Monday, April 2, 2012

Reefer, My Madness

Directed by Christian Hepcat Heppinstall
Graphic Design & Image Capture by Richard Larson

Reefer, My Madness

My madness with reefer all began when I was fired from directing a show about marijuana—Reefer Madness the Musical – because I had sent an eBlast promoting it that wound up in the hands of a big funder who wanted nothing to do with it because the Michele Bachmanns, in D.C., would torpedo the funder for pushing drugs by cutting their funding from the Department of Education (DOE) – the same department Rick Perry wanted to ax if his dream of the presidency had been realized.

Whew, but really, that’s what happened. My madness with reefer ended only a few months later when my aged mother – who suffered from cancer —rejected marijuana because the high made her feel too odd and wobbly. Wobbly is a concern at 90 years of age, especially when she hasn’t yet had that fall that breaks hips. Plus, things were hard enough with the cancer that eventually killed her.

How could this be that I was fired by a well-known transgendered director of a very liberal arts organization that had been founded by out, proud and loud fags who became Alaska’s most vitriolic marriage proponents, you ask? I myself asked this question a lot and it took until April 2011 – six months after I was fired in October 2010 –to get the answers. 

Jimmy Harper's first inhale turns him into a bad boy. Director: Hepcat

But let’s back up and talk about myself and marijuana. I’m neither a user nor a buyer nor a pusher of the weed. I do support its legalization – a hot button issue in California, my new state of residence, especially in my new home of Oakland, an urban metropolis dotted with medical marijuana dispensaries, including four approvals by the City Council for new medical marijuana dispensaries. And Alaska, where I was fired, has had a possession law for years. So why was I fired?

It all began when the organization in question – VSA/OutNorth –hired me as its temporary marketing director. Low on funds as usual – its chronic problem – it asked me, the most out and outrageously reputed theater director in Alaska –to direct some shows, knowing that those I had directed – Rocky Horror; Hair; and a live political satire about gay marriage, DADT, DOMA and porn (of all things) in its venue in times past had brought in oodles of cash and new patrons for its other programs.

Sounds like a win-win for both sides. The organization had a new director who had never run a company before, but who was a well-known transgendered performer whipping transgender issues nationally. Those who had run companies before in Alaska in the arts – and were highly respected for their work – were tossed aside so that this person could be hired and bring the org some culturally hip renown and potentially more contributions.

At the annual board meeting I floated the idea of starting with Reefer Madness the Musical (among five other titles) due to its excellent musical score, script and cult following that would be sure to pull in an audience; this suggestion came after long discussions with said executive director who enthusiastically supported it. Unanimously, the board and executive staff supported the idea with huge chuckles and knowing winks with stories of college puffing sessions. Off to a good start.

Jimmy Harper didn't listen to Jesus so he is about to be executed. Director: Hepcat
So, in marketing the show, I put out an eBlast that also touted other programs, such as a lesbian film festival. These ran in what is called a Patronmail, an electronic eBlast to the org’s patron base, et al. To garner attention, I included a satirical call for recipes for the “Reefer Madness Marijuana Cookbook” and provided a hyperlink to the State of Alaska Medical Marijuana Program, directing the curious or needy to the official legal pages explaining how it all works in Alaska. A good deed for the public and a satirical wink about recipes in a state with famous possession laws. Oops.

Oops again. The D.C.-based funder – VSA – choked when it received the eBlast and promptly cancelled a huge annual grant Out North unwisely relied upon for two-thirds of its operating budget for five years running. Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket. In the space of five days—over Veterans’ Day weekend – I was both fired as the marketing director on Monday, but also fired by the same unanimous board on Tuesday.

Not so fast. I held the rights of performance from the publisher in my name, which meant I could take the show with me wherever. And that is what happened.

I met with the entire band, cast and crew. I explained the situation to them and put it to a vote that Wednesday. They were horrified by what had happened, particularly the Facebook denunciation of me by the executive director. The vote was unanimous to move the show and to put a letter to the editor in the Anchorage Daily News instead of Facebook.

