We've come a long way. Singers like Sam Smith, Adam Lambert, and Mary Lambert have proven that in 2016, you can be open about your sexuality and sell lots of merchandise. The same goes for bisexual and trans performers, from music to stage to comedy. So I asked some queer and queer-friendly talents who've been at it before it was cool to see what advice they'd give to someone starting out today. They offered a worldly and wise mouthful.
TYM MOSS, gay singer/comic/writer (2 Queers and a Bitch)
"I am so excited to see the variety of LGBT performers coming out and coming up these days. The LGBT community is much more accepted and visible in society now. LGBT was not acknowledged or even spoken of when I was first starting out. In fact, in the early '80s, I was the lead singer of a group that toured the country and was based out of the Midwest. I got 'let go,' literally, in the middle of a cornfield in Ohio because they suspected I was gay. I didn't even know I was gay at that time!
"My advice to any LGBT performers starting out is quite simple. BE AUTHENTIC! Today, you are allowed to be yourself. Let your heart guide you. Create your own look and style of performance. Be original. And above all: HAVE FUN! Get yourself out there. Gain experience. Take jobs to get your art and your name in front of people. Do not expect it all to happen overnight. Study your craft. Excel at it. Become an expert at what you do.
"No one has ever been you before. Bring you to the show! Be open to suggestions, but listen to your heart. You are the author of your life's journey. Write the rules to your own career. Be true to your word. Be the friend you would want to have as a friend. Now, get out there and be you.....and enjoy the hell out of the ride!"
ROBBYNE KAAMIL, "a straight sassy black girl from the Bronx" who's the Playgirl Relationship Expert and DNA Magazine advice columnist
"You have to work hard. There are no shortcuts to success. Too many believe that if they throw a few videos up on YouTube, they'll become rich and famous overnight. Even the Kardashians are not overnight sensations. Kris Jenner pimped out her hos (aka--Kim, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, and Kylie) for many years before they achieved the level of success they have today. Remember to stay off the drugs. Whitney was right: crack is whack. Too bad she didn't listen to her own advice."
ARI GOLD, gay singer
"I would probably give the same advice I have always given. Things haven't changed as much as people like to think--and I started before the advent of social media. But I always used to say that you just have to put the work out there and get out there as much as you can. Do I think it's important to be out? Sure it is. But would I tell someone I think they should be or need to be? No, I would not. It really all depends on what's important to you. For some artists, being gay is not central to their work and if someone wants to give them money or hard-found opportunity, who am I to judge them if all they wanna do is sing and perform?
"For me, my being gay and being the kind of artist I didn't have growing up was just as important as my need to sing and be on stage. It was not a choice for me--it was a calling. I couldn't imagine having the kind of obstacles I had and surviving them if I wasn't so passionate as I am about the cause. With that said, there does seem to be more of a market for it, more ways to get your work out there, and we do continue to need more LGBT voices and stories. So if our freedom and equality means something to your soul, go for it. We need you."
MARGA GOMEZ, lesbian comic/performance artist
"My advice to LGBT performers is be original, be excellent, be generous, and don't take my gigs."
AMBER MARTIN, new album, A.M. Gold. She's performing a Janis Joplin show on January 19, Janis's 74th birthday, at Feinstein's/54 Below
"My entire performance career has been deeply embedded in the LGBTQ community. This is my community. I personally don't outwardly discuss my sexual orientation, because no one usually asks or cares. I am a private person, but I believe it is up to the individual young, queer emerging artist. My body of work is for everyone/anyone/all people. Why limit my audience to any one group? I especially feel that keeping my art available to all is good for the more conservative folk in my audience. My shows are sometimes controversial and wide open on a comedic level. I sneak powerful ideas into my sets through the vein of comedy and it hopefully seeps into the minds that need it most. Dig?
"If you feel your art is going to be for specifically LGBTQ audiences, more power to you. Speak out loud and proud about it now more than ever before! Folks have died for your right and ability to do so. I feel for me, keeping my LGBTQ community close at all times, but branding my art for all types, is best for my career. I prefer to speak not only to the choir, but also to the ones who really need the info I'm sharing. Love is the law!"
