But I think it’s interesting.

AVC: Is it because the independent system became less independent at that point?

PP: Yeah, it got co-opted, you know? It became something that was viable and could make even more money if it was made a certain way. So the budgets inflated, right? And once they got more money, then they became less dirty, then they became a little watered down. Less creative. But that’s a perfect little movie.,60698/

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Tales of the City" Merchandise

After three extensions and a record-breaking run, this wildly acclaimed world premiere production closed on July 31.

Thank you for your incredible support and enthusiasm!

It's your last chance to order your souvenir from Barbary Lane—many items now 50% off!

Exclusive merchandise, including a limited-edition hardcover reprint of the original Tales of the City novel, is available online and at the A.C.T. Box Office. From shirts and posters to the infamous Mrs. Madrigal rolling papers, don't miss your chance to own a piece of Tales history at an incredible price.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Staying Local With Tales Of The City

Carey Perloff

After an unprecedented sold-out run at the American Conservatory Theater, the new musical of Tales Of The City closed on Sunday July 31. As I was sitting in a packed and tearful house watching the final performance, my mind kept returning to a subject I have been wrestling with for some time now: the power of what I like to call "locavore theater." Here's the paradox. Because we have become such a global culture, and because the American media tends to value theatrical work primarily if it is connected to New York or to London, the term "local" has always been a derogatory one in the regional theater. Indeed, when Bill Ball founded his acclaimed company in 1968 and then brought it to San Francisco, he deliberately called it the "AMERICAN Conservatory Theater" rather than the "SAN FRANCISCO Conservatory Theater", and made sure that his Board of Directors was incorporated in Delaware, not in the Bay Area. He felt strongly that his theater should be viewed through a national lens, with oversight from people outside of the city of San Francisco, because his goal was to create a significant artistic alternative to the Broadway commercial theater. Yet A.C.T. succeeded precisely because the creation of Ball's work at A.C.T. was intensely "local", performed by a remarkable standing company of actors who lived and worked fulltime in the Bay Area and had the opportunity to explore great classical plays as well as new plays in the attempt to both sustain the past and nurture the future. Over many decades, the audience in San Francisco came to view those actors as their own, watching them transform from role to role with dexterity and panache.

What's happened to the American non-profit theater in the interim is interesting. In a desperate attempt to feel relevant in an increasingly digital universe and to remain solvent at a time of huge decreases in arts funding, the regional theater has all but abandoned its alternative stance (the whole notion of a permanent company of actors being one of the first ideas to go) and now actively pursues commercial success and a presence in New York. It has become standard operating procedure for regional theaters to accept significant "enhancement money" from commercial producers in exchange for the use of their theater and their subscription audience to try out Broadway-bound material. While this has allowed large-scale musicals to be developed and previewed across the country, it has also sapped the regional theater of its artistic muscle and its individuality. Since he who pays the piper plays the tune, it is inevitable that the artists working on an enhanced musical are far more likely to take direction from their Broadway producers than from the non-profit theater's artistic team, with the result that the work is "local" in name only. Is this what an artistic pioneer like Bill Ball had in mind when he struggled to found the maverick theater that became A.C.T.?

For whom should this matter? Does an audience care who calls the shots in creating a show, as long as the show is good? And what impact does this "farmed out" procedure have on the vitality of arts communities across America? These are question I kept pondering as we worked on Tales. Contrary to all expectations, we decided to produce Tales completely on our own, without enhancement from or collaboration with commercial producers. We did this mostly because we wanted to be in control of how the story got told. It worried me that this most beloved of local stories would end up getting watered down and perhaps betrayed in the attempt to make it palatable for a Broadway audience. So we raised the considerable cost of the show (over $2 million) ourselves, and produced it on our own.

I was fascinated by how puzzled our theatrical colleagues were by this choice to "stay local" with Tales. Which led me to think about debates going on in the food industry. Here in the Bay Area, we have become obsessed with locally grown food. Not only does it taste better, it makes sense from an ecological perspective for us to partake of what is delicious and near to hand rather than flying in goods from across the globe whenever they strike our fancy. We don't view this as a compromise but as a challenge and a gift: to creatively embrace that which is grown and nurtured in our own backyards. In a similar way, while Armistead Maupin's stories belong to the world, they began here in San Francisco and in a sense they are part of our cultural DNA. Even people who never read the newspaper columns or the books have a deep-seated affinity for the wide-eyed outsider (Mary Anne from Cleveland) who arrives in the magical city by the Bay to try to create a new life for herself. Mary Anne strikes a nerve because she epitomizes the reason many people continue to relocate to San Francisco, a city that seems to promise a degree of release from, and experimentation with, the cultural norms of the rest of the country. So the fact that a local theater company decided to tell a story about its own local universe for a local audience who was part of that universe held great appeal. Yet over and over again in the press, the production was primarily viewed as a stepping-stone to New York. Despite the fact that it grossed $4.3 million (far surpassing any other show in A.C.T. history) and attracted a rapturous audience of over 70,000 people, in the eyes of many the success of the production will not be measured by the impact it had upon its own community but by whether it has commercial traction in the future.