I was stunned. How could I be fired by this cutting-edge, very progressive organization notorious for tweaking the Collective Social Nose of Alaskans with performing and visual arts presentations addressing just about everything naughty and misunderstood? I received huge support as did my cast, but no one could understand why Out North did such a thing. 

From one puff Jimmy Harper goes to hell with Satan's dancers. Director: Hepcat

Out North dispatched a delegation of VIPs (including a representative from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich’s staff) to the VSA office for a sit-down to examine the situation and see if the grant money could be returned. VSA calmly explained that the current and prevailing political winds (i.e. Tea Party and their ilk plus all the usual suspects running for office in 2012, including Mr. Obama, who is fighting hard against medical marijuana) made VSA quite vulnerable to losing its DOE funds because many loud politicians wanted that department shuttered. Aside from that, VSA had no problem with the outrageous content of art presented yearly by Out North. That said, VSA couldn’t be seen giving funds in support of marijuana or lesbian film festivals. Gag. Really? In 2011? Yes, really.

So what’s an organization to do when such a huge grant is yanked? Well, hysterically fire those responsible for associating grant funds with such art projects for one. That worked really well in hindsight. 

What that knee-jerk response did do was publicly challenge Out North’s 26-year reputation for presenting in-your-face art. It looked like they bowed to conservatives, and essentially that’s what it did with hopes of holding onto the Big Money.

Fast forward to March when the executive director tearfully appealed to the Municipal Arts Commission for funds to replace the VSA funds. In this meeting I was further denounced as a menace to arts organizations by two of the commissioners. This embarrassed the Anchorage Ballet, on whose board I was president, when those commissioners chastised the Ballet ED for having me as the board president: i.e. I am too risky to have in that position.

If only those making the denunciations knew the whole story – one I didn’t find out until a month after this hearing. Out North scored the largest award they ever got and the largest in 2010: $16,000. Peanuts versus the $80k VSA yanked.

Meanwhile, over at Providence Hospital Oncology Center, the hospice team signed up my elderly mother and I to be legal carriers of state-issued medical marijuana cards.  Oh, the irony.

Funny thing, though, with these cards: Alaska has no such dispensaries as we have here in California. So Alaskans have to break the law to obtain marijuana. To further the irony, an Out North staffer offered to do just that! Did I obtain pot for Mom? I’ll let you answer that one. But let me ask you: What would you do if it was your parent or loved one suffering from cancer? 

"The Brownie Song" finds Jimmy Harper cavorting with other reefer addicts.
Director: Hepcat

Let’s continue the irony. The oncology center hospice team has cancer survivors on its staff. They were lovely. They sent us a bunch of what? Marijuana food recipes! Heck, the things you can put pot in besides brownies.

I didn’t know about any of this stuff nor did my nonagenarian mom. The recipes were all nicely bundled together like a cookbook with hand scribbled notes wishing us well and giving a few cooking or baking pointers. All so very Hallmark with a personal and loving and totally sincere touch.

I confess to tears upon receiving it knowing that mom and I were embarking on a new road in her living with cancer. How lovely some people can be.

I then embarked on a brief study of marijuana culture in the U.S. It seems we really are having the Pot War of all Pot Wars, and here I get caught in the middle of it.

Propaganda from 1930s America that the Tea Party and Taliban would approve of.

Folks, I’m just directing a show about marijuana that everybody saw in college and laughed at during the midnight cinema showing. This musical is about the hysteria surrounding good kid gone bad –Jimmy Harper –who, with one puff, becomes a reefer addict. It addresses the anti-pot hysteria and frenzy fostered by William Randolph Hearst and his press organs in the ‘20s and ‘30s. Hysteria? Frenzy? Tea Party? America in the 2010s? You betcha!

Yet, all kidding aside, we are culturally at war. Here in the Bay Area I’m bombarded by stories of government repression on the federal and sometimes local level against the medical marijuana industry: growers, dispensaries, retail suppliers, etc. The Obama administration has reversed course and is now having federal agents raid such businesses in California – a state that has already legalized medical marijuana. In Sacramento, four state big shots supported the Obama onslaught. And this morning, six blocks north of my apartment building in downtown Oakland, the Feds busted Oaksterdam University! Who says Obama ain't tough on crime?

