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Ron Celona looked weary as patrons entered the CVRep Playhouse in Cathedral City for the Saturday, March 14, matinee performance of The City of Conversation.

This was supposed to be a bustling, packed weekend of theater in the Coachella Valley. At least four theaters were opening new productions, while two more companies continued successful shows.

But as of that Saturday afternoon, The City of Conversation was the only show still open. Before we entered the theater—not even one-third full—Celona confided that after the Sunday show, CVRep, too, would be going dark.

Barring a miracle, we were watching the last play to be performed in the Coachella Valley by our fantastic theater companies in quite some time.

The production of The City of Conversation was a fantastic. Thanks to a great cast, led by Martha Hackett as old-school liberal activist/socialite Hester Ferris, the play showed how political differences can rip a family apart. It was compelling and riveting—so much so that it managed to make at least some theater-goers temporarily forget the unprecedented weirdness going on outside.

That is, until one of the characters made a joke about an expired toilet-paper coupon.

Celona’s angst over whether or not to let the show go on encapsulates the dilemma our valley’s producers faced heading into the weekend: On one hand, out of an abundance of caution, they could do societal good by closing the theater doors and having people staying home. On the other, they could take precautions and let the amazing, expensive work they’d rehearsed, built sets for and toiled over for weeks and months be seen and enjoyed by people who badly needed a distraction from the outside world.

As of Thursday, March 12, when the Independent started reaching out to local theater professionals, all six shows were slated to go on as scheduled—with the aforementioned precautions.

“We are offering hand sanitizer to people who have bought tickets,” said Chuck Yates, whose Coyote StageWorks was set to open The Velocity of Autumn the next night in the company’s new home at the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “For those who haven’t bought tickets yet, we don’t know if they will come.

“It’s a huge financial impact. Theater is never easy, and this is particularly hard. … There are a lot of people who don’t know what to do. All of the small theaters here, like us—nobody is in a financial situation to handle this, so we are opening The Velocity of Autumn. … It’s got heart; it’s funny; it’s beautifully written. It’s perfect for our community.”

The play—about an 80-year-old artist who’s barricaded herself in her Brooklyn brownstone with Molotov cocktails (!) to keep her family from removing her—would have been a lovely distraction for people who needed it. But these are unprecedented times.

Yates called back later in the day on Thursday to let us know he’d changed his mind.

“Of course I’m disappointed,” he said. “But we will try to figure out alternative dates. Right now, we’re biding time, waiting to see what the news brings. Maybe we can do it in a few weeks or months, or maybe next season.”

Robbie Wayne, the producing artistic director at the LGBT-themed Desert Rose Playhouse, told us on Thursday he intended to continue the run of Beautiful Thing, which had opened to rave reviews the weekend before.

“You’re not given a class on how to do this. Nobody knows how to handle this, so we are learning as we go,” he said. “I’m trying to be as informed as possible about this—everyone’s trying to figure it out. We haven’t had a large number of refund requests, but we are trying to figure out how to do this—it’s a dilemma. We don’t want it to be about the money, but that has to be taken into consideration for the venue. As of right now, we are removing snacks; we offer hand sanitizers; we are scrubbing the place down; and we are telling people stay home if you don’t feel well. But we also want to keep some normalcy in our lives.

“We want to be responsible for helping to curb this outbreak … It’s a hard place to be in. I have the TV on all the time. I go with whatever my gut tells me at the end of the day, because 24 hours can change everything. It is minute by minute now, because there is so much to consider.”

Wayne’s words were spot-on: The next day, he made the decision to suspend the weekend’s shows.

“We have staff members and patrons with compromised immune systems, so I went with my conscience. There are no winners in a situation like this, unfortunately,” Wayne said.

Over at Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, the same dilemma played out: After announcing on Wednesday that the “curtain will go up!” on the weekend’s opening of—yes, really—How to Survive an Apocalypse, the next day, executive director Shawn Abramowitz and artistic director Jerome Elliott announced the show would not go on, at least for opening weekend.

“We are so proud of our team for their magnificent work on this play,” they said. “This was a hard decision, but we feel it is the right call during this unsettled and confusing time.

That meant that as of Friday night, three of the six shows were still open: Palm Canyon Theatre’s The Pajama Game, and the opening night for Desert Theatreworks’ The Producers went on as scheduled, along with CVRep’s The City of Conversation.

“We have scrubbed the theater down,” Celona said on Thursday, March 12. “We have a cleaning crew coming in after every performance. We have purchased professional wall-mounted sanitizing dispensers for the lobby and the theater area. Our theater is 208 seats, so we are less than the 250-seat gatherings that are being cancelled, and we are about 50 to 60 percent of capacity. The bottom line is, when our accountants say we have to close, we close, and when the county of Riverside says we have to close, we close.”

