An Ode to New Beginnings: Diary of a Lifelong Outsider

West Hollywood is a diverse town made up of lots of people from different backgrounds, religions, and parts of the country—often times outsiders looking for a place to come in from the cold. Jennifer Obakhume is offering her take on what it’s like being an outsider even among outsiders.

Where should I start? I have typed and retyped, shredded notes, tossed away ideas, or just let them pass me by. Since the last blog post I wrote for West Hollywood Wives, there have been a tremendous amount of things manifesting in my life. Only in the last three weeks, with a great deal of prayer, support, and a new prescription for the antidepressant Effexor, have I felt this resurgence of stability pulse through my veins. I’m far less caustic, far less depressed, and far happier, more at peace with what the future and the present holds. This is the period that I have forever sought: a time of peace, understanding, self-love.

Our own "Diary of a Lifelong Outsider" columnist Jennifer R. Obakhume, who after an emotional spring cleaning embodies "Carpe Diem," her personal motto.

Our own “Diary of a Lifelong Outsider” columnist Jennifer R. Obakhume, who after an emotional spring cleaning embodies “Carpe Diem,” her personal motto.

It hasn’t been easy; hell, it’s easy for NO ONE if people are honest enough to admit it. Just three weeks ago, the night before starting Effexor, I was at the Santa Monica Pier. I went there from a doctor’s appointment just looking to escape from everything that has always plagued me. For as much of a laugher, a humorous person, the smile and the laughs have always been a front for the constant sorrow. This is one of the reasons that I do not attempt stand-up comedy—just pour through the memoirs, unauthorized biographies, the news reports, watch specials devoted to the internationally popular comedians and you see how much unhappiness fuels their comedy. I can laugh about a lot of things I couldn’t laugh about before, but I’m not yet at the place where I can relive a number of those episodes without bottles of alcohol accessible to me. I couldn’t go back to those days without sobbing.

This is one of the major explanations for why there are such big gaps between posts. I’m hardly writing poetry as much as I used to years ago (though I am thankfully starting to get an upswing in doing what I do best), and I spent hours staring at blank pages. Today is the first day in quite some time that I have felt the courage to put my fingers to the keyboard to say anything of note. This isn’t always a bad thing, I think; it’s important for people to step back from computer screens, notepads, reality shows and go outside to LIVE, to add concrete insight to their opinions before sharing anything. I’m going outside a lot more, that’s for sure. Not to say that all my hermit tendencies have disappeared, by any means. I am a proud eccentric, reclusive, solitary being who stills needs silence to decompress and gather the strength to not knock the dogshit out of someone who enters my vicinity looking and acting like a general jackass. By the way, I forgot to add that my level of bluntness has also increased in ways that shock me, and it is not very easy to shock me.

Let’s go back to that Wednesday three weeks ago in Santa Monica, as much as it hurts to revisit that moment. In my bag was the documentation from an outpatient mental health clinic I was referred to by one of my doctors, the bottle of Effexor in my bag, the unwillingness to believe that the medication would actually help me (I have been on several others for short periods, and the side effects were so hard on me I left them alone)…I couldn’t do it anymore. I may have mentioned it in a previous blog, but I have had a number of suicidal ideations consistent with years of chronic Major Depression. I was deterred by a number of divine disruptions and there had always been some trepidation on my part in actually following through the act. On that day, in the beautiful, windy weather of the beach, I decided that I was finished with trying to stay strong with nothing that I had been working on going anywhere for me. All these years of being a “good girl,” “smart chick,” “educated, powerful Black woman” hasn’t resulted in a solid career in my chosen fields, truly. My health ricocheting from left to right doesn’t help what is already a “rock and a hard place’ situation.

I can’t steal, I can’t be someone’s prostitute, and I can’t do the wrong thing just for the sake of money, security, or success. If I have to do the wrong thing to get by, that negates anything of trustworthiness or skill or anything good that may actually be working out for me in terms of God and His infinite universe in the future. I was thinking about all of that as I sat down for what was meant to be my last meal at one of my favorite sushi restaurants and penned out a short suicide note, apologizing for being an utter failure and a weight to everyone who I know. I didn’t want to waste any more of people’s time and I was making a decision, right or wrong, to bow out of the picture.

“I’m just one little dot in a world of billions of people-let’s be honest: time will not stand still just because I’m not here anymore. I’ve never been happy in my soul, I miss my grandmother, and just let me go in peace. Take care of yourselves.” 

I found my AAA card, bought a discounted Pacific Park all-day wristband and walked the few blocks down to the Pier for a last hurrah. The suicide note was tucked away into my purse and I headed for the ticket booths at one of the entryways. I saw so many happy people, so many families, and I was so jealous of those kids with two parent homes with stability. Sure, the grass is always greener, but you can feel it in your soul when something is real or contrived. I wanted in that moment what was completely impossible to have, a true acceptance that in my early twenties, my childhood has affected me in ways that I didn’t even know at first. Revelation after revelation was hitting me about all the unhappiness in my life and all it made me want to do was stop the pain once and for all. I decided that I was going to get on one more ride, walk out of the park to a clear area of the pier where no one could get to me quickly and finish myself off.

The ride I wanted to get on had a heck of a wait. I was snappy and impatient and I started to walk away, but my feet froze in the line. I didn’t know why—my answer would show up soon enough with a young family composed of a mom (who looked like a perfect Gwyneth Paltrow look-alike), her husband, and their three kids. There was a back and forth between one of the kids and their parents because he was terrified of the ride. I wasn’t looking to be nosy or anything, but the way he was expressing himself was absolutely too funny to me. I unexpectedly howling with laughter when he looked at the ride, watched it drop, and looked as if his adorable blue eyes were going to pop out of his head.

“It’s not that bad, I promise you.” I looked at him and he didn’t seem any more willing to ride, but his two young sisters seemed encouraged. Their parents looked at me very warmly and said, “Could the girls tag along with you? They’re a little too short to ride alone, but they will be on their best behavior.” I am not extremely maternal at all: as a child of seven years old, I had decided that children were just not for me as I felt that I would be too damaged to give them a normal life. I kid you not—this is from childhood that my mind has been settled in this direction, and the decision has not changed as I approach 27 years old. In the moment of looking into those children’s faces and seeing myself as a child all over again, my heart was softened enough to take the girls by their hands and lead them with me to the ride, boost them up into their seats, and push the restraints securely over them. The little boy decided that he should get on the ride and he sat between me and his sisters. Their parents ran their iPhone camcorder as all four of us rode that ride again and again. With a smile on all of our faces, I suddenly felt like riding a few more rides before moving forward with the evening’s plan. The kid’s parents looked me and I felt a warm, loving cocoon envelope me…as I looked at those two, I saw their faces transform into the faces of my church Pastor and First Lady, Mark and Bonnie. The mom made an expression on her face that reminded me so much of Bonnie in that moment…I knew that this was a case of divine intervention, I KNEW IT. I was in such pain in my soul that I didn’t want any intervention, I just wanted to go.

