Entertainment » Theatre

Out in 'Paramour'

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Jun 25, 2016

After two disappointing turns in New York City -- 2010's vaudeville flop "Banana Shpeel" and 2011's ill-placed "Zarkana" at Radio City Music Hall -- Cirque du Soleil returns to Gotham to push its boundaries with the new multigenre extravaganza "Paramour" at Broadway's Lyric Theatre.

With "Paramour," Cirque blends its signature style of death-defying aesthetics with a traditional Broadway presentation -- and the results are an entertaining and thrilling experience.

EDGE recently spoke with four out cast members.

Lee Brearley is a trampoline artist who has worked with Cirque for more than 10 years. Born in Manchester, England, he's a three-time British Men's Champion in gymnastics and Great Britain's first male representative at the Sydney Olympic Games.

Mathieu Sennacherib, a gymnast who hails from France, has extensive French musical theater credits that include Mamma Mia, Hair and Aladdin. He joined Cirque in Vegas with Michael Jackson ONE.

Portland, Oregon's Kat Cunning, one of the few open lesbians on Broadway, is an actress, singer and dancer who has appeared in "Cinderella" and "Nutcracker Rouge." Her vocal chops are matched only by her alluring stage presence.

Reed Kelly first hit the public eye in 2008, when he was dating a recently out-of-the-closet Clay Aiken. He's best known for competing on "Survivor: San Juan Del Sur," in 2014, with then-beau Josh Canfield. He grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and has been singing and dancing on Broadway for more than a decade in such shows as "Wicked," "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" and "The Addams Family."

EDGE: What has been your biggest challenge in Paramour?

Lee Brearley: I just came off a six-year tour as a dance captain doing something I felt so fitted to, and I came here and felt so alien because a lot that was asked of me wasn't in my skill set. Going from touring to residential is a big shock. ... It's a really good experience, just very different.

Mathieu Sennacherib: There were some things I had to do in the show that proved a challenge. You know you have the skill, but you're scared because there's a risk for your life ... but it's your job. You have to push yourself to grow in your art.

Reed Kelly: It's been an adjustment of process, because coming from such a heavy Broadway background and having been in this industry for so many years, we have a modus operandi of how we work. And now that we've run away with the circus -- Cirque has its own process and its own way of doing things, and that has been an interesting challenge. Cirque is used to substantially longer creation periods. It's very different.

Lee Brearley: It's definitely two cultures ...

Reed Kelly: Colliding.


EDGE: Let's discuss being out in this industry. Have you felt discriminated against? Do you feel that being gay can limit you to certain roles?

Kat Cunning: I feel under-represented as a lesbian in this industry.

EDGE: It's just you and Cherry Jones ...

Kat Cunning: And being a feminine lesbian! Most of my fans are guys. I've chosen to be out and really proud and obvious about my sexuality, because I feel like it's not sustainable to hide it. I'd prefer to bring people along my journey. ... I don't think that I've ever been to a Broadway audition where I'm like, There's another lesbian for sure. It's hard to tell.

EDGE: Do you resent the fact that there are so many lesbian performers who aren't out?

Kat Cunning: A little bit, yeah. But I also feel really hopeful, because I've seen so many beautiful young lesbians representing their specific way of expressing their femininity -- or not -- start to bubble. ... I feel like it's going to happen more and more.

EDGE: Broadway is traditionally an LGBT-accepting segment of the entertainment industry. Still, do you ever feel any discrimination?

Reed Kelly: As far as being discriminated against, I do feel it sometimes, because I've been very out. Everyone knows I'm gay. But sometimes you run into the random director who's like, "Can you just be less gay, or be more gay." That's not even a real direction, because what is more gay or less gay? I know gay guys who are more masculine than some of the most masculine straight guys. It's interesting: people say things like that and they don't even realize that it's offensive.

Lee Brearley: They would never say that to a straight guy, to be 'more straight.'

Reed Kelly: People don't even realize that they're discriminating against you or being offensive. But when I look at the amount of progress we've made, it's exponential right now. It's an amazing time to be alive and be a part of the LGBT community. But it is an interesting challenge sometimes when [I] go in for roles, and I need to be more butch and more masculine and drop the timbre of my voice, and not articulate my Ss so severely.

Lee Brearley: I have felt discriminated against -- in circus there are people from different countries, and they will hurt you. And they will be hurt if they come out. Places like Russia: there are a lot of Russian acrobats, and they're scared to [come out]. And I've had friends in different shows who worked with Russians, and they would not touch them. So safety becomes an issue because people are supposed to touch you. But you don't back down, and you show them you're a normal person. And generally they end up the nicest damn people. And then get them drunk, and then they're all about you. [Laughter.]