Perhaps this is why audiences are less engaged with theater around the country than we would like them to be. Perhaps if we trusted our own standards of excellence and our own individual artistry enough, we would resist the media pull to evaluate our work through the fickle lens of commercial success. Perhaps in an era in which anyone can find their content of choice at the click of a mouse, the best way to get people to experience the collective joy of a live theatrical experience is to make them feel that what they are seeing is NOT easily replicable but has been created especially for their own communities by distinguished artists who are part of their world. If it's brilliant locally, it will inevitably resonate more broadly. Just as foodies from around the world travel to San Francisco to sample the anchovies that Judy Rogers fishes out of Monterey Bay in order to make her perfect Caesar salad at Zuni Café, perhaps audiences can be encouraged to revel in vigorous and delicious work that is nurtured closer to home. It might be an experiment worth taking.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Three Secrets About the A.C.T.'s Orchestra Pit

By Erik Verduzco, Queena Kim
July 24, 2011

Here are a few things you might be surprised to learn about the modern orchestra pit.

First off, there's no "orchestra" and the name might be a bit outdated. At least that's the impression we got from our night in the pit at the American Conservatory Theater. Instead of violins and french horns, we saw a six-piece rock band with each member playing multiple instruments.

"Orchestras are getting smaller and smaller," said “The Tales of the City” Music Director Cian McCarthy. That's "mainly because shows are becoming more pop rock."

That's certainly true for the A.C.T.'s musical Armistead Maupin's "The Tales of the City," which was co-written by Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters fame. The score, for the most part, riffs off of 70s glam and disco rock.

The second surprise is that the pit is very quiet or in other words, none of the music you hear in the theater actually comes out of the pit.

The drummer is enclosed in a plexi-glass-like isolation booth, which muffles his big sound. So too are the horns. You can’t even really hear the guitar and keyboards. All the sound from the instruments is fed to a booth where sound engineers fiddle with it and pipe it onto the speakers in the theater.

The third surprise? Well you’ll have to watch the video to find out. By the way, it’s the closing week of “The Tales of the City” so if you want to check it out, buy your tickets now. (Pst... if you use the code word "citizen" you can get a discount) (- Queena Kim)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Will the Tales of the City Musical Leave Behind a Legacy in San Francisco?

Greg Archer
Posted: 7/19/11 11:33 AM ET

These are certainly wonderful times for Armistead Maupin -- and imagine the tales he'll be telling a year from now. For starters, the musical stage adaptation of his beloved Tales of the City literary saga -- combining his first two books, Tales, and More Tales of the City -- has surpassed expectations in its world premiere this summer. It's become the hottest thing to hit San Francisco during its fog-ridden summers since, well, the hottest thing to hit San Francisco during its fog-ridden summers.

The good news: It's shattered all sales and fundraising records for a single A.C.T. production. Beyond that, more than 58,000 people have seen the show--that's the size of a nice suburb--and generated the largest advance sale and the highest gross sales in the company's history. The opening night gala in June, in fact, raised nearly a million dollars for A.C.T.'s revered, award-winning conservatory and expanding educational programs.

"I'm so delighted that I have been able to create a lore that can survive; that can translate into so many different realms of art," Maupin recently told me about the Tales mystique and its longevity. "I don't know what to say. It's a tremendous tribute, not so much to me, but to the story I have been telling. This is a terrific third act of my life."

One that's not about to end soon. Even though the show closes July 31, Broadway may beckon.

The genesis of the musical project began more than three years ago and soon began generating buzz. Some of that had to do with Jake Shears and John Garden of the Scissor Sisters, who would eventually give birth to the music here. (Sassy and, at times, emotional romps kept audiences invested.) But the production seemed charmed from the get-gos when writer Jeff Whitty and director Jason Moore, both of Avenue Q, arrived at the helm.

Maupin first began penning Tales more than 35 years ago. After turning heads as a serial column in the San Francisco Chronicle, and later as an award-winning mini-series, his characters -- from naïve the Mary Ann (played by Laura Linney on the small screen) to the mysterious Barbary Lane landlady Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis in a powerful performance) -- warmed readers' hearts and continue to do so.

(Maupin's latest "Tales" jaunt, Mary Ann in Autumn, met with stellar reviews upon release last fall.)

"The story seems real to people," Maupin notes. "The characters seem to real to people and become integral to their lives. It had become more about people's own excitement living in San Francisco. Throughout all that, I was merely expressing my own love for the city and the humanity that was changing my own life."

So why does he think the novels were embraced so marvelously worldwide?