I smiled at the parents, told them all to be good to each other, and skipped away to more rides. I hadn’t skipped from joy since the day I graduated from USC—not because I was ready to exit because of the amazing professors and students who I had become close with, and amazingly, despite the fact that I was trying to sort out in my head how the hell I was going to pay for my student loans with no response to any of the job applications I had submitted. I was finally well on my way, I thought. I thought that I would figure out how to start working on a Master’s Degree program the following year, move on to a Ph.D. program, and move on to building my life. Nothing in the last five years have gone according to that plan, and I have slowly come to terms with the fact that life is totally unexpected and that my path is going to take me where I want to go in a way that is not my own. I have no choice but to accept that now; I literally plotted my own demise three weeks ago, so I am in a place where I have no choice but to trust that all things will work out for my good in His plan.

At that moment, though, I didn’t want to receive that message. I didn’t want to hear it anymore. I was tired, I was tired and I was hurting. All I want to do was be released, and all I got was a resounding “no.” I have never had that many people in a public place smile at me, compliment me on my love of purple clothing, remark at the warm brown of my eyes as the light hit my face AT ONE TIME. Finally, as I was ready to stop riding and proceed to the edge of the pier now covered in moonlight, the one ride I had been waiting for all day finally opened (it had been shut down due to the high winds just as I arrived). It was as if the Universe was saying, “You can’t do this now. This is your favorite ride. You’ve been waiting all day!” As I showed up and was the first in line, here comes another family of two parents and their three kids, who were visiting L.A. from Atlanta. Just as it happened earlier, I became the riding buddy with the kids who were just a little older than the first set. Those kids WORE ME OUT and that is also very unusual for me. I ended up laughing, running around, and all these things…I suddenly had a massive headache and very limited physical energy. All of a sudden, it felt like it would be even more exhausting to attach the suicide note to the outside of my purse and go over the railing. I walked all the way up to Wilshire and Ocean to ride the bus taking me in the direction of where I live, but I didn’t have the energy to muster to go over the railing. Interesting, it was to me. As I exited the pier, I looked back at the beautiful lighting on the Ferris wheel—I ripped the note up and threw it in the trash can.

The very next morning, knowing that I had nothing else to lose but my life, I took the Effexor for the first time. With my previous experiences, it’s quite obvious I have never been a fan of antidepressants for my own self with my experiences. Side effects or not, this time around has been completely different from previous events. I started mellowing out in the first week, but there was still a heaviness on my spirit and my heart. Again, constant prayer for healing became what I needed to survive and get on track to being a whole human being. I had nothing but dreams revisiting the pain that I have kept pushing down over and over again came up as if I was vomiting up poison. “Let go of the anger. Let go of the anger and be loved,” was the message I kept getting when I kept asking what I was supposed to do. All my life, I have always felt alone even when I’m in a room full of people. I questioned whether or not I should have just followed through with the plan. There have been some happenings in the last few months where I am presently living that had been very weighty and the cause of aggression I had been feeling at that point—and, a couple of days later, I released that anger. I will save that story for another post, but it marked the beginning of me letting go of grudges by intentional and unintentional harm that people have brought towards me. I am a strong believer in the Bible talking about reaping what you sow, and I have witnessed several people who have hurt me get their returns for being evil to me. There is no laughter or reveling in their suffering; I hope they get their lives together and wish them nothing but the best endeavors in their futures.

I have nothing to gain from their misery but endless fodder for humorous tales. Much as I love humor and laughing at people suffering misfortunes directly caused by obviously poor choices, there is so little time I am willing to allow for drama. In short, if it does not get me closer to God, if it does not provide me a solid living wage, if it does not guarantee anything positive in my life, I really have no space to care. The focus is finally on those who have been so good to me over there in the midst of these changes. It is often said that one can’t love other people if they do not love themselves, but I don’t think it is that cut and dry in every situation. Or maybe it is. I have no clue, but what I can say is that the depth of my love and my gratitude are going deeper every day. If anyone out there reading this knew how many times I’ve called my village of love in tears, thanking them for being active members in my life, I guess a clear answer to the question above can be assessed. In this period of time, my self-love of every element that built and builds me is blossoming. I’m not tolerating myself or tolerating the existence of anyone even more. When I love, it seeps from my skin, my heart, my breath and no one can deny it. My eyes are the windows to my soul, and my windows realize just how blessed I am to see another sunrise and another sunset. In one moment, I would have never seen it again. I only shared this story with a few people close to me in the last week or so. Two of them sat in utter disbelief that I was suffering so deeply, but never said a word to them about how close to the edge I really was. One sobbed and said, “Really? And you had a note? You really don’t know just how much you are loved. Yes, the world is big and there are many people, but there is only one you. And you ARE LOVED.” I am loved—and I can say that I am fully aware of it for the first time in years.

To all of you who are weakened in spirit, please be encouraged. Know that there is help out there, know that there is beauty in this world, know that if you do great things that it has no choice but to come back to you. If no one else tells you that you are beautiful and that your life is worth it today, let me willingly be that one.

Carpe diem, everyone.

Meet “The Gay Comic Geek”!

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Meet Paul Charles, the self-proclaimed “Gay Comic Geek,” sharing his love of the comic book world through his reviews and commentary. If you haven’t checked out his vlog postings on Youtube or checked out his website, do yourself a favor.

Paul reviews comics, movies, Anime and American cartoons, and the latest toys, figurines and other collectibles—not to mention porn and adult comics—on his posts and vlogs. Not only are his posts informative, showcasing mainstream as well as indie and gay comics and products that don’t get as much exposure as their peers, but Paul himself is charming, funny, and humble.

221820_144573368948367_105479816191056_263382_5131210_nComics are often considered a straight boy’s turf but Paul admits there are plenty of other gay comic geeks out there. “Unfortunately,” he admits, “we’re all so scattered about that it’s rare for large groups of us to be together,” and that’s where his website and postings comes in.

Below, Paul took a few minutes to provide the A’s to some of my Q’s concerning the evolution of Gay Comic Geek:

 

Q. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and became Spiderman. What bit you and turned you into “The Gay Comic Geek”?

A. I was honestly bored seeing all the straight comic book guys on Youtube talk about mainstream comics and I had a brainstorm with a co-worker to do Youtube vids. But it was supposed to be my co-worker that was supposed to be the Youtuber and I was just the idea man. But he backed out and left and I went ahead turned the camera on myself instead.

Q. What can fans discover when they check out your website and posts?

A. Well, they need to be prepared for porn. I grew up in a house of all men and we were never shy about talking about sex. Granted it was all hetero men, but still, porn and sex and jerking off was never a touchy subject. So I never knew that awkwardness that other people knew when it came to talking about porn and sex in secret. I always thought that everyone talked about it openly like you would talk about the weather. But I also put in a lot of geekiness to everything too. If I post about hot guys, I like to post about geeky costumed hot guys. Or about gay comic books.

Q. Aside from comics, what other topics do you cover in your posts?

24958_116059251753782_100000491223553_213726_1479091_nA. Well, like I said, porn. But I do like geeky porn, but there’s just not a lot out there. At least not gay geeky porn. There’s a new Man of Steel XXX parody coming out and even though it’s hetero stuff, I still really want to see it. I also just post about whatever is on my mind at that given time. Sometimes it’s Doctor Who related or sometimes it’s Anime/Super Sentai related.