Back in March, when I was directing my final show in Alaska – Cabaret – Mom was given a little bit of a pot brownie. She flew and had hallucinations about jumping out of a window. Her radiation oncologist –who had prescribed Marinol – had never heard of such a thing. But he then advised trying Marinol, which we did. Little clear gel tablets. Six for about $100 since Medicare won’t cover them for anybody under Section D unless in cancer chemotherapy or an AIDS-patient. I took one and Mom took one. I slept fine. She crawled the walls.

Damn, so this didn’t help her sleep either; she was a chronic insomniac, something that exacerbated her cancer by making her more tired and less energetic. The Marinol pills were accidentely knocked down the drain by me in my bathroom; I laughed bitterly as I watched them disappear.

My mother--Allison--who at 90 got her State-issued medical marijuana card for terminal cancer. In Alaska she would have been forced to break the law to obtain marijuana to treat her nausea and give her appetite. Reefer Madness would be the last of my shows she was able to see. She loved it.

So, from mid-October to late March, I went mad with reefer. Yes, despite having been fired because of it and having it rejected by Mom, the madness was tempered by the excellent musical theater production that came out of the flames of hysteria and destruction.

A merry band of socially-inspired  brothers and sisters formed in this cast and they thumbed their noses at censorship and the selling-out of artistic principles for Big Money. Reefer Madness the Musical ran mostly sold-out shows and garnered a bunch of good press and notices for my actors and band. A hit. Redemption.

In my favorite Anchorage bar – The Cheechako/Reilly’s – I was advised in April to take the High Road. Others whom I respect had offered the same advice. It was the advice I got all along. And I took it. I never said anything adverse officially or publicly, even when my name was being dragged through the mud in a very public forum where everybody knew me and my work.

So why am I writing now? It’s important during this Cultural Pot War we are fighting in this country for all those to tell the truth who have been screwed by pot’s opponents for supporting medical marijuana and legalization in general. What happened in Anchorage, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., in October 2010 between Out North, VSA and myself is a cautionary tale and a community lesson painfully learned for all involved.

There are morals to my story. First: Art has no master to fetter it; don’t let the bullies tell you, the artist, what you can or can’t do because they won’t fund you. Second: When you run an arts non-profit organization truthfully spend restricted grant funds or let other non-profits  who are better placed apply for and spend those funds. Third:  When you publicly libel and blame blameless folks, exercise good manners and apologize for your social transgressions.

And fourth: Take the High Road. It feels great...
The great finale of Reefer Madness the Musical.
Director: Hepcat

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On Tsunamis, Defending Freedom and Dogs

I am never so driven to prayer these days as when I read of fellow human Rush Limbaugh mocking the suffering survivors of the Japanese earthquake. Akin to kicking a man when he is down, I can only wonder at such thoughtless cruelties expressed by this influential public figure. I pray for his cold, dead and mean soul that light will reach into him and create a better human being. 

Am I ashamed to be an American these days? Yes and no is my honest answer. I'm never so proud of this country as when our military is put to use in helping out when disaster strikes. It seems we are always there first. I think that this is great public relations for our democratic republic and I think it is a great way to spend our tax dollars and I think it is a great way to win friends and influence enemies. We made a friend of Japan from a very troubled time. They can count on us. This isn't the case in the Middle East that now roils with demands for liberty, justice, freedom and representation, all things we fought our friends, the British, to win for ourselves. Yet, we often are on the side of the hated strongman and in this case it is Gadaffi of Libya. Perhaps we'll be forgiven for propping up Mubarak of Egypt. But if our country doesn't help the Libyans beat back this ferocious tyrant at the very moment they need us and the world, then they'll never forgive us. We must always valiantly defend our liberties and democratic ideals when situations like this arise. How we could throw over these things because of something as slimy as oil is beyond me. We as a nation either defend these principles to the world and help those who also want them and are fighting for them, or we are sad hypocrites worthy of mockery. I don't think any American wants to be thought of that way. Our leadership in Washington must rally to help the Libyans with a no-fly zone and a battleship in the Bay of Bengazi to fire upon the tyrant's air force and to provide relief supplies: medical, food and water. We must call upon our allies to help, and they will; the French have been demanding this. If Obama and those others who waffle at this time of great need lose this battle then they will cause this nation to lose face. I call on our leaders to do the right thing for defending great democratic ideas and not oil. Think about it: after facing huge criticism, some rightly, because of the Mess O'Potamia/Iraq many in the Arab world still look to us for help in these situations. Odd, isn't it? But something we only ignore at our peril. Freedom, as we well know, does not come freely to those desiring it, as we have seen from Morocco to Jordan.

