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A Musical Holiday Tribute

The first time I saw this, I remember sitting on the floor with my hands shaking and my heart pounding. I wasn't completely sure why at the time, but something in me knew innately that eventually, things would get better. That I could start over. That I would find what had always been true for me. Eventually, I was right. This song continues to give me hope.

Garland has been a touchstone of mine since I can remember, and watching her give this performance still touches something very deep and true in me. There's a lightness about her here, and even though it's a song for the holidays, because of her honesty and her unwavering strength of character, this is more of a song about home and the fact that it stays with us as long as we're loved.

Although the song itself has nothing to do with the holidays, the marvelous Jack Jones sung this on Garland's one and only Christmas Show in 1962. It's just a gorgeous song and he's super dreamy here. Nothing else but that.

Ultimate freedom and release. Another one from when I was child and was able to sit with my family in front of the TV and laugh. Those moments were few and far between for us, so these are precious memories for me. And Snoopy's expression is priceless. He is completely and utterly serious in his ridiculousness.

The fabulous Vera Ellen and equally wonderful John Brascia dancing like there's no tomorrow in a clip from the granddaddy of Christmas movies: "White Christmas". My wife and I watch this every year, and every year, when we get to this part, I have to stand up. Literally stand up. After I first saw this, I threw on an old white t-shirt of mine and swiped a pair of pumps from my mom's closet. I danced around the kitchen floor like a maniac, throwing my arms up in the air and clapping my hands at inopportune times. Ellen was the reason I tried a dancing career, and she was also the reason I wore t-shirts on my head until I was a teenager. (If you watch none of the above clips, and you've never seen this, do yourself a favor: Play it. You won't regret it.)

I love movies where the characters go through a transition of some kind. This is most likely the greatest in movie history. I adore the Carrey film, but for me, there's nothing better than Karloff and the gorgeous and hilarious vocal by Thurl Ravenscroft.

Once upon time there were these things known as variety shows. And in that time, long, long ago, there was The Queen. Gaynor is fabulous here, and she was always a staple in our house.

Certainly my mother would never consent to watching Cole's TV show in our house, and the only way I was aware of him was through her record collection, but this song and his voice are synonymous of the holiday for me. Gorgeous, light and easy, Nat King Cole was at the top of his game here.

Probably the King of Christmas Shows. He was the true staple of my family's TV experience. Although I hate his politics, I couldn't leave him out of my memory. I love the pause all the dancers are in until Williams throws the magic Christmas dust. Always makes me smile.

One of the great voices of this generation. A truly great singer and one of my wife's and mine's favorite Christmas songs. We play this CD every year, and when this song comes on, we crank up the volume and know how blessed and fortunate we both are. We have each other, we value each other, and more importantly, we finally found each other.

I included the beginning before the two men sing, because I'm fascinated with it. The collision of old and new is beautiful. Bowie, at the zenith of his popularity and known for his wild and outrageous music and style, and Crosby, waning a bit and yet still spry and completely in his element. The small talk is wonderful and the way the two men deal with each other is magnificent. Easy and kind, they both seem strangely in awe of one another.

The duet was actually Bowie's idea and Crosby had to be talked into allowing him on his special. He wasn't so sure the rocker was a legitimate singer, After all, Bing was a living legend, and Bowie was...well, whatever he was at the time. Luckily, the duet came out brilliantly, and has now become a classic.

I actually remember seeing this for the very first time and I remember thinking before they started singing that this wasn't going to go well. I remember actually being nervous for David when I saw him approach the piano, And then, watching his Shape, I felt something magical begin before the first note. Watch as she dips down to play. There is an immediate readiness in him. He is slow and kind, everything he truly is and truly feels is in the way he carries himself next to his idol. Never over singing, and constantly taking care, this is one for the books.

Have a Merry Christmas, and whatever music you carry in your soul, may it be with you throughout your life time.

Someone would like to speak to you about the upcoming Holidays.

The Great Gift

It is the unknown that frightens us most. It is what we don't know, what we don't understand, and what we think we can't do that throws us backwards. We retreat. We hide from what is usually the greatest gift we can share: That which is the darkest usually brings the most light.

Ross is a student, a friend, and a great teacher of mine. His mother's Kinesthetic Response to her son's magical appearance is earth shaking. After the reveal, she Shatters, and then is almost pushed by an unseen hand toward him, weeping and Gesturing. It isn't only her Spatial Relationship that is heart breaking, but it is the deepness, the ownership of it. The Liminal Space between her and her son is minimal, and yet, it is vast and filled with a loss and a surrender that fills the Universe. They are together. Completely. The embrace is soft and final.