Q. What has the response been to your posts on Youtube and your website?

A. Well my responses generally are positive. I get the stereotypical responses from haters that just leave the ‘Faggot’ remarks but that’s not too often. I do get gay haters too that say I shouldn’t talk about porn and stuff like that. I also get gay haters that think I’m hurting gay people by being too geeky and that I should focus on more gay topics that help gay rights and all that stuff. Most of those I usually ignore and move on. I do feel like I’m helping in my own way cause there’s not just one type of gay person in the world. There’s many types of us.
Q. How many comics do you have and where do you keep them?

A. I have lots of comics. I have no idea how many. Most are in storage except the most recent comics that have come out in the past 2 years. Those are in my computer room closet.

Q. I’m sure you’ve been told you’re too hot to reeeeally be a geek; so what gives you your geek cred?

196318_130007247071646_6697053_nA. Well, thanks for the ‘hot’ comment. But I’ve never been called hot until I started doing videos. Up to that point, everyone always just considered me that weird geeky guy that reads comics, costumes as superheroes and watches too much anime. My geekiness really scared a lot of guys off when I was younger. They’d come in to my apartment and see my toy collection and superhero posters and I’d never see them again. I had to ease guys into my lifestyle so they didn’t get totally weirded out and start thinking lowly of me because I never stopped watching Transformers or something like that. But what really makes me a geek is that my life revolves around sci-fi, superheroes and the fantasy genre. I collect action figures, I literally study comic books and I’m not the biggest authority on it, but I’m pretty well versed in the in animation. American, Japanese and some European animation is what I generally watch.

Q. What are the pros and cons of being a gay comic geek?

A. Pros: I get recognized a lot at conventions. I have some fans here and there that like to interact with me. And I get to talk about what I love most.
Cons: I get hate mail. But most of it is just people that I think are really sad with their own life. That’s it. I never really thought of any other cons.
Q. Comics are often considered a straight boy’s turf. Since starting your website and v-logs, have you found a lot of other gay comic geeks out there?

A. Oh yeah there’s tons of us out there. Unfortunately, we’re all so scattered about that it’s rare for large groups of us to be together. As it is now, my convention buddies are all straight. I’m like the token gay guy in the bunch. Which kinda makes me unique, but still it would be great to have more like-minded guys in my group. But I get tons of letters and messages from other gay geeks, some closeted for being gay and others closeted for being a geek.

Q. Do you get a lot of straight comic geeks checking out your videos and posts?

A. I get a few straight guys and girls here and there. But not a lot. Usually they’re people that just look at my hetero stuff that I post up. Or I have a couple friends that check out my vids that do it just to be a friend and help support me.

Q. Since we already mentioned your hotness factor, here comes the obvious question: boxers or briefs and why?

A. I’m a Boxers guy. They just fit more comfortably to me. I like the looseness. I did a vid once on my GayGeekyVlogs channel explaining that too.

Q. Oh, yes, I remember. What are your favorite:

Comics?

A. Uncanny Avengers and most Transformer comics.

Movies?

A. Fight Club and Lord of the Rings.

TV shows?

A. Doctor WhoTeen WolfHow I Met Your MotherSimpsonsFamily GuyArcherIt’s Always Sunny In PhiladelphiaAmerica DadSouth ParkTosh.0ShamelessDexterGame of Thrones.

Things to do on your time off?

A. Rest. I work a lot. I work out too but not enough. Not by a long shot. I also draw and make costumes.

Q. Obviously, superman’s alter-ego is Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter. If you don’t mind telling us, when you aren’t wearing your “Gay Comic Geek” uniform what is your day-to-day alter-ego?

A. I have several masks. Besides my GCG life, I have my con life, my punk life (very rarely seen now that I’m older), and my professional life. I’m the director of a substance abuse program that I’ve been working at for 8 years. I literally fly to other cities asking for grants and plead to the gov’t to keep my programs funded. I supervise a staff of around 22 people. It’s a lot of work but I’ve really busted my ass to get to where I am in my company.
Q. What’s in store for the Gay Comic Geek’s future?

A. Well I really never plan out too far ahead for my future. I have a lot of vids I want to do, but my day job comes first since that is how I pay my bills. So whatever I can get in between meetings and job related trips is what I post up. I do want to post up a couple vids on upcoming conventions and comic related reviews. But that’s more like business as usual. There’s a chance I may be in a TitanMen porn at the end of the summer. Don’t know if I can take off the time from work yet though.

 

Be sure to check out The Gay Comic Geek on his official website, his official Youtube channels (under the names Gay Comic Geek and Gay Geeky Vlogs; he started the Gay Geeky Vlogs channel to discuss certain of his interests that don’t deal directly with comic books but are still important to him), his Twitter account, Flickr account, and Instagram account. Whew! That’s a whole lot of geekiness to go through, but you won’t be sorry!

(All photos from The Gay Comic Geek’s Facebook page.)

Hey Kids, Let’s Put On a Show! Cast & Crew Talk About “Myrna” TV Pilot

Marlo Bernier stars in "Myrna," image by Darlie Brewster.

Marlo Bernier stars in “Myrna,” image by Darlie Brewster.

MGM musicals in the forties made it look so easy: all you needed to “put on a show” were Mickey and Judy, an old barn and some blankets, and enough small-town neighbors willing to pitch in and help. Today in 21st-century Hollywood it’s a little more difficult. For one thing, they charge for the barns and blanket rentals and the small-town neighbors willing to pitch in and help earn union wages.

It takes money, honey, not to mention time and dedication to your craft. Lots of people come to Los Angeles looking for stardom, or at least a steady paycheck and a chance at residuals. But once in a while someone comes along who is destined to add something to the collective consciousness—something like a television series. All you need are actors and actresses, producers and directors, and crew members—along with the aforementioned money, time and dedication—to come together and create something important and unforgettable.

Enter, from stage left, Marlo Bernier, carrying with her the makings for a new TV series called Myrna.

FINDING HERSELF

Photographs by Kerem Hanci Photography unless otherwise noted.

Photographs by Kerem Hanci Photography unless otherwise noted.

Once upon a time there was an actor named Mark Bernier, who found success as a consistently working actor on stage and screen. And then, as Bernier has previously joked, “My career just wasn’t tough enough, so I woke up one morning and decided to change my sex.” Bernier’s personal story is a little more complicated than that, of course, but it all boils down to the fact that Mark became Marlo, and the work dried up.

Making the transitions from male to female, from actor to actress, and from onscreen-performer to writer, director and producer, Marlo has had to grow in many unexpected directions. “I made a decision at the beginning of my transition to step out from in front of the lens because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore,” she admitted. “Not because I wasn’t capable of doing it technically, but I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is the reason I’m directing and writing now.’”

Stepping behind the camera, she and longtime producing partner Jennifer Fontaine worked on a couple of film shorts and a feature (which Marlo directed) before the idea for Myrna started to take shape. Transitioning from male to female requires far more than hormones and / or surgery; it involves a shift in attitudes, acceptance and self-acceptance, and a coming-to-terms with your place in a sometimes harsh world.