The morning after those Friday-night shows, both Palm Canyon Theatre and Desert Theatreworks announced they would go dark. CVRep followed two days later.

“I hope if someone has a ticket to a live theater event, and the show is closed due to the virus, that they would consider donating the money to the theater instead of asking for a refund,” Coyote StageWorks’ Yates said. “This is the kind of thing that kills arts organizations.”

Published in Theater and Dance

Welcome to the first-ever Coachella Valley Independent Daily Digest. The goal for this Daily Digest is to round up reliable, vetted news related to COVID-19 and the accompanying societal changes. There’s too much unreliable information floating around on social media (and even coming out of some elected officials’ mouths)—and in this space, we'll sort through it all to get to truthfulness and sanity.

In addition to news updates, we’ll also highlight good things happening—specials from local businesses (that REALLY need your support right now), enlightening comments from members of the community, and so on. Please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have anything you think should be included.

And with that ... here's the news.

• As we were getting close to clicking send on this, the Palm Springs Unified School District announced it would be closing schools the next two weeks. They're moving up Spring Break, essentially. Parents are receiving this message right now: "Hello PSUSD families. This is Supt. Sandy Lyon. I wanted to provide you with an update on the coronavirus situation as it relates to our District. You may be aware that over the past day, there has been an increase in the number of confirmed cases here in the Coachella Valley, and there are a number of tests pending that could result in several other confirmed cases. Additionally, both the Riverside County Department of Health and Governor Newsom issued a directive to suspend gatherings of over 250 people. As a result, Palm Springs Unified School District is moving its two-week spring break. It will begin on Monday, March 16."

• Eisenhower Medical Center announced earlier today that visitors will no longer be allowed at EMC for the time being. More on what EMC is doing to protect the community can be found here.

• As of this writing, local theaters have made a split decision on whether to stay open or not. While Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, Coyote StageWorks and the Desert Rose Playhouse have cancelled or postponed shows this weekend, Palm Canyon Theatre, CVRep and Desert TheatreWorks are letting the shows go on. Read more about this in the second installment in the Independent's Pandemic Stories series tomorrow (Saturday).

As for that first Pandemic Stories installment: Kevin Fitzgerald talked to the owner of Piero's PizzaVino about the cancellation of the BNP Paribas Open tennis tourney, and how that devastated her and her staff. Piero's is one of the few local restaurants to have a pop-up location at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, alongside big names like Nobu and Spago.

• As for closures and cancellations: The Palm Springs Gay Softball league has suspended practices and play through March, and the national NAGAAA Cup tourney the league was hosting at the end of March is cancelled. Other recent cancellations/closures include the Palm Desert Food and Wine fest, all Certified Farmers Markets through at least March 30 (though the Palm Springs Cultural Center remains open for now), the Palm Springs Library (though the Palm Desert Library remains open), and shockingly, The Abbey down in West Hollywood.

• From our partners at CalMatters: As the coronavirus toll rises, so do concerns about health-care workers' safety.

• Earlier today, President Trump declared a national emergency. The press conference was ... well, fascinating. At one point, after Trump said he didn't take any responsibility for the pandemic, a reporter from PBS asked him about his firing of the national pandemic response team. His response was that he didn't do it, and that this was a "nasty question." As for that firing, Snopes says it's true that it happened.

• Support local businesses! If you're comfortable with going out (while taking all the precautions that you should be), local bars and restaurants need you right now. If not, order food from a local restaurant on GrubHub or one of the apps!

• Alternately, consider buying gift cards from local businesses. Some places are offering 20 percent bonuses.

• If you found this email helpful, forward to a friend, or have them email us and we'll add them to the list. Please consider supporting the Independent, too ... we could use it!

Until tomorrow ... stay safe; support local business, and wash your hands!

Published in Daily Digest

The Palm Springs Dance Project has burst onto the scene as a new and exciting dance program that merges professionals with local students—and the public will get to see the fruits of the program during a series of events taking place Thursday through Saturday, March 5-7.

Darcy Carozza, the founder and executive director, started dreaming up the Palm Springs Dance Project in 2015, when she was the managing director of the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum.

“At that time, I noticed that dance was lacking at the theater, so I created a series of events that included dance,” she says.

A breakthrough moment came, she says, when around 40 local students were performing onstage at the theater.

“The event went so well—and it was inspirational,” she says. “I wanted to create more events—and that, basically, is where the Palm Springs Dance Project came from.”

Carozza produced an event called the Palm Springs Dance Festival over the last several years.