Man's Best Friend is Also a Dog's...
Dogs. Three observations. It's inspiring to watch man's best friend sniff for life and death in the rubble of Japan. It's inspiring to watch a scared dog reject the help of rescuers because it wants to help its wounded canine companion by staying with him (click here to view video). It's inspiring to watch survivors with their dogs on their leashes standing in relief lines. This is especially inspiring after seeing pets torn from the arms of their tearful masters after Hurricane Katrina. Final thought: how could we live on this Earth without this lovely animal? I wonder if we'd really want to. Perhaps a nice dog would provide a much-needed heart for Rush. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011


By M. Christian Heppinstall

Contemplating Mission Dolores, San Francisco, January 2011

Today is my 51st birthday. I was born at 11.30pm on this day 51 years ago in Miami, Florida   in Mercy Hospital to Allison Ella and Leslie Heppinstall. At that time there were already two sisters who now are really old in comparison to me: Brooke & Leslie.  Me: the Ur-young man; Me: a Peter Pan for his time; I just don’t think I’ll ever grow up.

As I write this I’m listening to TV show tunes that I grew-up listening to in the 60s. I used to love my Saturday mornings as a kid in front of the giant Magnavox that occupied a corner of the living room like the Monolith of 2001: A Space Odyssey. I always ran to the TV when I heard the Bugs Bunny show music; he is still my favorite. But I liked the theme music to Lost in Space best although I thought Dr. Smith creepy. Now I realize how daring he was for those times; thank you Dr. Smith for introducing me to unabashed flamboyance, well, as flamboyant as one can be when acting opposite a smart aleck robot.

So, this morning I awoke in a strange house to a dog that isn’t mine. His name is Taz and I’m babysitting his Australian shepherdness while his masters are away. I spent most of the day shopping for clothing not meant for me; dammit. No, but for costumes for my star who will play Sally Bowles in my second production of Cabaret. We shopped all over Anchorage, hitting five thrift stores and a sexy, naughty lingerie store. We bought two items and unusually for me, I found nothing that caught my fancy.

I also bought twelve antique chairs because I want to stage Mel Brook’s Twelve Chairs. Just kidding, these are for the Mein Herr dance routine in Cabaret. I had searched all over Anchorage and San Francisco and dur, the last place I looked had them—and in Anchorage of all places.  The chairs are the Thonet bent wood cafĂ© chairs that were so common to European cafes in that Berlin of the 30s, the type of chair Sally Bowles would have sat upon all over Berlin.  “Konsumstuhl No. 14” dates to its 1859 prototype  and designed by Michael Thonet.  50 million were produced until 1930. It was the first chair—according to Wikileaks—that in the fashion of IKEA was mass produced and sent into the world in crates in pieces where upon delivery one had to screw them together with instructions. Hopefully the screws were included and the instructions not just in German. I own ten that look like this chair and a pair with a slight design detail difference in the backrest. Four are knock-offs made in Romania, which is cool. This is crazy but I want that detail on stage and none of the other theatres have that many. When I threatened to buy other chairs from Target for $39 apiece the antiques dealer caved and met that price and I got all of them. I can’t figure out who got screwed in this bargain, me or him, but as Cabaret’s Frau Schneider (imagine Lotte Lenya) would say to Cliff and Sally, “So What?”

