By Ciara Reid, staff reporter
WICHITA - Many know him as his electric stage personality Brown Sugar, but before this personality came into existence, he was Damian LaMarr Brown, born in the 1970s. If you ask him, however, he will tell you that he was born, specifically, on a hot summer afternoon in June during the Ford Administration.
“I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb ready for the stage,” Brown says. “In the 5th grade I was cast in a play about dental hygiene in the role of Fearless Frank as the superhero of bad brushing habits and flossing.”
That role of Fearless Frank not only helped Brown and countless others learn the valuable life skills of brushing and flossing, but it also planted the theatre seed in Brown. He went on to nurture that seed into numerous other lauded roles in the Wichita community and one that would eventually lead him to crafting Brown Sugar.
He was involved in theatre in high school and was offered a scholarship at Wichita State University (WSU). In 1996, he auditioned for the role of Darius in Jeffery and won the Mary Jane Teall award for best supporting actor in a play. The award honors the memory of Mary Jane Teall, a pioneer in theatre in Wichita. According to www.maryjaneteall.org, the goal of the awards is to promote a mutual respect and camaraderie among the theatrical community and recognize individuals and theatre groups.
Brown would go on to graduate from WSU with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Adding to that milestone, Brown became aware of his sexuality and started going out to gay bars. “I saw my first drag show in the spring of 1996 and I was . . . intrigued - to say the least,” Brown says. He was asked to help out with a fundraiser called Kansas Can to raise funds for the Kansas Gay Rodeo Association. “I was terrible. But, interested!” Brown recalls.
As his involvement in theatre slowed, he started performing in drag. “I was beginning to get better, but I still had a long way to go,” he says. In 2001, he started hosting his own show. The Thursday Night Show with Brown Sugar was born.
Brown says the location of the show as well as the name changed over the years, and has ranged from The Brown Suga’ Experience, The Sugar Shack, to finally The Brown Sugar Show. “I missed only seven shows from October 2001 to 2016,” Brown says. “I WAS DEFINITELY DEDICATED.”
By Beth Wasson
WICHITA - Positive Directions, Inc. (PDI) received some positive cash flow from their Winter Fire and Ice Gala held on Jan. 19. The event, including silent and live auctions, raised $8,000 for PDI’s community outreach. That program visits with students and local groups and provides much needed information about HIV and how to protect against it.
Abode hosted the event that began with food and drinks and entertainment from Dangling Dames aerialists and Phlox fire dancers. Local celebrity and Wichita Eagle movie reviewer Rod Pocowatchit emceed the evening. Offerings from Two Olives/Olive Tree catering and the Bagatelle Bakery provided refreshments for the crowd of over 150.
The festivities continued afterwards at Club XY in Old Town. Spirit AeroSystems, Club XY, Abode Venue, Douglas Design District, B Young Salon, and private donations helped cover expenses. PDI hopes the Gala becomes an annual event.
Positive Directions, Inc. began 26 years ago as the Care Coordination Team, an AIDS-service organization providing comfort and companionship for those dying from AIDS. It grew into the largest HIV/AIDS organization in Kansas, offering case management, education, prevention and food services.
But today, the organization focuses on education and prevention only. PDI offers rapid HIV testing and gives out condoms both at its office and at clubs around the city. All PDI services are free to the public.
Upcoming fundraisers include Bitchy Bingo at Club XY on Feb. 22 and this spring’s AIDS Walk scheduled for May 19. For more information, visit www.positivedirectionsks.org or stop by the office at 416 S. Commerce St., Suite 108. l
By Ciara Reid, staff reporter
WICHITA - Dr. Robert Minor, M.A., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas and longtime contributor and columnist of the “Minor Details” column in Liberty Press, will be the featured speaker at Darwin Day 2018, an annual event hosted by the Great Plains Chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (the AU). Dr. Minor will present his topic, “Why Do So Many Religious People Want the Government on Their Side?” at the dinner on Feb. 10 at the Olive Tree Banquet Hall in Wichita.