“In 2019, I listened closely to what our community was looking for—and that was dance education for our local students,” Carozza says. “We were able to develop a program where all of the students that we brought in would be covered under a grant and receive intensive dance training. It’s really been a grassroots effort between local donors and local collaborators.”

Those collaborators in the Palm Springs Dance Project include the Palm Springs Unified School District and FIND Food Bank, which provides free lunches for the students.

The upcoming events will not only help fund programming costs; they’ll also help introduce the project to the community. First comes Dancin’ in the Streets, a flash-mob performance, set to take place at Village Fest in downtown Palm Springs from 6:30 to 9 p.m., Thursday, March 5.

“It’s going to be a great event for the community. Everyone can get some flavor of the program, with some entertainment, because we’ll have our students performing alongside some professional dancers,” says Carozza.

Deborah Brockus, the program’s artistic director—and an acclaimed dancer in the Los Angeles dance scene—is the choreographer.

“What Deborah has done and is doing now is creating customized choreography based on our dancers’ strengths,” Carozza says. “You’re going to see some classical contemporary dance, hip hop and jazz. It will be energetic and entertaining; they’ll be running out with spotlights and loud music.”

At 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 6, students will be given their moment to shine in the Community’s Finest Showcase, a “pre-professional” variety show at the Annenberg; tickets are $25 to $28.

“Our scholarship students will be performing for the community, but we have invited many of the dance studios (in) Palm Springs. … That will showcase the training and education that is available right here in Palm Springs,” Carozza says. “Students will dance to genres like lyrical, modern, hip hop and jazz, among others.”

At 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 7, all eyes will be on The Main Event: An Evening of Extraordinary Dance, a professional concert dance program. BrockusRED, founded by Brockus, is set to perform alongside Luminario Ballet and Lula Washington Dance Theatre at the Annenberg. Tickets are $55 to $130.

Carozza says the audience can expect an “energetic, powerful and uplifting program of dance. We’re very excited, because we will also be staging the first-ever aerial dance at the Annenberg Theater.”

The dance will be performed by Luminario Ballet, but the Palm Springs Dance Project had the hang point permanently installed to be used in the future.

Carozza says she’s trying to expand the reach of the program through different mediums—and the Palm Springs Dance Project has partnered with the Palm Springs Cultural Center to show dance-oriented films, including a Sunday, March 1, screening of Billy Elliot, with a post-movie discussion centered around #BoysDanceToo. Panelists will include former Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo member Howard Sayette, musical choreographer/director José de la Cuesta and choreographer/director Douglas Graham.

“We want to grow and broaden our programming for events year-round,” Carozza says. “Really, our goal is to build a thriving dance community in the greater Palm Springs area. We want opportunities to really engage and give back through the staging of these events.”

For more information, visit www.palmspringsdance.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

David Graves is really passionate about horror films—so passionate, in fact, that he has convinced the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center to present horror-film double-features most Friday nights through the end of the year.

The Art of Darkness series debuts this Friday, Oct. 11, with The Innocents at 6 p.m., and A Tale of Two Sisters at 8 p.m. I had to ask Graves: Why so passionate about horror?

“Well, I’m basically a very fearful person,” he said with a laugh. “My passion for horror films started very early, and it may be because that’s just a familiar space for me, but I find that (horror) sharpens all of your senses. … You know, fear is the oldest, deepest emotion that we have; it’s a lizard-brain thing. It was part of our survival. Watching horror movies is sort of the modern equivalent of cavemen setting around a fire telling each other spooky stories. … It’s a safe way to experience fear and (learn to) understand what you fear.”

Graves spent much of his career in film production—he was the assistant costume designer on a little film you may have heard of called Titanic—and considers himself a “huge movie buff.” He said he’s dreamed of doing a horror-film series for years, and it came to fruition after he discussed it with Rick Seeley, a longtime friend.

It turns out Seeley is the president of the board of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. Seeley loved the idea, as did Michael Green, the center’s executive director. Thus, Art of Darkness was born.

“I feel like this is an element that’s missing in the cultural life here,” Graves said. “There are horror-film festivals everywhere all over the country and all over the world; on any given week, and you’ll find one somewhere. It was something that I wanted to bring to the community—and to deepen people’s understanding of what horror is.”

Graves pointed out that horror isn’t just a genre—it’s an emotion. He said the Art of Darkness series goes beyond slasher films and explores horror at a deeper level.

“Many films that aren’t, strictly speaking, horror films still have horrific elements and have various different moods on that spectrum,” he said. “The critical sphere has been taking horror films much more seriously over the last 20 years. This is great, but I want to bring some of this to the local audience and say, ‘Look deeper at these things. Look at the substance and what they are about instead of looking at the surface, and let go of the idea that a horror film equals a slasher film’—because it doesn’t.”