"I think that it appeals to the growing notion that one's family is more often than not, invented," he says. "Mrs. Madrigal in the recent Tales novels, talks about the logical family versus the biological family. We no longer feel quite so enslaved to people who brought us into the world. Some of us are lucky enough to have biological family members that are also logical family members. It doesn't always work that way and I think Tales celebrates the notion of finding love and family amongst your friends. The general notion of self realization -- who you are."

This isn't the first time Maupin's work went nuclear. His many books have been well received and back in 2006, he was the creative fuel behind the screenplay for The Night Listener, starring Robin Williams. When asked about what it takes to be a "dedicated" if not "good" writer, he says it has a great deal to do with self-awareness.

"You have to be able to see your own foibles as clearly as possible in order to record them and celebrate them as universal," he muses. "People who are not willing to admit the worst about themselves are not going to create characters that are fully human."

Now the the musical is reaching its final stretch and the buzz circulating over where, if anywhere, it will head next, Maupin seems content in sinking into the simple moments life has to offer.

"I value the love that I share with my husband [Christopher Turner] above all other things," he says. "It's just the truth. It's more important to me than all things happening to me career wise. Christopher Isherwood, when he was in his seventies, told me years ago about his partner Don Bachardy -- that life is so much simpler when you've narrowed it down one other person. That's what old age is telling me ... and that's not a bad thing to hear."

In the meantime, I trekked behind-the-scenes for some banter with the Tales of the City crew and actress Pamela Myers. Take a peek:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Tales' designer Douglas Schmidt lets space speak

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Douglas Schmidt was the set designer for ACT's
production of "Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City."

The interior of Douglas Schmidt and Stephen Martin's hillside home in San Francisco looks like the set for a 1950s urban comedy. The interior of their weekend home above Stinson Beach looks like a set from the plays and operas that Schmidt, 68, has designed during a long career in New York, San Francisco and points in between. His work can be seen in "Tales of the City" at ACT.

On set design: The way I approach any design project is that I let the space speak. It wants to express in a subtle, almost subliminal way the emotional climate of the piece, the characters' needs and anxieties, the relationships that are being played out on the stage. All of these intangible elements have to be expressed.

On interior design: Somebody said once that "a beautifully designed and well-ordered interior is the sign of an inferior mind." I subscribe to that. You look for a feeling. Does it express the people who live there? If it doesn't have a comfortable feeling of being lived in, then it doesn't succeed.

On putting it to practice: The house in Stinson Beach is populated with bits and pieces from old shows. In the early part of my career, I did a lot of traveling around, and I would be propping in all these strange places. I'd see stuff that might not work with the show but was a nice piece of furniture, so I'd buy it.

On floor space: There is a gigantic Chinese rug in the living room. It's like 20 feet long. It was a major piece of scenery from a show when I was the resident designer at the repertory theater at Lincoln Center in New York. I've been dragging it around for 35 years until it found a home in Stinson Beach.

On effect: When someone walks in, they're pretty gob-smacked. It's not like most of the beach houses out there, which tend to be open and austere with tons of light. Our place looks like a barn. We describe it as "the Adirondacks meet Malibu." It's perfect for my collection of old furniture and props.

On getting started: I grew up in Cincinnati. In high school I was overly ambitious and adapted a stage version from a James Thurber book called "The 13 Clocks." I not only adapted it, I directed it and cast it and designed it and starred in it. My megalomania started early on.

On direction: I've been a set designer for my entire career. My very first trip to San Francisco was an aborted production for ACT when Bill Ball was running the company. It was right after the White Night Riot. The production manager put me into the hotel under an assumed name because I just happened to share the name of the lawyer who defended Dan White successfully.

On "Tales of the City": There are 50 scenes and 32 locations. The first time I read the script, I said to the director, "Do you know there are six beds in this script? How are you going to fit six beds on the stage?" In one case there was a love scene on two beanbag chairs because the bed issue was just impossible to deal with. You always have to compromise, but we ended up with very good props.

On tales in the city: People have asked me to do it (home interiors). It's such a labor-intensive process. You're dealing with personal tastes that might not be your own, and I find it extremely difficult to have to submerge my own aesthetic and buy a piece of furniture that I just wouldn't have on a bet.

- Sam Whiting,

This article appeared on page V - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Olive Reader's "Tales of the City" Read Along updated schedule


Late last week, I began to panic. I was deep (or really, not as deep as I would have liked) into reading Game of Thrones, which is nearly 800 pages long, and I suddenly realized that I had less than a week left to not only finish that chunkster but also re-read Tales of the City for the readalong. So I buckled down, managed to finish GoT on Monday and still do tons of freelance work, and started Tales on Tuesday night. I was on track to finish by today if I tried hard, but . . . I fell asleep!

So I was all set to come here today and write a post about what I was enjoying so far and confess my sin of not finishing. I took a look at the schedule and realized that, as usual, I have been soundly defeated by math. Somehow, I set the first book for discussion today, and then put the second book almost four weeks later. And yet all of the other ones are two weeks apart. What did I do here? I still don’t know. Therefore, I’ve adjusted the schedule so that it actually makes sense now.

