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By Lala Luzious

Mr. and Miss Twin Cities Black Pride Pageant

February 14, 2024

Last weekend marked the highly anticipated 2nd annual Mr and Miss Twin Cities Black Pride Pageant, held at the illustrious LUSH Lounge and Theater in Minneapolis. A vibrant gathering of community members convened to revel in an evening dedicated to celebrating Black Excellence within the LGBTQ+ community. Recognizing the reigning court from 2023, TruGent and Geneva Richards, the event crowned the dynamic duo of Andre 1000 and ChaChi Monique Cassadine as the winners for 2024. The atmosphere was electric with stellar group performances, awe-inspiring fashion statements, and soul-stirring music—a true testament to the multifaceted beauty of being both Black and queer. Each contestant poured their heart and soul into their presentations, shining brightly across various categories such as African Presentation, Evening Attire, Question & Answer, and Talent.

Behind the scenes, the driving forces propelling this magnificent event into fruition are none other than Ashley Brown and Deja Love, beloved figures within the Twin Cities drag scene. Love reflects on the origins of the pageant, recounting, "About 20 years ago, as a member of Twin Cities Black Pride, I wanted to create a platform to showcase urban talent, so I created the  Twin Cities Black Pride pageant. Over time, it evolved into a prelim for Mr and Miss Black Universe. And then in 2021, Ashley Brown and I decided to resurrect it as Mr and Miss Twin Cities Black Pride Pageant."

The significance of this event transcends mere entertainment—it symbolizes a beacon of hope and inclusivity within a community often marginalized and overlooked. Despite the challenges faced by Black queer events in the Twin Cities, the overwhelming success of the Twin Cities Black Pride Pageant, with a sold-out audience eagerly engaged, speaks volumes. Love emphasizes, "This event provides a space for African American LGBTQ+ entertainers to showcase their talents in an inclusive environment. A space to showcase African American culture without feeling restricted or misunderstood."

Throughout the evening, Andre 1000 captivated audiences with his impeccable style, adorned in a meticulously tailored and bedazzled formal ensemble, followed by a poignant African Sahara-themed talent performance. With years of experience within the Twin Cities drag scene, Andre's seasoned expertise and unwavering professionalism radiated across the stage, leaving a lasting impression on all in attendance. Reflecting on the significance of his victory, Andre shares, "I’m often the only one of something in the room, whether it be the only Black person, the only king, or the only Trans person. I check a lot of boxes when it comes to what producers are looking to book. I’d like to feel like I am being booked for what I actually bring to the table, not just to check a box." He continues, expressing his hopes for the future, "I am hoping this title will get me into rooms that I haven’t been invited to before. I am hoping this title will help more people want to hear my voice. I’m hoping for a seat at the table, but I am more than content taking this year as my time to build my own table." In Andre's aspirations lies a powerful narrative of resilience, determination, and the unwavering pursuit of equity within the LGBTQ+ entertainment industry in the Twin Cities.

The night held profound significance for ChaChi Monique Cassadine, whose journey into the world of drag started in 2014. Her victory at the Twin Cities Black Pride Pageant is her very first title in the drag community. Reflecting on her win, Cassadine expresses, "I really wanted to have this be my first crown. The title alone carries so much pride, and I knew I wanted to be a part of the family.” Cassadine's heartfelt sentiment is best reflected in her talent performance, where she mesmerized the audience with her original choreography alongside a live performance by UNL (Unlimited & Next Level Drill and Dance). Yet, beyond the spotlight, it was the camaraderie and solidarity experienced backstage that truly resonated with her. "When the contestants were getting ready we had music playing," Cassadine recalls fondly. " We sang together, we laughed together, we danced…we were there for each other giving encouraging words." For Cassadine, the pageant was more than a competition—it epitomized a shared journey of empowerment and celebration within a community bonded by resilience and camaraderie.