Series-opener The Innocents, with a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, came out in 1961 and is described thusly on IMDb: “A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted.”

“It’s really visually stunning, but it’s also very creepy and unsettling—and ultimately, it’s ambiguous,” Graves said. “It’s first movie that really, truly scared me. I was about 10 or 11 years old. My parents put it on, and everyone—my sister and my parents—fell asleep. I was watching the whole thing sort of by myself, and it really, really, unsettled me. And I loved it.”

While tickets to individual films in the series are $10, attendees who want to see both portions of the double-feature get in for $15. I asked Graves why he decided to present the Art of Darkness series via double-features.

“It’s a more interesting way to present these films thematically,” he said. “The whole idea was to present films that, on the surface, aren’t necessarily related, but that resonate with each other. … A Tale of Two Sisters, the second film on (the first) double-feature, is a stunning, hauntingly beautiful, really creepy Korean ghost story from the early ’00s. Both it and The Innocents are ambiguous, because they’re ghost stories—but is the ghost real, or is it the person imagining it or projecting it?

“(On Nov. 1), we’re showing remakes of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing, which are interesting, because the original films from the ’50s were both products of post-war, Cold War paranoia. The fact that they were remade in the late ’70s and early ’80s … (gives them) different context in a different thematic background. One of the great things about horror films is that they really are a mirror of the time that they were born in.”

Graves said he hopes the Art of Darkness series becomes a regular fall occurrence at the Cultural Center.

“I’ve got at least three years’ worth of these pairings that I’ve plotted out,” he said. “I’ve been ruminating about this for years, and it was just a question of choosing what we wanted to launch it with.”

The Art of Darkness series takes place most Fridays through the end of December at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets to the individual films, at 6 and 8 p.m., are $10; admission to both films costs $15. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit psculturalcenter.org.

Published in Previews and Features

Cinema Diverse, Palm Springs’ LGBTQ film festival, is celebrating its 12th anniversary this year as it returns over two September weekends, featuring dramas, documentaries, themed sets of sorts and even web series.

The festival, a production of the Palm Springs Cultural Center, is being presented a little differently this year, according to Cultural Center spokesman Tim Rains.

“(In the past), we had a second weekend for the Best of Fest, where we’d show some of the films again at the Mary Pickford Theatre, but this year, we did all original content,” he said. “It allows us to show a lot more films.”

During the first, extended weekend—Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 19-22—screenings will take place at the Cultural Center. During the second weekend—Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27 and 28—the festival will move to the Mary Pickford Is D’Place in Cathedral City.

This year’s festival features a number of trans stories and filmmakers, Rains said, as well as a particularly strong slate of films by and about women. Other films touch on hot-button topics such as immigration and gender non-conformity, through humor and drama alike.

Opening the festival on Thursday, Sept. 19, at 7:30 p.m. is For They Know Not What They Do, an unflinching examination of the impact that some religion can have on the lives of LGBTQ people. From Daniel Karslake, the director/producer of renowned 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, the new documentary shows how conservatives are using religion to fight LGBTQ rights.

“It reminds a lot of us that we’re in a bubble here in Palm Springs, and there are a lot of issues going on out there,” Rains said of the film.

Two of the four stories told in the documentary center on trans individuals. “It speaks directly to how the trans community has become the new target,” Rains said.

Another central topic of the film is reparative or conversion therapy—and the immense damage it causes.

“The film has hope in it, but it is also a hard film,” Rains said. “We wanted to put it at the forefront of the conscience of the community here.”

Other highlights of the 2019 festival lineup (with the synopses as provided on the festival website):

Last Ferry (3:15 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21): “When a young gay lawyer arrives on Fire Island to explore his sexuality, he becomes witness to a murder after being mugged, and then drugged. A stranger helps him to safety, but he soon discovers his savior may be friends with the killer.”

Spider Mites of Jesus: The Dirtwoman Documentary (5:45 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 21): “When he was an infant, he suffered from the ‘Spider Mites of Jesus’ (his mother couldn’t pronounce spinal meningitis). This caused mental challenges that resulted in his lifelong illiteracy. At 13, he began selling his body on the streets as a drag prostitute. When he was arrested, he took a dump in the back of the police car, leading the cops to give him the moniker: Dirtwoman.”

Del Shores’ Six Characters in Search of a Play (7:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22): “Shores is inspired by Pirandello’s classic play to bring you six characters inspired by his real-life encounters that haven’t quite made it into one of Shores’ plays, films or TV shows. In 90 minutes, the audience will hear the truth behind how he collected these eccentrics, then he will portray them in classic Shores’ monologue style.”

