Friday, September 24, 1999

What Are Fantasies? Leather Theater.

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #113, September 24, 1999)

Regular readers of this column have often seen the words “fantasy” or “fantasy presentation” used in connection with leather contests or events. If you’ve ever wondered “What the heck is a fantasy?”—wonder no more.

A psychologist friend of mine is fond of pointing out that whatever our differences, and no matter what community (or communities) we belong to, “we’re all socialized the same.” Hence, the Miss America Pageant has the “talent competition,” drag queens have drag shows—and the leather community has “fantasy presentations.” This weekend, in San Francisco, Gary O’Neill will represent the Great Plains region (which includes Minnesota) at the International Mr. Drummer/Drummerboy Contest in San Francisco—the contest which annually presents the most stupendous fantasies of the leather year. (The only major leather contest which does not feature fantasy presentations is International Mr. Leather.)

Fantasies may take many forms, from simple (your basic flogging scene) to grand (anything by Ron Athey or, closer to home, a Michael deLeon extravaganza featuring the Ballet of the Dolls). I’ve heard fantasies described as “erotic skits,” but for me that’s too simplistic a definition. Fantasies are the leather/SM community’s form of theatrical expression. (If you have ever been onstage as part of a fantasy, you can legitimately impress people by telling them you have done performance art.) Over the years certain fantasy performances have become legendary—for instance, anyone who has ever seen one of Joey Kraly’s Bugs Bunny/Loony Tunes fantasies will never forget it.

A good fantasy a) makes you laugh, b) makes you think, or c) gets you, uh, “aroused.” A fantasy that does one of these three things is good, but two out of three is better and all three is a knockout.

A good fantasy has honesty and authenticity going for it. If I’m not into flogging, but I decide to present a flogging fantasy because that’s what I think my audience will like, it probably won’t work. If I’m really into flogging, on the other hand, I can present a fantasy that communicates my passion to the audience even if not every audience member is into flogging.

Like all theater, there are certain basic practical rules of stagecraft that can make or break a fantasy presentation, and staging skills gained during prior theatrical experience (high school, college, community, or professional) can be used to advantage. I’ve seen countless flogging fantasies where both flogger and floggee spend the entire fantasy with their backs to the audience; I was always taught that this is bad form, theatrically speaking. There’s also the question of who is the “hero,” or most important character, in the fantasy. Usually in a contest setting, the contestant should be the one to shine onstage, yet I’ve seen fantasies where the contestant simply lies there while various accomplices perform all the action (and get all the attention).

Just as Broadway has been overtaken with the spectacle of life-size helicopters on stage and crystal chandeliers which crash to the floor nightly, fantasies in recent years have fallen victim to what I call the “Biggest Prop Wins” phenomenon. I’ve seen a fantasy with a gallows that was eleven feet high, and I’ve seen one with a spider web (made of rope) that was eight feet in diameter—and which revolved. While those fantasies worked well, I’ve also seen fantasies that connected with the audience while using almost no props. Personally, I think that’s a greater (and certainly rarer) accomplishment. And it certainly makes it easier to “take the show on the road.”

If, after reading this, you’d like to try your hand at presenting a fantasy, let me encourage you. Maybe you could compete in a leather contest, or maybe you could present a fantasy in a noncompetitive atmosphere, such as a leather event or fundraiser. However you decide to do it, you’ll find an eager audience waiting to, as Chanel’s ads used to put it, “share the fantasy.”

PHOTO: Gary O’Neill, shown here in his Mr. Minnesota Drummer fantasy performance, will be representing the Great Plains region this weekend in the 1999 International Mr. Drummer competition in San Francisco.

Friday, September 10, 1999

Fantasy Becomes Reality (Barely)

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #112, September 10, 1999)

John Tatum, Mr. Michigan Fantasy 1999, was elevated to International Mr. Fantasy 1999 during the International Mr./Ms. Fantasy Contest held August 21 at the Guthrie Lab Theater in Minneapolis. Yes, against incredible odds and despite many major setbacks, the contest actually did take place as scheduled.