And then, there is the sound. The moan. The ache.

There is a deep breath within all of us. Usually it is saved for the Right Time, for the Proper Circumstance. We're taught that. There are places we can release, and places we can't. Unfortunately, what that does is teach us less about right and wrong, and more about what we believe we are able to do, and what we believe we are not. That Shattering releases the breath we keep tightly wound, and that breath is attached to a sound that radiates truth. And that, among everything, is why we live. To surrender to that truth as much, and as often as we can. If we do that, we give that gift to everyone around us, and soon, the Universe is filled with the voice we were destined to share.

That is our Truth. That is the Divine.

And Ross' mother gives us that gift.

Courage costs something and I am thankful I have two examples that I can survive it. Fully. Completely. And with great joy.

Happy Holidays.

(Humongous thanks to Ross Le and his beautiful mother)

The Crash of Old and New

I'm not one who believes in the Good Old Days being better or worse than the days we have now. I love the time I'm living in and I love the people in it. I also happen to love the business I'm in. I've been a working actor for over 3 decades and a teacher for two. I have never done anything else and I never intend to. There is something beautiful and magnificent about art and I find it bursting in every corner of my life. I don't see the difference between my own life path and my artistic one. They married years ago and I am humbled by the union and shaken to my core by the journey. I am very, very lucky to have always done what I have loved.

There is, in the bottom clip, a small glance at an old Hollywood that has long been forgotten and rarely remembered. The celebration of Mary Poppins and the hoopla that surrounded it is the stuff of legend. Watch the artists approach the MC. Some do so with disdain. Ed Wynn immediately asks:

"Do you have any questions for me?"

Old timer. Old hoofer. He's old school and wants this over with. He seems much more interested in doing his job rather than paying homage to a job after the fact.

Then we see Ann Miller. Sparkling. Shining. Almost regal as she looks around at the screaming mobs of people clamoring to get just one look at the movie stars they pay repeat visits to. There's almost an ownership there. The audience has always employed us. We work for them. If there's no one there to take the ticket, then there's no one there to sing for. We have to send to them what's true for us, but we have to remember, we get to do that only if they keep coming. And Miller (as well as Van Dyke and Holme) know this innately. You can see in their Shapes and in their Tempos. They are humbled, and it's beautiful to watch.

The young Julie Andrews is the most fascinating. She is completely unaware. Completely blind to what's about to happen to her, and only knows she was there to do a job and with great joy and grace, and so she did what she's been doing her entire life: combing her life with her art. You can see it in every frame of Poppins. Andrews isn't acting, she is Living. That is the new movement of musicals, as it was for everyone else. This is the new generation being ushered in, and the combination of Old Hollywood and New Hollwyood is all here on film. The crash is gorgeous.

Now, certainly never having had anything as massive as a major motion picture debuting in the center of Hollywood, I can only imagine the gigantic weight it carries. And in the middle of a life change, as the paths of these artists begin to shift, you can feel the excitement, the joy, and the breadth of their lives spill out onto the streets. It is the true test of endurance.

How do you make it last? Both in your life, and in your art.

World AIDS Day

There is a space left when people go. There is a sound that continues on and that sound can reverberrate for generations. It can shake the Universe to it's very foundation. The ache of loss is measured by the amount of time passed.

I knew something was terribly wrong. There was something in the air. There was something changing and even though we all tried t pretend as if everything was the same, nothing really was. People were disappearing. I'd be at rehearsal, and there'd be whispers in the dressing rooms about Paul or Mike or Jon and the replacements needed in order to open.

I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong.

But it was 1984, and I was 23 years old. I had recently discovered a white powder that after a few inhales, turned me into Superman. I had a lover who was very rich and I was a working actress in Chicago. My head was buried deep in the sand about anything that didn't involve what was directly in front of me, so when people disappeared, I assumed they had good reason.

But the rumbling in my belly, that I couldn't seem to shake.