AU ex-officio Michael Alldaffer started the local chapter’s Darwin Day in 2011, after he visited Italy and saw a shirt that depicted the evolution of man, with the man holding a glass of wine. After his trip, he spoke with friends on the AU board and decided to throw a birthday party for Charles Darwin.
Dr. Minor’s presentation at the Darwin Day Dinner will discuss the issue of people using religion as a reason for political maneuvers and decisions – the two biggest issues being women’s reproductive issues and LGBTQ rights.
“They can’t just be religious,” he says. “Instead, they want you to approve of their religion.” People simply get stuck, he continued. They use religion as the reason for their political decisions, and there is nothing anyone can say to change their perspectives, even when confronted by science or other people’s experiences.
WICHITA - Plymouth Congregational Church presents Cello Fury, a four-piece cello rock ensemble, in concert on Saturday, Feb. 10 at 7pm, with a reception to follow.
Featuring three cellists and a drummer, Cello Fury combines the symphonic sounds of the cello with driving rock beats. Its original music appeals to a diverse audience throughout the U.S. and abroad. Cellists Simon Cummings, Ben Muñoz and Nicole Myers along with drummer David Throckmorton make up the group.
Hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, Cello Fury has performed on radio and television, in rock clubs, concert halls, and music festivals for audiences as large as 67,000 (Pittsburgh Steelers halftime show). As an independent band, Cello Fury has released two albums of original music. An Amazon website reviewer says, “I had the opportunity to see this group live and they were spellbinding. The mix of cello and drums is superb.”
Another says, “Cello Fury is not your grandmother’s quartet ... The music reaches deep into the souls of the audience and compels either movement or enraptured attention; demanding and pushing with each note and phrase.”
Cello Fury’s performance is part of “Word & Note: The Divine Arts of Knowledge and Exaltation,” an annual event at Plymouth featuring nationally known author-theologians and musicians. The weekend program of Feb. 9-11 includes lectures, discussion, and musical presentations.
The concert ticket is $20 per person with a special rate of $5 for students, and includes a reception. It can be purchased at the church office, 202 N. Clifton, or by calling 316-684-0221. Cash, check, Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are accepted. Tickets will also be sold at the door. Seating is by general admission.
More information on Word & Note and purchasing part or all of the weekend series can be found at www.plymouth-church.net/word-and-note-2018.html. Plymouth has been part of the Wichita community for over 130 years. Rev. Dr. Donald P. Olsen is Senior Minister, Rev. Karen Robu is Associate Minister, and Howard Webb is Director of Music. l
WICHITA - The Wichita State University School of Performing Arts’ production of States of Happiness was selected to perform at the Regional Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival on Jan. 25-26 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Students and faculty represented Shocker Nation as one of seven productions out of a seven-state region to perform at the Festival. States of Happiness was designed and directed by University of Central Florida student Josh Whedon and was the winner of the 2017 WSU National Playwriting Competition.
WICHITA - Auditions for Wichita Community Theatre’s Silent Sky, directed by Mary Lou Phipps-Winfrey, will be held Saturday, Feb. 17 from 11am-1pm and Sunday, Feb 18 from 2-5pm at the theatre, 258 N. Fountain. Rehearsals begin in early March for the show that runs April 19-29.
Needed are one man in his 30’s and four women, two in their 30’s, one in their 40-50’s, and one in their 50-60’s with Scottish accent.
Silent Sky tells the true story of 19th-century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, exploring a woman’s place in society during a time of immense scientific discoveries, when women’s ideas were dismissed until men claimed credit for them. Leavitt and her female peers changed the way people understand both the heavens and Earth.
By Kristi Parker
WICHITA - Disco balls of all sizes, pretzels in the colors of the rainbow, sound pretty evil? That's what the Newman University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly McDowall Long decided when making the decision to cancel the school's Final Friday show on Jan. 26.