The Ground Beneath My Feet (7:45 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22): In this drama, “Lola controls her personal life with the same ruthless efficiency she uses to optimize profits in her job as a business consultant. But when a tragic event forces the past back into her life, Lola’s grip on reality seems to slip away.”

Scream Queen: My Nightmare on Elm Street (7 p.m., Friday Sept. 27): “Campy and homoerotic, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 has often been called the gayest horror film that Hollywood's ever made. For Mark Patton, a young actor, it was a true nightmare, as the homophobic backlash effectively ended his film career—and banished him into Garbo-like exile. This defiant documentary tells the triumphant tale of the ‘revenge of first male scream queen,’ while also cautioning today’s LGBTQ community that the nightmare isn’t over.”

Cinema Diverse takes place Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 19-22, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road; and Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27 and 28, at Mary Pickford Is D’Place, 36850 Pickfair St., in Cathedral City. Tickets for individual films are $13.50; a “six-pack,” allowing admission to six films, is $75; all-access passes are $179. For tickets or more information, including the complete schedule, visit psculturalcenter.org/filmfest.

Published in Previews and Features

Writer/director Petra Haffter first visited Palm Springs in 1981, on a publicity tour for one of her films. She moved to Los Angeles from her native Germany not long after, and she often enjoyed getaways to the desert—even though the area, she says, had lost most of its former Hollywood sheen.

But that turned around—Haffter credits the arrival of gay couples with dual incomes and “great taste”—and a few years ago, she bought a house and moved to the Coachella Valley full-time. She’d planned to move here after retirement—she and her partner continue to commute to Los Angeles for work—but she decided to make the leap in part because of the area’s enthusiasm for high-culture elements like film and architecture, and its commitment to abundant and diverse cuisine.

“First of all, I’m a filmmaker. Second, I’m a foodie,” Haffter said in an interview.

When she moved to the desert full-time, she knew she wanted “to do something for the community, giving back with the experience I have—and the experience I have is filmmaking.”

She set out to develop an event “that includes dinner and a movie, but not as it usually is—connected to a festival or short event.” She found a partner in the Palm Springs Cultural Center, which produces the Certified Farmers’ Markets that operate at three locations across the valley, and happens to occupy the classic Camelot Theatre building, with its three screens and full restaurant and bar.

Thus, Culinary Cinema was born. The monthly series, each pairing dinner by a local chef with a food-related film on the third Wednesday of the month, launches Aug. 21 with the 2014 movie The Hundred-Foot Journey, directed by Lasse Hallström and produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg. Helen Mirren stars as proprietor of a Michelin-starred restaurant in a small French village who goes to battle when an Indian family opens a competing establishment across the street.

“It’s one of my favorites of all time,” Haffter said. “It deals with two of the major cuisines of the world, French cuisine and Indian. So I thought it would be a very good entrée, to show that we are embracing diversity, and that we are accepting everyone at our table.”

Following each screening, guests will enjoy a dinner inspired by the accompanying film. The venue for the post-screening dinner will vary; for the inaugural event, the dinner will take place on the Camelot Theatre stage, prepared by Chef Daniel Villanueva of Daniel’s Table.

“I thought for the very first one, it would be great when the film is over, as the curtain is closing, that we have this long table there, and we just can come have a glass of champagne and then walk to the table like we’re a family,” she said.

Family is a recurring theme in the films that have been announced thus far. September’s selection will be the German film Mostly Martha, about a bullheaded chef whose orderly life begins to unravel when her young niece is suddenly placed in her care. Chef Teresa Attardi is known for her authentic family-style Italian food, which guests will enjoy after the screening at her Palm Springs restaurant, Il Giardino.

In October, private chef and recently repatriated Coachella Valley native Amanda Escamilla will bring her farm-to-table approach to Mexican cuisine to accompany the 2001 comedy-drama Tortilla Soup, about three sisters and their aging father, a veteran chef slowly losing his sense of taste.

In November, the Vietnamese film The Scent of the Green Papaya (described in a press release by the Cultural Center as “so placid and filled with sweetness that watching it is like listening to soothing music”) accompanies a dinner by chef Chad Gardner at his restaurant, 533 Viet Fusion.

The international scale of the first four selections speaks to another theme Haffter hopes to infuse into the Culinary Cinema program: travel. After starting out in feature films, Haffter spent the better part of the past decade directing documentaries around the globe—an experience she values while acknowledging that for many people, extensive travel is not possible. But Haffter thinks some elements of foreign cultures can be imported through food.

“What is really original to a country is the taste of it,” she said. “Food means embracing the entire world.”

Tickets to the initial screening are free, and will cost $10 in the following months, while screening-and-dinner packages will cost between $85 and $120. Haffter is grateful for the early support of local businesses—Savory Spice, Hot Purple Energy and Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery are sponsors—and hopes that others will follow.

