#Interview

Discovery The Magic, Love, And Queerness Behind "Volta:" Cirque Du Soleil's Latest Show

There is beauty in art and gymnastics.

From watching a man fly in the air while hanging from a lamp, to watching bikers soar several feet above your head, or watching a woman stand on the shoulders of a unicyclist. Every sight is stunning, impressive, and little scary.

The circus is known for giving customers many of these daring feats and bringing a smile to their faces. Even further, Cirque du Soleil has become a world-renowned circus for doing all that and so much more.

I recently had the pleasure of watching Cirque’s newest show, titled Volta, as it visited the Greater Philadelphia area.

The story centers around a young man named Waz who joins a game show. Being disgusted with himself and what makes him different, Waz joins the show in search of fame and acceptance. That contest then starts him on a journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and true freedom.

As if that message wasn’t relevant to Instinct alone, it seems there’s also a fun and capable group of LGBTQ people who work behind the scenes.

I was honored with the opportunity to interview two gay couples who work full-time within the touring company about circus life, love behind the curtain, and spreading joy while walking around the world.

“When the show first starts, sometimes it’s hard to see, ‘What is this show going to be?’ But it was definitely exciting, especially for Volta, because the concept is so different from a lot of Cirque shows that has gone before it. It’s very fresh,” said Ariel Layug, the Kitchen Manager working for Volta.

Volta currently hires about a hundred and twenty-six people full-time to tour around with the performance. As a member of the kitchen staff, Layug has to feed all of them.

“It was also just nice to have a different group of people. This show is a bit younger, so they have a different mentality,” he added.

It’s that different mentality that’s found all the way to the heart of the show. With Volta’s message of finding freedom and self-acceptance seeping its way to the audience and the staff. This is something that Customer Service Team Leader Francisco Nava Gomez recognizes in both the show and himself.

“Coming from a Hispanic culture and background, I felt like I was trapped throughout my whole teenage years and all that. I wasn’t being myself,” Gomez noted. “After I started joining the circus, I started realizing who I am. What I like about this show, it’s telling you it’s ok to be yourself. I think that’s what my whole career has been with the show and the company itself. I realized who I am and it’s ok to be who I am.”

Both Layug and Gomez were the first in their respective couples to join the circus life and Cirque du Soleil. For Gomez, it was due to the need for a job while in college, which led to a lifetime career. As for Layug, it was a fortuitous opportunity that sprung out of befriending a few Cirque employees.

“All of a sudden, I think, two of their chefs quit at the same time,” he told me. “And they said, ‘Hey, you should apply,’ and I thought, ‘You know what? Could be interesting.’”

As for the other halves of these two relationships, Layug’s husband, VIP Experience Team Lead Edonn Lerias, joined Cirque after meeting Layug through a mutual friend. As things got more serious between the two, Lerias decided to travel with Layug and eventually transitioned from his hotel job to the circus life.

As for Gomez’s boyfriend Joseph Swearingen, who’s the assistant head usher, he joined shortly after graduating college and now says he can’t imagine leaving.

“It was really lovely to see the environment because it’s literally just bringing people joy,” he explained. “That’s your whole job, make sure they have a good experience. I really enjoy it… So, I just kept doing it and it’s become something that I don’t see myself ever leaving. It’s become such a part of my life now.”

Social interaction is very important to each man’s job within Cirque du Soleil. Gomez, Swearingen, and Lerias all have jobs that involve customer service and hospitality. Each one makes it their mission to get engaged with the customers and bring smiles to their faces.

“And that’s one of the things I like about this job. Yes, I have office work where I’m sitting at a desk, but I also have a chance to walk around. Talk to guests, talk to our cirquedors (part-time/local workers), and then just engage,” said Gomez before later adding, “After a while, it doesn’t become a job, it just becomes a place that you’re at, and you’re trying to make someone happy.”

Swearingen agreed and added, “A lot of them come here and they’re lost, or they’re maybe not having the best day, or they’re frustrated, or they’ve dealt with a lot, or it’s hot outside. But, when they leave it’s like, you see all of that vanish and you see this transformation of finding happiness and finding relaxation and peace, and that transformation’s real. It’s lovely to see it.”

As for Lerias, who works over at the VIP Lounge, he surmises that his job is much like the hotel work he used to do back in his hometown of San Francisco.

“Hospitality. Hotels. It’s similar to that, except they’re not spending the night here,” he laughed.

As for the VIP Experience, customers get a lot with the increased price point. From premium seats, to an open bar, to a menu of hors d’oeuvres and desserts, to a VIP suite with private bathrooms, and a gift bag.

Meanwhile, Layug works in the kitchen. Though, his work is still fairly social thanks to the need for staying in touch with the wants and needs of the performers and staff.