  As Andre 1000 and ChaChi Monique Cassadine step into the spotlight as the newly crowned Mr. and Miss Twin Cities Black Pride 2024, their victories symbolize not just their individual triumphs but also collective milestones in the ongoing journey toward unity and empowerment for the Black queer community in the Twin Cities. Love is excited for future years of the pageant, saying "Now that we are in the second revival year we’ll be looking to do more outreach within the LGBTQ+ community as a whole to show more diversity." Cassadine has some advice for future competitors, and that is " Stay true to who you are! Never allow anyone to tell you what your drag should be. It’s your drag, and you can make it whatever you want it to be!" It is without a doubt the legacy of the Twin Cities Black Pride Pageant will continue to shine brightly, celebrating the vibrancy of the Twin Cities Black queer community. Make sure to follow Andre and ChaChi on social media to follow their journeys as Mr. and Miss Twin Cities Black Pride.

Hey, Snacks! Juneteenth is around the corner and I am honored to be a part of Tre Da Marc’s Juneteenth Jubilee: A Black Burlesque Show at the historic Capri Theater on June 16th!

June 07, 2022

The evening will feature some of the industry's most prolific artists from across the United States and the entire Twin Cities is welcome to witness this event flaunting the facets of Black Performance Artists! I got to chat with Tre about putting together this amazing event.


 

Congratulations on the second year of Juneteenth Jubilee: A Black Burlesque Show! What was last year’s show like? 
It was a fantastic experience. I never thought that I was going to put on such a big production and it has been received so well. As a show producer, it was difficult for me to put all my eggs in one basket and hope for the dream to bear fruit. It was magical that everything went perfectly well!

When you decided to produce Juneteenth Jubilee what was going through your mind?
I wanted to have a great response with the community. When I refer to the community, I don't necessarily mean the Burlesque community, I actually mean the community of North Minneapolis, specifically the black community in that area. This show is my love letter to the black community in North Minneapolis and also to the black community in Burlesque. I want to normalize having black people see themselves in this art form because a lot of black people don't know about Burlesque or what it is. The biggest thing that people know about it is that it requires removing your clothes and for a lot of black culture that is considered taboo. People think things like “those people must have issues or problems,” but that's absolutely not the case. We're trying to make beautiful art and get paid at the same time!

As a black Burlesque entertainer, what has your experience been in the burlesque community?

In my ten years of performing, I've experienced a lot of different things. At the time I started, there weren't a lot of black artists there, and definitely not a lot of male-identifying artists in general. My Burlesque mom Foxy Tann helped navigate me through the world of burlesque. I didn't realize that there were other black people across the world performing until then and discovering that opened a whole new world for me.
As an artist, I want to be booked because I am talented, not because I’m a queer person of color and I check a box or fill a diversity quota. And had some of those feelings when I first started. The Burlesque community is supportive and there has been lots of reassurance that my level of talent is where it should be and I am now a respected member of the community. It is now my goal to get other BIPOC artists paid for the art they make as well.

I know in the drag community, artists of color are often underrepresented. Do you feel that is the case in the Burlesque community?
Every community could do better about representation, and we are no exception to that. The Burlesque community does make an effort to progress and move forward. If we make any mistakes, we make sure they aren’t repeated. Because of that, there is a lot more vocalization for BIPOC voices, and those voices are being supported by their white peers. But there is more work to be done. It's important we find ways to get BIPOC entertainers the tools to be successful, even if they don’t know what those tools are. For a lot of entertainers of color, many are trying to be successful and don’t know how. It's important we offer help and assistance to those trying to make it, in any performing industry. I know for me, I often offer to help or offer recommendations to make things better.
 

When you put together Juneteenth Jubilee this year, is there anything you wanted to do differently from the previous year? 
I wanted to represent more types of blackness. I have a lot more performers who are not local to Minnesota this year. I wanted to showcase that not all “blackness” looks the same. There are all different types of black. I wanted to showcase a variety of entertainers while celebrating our freedom. I put together a wonderfully entertaining cast.

What would you like audiences to take away from this show?
I want the audience members to see themselves in the performers. I want them to take from the confidence that performers have on stage and bring it into their own lives so that it helps relieve the pressures of society and they don’t end up just drowning in them. There is a lot that goes into this art. We are creating this art to entertain, but we are also sharing our energy, our spirits, and our bodies all on stage at one time. I hope that after seeing that, people leave feeling better about themselves. I hope they see there is a way to thrive with that type of energy.

Also, I want people to know there are black people performing in this art form. Many people know Dita Von Teese, but not many know the amazing black performers that are also out there in the world who are on that level of talent and recognition. For example Foxy Tann, Pearl Noire Jeez Loueez and Ray Gunn. These are some amazing and prolific performers that I have seen who also are BIPOC. So I want this show to say, YES, there are all different types of people out here doing this art form! 