And that’s when Myrna entered the picture. Making the transition from Mark to Marlo laid the foundation for this groundbreaking new television pilot, a dramedy based “with some theatrical license” on Bernier’s own life and experiences. As she explains, “Myrna is a show about an actor who, after a modicum of success both in front of the camera and on the stage finally comes face to face with their true identity and makes the life-altering decision to transition from male to female.

“I can’t speak for the community, I can’t speak for fifty people. I can speak for me,” Marlo takes pains to emphasize. “I always hope that my work will help society or help people understand, or at least make people be compassionate. That’s all I ever ask. If you can’t fully get it, could you please attempt compassion? I know transsexualism is not easily understood. It’s not easy for me, either.”

THE EVOLUTION OF A SCRIPT

The subject of gender identity has been on everyone’s collective mind lately, what with the discussions surrounding Jared Leto’s performance and awards wins for Dallas Buyers Club last year, the speculation about Bruce Jenner, not to mention the success of the TV show Transparent and its own Golden Globe wins. But it’s a tough subject to discuss without it becoming prurient exploitation.

10537428_760061814045972_2584909311359217515_n“I’ve known Marlo for almost ten years,” explained Ted Campbell, who co-wrote and directed the pilot. “I first met her when she was Mark. So I’ve been around during the years of transition. We’ve worked on many projects together over the years—I AD’d her feature, she AD’d my short, we read each other’s scripts, gave notes, etc. During these years, she’d tell me stories about her day. And the more I heard, I kept saying we’ve got to write this stuff down! There was the expected. But there were also these little moments where people could be amazing.”

In real life Marlo has a therapist, one who has been with her throughout her transition. “She’d ask me every once in awhile, ‘Well, what kind of woman do you hope to become, or do you envision for yourself?’ And at first I just couldn’t answer the question because…I don’t think any of us, regardless of where we come from or what our philosophy is or whatever, have answers for everything. I think it takes time and we grow with it. But it finally dawned on me what my answer was: ‘What kind of a woman will you become?’ And I said to her finally, ‘The same kind I was as a man: kind. That’s what I hope to be, just kind.’”

And that realization also helps to define the character of Myrna Michaels, who finds the transition from male to female sometimes pales in comparison to the transitions from addict to sobriety, from emotional basket-case to fully-rounded human being, from child to responsible adult.

The script changed dramatically over its four years in development. Whole scenes were dropped, characters added, language toned down or bumped up. ”A very early version of the script had a more sitcom-style tone,” Ted Campbell explained. “More jokes, less ‘moments.’” And we weren’t totally comfortable with that. It wasn’t a natural fit for the things we like. So we went for more drama, allowing the comedy to come from the characters’ relationships and the moments in-between I really wanted to present the character of Myrna as a person struggling with things that we all struggle with. I didn’t want to make it about a transgender character, but about a character who is many things: friend, ex-lover, actor, addict…One of those ’things’ just happens to be that she’s trans.”

Marlo Bernier photographed by Marci Liroff.

Marlo Bernier photographed by Marci Liroff.

The character Myrna likewise has evolved and the changes in the script fleshed out her emotional range. It’s hard to capture a character’s history in a single episode, and while the temptation is there to make every scene into some kind of “message” it’s usually death to a script. The scenes have to develop organically and the writers have to trust the viewing audience will pick up any life lessons, even if it’s on a subliminal level.

A scene between Myrna pleading for reconciliation with her ex was written and added almost at the last minute. Award-winning actress Julie Carmen (who studied extensively under both Sanford Meisner and Uta Hagen and whose long list of credits include John Cassavetes’ Gloria) was cast as Steffi, who fell in love, once upon a time, with a man named Michael. Steffi faces a strange sort of widowhood, where Michael ceases to exist as he once had and has now been reincarnated into a woman named Myrna, and both must figure out how to move forward toward separate futures very different from the one they initially planned together.

“I love you,” Myrna tells Steffi. “I always have. I always will.”

“Michael, you gave that up,” responds Steffi. “You gave up ‘us’ so you could be ‘you.’”

It’s one of the major themes running through the series: the things one has to let go of, not always willingly, in order to move forward. A transition of any kind affects the lives of everyone involved–spouses and soul mates and friends and family members, and it’s not easy on any of them.

10524724_10152222036542821_350711107192623669_nOn top of life itself, Myrna is an actress. She faces reinventing herself in an already-established career. Hollywood is built upon brand-consciousness and the continuity of that brand; even a sitcom star who decides mid-career they want to tackle the stage often faces ridicule for being a “mere” TV star aspiring to Broadway stardom where the “real” actors work. It’s similar to what Lisa Kudrow’s character has to face on The Comeback, in dealing with age-conscious Hollywood.

Letting go of the past means also letting go of preconceived notions. Myrna Michaels is desperate for work in the entertainment industry, but when reality television comes calling (through her longtime manager, played by Paul McKinney), she balks. She wants work, but only on her terms.

“I’m not tabloid, Lewis!” she tells her manager.

“We’re all tabloid, sooner or later,” he informs her.

And therein lies the storyline for the series: finding yourself through whatever means necessary, even those unexpected, unthought-of means. Myrna can dismiss Reality Television as the enemy threatening to exploit her, but will she choose to exploit it first, in order to revive and reinvent her career? Will allowing that exposure help Myrna open up her mind and also help reality TV raise the bar and educate the masses?

This series is not really about a woman who used to be a man coming to terms with who she is in a cis-gender world. It is not really about an actress coming to terms with who she is in a show business that is more interested in the Kardashians than the films of John Cassavetes. It is about a human being who is pushing aside preconceived notions, chips on the shoulder, and the occasional personal demon to become the person she is best suited to be.

I’ve seen the Show Bible and there’s enough material for a full series running several years. The issues touched upon in the story arc are genuinely interesting and unexpected. It’s a well thought-out and unique series that is made for success.

THE COST OF SUCCESS

As for the fundraising, the production needed every penny they could get. Costs for producing a pilot include the actors, director of photography, lighting, sound, wardrobe, hair, and make-up. And then there are the post-production services such as editing, sound design, sound editing, music and score, music supervision, dialogue editing, color correction, titles and graphics, and all the rest.

An earlier fundraising effort two years prior fell short of the projected goal, but sometimes things work out for the better. A second attempt using the brand-spanking-new fundraising platform Fanbacked.com successfully raised the necessary amount in ten days flat, although predictably it was still a tight budget.

Out of a projected $25,000 goal, the fundraising effort raised a total of $34,699 (or 138% of the goal amount). Once the money was raised, then came the responsibility of not spending it too quickly. There was always the worry that production costs would exceed the estimated necessary amounts.

By mid-July, most of the locations were secured and the shooting schedule was locked down as well. “I’d rather be giving birth to Rosemary’s Baby,” Marlo joked, then wondered aloud, “How the f— am I ever going to get time to rehearse?!”

Myrna Executive Producer Jennifer Fontaine would later admit, ”You always know going into physical production what your problem areas will be. In addition to Executive Producing, I also Coordinated and Line Produced the show, so I knew the budget very intimately from very early on. With our limited finances, we had to make certain choices, literally stealing from Peter to pay Paul. Paying our cast and crew was number one. Locations and set design were number two. Luckily, we were very creative with social media and locking down donations for the costly items like delicious set food.”

