Second annual LGBT arts festival on TAP

Traverse Arts Project will present Festivale!, the second annual Philadelphia GLBT Arts Festival, June 6-14, showcasing dance, musical and theatrical works by LGBT artists and their straight allies.

This year’s works range from comedic and light-hearted to political and disturbing.

Erik Ransom is premiering a concert reading of his new musical, “Coming: A Musical of Biblical Proportions,” in which he’s also playing a role.

“I’m kind of the antagonist of the show, the antichrist actually,” he said. “The show is my modern comical take on the Book of Revelation, in which Jesus is kind of a normal kid who doesn’t realize he’s the savior. But he wants to spread a message of hope and love to the world. He feels the world is too focused on terrorism, the economy and all the things that shouldn’t matter. He wants people to focus on human connection again and he thinks the best platform to spread that message is through ‘American Icon.’ So he auditions to perform on the show in order to bring his songs of love and hope to the world. Meanwhile, the popular star of the day is Damien Salt. He’s a David Bowie-meets-Lady Gaga glam-rock icon who has a contrasting opinion. He has a song called ‘My Religion is Vice.’ He sings about a libertine, free-spirit attitude.”

Why does the Bowie/Gaga character have to be the bad guy? Couldn’t it be the Jonas Brothers or Toby Keith?

Ransom explained the “bad guy” in his play isn’t necessarily evil.

“In our story, even though I say he’s the antichrist, that’s not really the case,” he said. “The story explored religion in an ironic way that comes in part from my experiences as a gay man from a non-religious upbringing.”

A more concrete exploration of evil can be found in “Infinity Land,” a solo performance created by Ian Mozdzen derived from the lives of homosexual serial killers like John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer. The show is sure to be challenging, controversial and a veritable feast for the senses (mostly sight and smell … you’ve been warned), but organizers of the festival were so impressed with what Mozdzen came up with last year that they invited him back.

“Last year I did a show called ‘Obscene,’ and it was a show about self-castration and that whole eunuch scene,” he said. “It seemed to go over well, so they asked me to come again.”

Mozdzen said his fascination with dark and sometimes-unpleasant themes and subject matter grew out of his introduction at a young age to the works of horror master Stephen King.

“My mom had these Stephen King books — ‘Needful Things’ and ‘Salem’s Lot’ were the ones I got really obsessed with,” he said. “His writings were very influential. I was in my teens. I went on to do a lot of writing [with] lots of cannibalism, murder, suicide, incest, etc. My mother was actually my first ‘artistic’ mentor. We would work on my crazy stories together. It wasn’t until they got graphically sexual, and more queer, that she stopped ‘helping.’ In fact, she said she never wanted to see this kind of thing in the house again.”

If that isn’t a ringing endorsement, we don’t know what is.

Equally hard-hitting but more of a statement is “Pussies, Pens & Politics,” a performance featuring the combined efforts of Philadelphia Grand Slam powerhouse Ms. Wise and Denice Frohman. Both performers are on Philadelphia’s Poetry Slam Team, but Frohman said their styles are very different — and complementary.

“She’s really fearless,” Frohman said of Wise. “Her energy is out the roof. My approach is subtler. I try to draw different emotions and I’m a little more quirky and comical. I think Ms. Wise is really the punch.”

With the festival programming leaning heavily toward cabaret and dance performances, this spoken-word show is sure to stand out.

“It deals with heavy topics and issues,” Frohman said. “I’m sure folks will laugh at some of our pieces but it’s raw and it’s honest. I think people will leave with a lot to think about. They will be challenged with our performance.”

The audience will be treated to subjects such as homophobia and the politics of love.

“We really like to talk about discrimination amongst LGBT folks, women and people of color,” Frohman said. “We want to shed light on discrimination that affects all types of people. We’re going to be focusing on a lot of the current issues that gay people are facing around the world. But it’s really about love and what that means to us. It’s about representing women in a strong and empowering way. It’s about saying we are all the same at the end of the day. Because we identify as queer or women or a person of color doesn’t make us any less. Our dreams and values are just as important as yours.”

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Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].