7/7 – Discussion of Tales of the City
7/19 – Discussion of More Tales of the City
8/4 – Discussion of Further Tales of the City
8/23 – Discussion of Babycakes
9/8 – Discussion of Significant Others
9/27 – Discussion of Sure of You
10/13 – Discussion of Michael Tolliver Lives
10/27 – Discussion of Mary Ann in Autumn

And we now have a lovely tile ad that you can include if you’re participating!
And, since there’s another whole week for you all to read Tales and since I have more copies on my shelves, I’ll give some more away! I’ll pick five random commenters (please put your email address or twitter handle in the comments so I can contact you.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tales of the City: A New Musical

After extending this incredible show an unprecedented three times, it is time to announce that TALES will officially close on July 31 at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. There's still time to get your tickets & make your way to the city for the must-see event of the summer!

Behind the Scenes at Tales of the City in San Francisco

By Whitney Spaner

Still hyped up from an amazing Gay Pride weekend and the news that everyone can now get married in New York, we were excited to see this video made by one of our former Beautiful People Wesley Taylor. It captures all of the backstage madness at the new musical Tales of the City, which recently opened in San Francisco and is based on Armistead Maupin's novels with music by Jake Shears (whom you might also know as the lead singer of the fabulous disco-indie band, The Scissor Sisters). Taylor, who now sports a very bushy '70s-style mustache, plays Michael Tolliver in the musical, which the New York Times describes as "men and women searching for sex, love and themselves." He's put together a very sweet ode to his Tales colleagues with tons of behind-the-scenes action of what looks like a very fun production. Check it out! (Our favorite part is 2:09. 'Honey, you don't have any clothes on.') We can't wait till the show comes to New York.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Eye On The Bay: Summer Entertainment 2011 – 6/29/11

Liam Mayclem
June 29, 2011 4:09 PM

TONIGHT we have our eye on entertainment. Meet the stars behind this summer’s Bay area produced movies, music and stage shows.

Up close with writer Armistead Maupin, the man behind Tales of the City. His words have been lifted from the page to the stage and is now a sell out musical at A.C.T. in San Francisco.

Enjoy soul food lunch with Grammy nominated Ledisi at Brown Sugar Kitchen, Oakland.

The talented lads of Billy Elliott yes, all five Billys join Liam for Tacos at Tacolicious at the ferry Plaza Farmers Market, San Francisco.

And Liam does a little shoe shuffle with Wolverine – Hugh Jackman.

See the video here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Embodying Michael 'Mouse' Tolliver

by Richard Dodds
Published 06/30/2011

It was three days before the Pride parade, and Wesley Taylor was happy that the event was skewing audience demographics at Tales of the City. "We love nothing more than a theater full of gays," said the young actor who plays Michael "Mouse" Tolliver in the new musical based on Armistead Maupin's stories. "It's a warm and embracing energy that you can actually feel."

Only 24 years old, Taylor has already been featured in two long-run Broadway hits – Rock of Ages and The Addams Family – and he turned down several lucrative offers in New York to sign up for the summer run of Tales of the City in San Francisco.

He landed the role of uber-gay Franz, the son of a dastardly real estate developer, in Rock of Ages only six months after graduating from college, and then found more steady paychecks from 18 months with The Addams Family.

"I think it's important when you're young and not starving and don't have a family to support to make decisions based on what you believe in," said Taylor, sporting a tank top, a casually arranged mop of hair, and the 70s moustache he grew for the role of Mouse. "I'm doing projects that excite me."

Taylor had previously auditioned for Tales director Jason Moore for other projects, and sensed a potential camaraderie. "Then I heard Jason was directing Tales, and someone said there was a part that was perfect for me. But I didn't know anything about the books or Armistead or the mini-series, but I auditioned and when I got called back, I started reading the books and got hooked."

Then came the waiting game. "I auditioned in front of Jason and Jeff [Whitty, the librettist], and they taped that and then had to send the tape to [songwriters] Jake Shears and John Garden, and to Armistead. Everyone had final casting say, and that become very frustrating."

But the waiting paid off, and Taylor had the chance to help mold his character in an entirely new musical. "I think you have to keep moving to keep yourself sane," said Taylor, who has already encountered the performer's brick wall. "Sometimes after you've done 400 performances, you have panic attacks on stage because you think, I cannot say this fucking line one more time. It's a real challenge to keep yourself awake and alive."

That shouldn't be a problem with Tales of the City during its ACT run, currently announced to end on July 31, though the actors are contractually committed to play through August should the run be further extended. Speaking of contracts, the male actors had to sign a nudity clause agreeing to bare all if requested. But a brief glimpse of Taylor's backside is about as naked as the show gets. "There was a lot more and it was cut down," Taylor said, "because we didn't want to seem like we were pandering to the gay community."