With all the strikes against it (almost no nationwide publicity, and no venue until very late in the game), the easiest thing would have been to cancel the entire weekend. Credit must be given to Wolf Productions and many other members of the Twin Cities leather community for sheer tenacity—they said there would be a contest, and there was. And in spite of the weekend’s events not being nearly as big as first envisioned, those in attendance seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Fantasy Weekend was started in 1989 in Omaha, Nebraska by Dustin Logan and Bob Ewing. It started as a “family reunion,” a gathering of past and present (and future) titleholders and other members of the leather/SM tribe. The whole idea of the weekend, in the spirit of Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney (“Let’s put on a show!”), was to raise money for charity by presenting an entertaining evening of fantasy performances in a non-competitive atmosphere (as opposed to the competitive atmosphere of a leather contest). With the exception of one year, the event was always held in Omaha.

In 1995 the weekend was refocused and became the International Mr. Fantasy Contest, which was envisioned as less political and more “fun” than International Mr. Leather. Competitors for International Mr. Fantasy, one per state, have tended to number around ten per year and have tended to be from the midwestern states (and Canadian provinces). For last year’s tenth-anniversary weekend, the “old-style” non-competitive Fantasy Show was held on Friday night, with the International Mr. Fantasy Contest taking place Saturday night.

Starting in 1999, Logan and Ewing decided to let the International Fantasy Weekend travel to a different city each year (as does the International Ms. Leather Contest, also based in Omaha), and the Twin Cities were the first stop on the tour. Wolf Productions, who had just made a spectacular showing with the Mr./Ms. Minnesota Fantasy Contest, seemed primed to do it again, only this time for a national audience.

So why did this year’s contest attract only two male contestants (and no female contestants) and very few audience members from out of town? Putting together this year’s International Fantasy Weekend presented problems that took much too long to solve, and which in turn created other problems. Basic arrangements, like where to hold the contest or what hotel would host the weekend, proved to be extremely time-consuming and fraught with problems. Not knowing the contest venue or host hotel makes it difficult to attract contestants or do any nationwide publicity. By the time those arrangements were made, it was less than three weeks until the contest. Media deadlines had long since passed, and prospective contestants and audience members would have flown to the Twin Cities on very expensive airline tickets.

For all the storm and turmoil leading up to it, the actual weekend was a pleasant surprise. Whether it was Friday night’s motorcoach bar crawl, Saturday night’s contest at the magnificient Guthrie Lab Theater, the Saturday night after-party, or Sunday’s barbecue picnic by the Mississippi, all the events had one thing in common: those in attendance were having a good time.

The contest itself was a good one, and a close one. Mr. Minnesota Fantasy 1999 David Page presented an elaborate airport-security fantasy, while Tatum’s fantasy told the story of a kinky pansexual birthday party. Emcee for the evening was Gary O’Neill, who was also the contest organizer and who can now turn his attentions to competing in this year’s International Mr. Drummer Contest as Great Plains Mr. Drummer 1999. Judges for the weekend were Cori Ander, the current International Ms. Olympus Leather; International Mr. Fantasy 1996 Ariq Robinson, who is also the current Mr. Ebony Leather; Ms. Minnesota Leather 1991 P.J. Knight; and your humble columnist, who is also Great Lakes Mr. Drummer 1994.

Ms. Minnesota Leather Contest to be rescheduled

First it was the Mr. Minnesota Leather Contest being cancelled (see last issue’s announcement). Now it’s the Ms. Minnesota Leather Contest—not cancelled, but postponed. Ms. Minnesota Leather was originally scheduled for the weekend of September 26-28, at which time it would have conflicted with the International Mr. Drummer Contest and Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco. I was recently told by event organizer Renee Indehar that it will not happen that weekend but will be rescheduled. More information will, I assume, be forthcoming.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Saturday, September 11

Atons Leather/Levi Night
Time and location to be announced—call the Atons Hotline for details
Presented by the Atons, open to all. For information and reservations call the Atons Hotline.