“When local sponsors believe in us and help us, then the price (can) go down, and that would serve the people,” she said.

Haffter said she’s happy the series is beginning in August, generally considered the quietest month of the year in the Coachella Valley.

“It may be a little risky, but we want to proclaim we’re not doing this just for snowbirds,” she said. “We are doing it for the Coachella Valley. We are doing it for moviegoers; we are doing it for foodies; we are doing it for people who want to travel without traveling.”

Culinary Cinema kicks off at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 21, with a free screening of The Hundred-Foot Journey. After the film, a dinner prepared by Chef Daniel Villanueva will take place, and costs $120, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. For tickets or more information, visit palmspringsculturalcenter.org.

Published in Previews and Features

Michael Childers is truly a renaissance man; Merriam-Webster’s definition—“a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas”—describes him perfectly.

The Coachella Valley resident is an award-winning photographer, producer, writer and documentary filmmaker—and his talents are being showcased in several upcoming events.

Childers was the photographer and production assistant on the movie Midnight Cowboy, the legendary 1969 film directed by his late partner, John Schlesinger. Childers and former Variety editor Peter Bart will be sharing memories and photos at a special 50th anniversary screening of the film on Saturday, March 2, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center.

On Wednesday, April 24, Childers will bring his annual One Night Only Broadway extravaganza back to the McCallum Theatre.

Childers has been very busy as of late; in fact, he just picked up the award for Best Short Documentary at the 2019 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival in Los Angeles for I Knew Andy Warhol, which he produced. He’s also working on a documentary film about the late actress Natalie Wood. He recently took some time to speak to me about all these goings-on.

His gorgeous book of photography, Icons and Legends, graces coffee tables in homes across the country—but as far as the desert is concerned, Childers’ crowning achievement would have to be One Night Only, the musical-variety extravaganza he produces each year at the McCallum. He created the event 15 years ago as a fundraiser for local charities. Since then, more than 150 Broadway performers have participated in the show.

This year’s production, “Broadway Showstoppers,” features some of the best songs from Broadway musicals, including Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Wicked and Dear Evan Hansen. Proceeds will benefit the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, which provides services for abused and neglected children. The nonprofit center was founded in 1986 by Frank and Barbara Sinatra and offers individual, group and family counseling, as well as outreach and prevention programs.

“Showstoppers” will be directed by Broadway choreographer and director Larry Fuller, with musical direction by Christopher Marlowe. This year’s cast includes Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Lucie Arnaz, Christine Andreas, John Barrowman, Davis Gaines and Sal Mistretta. The production will be dedicated to the memory of two desert icons we lost recently, Carol Channing and Kaye Ballard. Both appeared in his One Night Only shows, and Childers knew them both well. In fact, he told me that he photographed Channing’s wedding to her former high-school sweetheart, Harry Kullijian, at her Rancho Mirage home—and Ballard actually introduced Childers to his partner of 30 years, the aforementioned director John Schlesinger. She set them up on a bind date.

“Something just clicked,” he said.

Childers said he always has themes and dream casts for future shows floating around in his head. One Night Only is a huge undertaking, requiring seven months of planning and preparation. He said that having a great team around him, including the hard-working crew at the McCallum, makes it possible.

The show sells out every year, and because of its reputation, many Broadway stars are eager to join the cast.

“Who wouldn’t want to come enjoy the sunshine in Palm Springs when it’s cold and rainy in New York?” Childers said. Also worth noting: Performers are treated royally, with lots of perks and parties thrown into the mix. JetBlue is once again a main sponsor, offering a number of free airline tickets to those performing.

So what’s on Childers’ bucket list? He says he would like to produce more documentary films. In other words, it does not seem that the multi-talented Michael Childers will be slowing down anytime soon.

The 50th Anniversary of Midnight Cowboy takes place at 6 p.m., Saturday, March 2, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20 to $45. For tickets or more information, call 760-325-6565, or visit Eventbrite.com.

One Night Only, a show benefiting the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, takes place at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 24, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Tickets are $75 to $175, with a limited number of VIP tickets, including an after-party, available for $495. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Local Fun

On Oct. 2, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History, a book by Hollywood comedy couple Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman, is being released—and three days later, the hilarious duo will kick off the second season of the Palm Springs Speaks series.

The speakers’ series is a joint effort by the Palm Springs Cultural Center and the Friends of the Palm Springs Library. Ron Willison, the president of the Palm Springs Library Board of Trustees, helped organize the series—which is bringing some huge names to the valley in the coming months.

“We are trying to bring in interesting speakers,” he said. “We want to promote literacy, and we add different speakers for each year to make it interesting. Last year, we had Deepak Chopra talk about wellness. Dan Savage talked about LBGT issues, and Al Gore (was here) in association with the (Palm Springs International) Film Festival.