Don’t miss Juneteenth Jubilee: A Black Burlesque Show at The Capri Theater on Friday, June 16th at 7:00 PM.
 

Hey, Snacks! LUSH Lounge & Theater is back with its second live musical production, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. 

May 10, 2022

The production is an immersive, 90-minute rock concert where Hedwig reflects on their journey from East Berlin to the stages of Northeast Minneapolis, attempting to reconcile the lost pieces of themselves along the way.  I got to chat with Director Maxwell Freudenthal about what it was like to direct Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

 

Congratulations on your second production! La Cage aux Folles was a hit! What did you learn from doing that production that you are going to use as a director for Hedwig and the Angry Inch? 
La Cage was a ton of fun but it had a LOT of moving parts that we had to coordinate in a very small amount of time. I knew going into it that we had to simplify as much as possible and focus on only the elements that were absolutely necessary to tell the story, but even so it still pushed the cast and crew well beyond the limits of what had been attempted in the space previously. This time around, we wanted to scale way back, allocate a larger part of the budget to costumes, and work out some of the technical challenges we encountered to deliver an even higher-quality show.

Did you decide Hedwig would be your next show? How did you make this decision? What part of the story most resonates with you as a person?
I saw the movie for the first time while I was in college, when Netflix was still a mail-only service, and it literally changed my life. As a transplant from a small, conservative town in Wisconsin, I didn't know you could make a musical movie about queer characters like that. I for sure didn't fully understand the narrative or internal struggles the characters were facing during that first watch, but it still felt eerily familiar somehow. After watching Short Bus, John Cameron Mitchell immediately became a huge inspiration and I quickly changed my major to film so that I could follow a similar path and tell similar stories. I just found it incredibly affirming and I've been dying for a chance to bring the stage version to life.

What is your favorite moment in this show?
As a filmmaker and animator in college, the movie version of “Origin of Love” was hands down my favorite. Now that I'm what the kids call an 'elder gay', “Wicked Little Town Reprise” is the piece that resonates with me the most. We're staging it closer to how it was done in the movie, where Tommy apologizes to Hedwig, but conceptually it's still the moment when Hedwig finally allows themself to let go of the pain they carried throughout their life and acknowledge the beauty they were able to create despite it. It's an incredibly powerful moment and also one that I personally feel gets somewhat lost in the initial viewing of both the movie and live productions.

I am sure casting this show was very fun. What was casting like? 
I didn't have confirmation on doing a second show until March, and when we decided to move forward I knew that there was absolutely no time to go through the normal audition and casting process, so instead I immediately started reaching out to respected local performers and invited them to be part of the cast. Initially, I wanted 9 Hedwigs with 3 different casts during a 6-week run so that you'd see a different show every 2 weeks. It quickly became obvious that coordinating availability with that many performers, especially working drag queens, was impossible, so we eventually settled on 3 Hedwigs who would split the part over a 4-week run. So definitely stressful at first, but once we locked down such a talented cast it was incredibly exciting.

When this musical came out in 1998, it really was a game-changer at the time in terms of celebrating queerness and individuality. How does this production, and how you directed it, honor this iconic musical and all that it stands for?
I refuse to cast, stage, and direct a show for the sake of doing that show 'the way it's always been done.' The world has changed since 1998, and as artists it is our responsibility to be critical of the stories we're telling and make sure their messages are growing and evolving as well. The core message of Hedwig is about learning to love and embrace our queer identities will always be relevant, but I wanted to make sure we told it in a way that was unique to our cast and community at this moment in history. The biggest artistic change is that we're taking what is essentially written as a two-person show and splitting it between 5 diverse performers, in terms of race, age, gender, and body type. As a filmmaker, Todd Solondz (specifically Palindromes) was a big influence on me, so I definitely had that in the back of my mind when we started working on splitting up the part. I also sat down with the costume designer and Project Runway alum, Samantha Rei, and discussed how we would stay true to the material while putting our own twist on the iconic movie looks that productions normally try to emulate. Needless to say, she absolutely nailed the punk rock vibe and gave the show a unique visual language that carries the narrative across the different stages of Hedwig's life.