THE INSIDE NOISE

A number of writers and bloggers helped get the word out about the fundraising efforts. Along with a profile of Marlo I had for West Hollywood Wives, other articles were written by Debra Pasquella, Rebecca Norris, and others.

Producing partner Jennifer Fontaine, during a rare moment of down time.

Producing partner Jennifer Fontaine, during a rare moment of down time.

One bright and sunny afternoon I popped in as Marlo and Jennifer Fontaine were being interviewed by Chrissy Carpenter and Barry Papick on The Inside Noise Show, a podcast taped live in the upstairs lounge at Mixology101 at The Grove. The group bantered back and forth as they discussed the fundraising efforts and what the show was all about. After the podcast, Marlo and Jennifer and I went downstairs and I took the opportunity to ask Fontaine about her feelings about the pilot.

“Myrna is everyone, anyone, who has ever woken up one morning and looked in the mirror and said, ’Who am I?’ realizing that you’re living for other people, not living for yourself,” she explains. “You need to make a change. And that’s why this story is so important, because Myrna has that strength within her to say, ‘I don’t care what other people think anymore. I’ve lived my life for everyone else, and now it’s time for me to be who I truly am.”

What does it take to become who you really are? That answer can range from ending relationships and getting rid of the negative people in your life to quitting drugs to getting a nose job to changing your gender. Everybody has something they are dealing with, and this just happens to be what Myrna Michaels is dealing with.

QUIET ON THE SET!

It’s the first day of filming, Tuesday, August 26, 2014, at The Westminster Presbyterian Church in Pasadena. The company already shot a scene involving a crowd of extras and set up for the next scene before breaking for lunch. When I arrived around noon, Marlo was standing in a small group outside the church, chatting away, holding a lit cigarette between two artfully extended fingers. She was dressed in a coral dress with pleated skirt, her blonde hair pulled back.

She made introductions to the others on break before we headed inside. As we entered the high-ceilinged chamber being used as a combination make-up trailer, mess hall and green room, Marlo gently tossed her pack of Camel 99′s on the long table. When we had lunch at a Silverlake cafe nine months earlier she’d lamented her struggle to break the habit but this wasn’t the week to worry about quitting smoking.

Candis Cayne sat nearby in a chair going over her lines while having her make-up retouched by Mary-Kate Gales. Assorted members of the cast and crew hunkered down at the long table eating lunch, ordered from Buca di Beppo. People magazine and Us Weekly make being on set look so glamorous and easy. As a TV star, Marlo should have been the first to enjoy the spectacle, but when you’re a TV star that’s also wearing the multiple hats of producer, writer, wrangler, gofer, and just about every other duty short of nursemaid and governess, you don’t have time to enjoy the floor show.

Executive Producer Jennifer Fontaine hovered in the background while scanning the room to see what needed to be done. Fontaine, her hair cropped in a pixie cut, looks as glamorous as a 21st-century answer to Audrey Hepburn, but she’s too busy cleaning up, wiping down tables and making sure the cast and crew got enough to eat to bask in the limelight.

After lunch it was time to head into the vast, cavernous sanctuary of the church, populated by lights and reflectors and other assorted electrical equipment. Everyone made sure not to trip over wires, of which there was no shortage. It was hot and dark. I wondered how the D. P. was able to even photograph the scene. Director of Photography Sam B. Kim hovered over the Arri Alexa camera and from a distance I watched the monitor. The shot looked dark to me, but I was assured that post-production would bump up the light and sound.

For many of the cast and crew members this is kind of like Old Home Week. Most, like Marlo, Jennifer Fontaine and Ted Campbell, have worked together on one or more projects. “I knew John Mattingly, who is the First A.D.,” said Stephanie Fugleberg, the Second Assistant Director for the pilot. “And he called and said, ‘Stephanie, will you be my second A.D.?’ And I said ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Tuesday, you’re on.’”

Toi Whitaker, who worked on Art Direction, acknowledged, “It’s good working with people you have a respect for and have worked with before, or enjoy them as people. That’s hard to come by in this industry.” Plus, there’s the added benefit of knowing someone’s true abilities, not to mention their temperament. In the old studio system, directors like John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock had their band of regulars working on each of their projects. When you know each other well you can use a kind of shorthand to communicate what’s needed to get a particular shot without taking additional time to explain it.

Despite any time-saving efforts on the part of the cast and crew, the motto on any set is, “Hurry up and wait,” but it doesn’t come from mere idleness. Just after the clapboard was clapped and the take was announced, “Scene 22, take 3,” a light blew. The already dim church became murkier, and there was a scramble to find a replacement bulb, while the actors had to cool their heels, remaining in the pew while waiting it out. Finally the light was back on, and everyone was ready to shoot take 4.

The church scene called for Myrna to meet up with her friend and mentor, Holland Hollis, played by Candis Cayne, who made a splash a few years ago playing Carmelita on ABC’s prime time drama Dirty Sexy Money (the role made her the first transgender actress to play a recurring transgender role on network television) and has had a recurring role on the Sherlock Holmes-inspired series Elementary on CBS.

Candis Cayne as Holland Hollis.

Candis Cayne as Holland Hollis.

“My agent called me and said there’s a pilot and they would love you to do it,” explained Candis. “I thought, it’ll be fun. I liked the script. It was funny. My character, Holland, was fun and yet deep. It looked like a cool thing. She transitioned a little early on and she had her party years, and now she’s responsible, a teacher, and a mentor to Myrna. Of course she still has her issues and stuff like that…and it’d be a fun character to unravel.”

She continues, “If it’s good writing, it tells a story that appeals to everyone in a certain way. If it’s written well and acted well, people can identify with that character. When I did Dirty Sexy Money, my character, along with Billy Baldwin, was a popular storyline on the show because it was a real relationship.”

I wanted to talk to director Ted Campbell when he had some down time, but he never did. ”We lost an actor a week out,” Ted Campbell admitted when I caught up with him much later, “and recast in the eleventh hour. We got behind a few days and had to rethink the shot list. But I knew the most important thing we had to get were the performances. The cool shot or beauty shot could get cut. I really wanted to have more coverage, but when you’re a low budget show with very little time, attempting to perfect a single shot can be more time consuming than coverage.”

"Action!"

“Action!”

Although the Myrna camp were scheduled to be done by 7 P.M. the shooting followed by takedowns lasted another hour and a half. Cameras and equipment had be be carefully packed up and the crew made a sweep around the church, going from room to room making sure everything was in pristine condition, just as it had been at the start of the day.

WHAT MYRNA FACES

It’s Day Five in shooting the pilot. Casting director Marci Liroff was one of three real-life casting veterans playing the role of a casting director put in the rather uncomfortable situation of declining to audition Myrna, for whatever reason, whether due to the character’s own discomfort, the presumed discomfort of her clients, or whatever reason. I asked Liroff (also an Executive Producer on the pilot and whose impressive resume includes finding actors for now-classic films including Blade Runner, E.T. —The Extraterrestrial, Footloose, and Mean Girls) for her own take on the hurdles the character Myrna faces as a semi-name actor-turned-newbie-actress, and the ways in which she may be viewed by the industry from now on.