As Michael "Mouse" Tolliver, Taylor plays a young man enjoying the sexual freedoms of 1970s San Francisco, though fretting how his conservative parents will react when they find out he is gay. One of the most touching moments in the show comes when Mouse sings the coming-out letter he has written to his mother.

Though it can moisten theatergoers' eyes, Taylor says it's far from his favorite moment in the show. "Sometimes it's a moment I don't look forward to at all," he said. "It's a gift of a song, but it's hard, and sometimes after that scene I'm exhausted."

Taylor came out to his own parents, Southern Baptists living in Orlando, several years ago, and there has been muted acceptance. Although he was out of the closet with everyone he knew, he wasn't sure what his professional stance should be. "When I would come out of the stage door at Rock of Ages, people were asking me if I was really gay. I didn't say yes or no, but was just shocked by the audacity of the fans. I finally decided life is too short, and I want to celebrate my life and be part of the movement."

Taylor's experiences with Tales of the City and the city of San Francisco itself have further strengthened his sense of a gay fraternity. "To be completely honest with you," he said, "I did not use to agree with things like Pride or something like the BET channel. Here we are fighting for equality, but at the same time it felt like a step backwards to emphasize your differences. Now I see we are celebrating a community that has gone through a lot of hardships. It's about standing tall and saying this is who we are."

From the inspirational to the tabloid-ial, since there is time for one last question. What's his relationship status? It was well-known, at least in chat-room circles, that he was dating a popular young television star. "You have to be very careful when you're dating another actor who is also in the spotlight because fans want to know everything about your relationship. And after we broke up, that's what people wanted to hear about at the stage door, and that was the last thing I wanted to talk about."

Is he dating now? "Yes, I'm seeing someone in New York. And he's not an actor. Yeah!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Video: Armistead Maupin On Pride

By Frequencies Citizen Reporter Brigade
June 26, 2011 6 a.m. |In Literature

With Pride coming up this weekend, we're capping Pride Month off with an interview with Armistead Maupin, author of “Tales of the City.” The book has long been ensconced in the gay literary canon and was recently turned into a musical by the American Conservatory Theater.

We caught up with Maupin at the theater on Geary Street, and he shared his first memories of the city and how he came to chronicle gay San Francisco.

“Tales” (as it’s affectionately referred to by fans) was first published in 1978, and its overarching theme is that of misfits trying to break free of societal constraints. San Francisco is the safe haven that beckons them. It's one of those books that fans feel a cultish ownership over and has been reissued over and over again.

Of course, gay culture is an important part of Maupin’s writing. Tales of gay characters grappling with homophobia, coming out to their parents and finding true love abound. Today, those subjects are common fodder for made-for-TV movies and Oprah, but when "Tales" was released, Maupin was considered brave.

“I cringe a little at that,” Maupin tells us in the video. “Because honestly, what I realized was that I was onto something really big."

The video was produced as part of a partnership between the American Conservancy Theater and the Bay Citizen's Citizen Reporter program. As such, this video was edited by Citizen Reporter (and Bay Citizen summer intern) Erik Verduzco.

If you want to check out the musical, the A.C.T. is offering a discount for Bay Citizen readers. Get 40 percent off of orchestra and mezzanine tickets by using the code CITIZEN online, or call 415-749-2228.

Monday, June 27, 2011

EXCLUSIVE interview: Armistead Maupin for SGN

By Miryam Gordon, SGN A&E Writer

Seattle Pride was graced this year by the inclusion of a special Grand Marshall: San Francisco's favorite Gay writer Armistead Maupin. The irreverent and frank Maupin gave an intimate talk on Saturday to lucky patrons at the Seattle Public Library (focusing on his brand new book Mary Ann in Autumn) and a keynote speech to the throngs at Seattle Center after the Pride Parade made it way there, Sunday afternoon.

Maupin reported to SGN (prior to arriving), 'When the invitation came to participate in Seattle Pride I jumped at the opportunity. I'm happy I'm speaking at both places because the library appearance can be more intimate and leisurely. Pride will be more festive and it's too different types of speaking talking to a large crowd in a park and in an auditorium and I enjoy both types.'

Maupin spoke about the 35 year span of writing his now eight-book opus Tales of the City, the brand-spanking-new musical based on it that opened in June at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco to huge box office and at least three extensions in the run, and a bit about the current look of politics and California's Prop 8 ban on Gay marriage.

You might not know that one of Maupin's characters, Mona Ramsey, moved to Seattle for a few chapters, at one point. Maupin's been here a number of times and has great affection for the city. He said, 'I have wandered all over the place in literary fashion, sometimes to places I know quite well. Some of the places I've written about in Tales have been places I went on vacation.