I fielded calls from my two sisters. We all get along and rarely argue, which is nice. Mom gave me $100 hidden in my birthday card; it’s already spent. I got a gazillion wishes for a happy birthday on Facebook, which I really appreciated. I like Facebook for making these social networkings very easy.

In the post I got a box from a fellow who is sweet on me (take hits of oxygen here, if you must, but some people do romantically notice me; some, not many, and this guy has a pulse, so it’s all good). Each gift was carefully wrapped and not sloppily, either, I might add, a sure sign that he is gay. And each one made me smile and think how nice and unusual he is. It’s nice to smile about something like that.

The author at Ocean Beach, San Francisco, January 2011

In another shopping frenzy I attempted to buy a Sony Bloggie to replace my moviecam that was stolen from me at Devil’s Slide by Neptune. Actually, I got knocked down by a big wave and Neptune took my camera right out of my hand and I almost got sucked out to sea (no cheering, please). Anyway, I drove to CostCo to find it closed. Then I motored on to the nearby BestBuySomethingAsWell AsOurExpensiveAndUnnecessaryServiceContracts. The BestBoy actually performed and chased down competitive prices at CostCo and WalMart.  Thinking that CostCo had the same camera at $10 cheaper when I saw it the other day I declined to buy his since these are lean times and $10 is ten dollars. (FEB. 13th Breaking News: I bought the CostCo camera and saved $10).

Speaking of lean, I then fled to WalMart to see what they could offer. Upon entering the store I passed through police cars and security that were assembled around a passed-out person. I had hoped for a gangland killing but was disappointed at the lack of blood; intent on my consumer purchase I kept walking.  I passed a really large couple wearing floral prints that increased their largeness and who also sported those odd holes in their earlobes that pass for earrings or something. I just find them weird. Three blocks later I turned away from the camera department selections with disappointment; WalMart wasn’t cheaper than BestBuy or Target. Wasn’t WalMart supposed to be cheaper? My head was reeling from this marketing price deception and my head screamed “Do the Great Unwashed know this?” Panicking,  I stumbled into a huge cardboard box the size of a VWBug that was the $5 Bargain Bin full of music CDs. A quick glance noted Miles Davis of all people living there; he stared up at me like a dead fish on ice. Nearby lay Etta James, silenced. What the hell? Is this what American culture has become? Would Miles Davis recoil at seeing his art lying in the $5 bin next to The Eagles, Amy Grant and a bunch of Christian rockers? I shook my head and stumbled away in shame, thankful that I would never be famous enough an artist to receive such a shameful honor. And I thought to myself that I’ll never make money out of theatre so I’ll just direct what I want to from now on, money be damned. Who wants to join me for Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard? Or Martin Sherman’s Bent? Or Valley of the Dolls  or an all-male version of Clare Booth Luce’s The Women? On the way out of WalMart I stepped over the unconscious guy blocking the door. He had been left behind, obviously unimportant. I had shopping to do.

Upon fighting my way out of the WalMart parking lot I pondered Target and WalMart and Costco. Such different shopping experiences.  I rarely go to Target. There are only a dozen cars in their airport-sized lot at any one time. Inside their Rhode Island-sized warehouse you could shoot a canon across the vast store and not hit a salesperson. Note: I had found the rival chairs to those of the Thonets I purchased later on from the antiques dealer. I needed to know how many of those rivals Target had. Not a salesperson in sight. With my aching back—my back always goes out in these three stores—anyway, I shuffled the two blocks back to their customer service desk. The polite clerk looked like I had asked if she was selling sex toys when I asked if she could look to see how many of the rival chairs they might have in stock. “But sir, there’s a callbox on that aisle (there wasn’t when I went back to see).” “But can’t you just look in your computer to see how  many of those chairs you have in stock?” “I need information off the tag on the chairs. You can go back…” “No, you can get a salesperson over there to do it, okay? “ My Inner-Madame Svetlana was boiling now. “I’ll call someone to meet you there,” she purred with steely eyes narrowed to vicious slits. So I walked the two Manhattan-sized blocks back to the chairs and met a pimply teenaged guy who efficiently deduced from his IPhone that in all three stores there were only ten of this model; “Of course, “ I thought, “why would there ever be the number I need.” I thanked him and stumbled the four blocks back to the car. Where the hell were the other shoppers? It felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone only with a lot of bright red. I got out of there as fast as I could.