REAL SEX TIPS FOR A REAL HOUSEWIFE
How do you make it as a multimedia personality? You cause a sensation on Real Housewives of New York, then break out of your luxury kitchen and go legit in the hit off-Broadway comedy Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man. That's just what my pal Sonja Morgan did, and she told me the Tips were well worth learning. Said she: "It was a true New York experience and reminded me why I moved to New York in the first place, as a young fashion student studying marketing at FIT in the late '80s and soaking in all the culture and arts I could. I've always been an artist and entertainer close to the LGBT community and other artists who have a bawdy, sexy sense of humor. I felt I had come full circle in expressing myself through the well written script, that is an underlining story of romance that we all seek." I should try it! Get that banana ready.
THREE ENSEMBLE MUSICALS! THREE!
How do you make it on Broadway? Easy--do something adventurous in a smaller venue and keep growing and evolving until the big time beckons. And so, my third time with Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812--an inventive musical based on 70 pages of War and Peace--was the best of all, especially because the environmental staging worked so well with the theater transformed into a mass of runways leading to a circular stage with the band in the middle of it, twinkly lights ascending and descending on cue. With the constant swirling motion, the sung-through musical is clever, funny, sexy, and dizzyingly colorful, and blessed with a tip-top cast (including a very persuasive Josh Groban) that keeps your head Russian. I sat in one of the onstage seats and gamely kept bobbing my noggin around to catch the action. But that was much easier when a particular scene happened to be staged at my own table! Finally--Tony consideration for me! (But don't forfeit your chance by hideously leaving your cell phone on. As a pre-show announcement warns you, "Nyet" to that.)
Another sung-through musical, the warm and moving Falsettos--written by William Finn and James Lapine--is back in a Lapine-directed production that serves it with respect and class. The 1992 show--consisting of two acts, the light-hearted "March of the Falsettos" and the meatier "Falsettoland"--concerns a NYC man (Christian Borle), the likeable narcissist he's smitten with (Andrew Rannells), the guy's put-upon ex-wife (Stephanie J. Block), their befuddled kid (Anthony Rosenthal), and the unorthodox therapist who tries to solve the neuroses of virtually every one onstage. The conceptual musical is a game of checkers, which evolves into tennis and aerobics, as the characters--backed by skylines and Pirandellian furniture--spar, rearrange, and iron out their neurotic needs in tandem. Act One starts on an impossible high, with the hilarious "Four Jews in a Room Bitching," which is everything it promises. Act Two introduces an interracial couple (Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe) in a fascinating foreshadowing of Rent, and it also draws in the harrowing rise of AIDS in a way that will have you needing that therapist. Block delivers, especially in a powerhouse "Trina's Song" about breaking down, Rannells is cutely charismatic and touching, Uranowitz is wryly funny, and Borle gets to show a quieter side to his talent than usual. Thoms and Wolfe are also superb. It's more like a "really nice" than a transformative "OMG," but still, all these years later, Falsettos still deserves high-pitched praise.
Another musical about neurotic New Yorkers, In Transit, got some rough reviews, but I enjoyed it, maybe because I don't usually hang around subway stations very often. The subterranean musical, conducted on an uncanny set of the Atlantic Avenue station (and environs), juxtaposes 11 intertwining characters with dashed dreams and resilient aspirations as they sing transportational tidbits about how "It's time to move on" or "I'm not there yet." The show is a cappella, not just to put musicians out of work, but to give it a throbbing, real NYC feel, which is well carried off, complete with a sort of narrator emitting sound effects (though one song sounds remarkably like "9 To 5"). There were several understudies instead of the regular cast members last week--it was New Year's--but the actors were terrific, especially Justin Guarini (as a gay trying to uncloset himself despite his mother's silent objections) and Moya Angela as that mother and a bitchy-for-the-sake-of-it token clerk, who's hilarious. The resulting plots may be a little too Love American Style for comfort and the subway may seem a bit too sanitized (other than the rat eating pizza and the man relieving himself), but generally this is a slick and likeable excursion that advocates enjoying the ride, whether you're getting to your ideal destination right away or not. Alas, I'm not there yet!