As he explained:

“We only cater for cast and crew. In a way, they are my VIPs. When you’re traveling with the show, you don’t have a house where you have a pantry with stuff to cook for yourself. You don’t have your favorite restaurant, your favorite café. And so, we have to provide a lot of that.”

He then added:

“This is our family home, so a part of that also includes wanting to feel like you’re at home. Wanting your mom’s Bolognese, or lasagna, or pizza, Nutella, or whatever it is. There’s somethings that sometimes seem not very significant, but it’s really significant for people. So, we try to provide them as much of that as possible. Because, people have a lot to worry about. They have a show that they can put all their effort in. They shouldn’t have to worry about, ‘Where’s my next meal coming from?’”

As Layug touched on, touring with Cirque du Soleil means spending a lot of time away from your “home.” Thankfully for these couples, they have someone that they can spend that time with.

“It was a lot of adjustment, because living in San Francisco, I only traveled for maybe two weeks at a time,” Lerias explained, “Since you’re going to be gone and staying in every city for two months, you have to pack accordingly. You’re basically living off the suitcase.”

“Luckily, we’re the same size,” he later joked with Layug sitting beside him. “So it doubles the size of our wardrobe.”

As for Francisco Nava Gomez and Joseph Swearingen, they’re thankful to have a confidant and companion through it all.

“There are some times we do get stressed. One thing that helps is having him around,” said Gomez. “You have someone to vent to, if there is something stressful going on. Someone that you can get feedback from. Yes, it’s biased, but also helps you clarify things that are happening.”

The couple also have someone that they can walk around the world with and enjoy the many cities in which they visit.

“One of the great things about this job too is we do have Monday’s off, but also sometimes we don’t start until fairly late in the day during the week,” Swearingen explained. “So, we have a good amount of the morning to explore as well. So even during the week, we can spend a nice morning just walking around here and to the trails. Things like that. We’re planning on camping and hiking some of the local trails.”

Between the found family embedded in the touring circus and the love shared between each couple, it seems that Cirque du Soleil’s company is living out the message shared in Volta. Coming full circle, the circus life and that message has then inspired the couples.

“I actually came out on tour,” shared Gomez. “I was in another show, I realized, ‘Ok, I know who I am. I’m hiding it from everyone, but you know what? I see everyone around here. Everybody is free. Nobody cares if you’re gay, bi, or straight, or anything. Black, white. We’re a family and everybody cares about you.”

As for Layug and Lerias, they too were inspired by the circus and how it has reflected on their earlier lives.

“The journey that the show takes is a little bit relatable to me,” Layug said. “I was born in the Philippines and I grew up until my mid-teens in there. And it’s still a very conservative mentality about homosexuality. I used to hide it. I used to be ashamed of it. And then I moved to Australia… I had to go through a very similar journey of, ‘What does it mean to just accept yourself? No matter what color you have? What sexuality you have? Where you come from? What status in life you have?’ So, for me at least, that’s how I relate to the show.”

Edonn Lerias added that his San Francisco life was a stark contrast to the childhood of his husband. He even remembered how he bought his first gay magazine, Instinct Magazine, when he was a teenager.

“What he thought of the culture of the Philippines and how he grew up in Australia, I took those all for granted,” Lerias remarked, “I never thought about it until I met him. That other people do live like that. Where they have to suppress certain things.”

With that in mind, it’s important to celebrate self-acceptance and the freedom to be you. Each one of these men expressed to me that everyone has the right to be free and to live their best and truest lives.

If you need a little reminder to do so, and if you want to see a fantastic show, check out Cirque du Soleil’s Volta whenever it comes to a city near you.

But most importantly, make sure to live out your lives as freely as Volta, Francisco Nava Gomez, Joseph Swearingen, Ariel Layug, and Edonn Lerias are urging you to do.

“There’s a lot of message, from our show, that lets people know that even in some rural part of the United States where you’re feeling like you don’t belong,” expressed Lerias, “Its ok for you to find your free.”

Watch The First Episode In New Web Series "West40s" About Gays Aging in NYC

Nowadays, there are several movies, tv shows, and web series that follow gay and bisexual men in their teens, 20s, and 30s. But, there are very few that follow men in their 40s or older.

Thankfully, we now have one more.

Last week, we shared with you the trailer for a new web series titled West40s. Now, Instinct Magazine is happy to share with you the two creators of the series and the very first episode.

The series created by Mark Sam Rosenthal and Brian Sloan follows a group of friends (played by Dalton Blaine, Dan Domingues, Jeff Hiller, Matthew Montelongo, John-Andrew Morrison, and Rosenthal himself) as they adjust to their lives now that they’re in their 40s.