'I wanted to be able to call myself a Lesbian, so I went to the Island of Lesbos. I ended up living in a little village called Molyvos which is the family seat of the Dukakis family, and this was before five years before we hired Olympia Dukakis as Mrs. Madrigal. I didn't know at the time (that I would have a connection with the Dukakis family).'

Asked if he could see writing about living in Seattle, he chuckled, 'I'd never want to fake it about Seattle because I'd get called on it immediately.'

Maupin is clearly thrilled about the success of his new musical even though he said he's 'only a sort of senior advisor.' The people behind the musical are book writer Jeff Whitty, the Tony Award-winning book writer for Avenue Q, and music and lyrics by Jason Sellards (AKA Jake Shears) and John Garden (JJ) of the disco and glam rock-inspired pop group Scissor Sisters. Jason Moore (Avenue Q and Shrek) directed.

He said, 'It was very bold of A.C.T. to take it on. It's a $2.5 million production! But the public is really turning out. We've had a lot of people seeing the show two and three times now and there's a high percentage of out-of-town audience members. It makes for a very good feeling in the audience. It's almost interactive. I've seen the finished production nine times now, but I've been watching it develop in workshops for the past five years.'

Musicals are particularly difficult to get right and usually take a number of years to fully ripen. Maupin agreed, 'You don't know what you got until you see it in front of an audience, so there are a lot of incarnations. The creators are amazing guys who know how to throw things out and put things in and not be too vain. It's been an impressive thing to watch. The show runs a little under three hours and it was 40 minutes longer than that during previews. They had to perform a kind of surgery on it to make it shorter.'

And were there some great songs that got cut? He said, 'I could probably sing some ballads I really loved, but they weren't moving the story forward and they had to go. Some were replaced by even better songs.'

Of course there are hopes and possibilities for the musical to play elsewhere, but Maupin said, 'I have a private fantasy that it could go to the West End in London because I think they would get it. I have no idea what's coming up next, but the success might be very encouraging for people who want to produce it elsewhere. The story has worked as a miniseries and a book, and it's universally true, about a bunch of people who are trying to find love and security and home.'

The musical focuses on the era of Maupin's first two books in the series, the pre-AIDS time of 1976 and '77. The big focus was singer and 'orange juice queen' Anita Bryant's anti-Gay screed from Florida. Maupin chose to come out in response to that, as did many others, and he said, 'The sad thing is that a lot of GLBT people don't take action until someone says something ugly about them and then we rise to our own defense. Much like young people today are responding to hate groups like the National Organization for Marriage.

'My husband (Christopher Turner) and I were among the 18,000 couples who were legally married (in California) before Prop 8 banned marriage. They can't take that away from us. We file taxes as a couple. We can't file on the federal level. But the rest of the GLBT people in California have that right taken away. It infuriates me that I have to pay (federal) taxes and I'm not allowed the same rights as my straight brother and sister.

'Half the money given to Prop 8 was from the Mormon Church, which is one of the last institutions that should be passing judgment on marital institutions. The side in support of marriage equality was far too timid and should have been quite clear on a personal level (about) what it meant to millions of Californians.'

Maupin is clear that he is not a huge fan of Democrats over Republicans, necessarily. 'I don't look at any party of being our savior. If it had been up to elected people to make progress we wouldn't have made any at all.'

But he does, of course, feel strongly about the way Republicans have used homophobia to gain political advantage. 'Republicans have a real dilemma on their hands because they've used homophobia to get elected and they're not going to be able to do that much longer. The American public is less and less willing to demonize Gay people. There are still a few pockets in the south where they can play on suspicion and hatred, but most people have openly Gay people as family and friends these days and that's made all the difference.'

And he's glad to see a positive focus in the 'It Gets Better' campaign, started by Dan Savage. 'Dan Savage was brilliant, insofar as he appealed to our better instincts, pointing out our responsibility to lend a hand to young people who are suffering.

'For some reason we have to keep delivering this to every generation. I find that terribly frustrating. There's a song in the musical based on my own coming out letter to my own parents and essentially (the character) says that you're the ones who made me the way I am, so thank you because it's the light and joy of my life. That's my way of saying it gets better - 35 years ago.'

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Scissor Sisters On "Tales of the City," Personal Theme Songs, & Lady Gaga

Any band that garners applause from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour for their disco cover of “Comfortably Numb” is one worth watching. Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2004, Scissor Sisters have been churning out glam-pop beats and satisfying dance urges across the globe with hits like “Any Which Way,” “Filthy/Gorgeous,” and “I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’,” all of which are impossible to take sitting down.

The NYC band with the Elton-John-meets-Bee-Gees sound has topped charts throughout Europe, but they’re about to make a serious mark stateside with their latest and most unexpected project yet. After five years of work, front man Jake Shears (left) and touring keyboardist John Garden completed the lyrics and score for the musical adaptation of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, which made its world premiere at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater in May. Grab your tickets before the production leaves the stage (it plays through July 10). The Scissor Sisters are about to become a household name.