“Marlo and Jennifer came to me a few years ago with this idea which wasn’t as ‘formed’ as it was this time around,” she explained. “I loved the concept and wanted to work with them so when it came around again, I jumped at the chance. The synchronicity was perfect.

“Personally, I had a hard time playing this role as written. I would never do what she did – refuse someone an audition. I would let her read, work with her, and give her a shot. I have respect for all actors. Yet, it was very well written in that it showed us how things are in the marketplace for someone like Myrna. What I believe my character was saying is that even though she wanted to put her through to the next step, she knew that there was simply no way her producers and filmmaking team would go for it.”

IT’S A WRAP

The wrap party was held Wednesday, January 14, 2015 at Oil Can Harry’s in Studio City. Marlo was dressed in a red sleeveless top, black skirt and “killer” (her words) heels. Jennifer Fontaine was dressed in a flowing cream colored top with slacks and heels. The sixty or so guests were made up of cast, crew and fans of Myrna. Instead of the usual dancing, a slideshow of set stills taken by photographer Kerem Hanci throughout the filming was projected before and after a special screening of the finished pilot.

This was the first time most of the cast and crew had seen the finished product and everyone agreed it looked “network-ready.” Despite the darkness of the church sanctuary, post-production had indeed brought out all the color and light. The finished pilot features a nifty jazz score originally composed by Regi Davis (and scored by Emir Isilay). Davis also plays a casting assistant in one of the scenes. Almost every time I talk to Marlo, I rave about that theme song.

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished,” admits Ted Campbell. “As a writer you’re trying to create a story, with a through-line, a beginning, middle and an end. As a director, you’re trying to capture moments. And all that time, we’re asking ourselves, ‘Do we have a show?’ It was later in the edit, cutting two shots together… I remember cutting a reaction shot to reaction shot between Marlo and Jen… and alone in the edit bay I’m cheering them on… ’cause we got it! A moment. And it’s those ‘moments’ that add up to a show. I remember texting Marlo and Jen from the edit bay, ‘We got a show!’”

Jennifer Fontaine agrees. “No matter how creative you are, if you’ve been through post-production before, you know it’s not going to be pretty and we had some challenges. I think what matters most is how you overcome those challenges and I was confident going in with the team that we had, that whatever we encountered would be surmountable. And I am so proud of every frame of the finished product. Proud of our team, proud of our message and proud of the courage of everyone who came together to tell this story of Myrna.”

At this writing, the pilot is being shopped around to the networks. If you want to see what the buzz is about, you can view the entire pilot episode for yourself for free on this link  on Vimeo as well as on Youtube. Share it with your friends and help spread the word. This is what the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) age is all about!

Stay tuned for more updates on Myrna and on Marlo Bernier.

 

Heterosexual Couples Denied the Right To Marry in Mobile

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Brian Fuller and Karen Baber were among the couples turned away Tuesday while trying to obtain a marriage license.

Marriage Equality took an odd turn today when more than a dozen heterosexual couples were turned away from getting marriage licenses today (Tuesday February 19th) in Mobile, Alabama.

Last month, a federal judge struck down a constitutional amendment and law that banned same-sex unions in Alabama. The judge put her ruling on hold until Monday, giving the U.S. Supreme Court time to intervene; but the Supreme Court said Monday it won’t step in with the Alabama case. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore threw the state into disarray when he ordered probate judges not to allow gay marriages, despite the ruling of the federal judge and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to interfere.

Probate offices around the state were groping over how to proceed. Three probate judges stated that rather than follow the state supreme court’s decision to allow gay couples to file for marriage licenses, they would not issue licenses to any couples, gay or straight.

Moore’s actions brought immediate comparisons to Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s vow of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” during the Civil Rights Era. Moore made a national name for himself in 2003 when he disobeyed a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state courthouse. He was forced from the bench back then, but re-elected to the state Supreme Court in 2012.

Despite Moore’s efforts, hundreds of jubilant couples have received marriage licenses in large cities, including Montgomery, Huntsville and Birmingham, making Alabama the 37th state where gay couples have been legally married. However, in a sad irony, couples, both gay and straight, faced disappointment in Mobile. Karen Baber and her fiance, Brian Fuller, took the day off from work to head to file for their marriage license, only to find themselves unable to.

“Everybody shouldn’t be punished,” Fuller was quoted as saying. “Obviously I understand everything is going on, but why should we be punished too?” he asked.

It’s a very good point. Why should Fuller and Baber, along with other heterosexual couples be punished? For that matter, why should homosexual couples, and why have they continued to be when it’s clear in which direction progress is headed?

One Ahead of David Bowie

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Need a word of encouragement after a long week at work or school? Then take heart with the following  words found online, and remember: no matter what happens, you’re already one ahead of David Bowie:

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Norm’s La Cienega Coffee Shop Faces Demolition

The Norm's at 470-478 La Cienega Boulevard, near the Beverly Center.

The Norm’s at 470-478 La Cienega Boulevard, near the Beverly Center.

The Los Angeles Conservancy just posted the following on their Facebook page, and with both cities of Los Angeles’s and West Hollywood’s track records on tearing down cultural landmarks, we took notice.

“We just learned that the new owners of Norms La Cienega have a demolition permit for the iconic Googie coffee shop at 470-478 La Cienega Blvd. The Conservancy and our Modern Committee submitted a local landmark nomination for Norms late last year that the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission will hear tomorrow (Thursday). We don’t anticipate the new owners acting on their demo permit today, but just in case, if you’re in the area, please keep an eye on it. If you see anything happening – such as the removal of the signage (fence going up, big equipment, guys in hard hats), please call the Conservancy immediately at (213) 623-2489. We’ll keep you posted.”

This particular Norm’s was built in 1957 by architects  Louis Armet and Eldon Davis and is a great (and increasingly rare) example of “Googie” design, which was once a commonplace style used in diners and coffee shops.

Already the comments posted below the posting were gearing up for a fight. “How many of those who want to save this place actually ate there?” asked one online commentator. “Maybe they’d still be in business. Save the building for what? Who will compensate the owner?”

These are very valid points. When an object or location has outlived its usefulness, shouldn’t it be replaced, especially in a busy city that continues to thrive and grow?  Places have life spans, just like people do, and people do not live forever.  Norman Royback opened his first restaurant in 1949 at Sunset and Vine and the chain grew to become a staple in L.A. The chain remained in the family until 2014.

To answer the above-mentioned commentator, I personally have eaten there numerous times and the place was always hopping, so I don’t feel bad for the developers who bought the property. When a location is already considered something of a cultural and stylistic landmark, why would you buy it in the first place if you’re not in the restaurant business? Clearly they planned to tear it down from the beginning, regardless of how well it was doing.

The so-called Googie style is a distinctly Los Angeles-based futuristic style, developed in the mid-1940′s and continuing through the mid-1960′s, inspired by car culture, jets, the Atomic Age, and the Space Age. Many examples of Googie architecture have been demolished over the years, and while this might be good news to those who want everything in Los Angeles to look like the same bland, culturally stale breadbox, this is after all a tourist town.