The series synopsis goes:

“In their 30s, they’d meet strangers on the Hell’s Kitchen sidewalk and have sex in less time than it took to climb the four flights up to their apartments. But now past 40 they’re all wondering what they want for the long haul – and questioning whether they can still make it up those stairs!”

Comedy Central writer/producer and playwright Rosenthal met director, writer, and producer Sloan in 2001 while watching an amateur strip contest at the Stonewall Inn. Since then, the two have enjoyed a devoted friendship and creative partnership. It was that friendship that helped to inspire West40s.

“We wanted to make a show about the challenges of aging that wasn’t depressing and sad,” said Rosenthal. “Being in your 40s in a gay neighborhood now full of millennials can be an eyeroll sometimes, but we also think it’s kind of a riot.”

“We wanted to look at the humor involved in that, while also being realistic about it too,” added Sloan. “We felt that turning 40 is often portrayed as the end of gay life while, in many ways, we sort of saw it as a beginning of a new chapter. Not to mention the start of back pain.”

After the inception of the series, the two creators crowdfunded it on Kickstarter to great success. Now, they are pleased to release the very first episode of the series today (found below)!

 

 


Instinct Magazine spoke to Rosenthal and Sloan about the series, their process in creating it, today’s premiere, and their hopes for the future.

Instinct Magazine: What was the inspiration for this web series? When did you have the idea for West40s?  

Mark Sam Rosenthal: It started because I was living in the Hell's Kitchen when I turned 40. I had been there for about 5 years and the neighborhood kept getting younger and gayer, while I kept getting older and gayer. Then one night, I popped into Duane Reade on 9th Avenue for some Advil and saw this twink twerking to Britney in the greeting card aisle. I knew this was a "special" place. And that's when I knew we had to write this show.

IM: Once you got the ball rolling with your idea, you had to find a way to fund it. What was the Kickstarter process like or any other crowdfunding experiences you two had for the web series?

Brian Sloan: The Kickstarter turned out great and was much more successful than we had even planned. We initially were trying to raise 17K and went way over our goal when people responded so strongly online to the concept of the show. We ultimately got over 23K and found an outside investor as well who helped produce the first episode. I think the Kickstarter really demonstrated what we knew--that there was a big audience out there waiting for something like this show. 

IM: Once you got the money, you had to figure out how to produce the series. What was the process like for casting, finding the set/location, and filming?

Rosenthal: We got a lot of great collaborators through my work at Comedy Central--that helped us make this on a limited budget. We were able to pull in an amazing professional crew who I had worked with there, and made the show look amazing. For locations, from living in the neighborhood I had my favorite blocks and streets that we used for our outdoor scenes. And for the interiors, we utilized one of my favorite nightspots The Fairytale Lounge. And I'm not going say how many times I've been there before. 

IM: It seems that his web series is an ensemble piece with a main cast of five men figuring out what they want in life. That puts a lot of pressure on the actors to both find ways to make their characters standout and also make them meld together as a group. How does episode one see these characters (and their actors) fit both those demands?

Sloan: It is an ensemble but we definitely wrote each character to be a pretty unique guy. We wanted to create a diverse group of friends who were connected in different ways, which you really get to see in the birthday party scene. We let the actors do a lot of improv in that scene to make it feel more like a natural groups of friends. So you see them hanging out for fun at the restaurant, but you also see their different reactions to getting older in all of the misadventures of the night.

IM: West40s has an interesting perspective to share. What storylines/topics are you most interested in tackling with future episodes?

Rosenthal: We're looking at how these characters mature into new habits when old ones are ingrained. Also, the idea of open relationships in middle age and what that means for these characters. And, people are really interested in the character of Luis having a son, so that will play a role in future episodes too. 

Sloan: I want to do an episode where they leave HK and go glamping! 

IM: Lastly, as episode 1 airs on Youtube and West40s.tv, what thoughts are currently going through your heads as its creators?

Rosenthal: Don't read the comments! 

Sloan: I just hope we get a lot of people to watch. And that we find a way to keep making more episodes this fall. Show us the money!


 

While episode one released today, Sloan and Rosenthal already have the next five episodes, which will explore the lives of these diverse characters living and aging into midlife in Hell’s Kitchen, scripted and ready. Now, they are just looking for financial backing to support the production.

Until that happens, let's celebrate the first episode being released today!

Watch the Queer As Folk Cast Talk About The Making Of The Iconic Series

Earlier this month, we shared with you photos, and a video of the photos being taken, of the Queer As Folk reunion.

The cast of the North American series got together with Entertainment Weekly Magazine to create some memorable pictures and talk about their memories of the show.

While that original post had included some words from that interview, EW later released several videos of the interview as well.