On my car’s radio I heard Lady Gaga’s new song that is a new gay anthem as well as an anthem for anybody with flamboyant individuality: “Born This Way,” in which she instructs “Don’t be a drag; be a queen.” Okay, it’s silly advice but it’s still anthem-ish. I kind of like her. She reminds me of Madonna only with more makeup and a Jersey accent instead of Madonna’s “skinny, organic-mummified” look and faux Brit accent. I wonder if God speaks to us through pop songs playing on our car radios when we are shopping. Speaking of God…

… WalMart, now here’s a difference from Target: I got stuck in a parking jam trying to enter their lot. I parked close, though, since I cut someone off and then iced them right on the spot; when your back is out while shopping you steal the closest parking spaces and beat back those who disapprove; let them walk; all WalMart customers evidently need more exercise anyway.

CostCo is nice, though. Like WalMart it is full of salesclerks. And those fattening though yummy food samples; this couldn’t be done at WalMart as it would cause a lemming-like stampede resulting in heaps of crushed torsos in floral prints and stained sweatpants. Costco shoppers are smaller than those at WalMart since CostCo shoppers have more money to spend and so, I assume, buy better food to eat. I mean, the difference can be boiled down to WalMart offering Goldfish at the check-out to CostCo’s organic, free range chocolate from Ghirardelli’s.

CostCo’s parking: the lot from hell. Tiny entrances full of ice and idiots. Never a spot near the front. Large shoppers pushing heavy rolling carts loaded with absurdly enormous packages of toilet paper the size of a Fiat to their car that is located somewhere among the sea of large, shiny crew cab trucks and soccer mommy vans loaded with picture-perfect yellow Labradors, bitter children and the like.

Anyway. I drove home from not getting my Bloggie cam in order to bake Ghirardelli’s brownies. Those are for the birthday party tomorrow at my sister’s house. And now I’m sitting on my ass writing this observation.

My life these days is surrounded by performing artists, musicians, dancers, and family, which is nice. These lives encompass healthy youth all the way to those elderly about to pass to the Great Beyond. I learn a lot from them every day and am blessed to move among them. The Life and Death Juxtaposition visits me daily. My 90-year-old mother is living with returning lung cancer that will take her sooner than later. My cast members are mainly young, ranging from 16 to 27-ish, with a few oldsters filling-out the cast. Daily I see an old person gracefully struggle to move through her cancer ordeal toward something better, an end more peaceful than the old living that brings such discomfort. Nightly I am awed by the young with their vibrant energies and fresh thoughts. It’s a lovely current to be caught up in. Both teach me what Grace means. And all of this happens outside of Sundays in church, which I hate anyway since I like to sleep in on Sundays, plus, as I’ve noticed over the years, one doesn’t find Jesus in them. I mean, if he were there I’d probably go just to hear what he has to say and all. But he isn’t, so I’ll keep looking.

Anyway, that’s a day in my life on this day—my birthday—at fifty plus one. It’s time to walk the dog. “Here, boy!”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fun With English and Sex

Okay, so I think that the staff writers at Reuters were bored and the boss was away. This is a funny headline: "Tired Gay succumbs to Dix in 200 meters." I don't know about you, dear Reader, but I like 'em hot and sweaty... (Reuters article with image)

Hello World!

You are an amusing and moving place that I have enjoyed and hated for 50 years now. Here's to 50 more! We have so much to talk about as I switch from FaceBook to blogging. Why am I doing this now? After much encouragement from friends who have followed my World Stupidity Watch on FaceBook I am broadening my scope by creating a blog. And what will I talk about? Everything! All of you! And Me, of course. And who cares what I write about? Well, we'll see. In the meantime, here's a foto to enjoy (me acting with Zaira in Private Eyes.). -- Hepcat