“This year, to start off, we will have Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally, and they will be speaking on their new book, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History. Palm Springs Speaks is actually one of only six stops they are doing for their book.”

The actors/writers/comedians have been married for 15 years, which virtually unheard of in the entertainment industry. In the book, they explain how their relationship has survived and thrived.

While the entire Palm Springs Speaks series this season has yet to be announced—the complete slate will be announced on Oct. 5—Willison did spill the beans on some of the other scheduled speakers.

“This year, we are also having Janet Mock,” Willison said. “She is a trans activist and director of the series Pose.”

Willison said organizers make a concerted effort to keep ticket costs down; admission to Mullally and Offerman’s talk starts at just $30—and all tickets to Palm Springs Speaks events include books.

“We try to make tickets more affordable to people within different communities, like the trans community,” he said. “We hope people can afford to come and hear somebody from their own community speak (like Janet Mock). We know how important that is.

“We are also having Jane Fonda as a part of this series. We always want community involvement whenever we can. For example, when Jane Fonda comes here, tickets will be donated to high schools because of her work with teen pregnancy in Atlanta.

“Our goal is to eventually take the Palm Springs Speaks series and have it become as large as the Desert Town Hall, which has 1,900 people and is actually the No. 1 speaker series in the country,” Willison said, referring to the series that takes place each year January through March in Indian Wells.

Organizers of Palm Springs Speaks have various goals in mind.

“The level of awareness is important for Palm Springs Speaks. It costs over $100,000 a year to put this on, and luckily last year, we made a little bit of money,” Willison said. “The monies go to two very important organizations, so the more money we raise, the more money they receive. Palm Springs Speaks is presented in the west end of the valley by the Palm Springs Cultural Center and the Friends of the Palm Springs Public Library. Proceeds go to support the Cultural Center and the Friends of the Library equally. The Palm Springs Library uses the money for buying books or helping with new furniture or renovations.

“We are hopeful that in a couple of years, Palm Springs Speaks will be at a level of recognition where it should become profitable for everybody involved. It is our goal to make Palm Springs Speaks something that the city is proud of and the valley is proud of—and to make this series a destination event for people to travel here from Los Angeles or Phoenix for a nice weekend getaway that has a positive reflection on our town.”

Palm Springs Speaks presents Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5, at the Richards Center for the Arts at Palm Springs High School, 2248 E. Ramon Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $30 to $60. For tickets or more information, visit www.palmspringsspeaks.org.

Published in Literature

Long before newsfeeds, Facebook, 24-hour news networks and even beepers, people got their information from things like news magazines. It may sound like crazy talk, but it’s true.

One of these news magazines—one which has played a vital role in the LGBT community—is The Advocate. It was started as a newsletter by an activist group following a police raid on a Los Angeles gay bar, the Black Cat Tavern, on Jan. 1, 1967—a couple of years before the Stonewall riots in New York City. The newsletter covered the demonstrations against police brutality; later that year, the newsletter was transformed into a newspaper.

The history of The Advocate since those first days is the subject of a new documentary—and it’s one of the highlights of Cinema Diverse, the local LGBT film festival, which will take place at the Camelot Theatres at the Palm Springs Cultural Center Sept. 20-23, with a “bonus weekend” taking place at Mary Pickford Is D’Place in Cathedral City the following weekend.

“This year, Cinema Diverse is opening with A Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate Celebrates 50 Years,” said Michael Green, the Cinema Diverse festival director and the executive director of the Palm Springs Cultural Center. “This is going to be a really cool story to share with the audience on opening night. It is a retrospective of the 50 years from the start of the magazine up to the current day.

“It’s a huge historic piece and important. Laverne Cox is narrating it, and the music is provided by Melissa Etheridge. … It covers the pre-Stonewall era from the Los Angeles perspective, the AIDS crisis, marriage equality and up to present day. It’s even more powerful to those of us who have lived in the Palm Springs area during that time and have seen the changes that have occurred.”

A Long Road to Freedom is just one of the documentaries included in the Cinema Diverse schedule. “There’s a huge variety of documentaries this year. We have a film about gay comics and another about gay (erotic) comic-book illustrators and so many more,” Green said.

Cinema Diverse, of course, has offerings going beyond documentaries.

“We have several great musicals this year,” Green said. “They cover a variety of subjects, both as feature films and as shorts. Musicals are great. Even though the characters may have troubles throughout, the endings are usually very uplifting. We also have horror films this year; you could classify them as thriller-type films that are pretty good.”

Why is it important to include films like thrillers/horror movies in an LGBT film festival?