And then, as if swept by an unseen hand, it came closer and friends of mine began going into the hospital. Not one or two, but eight and ten. I was visiting people now. I was taking people meals to their houses because they were too sick to get out of bed. I was staying over night at friend's houses, I was fielding phone calls from family members who wanted them far away from them, and soon after, I was planning funerals. No one had any money, no one had any shelter, and no one had any help. No one was really helping. We were all in our twenties and the only thing we knew of death was an occasional grandparent. We grew up fast, our gay generation. It hit us first and it hit us hard. The Plague had come to our City, and you could smell it in the streets. In the winters, when Chicago freezes over, it seemed to reek up and down every alley. Frozen in the air like a stick slathered in ice. I can still taste it if I close my eyes long enough. The stench of hundreds of young dead people flew through open windows and out onto the pavement, locked in a vice of indifference from the outside world. We were on our own. We only had what we knew.

And as I lay with my best friend Ginger, holding her hand while she whispered to me on the eve of her death, I prayed for this thing to come and get me too. I couldn't buy one more black dress, and I couldn't stand one more eulogy. Two years later, the cold I caught wouldn't go away, and my doctor told me I had AIDS and that I most likely wouldn't live to see thirty. I saw myself trapped in a county hospital, shitting and bleeding, covered in vomit and purple lesions. My future running out the same windows I walked past during the last wave the plague created.

But strangely, and with great irony, I passed thirty and kept moving forward. I was sometimes present, and sometimes not. I did the best I could with what I knew, and I tried to keep the loss in my life bottled up and tightly wound. It sat in my belly for years, and to be honest, I don't know that it will ever leave. But it keeps me going. I see them all, my friends. I see Jon's brown eyes, and him batting his long lashes at me every time he was hungry. I see Daphne's gorgeous face, constantly smiling and constantly in wonder. And I see Ging'. I see her take my hand when I was troubled, I feel her calm me, and I hear her voice when she lay on her bed and whispered to me very gently:

"Whatever you do, don't stop living. We'll all die for sure."

So I don't.

I'm in the middle of a great sea change as I head towards 51 years old. AIDS took away an innocence but it was replenished by determination. I'm just now coming out of a very dark tunnel and I feel ready for the newness that's in front of me. I am terrified and thrilled by it all. I have ducked behind drugs, but now I feel the need to come out of hiding. I need to hear the Universe clearly and see the path before me. I am breathing and I am still speaking about my brothers and sisters and because of that, I believe they live. I don't want them to die for sure.

And now there's something in the air again.

The Plague that took us all has renewed us all. We must live in the present tense with grace and kindness. In every step and in every moment there is the sense of the Divine. We are able to release that unto ourselves and out towards each other. Sharing that gift is why we all made it past that thirty mark. And because I believe that to be true, I will not remain silent and I will not remain the dark.

I am here and I am present.

And by speaking about the people who've passed, speaking their lives out loud, I feel they are never very far away. And that gigantic space that is left, the liminal space before the transition between this world and whatever's next, is for a moment, filled with the joy and the power of who they were. They were here. They were present. And they mattered.

There is a space left when people go, and it is up to us to fill it in.

Choosing Me

I know that what I am seems to be a choice. It seems to be something I've decided, or something that was external. It's difficult when you look at the world through gender specific eyes. Pink is for girls, blue is for boys. We still do it. We all do it. But that, in and of itself, is learned behavior. We aren't born knowing those things. We are taught them. The roles we play are the roles we've learned.

The thought of dolls in my possession sent my Mother into a downward spiral of male training, which included a disastrous fishing trip with my step dad and brother, where I set out one night to free all the fish they'd caught; a stint in the Boy Scouts where I forced all the boys to call me "Lexi" instead of "Scott"; and one memorable evening trying to sign up for a Karate class, where I demanded to wear a purple belt... (as that all white outfit made me look like a hospice worker).

I didn't do the Boy Thing well at all.

Years later, I learned my rebelling against tasks that were usually reserved for the males of our tribe was simply that...me rebelling. It wasn't that I couldn't fish, or couldn't relate to other Scouts, or couldn't chop a board in two. It was that I simply didn't want to. I was looking at the world through my eyes. The soul that had been given to me gave me the only sight I had. I am this way because I was designed this way. And now, I simply want to be treated this way.

My spirit is just as chaotic, and mysterious as anyone else's. I lose my way, I get sick, I love and I fall, all the time. I don't know where I'm going and I do the best with where I've been. I have no ability to foresee the future so I don't know how long I'll be able to navigate on this planet. I want to make my time here as peaceful and exciting as possible. I want to try new things and leap off new Cliffs. I want what you want, and I'd like it to be given with kindess.