Denver artist Genevieve Waller's exhibition Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History was to appear in Newman's Steckline Gallery. That was until an e-mail circulated among religious circles and Jean Heimann, a local Catholic writer, wrote to Long saying, "...why is it necessary to expose students to evil? Why do students need to be encouraged to learn more about a sickness in our society?"
After hearing of the cancellation, Harvester Arts stepped in to offer an alternative space. "We were just happy that we didn't have anything booked for that evening," Kate Van Steenhuyse, Founder and CEO, said.
The artist, Waller, grew up in Wichita. She attended Northeast Magnet High School and Wichita State University. Her exhibit features a look at six LGBTQ Kansans through sculptures, photography and installation art.
The biographies of Gilbert Baker, Stephanie Mott, Ruby Dandridge, James Barr Fugate, William Inge, and Louise Brooks were displayed on one wall; their names on another.
Waller told the Wichita Eagle that she thinks Gilbert Baker, the artist who created the rainbow flag, and other LGBTQ Kansans should be better-known and celebrated in their home state.
"I would like the exhibit to spark curiosity about LGBTQ history in Kansas and help pave the way for LGBTQ Kansans' stories to become part of official state histories," she said. l
By Beth Wasson
Growing up, my son, Jacob Wasson, always looked out for the underserved and oppressed. Even at age three, he wanted to walk a picket line in front of Chuck E. Cheese because the restaurant did not have a dog in their lineup. Through the years, he took notice of other injustices and tried to stand up for what he believed in.
Jacob, now a junior at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, still stands up for what he believes in. As a member of the LGBT community himself, the news on the situation in Chechnya hit a nerve. When he heard about the genocide taking place, he knew he needed to do something.
That something became a fundraising campaign that reached across social media and culminated on Dec. 10, 2017 with a cabaret-style show Jacob directed featuring his fellow students.
Last spring, when news of the Chechen purge hit, Jacob began formulating his ideas. As school began in the fall, he began organizing those ideas and talking to friends. He wanted to raise funds that would go to the Russian LGBT network. And so, Jacob started a GoFundMe campaign calling it “Choose Your Family,” emphasizing that all LGBT persons and those that support them are family, no matter where in the world they come from.
With permission to use the Pinnacle Theatre, part of Point Park’s Conservatory for Performing Arts, the cabaret began to develop. In addition, the GoFundMe campaign began receiving donations and a t-shirt, designed by a friend, began selling online. All proceeds went to the fundraiser with Jacob bearing the brunt of the costs for putting it all together. Soon, 18 students found themselves cast in the show and several more signed up to help backstage.
Along the way, support came from large social media groups throwing their influence and wide followings behind the efforts. The Instagram LGBT History founder, Matthew Riemer, called on his 100,000 followers to promote the campaign as did Adam Eli, founder of the group Voices for Chechnya.
All this helped the original fundraising goal of $1,000 grow to $2,500 collected. Jacob noted that, “the majority of the donations were under $25,” with many coming from fellow college students who normally have nothing extra. This campaign took time as with planning and rehearsal squeezed in between full class loads and part-time jobs. But it proved the t-shirt’s saying as everyone came together like a family.
What will this semester hold for Jacob? Only time will tell. He’s taking acting and dancing classes as he nears his senior year as a musical theatre major. Plus, he must fit in a full rehearsal schedule for an upcoming performance in 42nd Street at Point Park and hopefully still work a few hours at his job. But that’s just training for what’s ahead as his plans include heading to New York after graduation.
For a young man still in college, his performance resume looks impressive. His first journey into writing and directing came in first grade with a show he called “Dad’s New Job.” Born and raised in Wichita, Jacob’s acting career includes several seasons with Music Theatre of Wichita both as a child performer and an adult member of the company. His dreams have always pointed toward New York and as his mom, I couldn’t be any prouder. Keep going strong, Jacob! l