What are you hoping anyone in the audience takes away from seeing this production?
Like I said, I'm a huge fan of the show, but I always felt that the arthouse style which made the film iconic also got in the way of helping the audience empathize with Hedwig's internal journey. Also, despite being a professional video producer, I didn't want to use projection in the show because I didn't want the audience to take their eyes off the actors. Just like Hedwig, we broke down the story into pieces and picked them up to create something beautiful and new. My hope is that audience members who are both unfamiliar or die-hard fans find a new appreciation for the show and that queer audience members feel seen and affirmed in their own journeys of self-acceptance.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch will be playing at LUSH Lounge & Theater on select dates May 11th- June 4th. Tickets are available here.

Photos by Lou R R Zurn

Minnesota-based queer musician Paul David

October 26, 2022

Minnesota-based queer musician Paul David works as a multi-instrumental performer and songwriter. He describes his style as “rock-pop-new age-classical style”, a title that reflects David’s wide variety of talent and interests when it comes to music.  In addition to playing percussion with several local theater companies, Paul David has written for and performed with many local orchestras and churches. His latest single “Artist’s Prayer” reflects on the energy many creatives feel when they are aligned with their source energy. I got to chat with David about his life and music. 
 

For those who may not know who you are yet, introduce yourself! 
I’m Paul David. I sing, I write, I play drums, I play piano, and I play a tiny bit of guitar. Most of my work in my career has been in the religious industry. I worked at all God's Children Metropolitan Community Church for 10 years as a Minister of Music. I currently serve at a Methodist Church in Golden Valley as an instrument music coordinator. 

So your music is religion-based?
Yes and no.Spirituality is very very important to who I am but my music is not necessarily what you think when you think of religious music. My current single artist prayer is in fact a prayer, but it's not a specific christian prayer. It's a prayer to source energy to give me inspiration. This is what every artist feels when starting a composition, or a dance, or a painting, or whatever the art may be. The song is a prayer to source energy to inspire those of us who are in the creative arts to bring forth our gifts and hopefully change the world because the world needs a little bit of changing right now.

How long have you been an artist?
I released my first solo CD in 97 but that didn't really go anywhere. My solo work has really taken off since the pandemic. I got furloughed from my day job and suddenly had all this free time. That really launched me into a creative phase as it was a chance to open up creatively.

Whats the most interesting instrument you play?
I play an instrument called a RAV Vast, which is a steel drum where they have tuned tongues that make different sounds. And it's a hugely popular instrument in Europe, but not in the United States. I'm the only person in Minnesota that owns this instrument.

How did you stumble upon a RAV Vast?
I was surfing the web and  I found someone playing a hand pan, which is the parent drum of the RAV Vast. It's originally out of the Netherlands. It's a very cool sound and I fell in love with this instrument. So I ordered one but they're a super expensive and be they take a year to make because each drum is made by hand.  But it was worth the wait, as the melodic tone is so relaxing.

What was the creative process like for writing Artist’s Prayer?
One of the things I do as an artist is keep a notebook of great words, great lines, song ideas, you know, snippets of things and I just save it because you never know when you're gonna need something. I originally wrote the lyrics in the 90’s and just had them in a folder. And I was working on another piece and I stumbled across this set of lyrics and I read through them and realized they are actually quite good! But I didn't have any of the music realized so I began playing with it. Part of my process in creation is I'll sit at my piano and I'll play a chord and I'll play a couple other chords and I kind of see where the music leads me. I really wanted something hypnotic and meditative. It has these super lush jazz chords in the song which I love. Its very very fun to sing and really fun to listen to. It's a really nice vibe and really chill and I hope everyone really enjoys it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

If people were to gain something by listening to your music, in your own words, what would that be?
Hope. I want people to have hope. I made a conscious decision to write positive music to try to elevate the world and change the vibration. We've got enough negativity going on around us that we need a little positivity. That's the kind of the gist of where my music goes. You create your reality by the energy you put out. I choose to focus on the positive

Where and how to do you want people to follow you?
You can find me under Paul David with every streaming service. Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora, etc.. Be aware there are two artists named Paul David. There's a guy in Canada who is a  DJ and  that's not me! I'm the other one! The best place to connect with me is my website, PaulDavidMusic.net That will have all my social media on there.

David’s latest single, Artist's Prayer, is now available for purchase and streaming on all platforms.

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