What was your reaction when librettist Jeff Whitty asked you to write the music for Tales 
of the City?

Jake Shears: I was thrilled because I’ve been a huge fan of the books since I was a teenager, and Jeff is a great friend of mine. We had thrown around the idea of doing a show together for a while, so it was a no-brainer when he asked me.
John Garden: When Jake first asked me to do a musical with him, I didn’t know what it was about. I just knew that the answer was yes.

How is writing songs for a musical different from writing an album?

JS: It wasn’t that different because I write in character for a lot of Scissor Sisters songs. In some ways, it’s easier since you have a more limited set of tools.

JG: It’s almost like every song is a commissioned piece of work. You know who the music is for and what the whole story is about.

How did you make modern music for Tales while keeping a ’70s vibe?

JG: I think if Depeche Mode had been asked to write this musical, it would have been more of a challenge. But Scissor Sisters already has such a ’70s influence. It’s part of the band’s DNA. The sound palette has ’70s references, but we worked really hard to make the orchestration for the show as timeless as possible.

You have such stage presence when you perform. Any chance you’ll try your hand at acting?

JS: I’ll admit that I get jealous of the Tales’ actors every once in a while. Maybe someday I’ll be in a musical. When Judy Kaye is over it, I’ll step in.

Do you think Tales will make it to Broadway?

JG: I hope it has a long run here, and if that’s all it ever does, we’ll be so proud. It’s great to see how San Franciscans react to lyrics like “share it with the bag lady on Geary.” I’m glad it opened in the right city.

Any hot spots you’ve discovered while staying here during production?

JS: I hang out more at gyms than I do bars. I like the Equinox here. I also love Books, Inc. I probably go in there every other day. But I’ve actually been throwing house parties more than going out. The lesbians downstairs don’t love that.

JG: I like quiet bars where we can just go and be—like Minx and High Tide. Does this mean they won’t be quiet anymore?

You’ve collaborated with Elton John and Kylie Minogue, to name a few. Who else would you like to work with?
JS: I’m a huge Beck fan, and then there’s Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters. Also, Trent Reznor. Those are my strange rock music collaboration fantasies.

Lady Gaga: brilliant freak or soul sister?
JS: Both. We just got off tour with her, and it was such a blast. I was nervous about it because we hadn’t opened for anyone in a long time, but we ended up getting tons of new fans. And Lady Gaga is lovely. She’s effusive, funny, and warm, and she made us feel so welcome.

What are your personal theme songs?
JS: Lately, mine’s been “Cocaine Blues” by Escort. It’s the best disco music you’ve ever heard. Also, “Nightlight” by Little Dragon and Holy Ghost!’s “Wait & See.”
JG: The first track from the Tame Impala album, “It Is Not Meant To Be,” and John Grant’s “Marz.”

You’re so popular in the U.K. that you’ve become mainstream. Why hasn’t the U.S. caught on?
JS: The last year has been good for us in this country. We definitely got new fire. So many people discovered Scissor Sisters with the latest record [Night Work, June 2010].
JG: I have this hoodie from our 2007 Ta-Dah tour, and there’s a little black Scissor’s logo on the breast. I’ve never had so many people come up to me in San Francisco and say, “Cool sweater. I love that band.”

Is there any other glam-rock band today that compares to Scissor Sisters?
JS: I don’t think so. I think any band’s dream is to be its own unique entity. You say something like Nine Inch Nails, and it conjures up a singular world. I want people to say Scissor Sisters and not think of 10 other bands.

Life after Mrs. Madrigal

Olympia Dukakis returns to SF for LGBT Pride
by Richard Dodds  Published 6/23/2011

Olympia Dukakis is an old pro at grand marshaling. A celebrity grand marshal in this Sunday's Pride parade, the Oscar-winning actress previously presided over a Columbus Day parade in Bloomfield, NJ, in the late 1980s.

"It was after Moonstruck came out, and they asked me to do the parade. I said, 'But I'm not Italian,' and they said, 'It doesn't matter, because everyone thinks you're Italian.' So I did the parade, and they took me to a great bakery afterwards, and I came home loaded down with stuff."

Dukakis won her Oscar for playing Cher's tart-tongued Italian-American mother in Moonstruck, which was good enough reason for Bloomfield to extend an invitation – Dukakis, husband Louis Zorich, and their three children then lived in a nearby Jersey suburb – despite her unmistakably Greek given and family names. But Dukakis' ties to San Francisco, and to its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, are long, rich, and deep.

Through serendipity, and the astute assistance of Brandon Miller and Joanne Jordan of Jordan, Miller & Associates, Dukakis' Pride appearance will dovetail into events tied into ACT's musical version of Tales of the City, which means she can also host a benefit evening for the theater where she has so often worked and for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation. And she'll get to see for the first time how someone else is playing the role that first brought so many San Franciscans into her bosom.