These videos cover many topics from Hal Sparks talking about the moment he discovered the series and the character of Michael, to Peter Paige talking about originally auditioning for a different role, and the writers talking about filming a show with a lot of gay sex in it.

If you want to see the videos for yourself, you can watch them down below.

The Australian Gay Man And Sister Attacked By A Bicycle Chain Share More About The Terrible Night

We have an update concerning the Australian man who was attacked while enjoying a night out with his sister.

Earlier today, we shared with you the story of Bradley and Amanda Skinner from Mackay, Northern Queensland, Australia. After that post was published, Instinct Magazine reached out to the Skinners for further comment. What we received was their full perspectives on the dreadful attack.

The night started out wonderfully with the siblings and best friends enjoying a slice of pizza at a Dominos around 8:30 pm on Sunday, April 15. While the two enjoyed the pizza and each other’s company, a 20-something-year-old man decided to call Bradley a homophobic slur.

“I only assume he called me one or knew I’m a ‘homosexual’ because we were sitting laughing having a good time,” said Bradley to Instinct Magazine, “When he had called me a faggot I just ignored it as I’m really use to it. Having grown up in a small country town, I’m always being name called since as long as I can remember. My sister however doesn’t take kindly to her little brother being name called or bullied.”

“I said what gives you the right to say that about my brother and how dare you, have some more respect,” Amanda recalled, “He then called me a studio slut and told me to fuck off where I belong. I then got close to him that’s when he punched me.”

It was then that Bradley got up to defend his sister. A few punches were exchanged between the two men before Bradley found himself on the ground. Next thing he knew, he was being hit by a weapon.

While neither sibling knew what the man was attacking Bradley with at the time, police later discovered that the man’s weapon of choice was a bicycle chain.

“He hit me from my upper legs up to my head. I kept trying to grab it and cover my face while he was swinging it at me. Once he hit me on the head for the last time that’s when I fell to the ground and I don’t remember too much from then on.”

At that point, Bradley had become too weak to even open his eyes. All he could sense, in between the pain and the lack of strength, was the sound of screaming and the urge to vomit.

Meanwhile, his sister Amanda was terrified for the safety of her brother.

“I was so angry and upset. I had so many emotions going through my head. I just wanted him to stop hurting my brother,” Amanda remarked, “I jumped on his back to pull him off and broke a nail and got pushed into a wall in that time.”

Though the moment lasted forever in the Skinners’ minds, it was soon over. Next thing they knew, the man was gone and first responders had arrived.

Bradley Skinner was quickly transported to the Mackay base for emergency attention. While he was initially released the next day, Bradley decided to go to the hospital again after feeling dizzy. Luckily, the worse did not come to fruition. Doctors were pleased to find that Bradley wasn’t suffering from brain damage. That said, he did show signs of vertigo.

Now at home, Bradley is spending 3 weeks away from work in order to recuperate. In the meantime, the police have captured the assailant. They've deducted that a bicycle chain was the weapon used against Bradley due to the suspect having it when he was arrested.

While Bradley and Amanda Skinner would like to think this horrible moment, and any more like it, is now behind them, the two know better. In fact, this is now the third time that Bradley has been gay bashed.

“I was bashed walking home from a party when I was 17,” recounts Bradley, “Suffered a broken nose and chipped bottom teeth. I knew the guy that had done this, but because he was only 16 they let him off with no charges. I was then bashed when I was 19 in Airlie beach. He was charged and put into police custody.”

When asked why he insisted on staying in Mackay despite these constant attacks, Bradley Skinner responded that he didn’t. Despite Mackay being home since he was 11, Bradley moved away when he turned 19. He then lived in Brisbane and Perth for a couple years, but he missed being closer to his family.

“Being so far away from home and missing out on my niece and 4 nephews growing up, I got home sick and decided to move back March 2017.”

It seems that family is a guiding pillar in both Skinners’ lives, and the two siblings both depend on each other dearly.

“I’m very family orientated. My family has always been really supportive of who I am and have helped me grow into the man I am today,” says Bradley, “I’m always a giving person and I guess too kind in most ways. My older sister who was there protecting me, she’s always been my rock and my best friend.”

And Amanda feels the same way as she only had kind words to share about her brother, “He’s a brave and strong young man that will help anyone in need. He is the most kind and loving person this is why I’m so upset. He is not only my brother but my best friend.”

Sadly though, this third attack has made Bradley Skinner consider moving away again. While Bradley’s glad to hear that the man who attacked him was caught, the attack alone has caused a lot of stress.

“If I got a chance to speak with him, I’d ask him why? What makes him feel the right to put down and humiliate someone for their sexuality? It doesn’t make me angry for what he’s done. Just sad that someone’s feels the need to do such a thing.”