“Movies focused on LGBTQ characters … the audience can relate to,” Green said. “We are also screening Devil’s Path, a real psychological thriller by Matthew Montgomery, a popular LGBTQ actor. People who are familiar with him will be really excited to see it.

“As always, we have some really good foreign films, like A Moment in the Reeds, from Finland. It’s a fun and beautiful story.”

Movies by local filmmakers are a key part of Cinema Diverse.

“We have a local film (producer) named Marc Smolowitz. His most recent film is called 50 Years of Fabulous. It’s all about the Imperial Council from its inception and over the last 50 years,” Green said; the Imperial Court System is a series of organizations that raise money for charitable causes. “Again, it’s a historical film that touches Palm Springs and a story that’s close to home to anyone who is familiar with the Imperial Court System. … Since Marc is local, this makes the film even more special.”

One of the films Green is most excited about is 1985, based on a renowned short film with the same name.

“It’s about the very beginning of the AIDS crisis and a young, closeted guy who goes home to Texas,” Green said. “It’s a very poignant film. It’s filmed largely in black and white. It’s a very powerful.” Gotham’s Cory Michael Smith is the star.

“As in previous years, there will be a lot of filmmakers and actors here to represent their films. There are more films this year than previously, both features and shorts,” Green said.

Cinema Diverse takes place Thursday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 23, and Friday and Saturday, Sept. 28 and 29. Individual screenings are $13.25, while an all-festival pass costs $159. For tickets and more information, including a festival schedule, visit the Cinema Diverse website.

Published in Previews and Features

What do you have to do to stay relevant in Palm Springs? “Keep it gay, keep it gay, keep it gay!” would be the answer from famed Broadway director Roger DeBris.

This was on my mind after seeing The Filmmakers’ Gallery presentation of the musical film The Producers in June. Before the screening, producer Jonathan Sanger and Tony Award-winning actor Gary Beach—who played DeBris in the Broadway musical and the film adaptation—did a funny and insightful Q&A.

The Filmmakers’ Gallery is the brainchild of Paul Belsito and Steven Roche, a team that relocated from Long Beach. The Filmmakers’ Gallery is a series of screenings and events with “special guest” appearances by friends and well-known stars from the “gallery” of entertainment-industry colleagues. It takes place on the second Saturday of the month (usually) at the Palm Springs Cultural Center—formerly known as the Camelot Theatres—and on July 14, it will feature a 50th anniversary showing of Yours, Mine and Ours with Morgan Brittany, who played Louise Beardsley in the film.

“We won’t screen anything where we don’t have a live guest who is connected to the film. That is what separates us from the others,” Roche said. “We want to appeal more to the educational aspect of the film. It’s an open question-and-answer forum so people can ask about how an actor got the role, or how (the movie) was different to produce from other films.”

Yours, Mine and Ours stars Lucille Ball and is about a widower who has 10 children—who falls for a widow who has eight. Will they merge into one huge family, or won’t they? Also part of the July Gallery is Michael Stern, the author of the book I Had a Ball: My Friendship With Lucille Ball.

“Michael will be our guest moderator, as well as selling and signing his book,” Roche said. “Michael and Lucy met in the early ’70s; she called him ‘my No. 1 fan’ on The Mike Douglas Show, and it stuck.”

What’s the biggest challenge for Belsito and Roche? “We like to show older movies, and unfortunately, that means the cast is older,” Roche said. “Like that last surviving munchkin from The Wizard of Oz, who just passed away (in May). It’s a bit of a double-edged sword: Who’s alive, and where do they live?”

In August, The Filmmakers’ Gallery will do something unusual—present a newish film.

“We’re excited for Aug. 11: We’re screening The Beales of Grey Gardens, which came out in 2006,” Roche said. “This is very different. It’s a sequel documentary of the original 1970s documentary by the Maysles brothers,” which was about Jackie Kennedy’s aunt and cousin. “We’re lucky to have Jerry Torre, who was the groundskeeper and friend to Big Edie and Little Edie. He wrote a biography, The Marble Fawn of Grey Gardens: A Memoir of the Beales, the Maysles Brothers, and Jacqueline Kennedy. His story is really fascinating: He is the only person who is alive who knew that group and can talk firsthand about what happened there—what was like to be friends with them, and living there with them. We’re excited about that. When we announced this film and the guest, we started to sell tickets on the first day.”

The Filmmakers’ Gallery presentation of Yours, Mine and Ours takes place starting at 5 p.m., Saturday, July 14, while the presentation of The Beales of Grey Gardens takes place starting at 6 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, 2300 E. Baristo Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $10 to $15. For tickets or more information, call 562-354-1490, or visit www.facebook.com/thefilmmakersgallery.

Published in Previews and Features

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