When most of the shops lining Rodeo Drive can be found in local shopping malls in Peoria or Cincinatti, why would tourists bother coming here? The answer is simple: to see the things they can’t see at home. Movie and TV stars. Sunshine and warm weather in the winter months. And the rapidly-dwindling list of pop cultural landmarks where people like Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and any number of other celebrity once frequented. And if there is no Chateau Marmont, forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, or Formosa Cafe to see in Hollywood Babylon, then why come here at all?

To learn more about this issue check out the Los Angeles Conservancy website.

Take That, Anita Bryant! Gay Marriages Performed in Miami-Dade County

Same-sex couples and their attorneys in Miami celebrate Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel’s decision to lift the legal stay she had placed on her July decision declaring Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. EMILY MICHOT MIAMI HERALD STAFF.

Same-sex couples and their attorneys in Miami celebrate Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel’s decision to lift the legal stay she had placed on her July decision declaring Florida’s gay-marriage ban unconstitutional. EMILY MICHOT MIAMI HERALD STAFF.

Today, Monday, January 5, 2015, is a very special day for Florida. Miami-Dade County has become the first place in Florida allowing legal recognition of gay marriage, half a day before a gay-marriage ban that has been ruled unconstitutional is lifted in the rest of the state. Same-sex couples are now able to marry in 36 states and Washington D.C. The ruling also means gay marriages performed outside Florida will be recognized in Miami-Dade.

While the event itself is of great social importance, the location itself –Miami-Day County–holds a special meaning to gay rights activists who remember the seventies, and the struggles taking place on a socio-political level at the time.

Armistead Maupin, photographed by Chris Turner in 2009.

Armistead Maupin, photographed by Chris Turner in 2009.

Armistead Maupin, the celebrated author of the Tales of the City series, posted a special message on his Facebook post today. “Thirty-eight years ago, on stage at the Castro Theater, I read Michael Tolliver’s coming-out Letter to Mama for first time in public,” he wrote. “That event — the ‘Moon Over Miami’ benefit — raised money to fight Anita Bryant’s hateful anti-gay ‘Save Our Children’ campaign in Miami-Dade County. Today in Miami-Dade gay couple,s were legally married for the very first time.

“Thirty-eight years. That’s how long it took. But justice prevailed at last.”

While some who remember the pre-Stonewall era expressed amazement at the progress that has been made over the past four decades, others are looking forward to the day when we can willingly value love above prejudice without the need for a federal judge’s order.

Be Still, My Rapid Heart TV!

Journalist, film historian, and all-around raconteur David Del Valle.

Journalist, film historian, and all-around raconteur David Del Valle.

Our very own David Del Valle–journalist, film historian, and all-around raconteur–has written a few articles for West Hollywood Wives, but his misadventures have gone beyond the written page (and web page) and made it big on the small screen.

His first love has always been movies, beginning with the horror films he fell in love with in childhood, and branching out all over the map from there. He recently began a new column in Chris Alexander’s Delirium magazine, along with his regular Camp David column on the Films In Review website. In the 1980′s David hosted his own talk show on cable called The Sinister Image, on which he interviewed cult figures ranging from film directors Curtis Harrington and Russ Meyer to actors like his close friend Vincent Price. Recently, David teamed up with director and producer David De Coteau to host a series of movies streaming on De Coteau’s Rapid Heart TV channel.

1313WICKEDSTEPBROTHERRapid Heart Productions offers a dazzling array of eye candy, ranging from De Coteau’s original movies like Voodoo Academy 2 and Wicked Stepbrother (which might not have won many Oscars but won many, many fans with their scantily-clad cast members) to a bevy of vintage cult and genre spectacles grouped together into several collections hosted by David Del Valle and featuring names like Camp Grindhouse, Sinister Image, and Ghoul, Please!

The Ghoul, Please! collection includes horror flicks like Tower of Evil, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Joan Crawford’s swansong, Trog. The Camp Grindhouse collection includes a campy selection of titles like Airport ’77, the Bette Davis howler Dead Ringer, and the rarely seen The Gay Deceivers.  Del Valle’s intros offer up informative tidbits about the feature you’re about to watch. His comments about 1969′s The Gay Deceivers is particularly interesting since he was a friend of one of the film’s stars, Michael Greer (and has written extensively about him for West Hollywood Wives).

Check out David’s introductions as well as the cinematic splendor offered up by Rapid Heart. And during the holidays, what could be better than staying home and watching some fun movies and some hot guys?


David Del Valle introducing The Gay Deceivers.

Here’s to the Lady Who Lunched: Goodbye, Elaine Stritch!

Broadway icon Elaine Stritch.

Broadway icon Elaine Stritch.

I’d like to propose a toast: to the lady who lunched, who occasionally chewed scenery, and who was a character actress with great character but also great dignity, great honesty, great fears she faced, and great star power. She was more than a broad from Broadway, she was a Lady of the Theatre in the proper sense, a student of finishing schools and also the University of Hard Knocks.

The unforgiving microphone: recording "The Ladies Who Lunch" on the cast recording of "Company" proved harrowing for Stritch who flubbed her way through take after take. The next day she nailed it and the song became her signature tune.

The unforgiving microphone: recording “The Ladies Who Lunch” on the cast recording of “Company” proved harrowing for Stritch who flubbed her way through take after take. The next day she nailed it and the song became her signature tune.

I saw her perform live and she was at one with the stage, a zen exercise in which the lines and lyrics didn’t matter. She could have stood on stage and read the Hong Kong telephone directory aloud and literally no one in the theatre would have cared. It was a chance to bask in some good old-fashioned star quality.

Having worked in talent agencies in Los Angeles and Chicago I have met some of the most beautiful men and women in the world, I have known some very recognizable names, and had the pleasure to know a great many hardworking actors and actresses whose work is solid and who are consummate professionals. But you can spot a class act like Elaine Stritch a mile away and as the old cliche goes, they don’t make ‘em like her anymore. “Everybody rise!”

Poised to Shatter the Glass Ceiling: Meet Marlo Bernier!

Triple-threat actress-writer-director Marlo Bernier.

Triple-threat actress-writer-director Marlo Bernier.

When Jared Leto was nominated then won the Golden Globe and Academy Awards for Best Actor for his performance as a transgender character in Dallas Buyers Club, reactions to Leto’s being cast in the role were mixed throughout the mainstream and transgender communities.

Dallas Buyers Club director Jean-Marc Vallee further diluted any positive message his film might have offered when he was quoted by Time magazine asking, “Is there any transgender actor? To my knowledge—I don’t know one…I’m not aiming for the real thing. I’m aiming for an experienced actor who wants to portray the thing.”

Whether it was the case or not, Vallee’s quotes were taken by many as signs of Hollywood laziness and an apparent refusal to leave the comforts of a studio office in search of talent outside of a limited A-list circle. Not only are there transgender actors and actresses out there, but some of them also possess a vast array of experience in the acting field, not to mention talent.

One of them is Marlo Bernier.

Once upon a time there was an actor named Mark Bernier, who found success as a working actor on stage and screen. And, as Bernier has previously joked, “My career just wasn’t tough enough, so I woke up one morning and decided to change my sex.” Bernier’s personal story is a little more complicated than that, of course, but making the transition from Mark Bernier to Marlo laid the foundation for a groundbreaking new television pilot called Myrna, a dramedy based “with some theatrical license” on Bernier’s own life and experiences.