That, of course, would be the sexually mysterious Anna Madrigal, the landlady at 28 Barbary Lane, the nexus of a straight-meets-LGBT world that Armistead Maupin created in his series of stories of San Francisco in the 1970s. What began as a newspaper serial became a collection of novels that, in turn, inspired three TV mini-series in the 1990s. In the musical adaptation at ACT, Broadway veteran Judy Kaye is playing Mrs. Madrigal, a performance that Dukakis will see on June 24 as part of the evening of fund-raising events that include tickets to the musical with Dukakis joining the cast at the curtain call, followed by a cocktail party at the Clift Hotel with the actress and the cast of the show. (Info at

"I scared the shit out of Armistead," Dukakis said. "When the idea of the musical was starting, I said, 'You know, I can sing.' I saw his eyes widen in panic. I can sing, but eight times a week? Give me a break. Besides, I'm too old for the role. But I'm very interested to see what Judy Kaye does with it."

And then there's the matter of riding up Market Street as a grand marshal in the Pride parade. Dukakis had a lot of questions. "What do you do as a grand marshal?" "Will people know it's me?" "What should I wear?"

If she has questions about details of her duties, despite the Columbus Day antecedent, she is approaching it with one certainty. "My whole attitude is that I'm going to have a great time," she said. "And putting it all together with the show at ACT, which is a theater I love, how much better could it be?"

There is also a serious side to her involvement. "Like many people, I have friends who have gone through the difficulty of trying to adopt children or get married or getting the other legal protections most of us have," she said. "These are not just issues to me, they all have faces."

Dukakis recently completed a film that speaks specifically to many of these very issues. In Cloudburst, she plays half of a long-term lesbian couple who loses her home when her partner's daughter has her mother declared incompetent and takes over the property. "So my character goes to the hospital and kidnaps Brenda Fricker's character, and we drive to Canada and get married."

Dukakis was back in the studio a few weeks ago for post-production dubbing for a version that can be shown on airlines. "You have to change 'ass' to 'arse.' Why if you say it like the Brits you can get away with it, don't ask me. And I'm hard-pressed to see how they're going to show it on planes anyway. There are romantic scenes, and in one scene I go after her with a dildo, and our characters laugh and carry on about it."

That a movie like Cloudburst is being readied as in-flight entertainment is a long journey from the time when the first season of Tales of the City so rankled people like Senator Jesse Helms that PBS let one of its most popular programs pass to Showtime for its two subsequent seasons.

Sen. Helms probably didn't watch long enough to learn Mrs. Madrigal's big secret, and if you don't know what it is and plan to see the musical, you should stop reading at the end of this sentence. But by now, both through the popularity of the books and the television adaptations, most people know that Anna Madrigal is a transsexual who previously had fathered a child. It was a twist that only made Dukakis want the role more.

"Anything that stymies me or scares me is always of real interest to me," she said. She had not read Maupin's books, and was advised by the director not to do so until finishing the series. "But I read everything I could about transsexuals, about the operations, and the psychiatric involvement," Dukakis said. "I needed to find out what made it possible, even necessary, for a person to go through such a painful process. I told one of the producers I needed to talk to someone who has gone through this, and he introduced me to this woman, 6-foot-2 but with a very soft voice, and I asked her what was it that made it matter so much. And the first thing she said was, 'All my life I yearned for the friendship of women,' and I tell you, I started to cry. I didn't know what the hell she was going to say, but this was such a human thing."

The meeting, which went on to cover other aspects of the decision to transition, convinced Dukakis that she needed to avoid any sensational or stereotypical spins on the role. "What I had was the option at any given time to come from a more masculine or more feminine place in myself," she said. "It was a very special time in my life."

On Dukakis' upcoming agenda, she has a three-episode run as Zach Galifianakis' much older paramour in the HBO series Bored to Death, an appearance at the Festival of the Aegean on the Greek isle of Syros in the one-woman play Rose, and a return to her sly but mostly mute role in Morris Paynch's Vigil at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Her co-star again is Marco Barricelli, with whom she first performed the play at ACT in 2010. It was her sixth ACT appearance; they date back to 1995.

She first met ACT Artistic Director Carey Perloff in New York, when Perloff was still running the Classic Stage Company. "She asked me to do Clytemnestra in Agamemnon, and at the time I thought it was politically disgusting to be in a play that said women should give up trying to be more valued in society and go back to being wives. I said I'd try to find a play for us."

It turned out to be Hecuba, by which point Perloff had moved to San Francisco to take over ACT's top artistic slot, and Dukakis performed the Greek tragedy while the theater was still in temporary quarters following the 1989 earthquake. The roles that Dukakis takes on are never the easy ones, even with her 80th birthday now in the rearview mirror.

"I do theater because you know who you are when you're on that stage," Dukakis said. "You know you're alive."