We are not that different. And because that's true, I'd like to have what you have. That's all. If yours wasn't a choice, why is mine?

And honestly... if being Transgender were an actual choice, don't you think I'd pick something a little less expensive?

Brian Stokes-Mitchell

At no time does Stokes-Mitchell ever forget or ignore the book in his hand. Here's an actor, standing in the middle of a piece of music, singing about loss and regret, holding a piece of Architecture. The truly remarkable thing is that it becomes a part of what's happening to him. He adds this in to what his heart is going through. He doesn't discard it, and simultaneously, doesn't draw a big circle around it. He happens to be in this event of loss and sadness, and yet...there he stands..holding on to a book.

And for specific reasons...if you look hard enough.

There's a beautiful moment at 4:19. Brian is dreaming. He is singing about dreaming and he is truly dreaming. You can see it in his Shape. His shoulders go back, his eyes close, and his head shakes slowly back and forth. His entire Shape falls back on itself in a soft and gorgeous daydream that because he is including everything, because he is so open and so available, makes sense to all of us.

And the book in his hand suddenly changes.

It is holy. It is a promise. It is an anchor.

It it something other than a book with text in it. It is his and it belongs in his hands. This is a great artist at the peak of his powers. And a man on a journey flying bravely into the unknown. And like any great explorer of the human heart, he considers everything around him a Gift. And it is all usable.

Stephen Fry and Russian Change

If you haven't been following what's been happening in Russia and the upcoming Olympics, this is a must see for you. If you have been, this will merely be conformation.

I realize we live in a world that's frightening to people who already live in fear of change. As human beings we are wired for newness. It is learned behavior from others that prevent us from being present in that newness. It is what we receive as the truth from others, that forces us back into the dark instead of leading us singing and rejoicing into the Light. It is others, whose voices lie with a vengeance and a conviction that for some reason, we tend to accept as true. It is those that need the help. And it is those who lie. And so we have a large job ahead of us. We fear what we have been told is what is in front of us. It's a lie.

I realize the world we live in. But I can not keep pretending that these people who go out of their way to stop the voices of change don't deserve to be exposed.

Intent is one thing, actions are another.

I'm fine with the way you feel about me. In fact, and this has taken me a life time, but I couldn't care less. But if you try and curtail what is my given right to exist and to share whatever gift I posses with others on the planet, the voice I was born with, you tread on my very existence, and I will not stand by and allow that to happen.

We are in the middle of great change. And although we must fight the ones who try and stop us with courage and with kindness, we must also be vigilant in our ability to name them and draw them out of their caves.

By the hair, if necessary.

Sean Lew

11-year old Sean Lew is living in the middle of his joy here. Not only a fabulous and infectious dancer, his heart is in every step and in every Shape.

Watch as the music comes to an end. Sean doesn't melt away. He doesn't shrink or retreat. The event is still happening and you can see it in him. His topography may take him away from the front but his vessel is still very much alive. It's in his face. It surrounds him and takes hold of him. Watch his Shape as he looms backward and takes a moment for one final look. Nothing has stopped. Nothing has ended. In fact, everything has energized to begin all over again. This is an artist who's art knows no bounds and who at this young age, is completely fearless and utterly courageous about sharing it.

And because he allows his Art to flourish, his dreams do as well.

You can see that, too.

Father and Daughter and The In-Between

Benjamin's four year old daughter couldn't sleep because she thought she kept hearing fireworks. So Dad decided it was time to bust out the Uke and the camera and try to pass the time singing one of their favorite songs. As the piece continues, father and daughter share an event and a journey that's very rare. Watch the pauses. Watch the times they both breathe together and the song stops and they hang in the nothingness. They are full and huge. They both sit in the middle of the question wondering what's next and living in the liminal space between the song and the next phrase. In those moments, you can see everything. You can see who they are to each other, who they were to each other, and most beautifully; who they are most likely going to be to each other.

In the silences, in the in-betweens, we are completely Us. We are naked and bold and fearless and filled with terror. We have no foundation because we are floating in the cracks of certainty. This is where we gather the most and release the biggest. And in these moments, these two have given us an account of how they hold on to each other, depend on each other and aren't afraid to live in that, if even for a split second.

It is the definition of surrender.

Within that, a deepening of the human existence is possible, and living in that, we are certain that we are certain of absolutely nothing. And Dad and Daughter are fine with that.