As she explains, “Myrna is a show about an actor who, after a modicum of success both in front of the camera and on the stage finally comes face to face with their true identity and makes the life-altering decision to transition from male to female.”

Television programs have often used humor to win over an audience, while still making a point regarding social change or understanding. Producer Norman Lear’s groundbreaking body of work is an obvious blueprint: shows like All In the Family, Maude, Good Times, and One Day at a Time brought people from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences into mainstream American homes, using humor to deliver the basic message that underneath the surface we’re all the same. Whether it was lower middle-class Archie Bunker or upwardly-mobile George Jefferson, recently-divorced Ann Robinson or the struggling-to-make-ends-meet Evans family, the characters on these shows illustrated our common bonds, becoming members of our collective family.

Marlo Bernier as Myrna Michaels.

Marlo Bernier as Myrna Michaels.

And now Marlo Bernier wants us to welcome Myrna Michaels as an addition to that family. Bernier co-wrote the script and will play the title role alongside a gifted ensemble cast. The script is funny, heartfelt and thoughtfully written. While many sitcoms choose laughs over heart—or vice-versa—and paint their characters in stark black-and-white contrasts, Myrna paints its characters in varying shades of gray. Not all the characters are always likable, and they aren’t meant to be, because they are realistic human beings with foibles and frailties, living within a story arc allowing them room for growth.

“I can’t speak for the community, I can’t speak for fifty people. I can speak for me,” Marlo takes pains to emphasize. “I always hope that my work will help society or help people understand, or at least make people be compassionate. That’s all I ever ask. If you can’t fully get it, could you please attempt compassion? I know transsexualism is not easily understood. It’s not easy for me, either.”

Her Myrna compatriots, cast and crew members, are all in agreement that this is an important story to tell and one delivered using the proper tone.

“There has never been anything like this before, ever, in the history of films or television,” says fireball actress Alexandra Billings, one of the show’s co-stars. “There is no such thing as a television show whose central character is transgender.”

That’s why Bernier & Co. have teamed up with Brad Wyman’s brand-new online crowd-sourcing platform Fanbacked.com in order to raise the budget to shoot and deliver the pilot episode.  You can find the Myrna TV show page here at greenlight.myrnatvshow.com. The fundraising video features Bernier briefly discussing Myrna. “It’s not just about a boy who is a girl,” she explains to viewers. “It’s about the human connection. And ultimately it’s about all of us striving to be who we really are.” Even the show’s theme song, a jazzy, sophisticated score composed by Regi Davis (a friend and colleague of Marlo & Co.) which plays in the background of the video, hints at the level of things to come.

“We need a voice,” Billings said, “because the only time we’re represented on television or on film is when we’re sick, getting ready to be sick, or dying…This is an actual group of people who live on the planet. These aren’t cartoons, they’re not stereotypes.”

Having moved past the typical man-in-a-dress routine we’ve now graduated to something with a little more depth. “It’s time that we started telling our own jokes, don’t you think?” Marlo asks rhetorically, giving a clue what to expect from the show’s writing. Instead of being maudlin and delivering its message with a heavy-handed sermon, it’s got bite, humor, and subtlety. Above all it wants to entertain its audience.

“I only ever wanted to assimilate,” says Marlo. “I’m not Dame Edna, I’m not a drag act.” And the character Myrna is dealing with the same emotions, realizations and milestones in the course of the show’s storyline.

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Bernier’s offscreen journey has been every bit as interesting as Myrna’s onscreen one. Born a heterosexual male on the East Coast, Bernier made the choice to pursue acting.

“When I came to L.A. I had a decent amount of experience, primarily theatre. It’s there I cut my teeth, and yes, I was known in Baltimore. I wasn’t a celebrity, but people knew my work and kept hiring me. I did a lot of work at AXIS Theatre, which was at the time a cutting-edge theatre company. I did good work with other companies, too, but I did a lot of my work at AXIS.

“I was Taft-Hartleyed into SAG on my first film job in 1977. I was eighteen years old. I worked with Alan Arkin and Richard Jordan and Shirley Knight and Donald Pleasance and Ted Shackelford in a movie-of-the-week when there were only three channels to choose from. That’s how old I am!”

“I did a guest star role on Homicide: Life on the Streets. I did an indie film. I worked for John Waters, I did Cecil B. Demented. When I came here I had my SAG card and didn’t have that struggle to overcome, but it was almost two years to the day before I booked my first job [here]. There’s a long wait in line. I booked a guest star in the second episode of the first season of Cold Case with Kathryn Morris. It was a great role. Paris Barclay directed me, a famous director, now the president of the DGA. They booked me on a week and I think I shot three or four days. I did Alias, I did Las Vegas.”

“One of the last things I did, I worked for David Fincher on Zodiac. I was on IMDB credits a year before the film was released and it was right before the premiere and I had a new agent. I said, ‘Can you get me into the premiere?’ And she said, ‘Okay, I’ll see what I can do.’ All of a sudden she goes, ‘You’re not listed on the IMDB anymore.’ I’d been cut. And I still get residuals, which is the oddest thing ever. You see me in the background but you don’t see my mouth move. It’s possible I’m in the director’s cut or something. I know I’m not the only person in Hollywood to ever get cut, but I needed that one really badly.”

But that’s showbiz, baby. And as they say, where one door closes, another one opens, and that’s where Myrna fits in. Making the transitions from male to female, from actor to actress, and from onscreen-performer to writer, director and producer, Marlo has had to grow in many unexpected directions.

“I made a decision at the beginning of my transition to step out from in front of the lens because I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore,” she admits. “Not because I wasn’t capable of doing it technically, but I thought, ‘Well, maybe this is the reason I’m directing and writing now.’”

Making the segue into writing, she co-wrote a couple of indie film scripts before the idea for Myrna started to take shape. Transitioning from male to female requires far more than hormones and or, surgery; it involves a shift in attitudes, acceptance and self-acceptance, and a coming-to-terms with your place in a sometimes harsh world.

In real life Marlo has a therapist, one who has been with her throughout her transition. “She’d ask me every once in awhile, ‘Well, what kind of woman do you hope to become, or do you envision for yourself?’ And at first I just couldn’t answer the question because…I don’t think any of us, regardless of where we come from or what our philosophy is or whatever, have answers for everything. I think it takes time and we grow with it. But it finally dawned on me what my answer was: ‘What kind of a woman will you become?’ And I said to her finally, ‘The same kind I was as a man: kind. That’s what I hope to be, just kind.’”

And that realization also helps to define the character of Myrna who finds the transition from male to female sometimes pales in comparison to the transitions from addict to sobriety, from emotional basket-case to fully-rounded human being, from child to responsible adult.

Marlo’s background as a performer long-since prepared her for everything she and Myrna have to face. “My mantra is, ‘Deny nothing, invent nothing, tell the truth,’” and she quotes John Cassavetes when she says, “We as artists must be willing to risk it all.”

To check out the Myrna TV show fundraising page on Fanbacked.com and hear Marlo discussing the project in her own words, click here.