Mathieu Sennacherib:I never had any trouble when I was in France. I came out when I was 20. But I had some trouble on my last Cirque contract. I was in Vegas, and one of the acrobats was really offensive. [Mimics:] 'You can't do this trick because you're a fucking faggot!' And I replied, 'Fuck you -- what is your fucking problem?' I'm not going to change how I am.


EDGE: What are your thoughts on personal lives being fodder for the media?

Kat Cunning: As long as it can be a helpful vehicle for political progression then I'm down for my personal life to be everybody's business. I think representing who you're with and what their sex is can be so useful. I don't see any need for it to be separate, unless people are harassing my children.

Reed Kelly: I've been through two public relationships, Josh and Clay. It's interesting when your personal life becomes a focus. And pretty soon you have Star magazine knocking at your door. I'm a very private person. There's a difference between being closeted and being private, because I think when people are closeted, there's an element of shame that goes along with that.

It was different with Josh, because we went on 'Survivor' as the gay couple - that was how they cast us. Josh and I had a very real conversation about it: 'We're taking this step forward into this, and that means you're giving people access to this relationship.' So there's a bit that gets leveraged for reality TV, but I also think that it's important to be true to who you are, and Josh and I went on 'Survivor' not because we wanted to represent the gay community or the Christian or Broadway community -- we went on because we freaking love 'Survivor' and we wanted to be competitors.

So I just thought it was always very important to be authentically who you are and lead by example. Don't be afraid to share your story, because personal testimony is the most powerful way to make change. I can't tell you the countless letters and emails that Josh and I have gotten, saying, 'We saw you on "Survivor," and my relationship with my family has changed, because they just saw two guys out there who loved each other but were fierce competitors, but played the game really well. And my father in Mississippi didn't know that gay people could be like that.' When you're authentic to who you are, that speaks volumes.

Josh and I are no longer together, and people were devastated to hear that, and part of me was like: Get over yourselves. Josh and I made a responsible, adult decision by saying we're not the right fit for each other for the long term. But that's OK, because we're adults and we're making an adult decision. Not every relationship ends in marriage. You can put stuff out there, but when people who are constantly trying to get into your life and do stuff like that, it can be a bit invasive.

EDGE: You guys became the poster couple for gay relationships.

Reed Kelly: It was so fascinating, because Josh and I knew that we were representing a lot of communities: gays, Christians, Broadway. And we didn't want to let these people down. But at the same time, you just have to go out there and play hard and do well and let some of the pressure fall by the wayside. We knew that by going on the show and saying we were gay Christians, we were going to alienate a lot of gays: 'How dare you be Christian when they've been maligning us for centuries?' And then you have the Christian community saying, 'Gay Christians? There's no such thing. You're going to Hell.' It really opened the door for conversation about what it's like to be a gay person in modern society right now, and what it means to be a gay Christian. So it was amazing that we were able to be ourselves, compete on a show that we love and push that dialogue forward.


EDGE: With the constant chatter of social media, how do you maintain and continue to figure out who you are, what with everybody trying to inform and influence who you should be?

Reed Kelly: I don't know. Josh and I got swept up into a bigger media storm internationally. We're part of a church called Hillsong, a model for modern-day Christianity. People across the world were livid. We had South Americans that literally found my phone number and were calling and preaching scripture at us, inundating our social media, telling us we were going to hell and we have to repent. So there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. But I think when you're OK with who you are and you have a support system around you, that's what helps get you through. Part of it is to not read a lot of the crap, because there are a lot of crazies out there.

Lee Brearley: It affects me much less because no one knows who the hell I am. No one knows my name.

Reed Kelly: We do, Lee.

[Laughter]

EDGE: Reed, which was more physically grueling -- eight shows a week on Broadway or 'Survivor?'

Reed Kelly: Oh my gosh, 'Survivor,' by far. It's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

EDGE: Have you been involved in discussions about returning?

Reed Kelly: I was asked about doing 'All-Stars' this season, but I had to say no. I wasn't able to participate because of this show ['Paramour'].

EDGE: Now that you're single, which former 'survivor' would you most want to go on a date with?

Reed Kelly: Parvati [Shallow]. I'm obsessed with her.

EDGE: Do you have any final word about Josh?

Reed Kelly: I think I'm not prepared to talk about that at this time.

EDGE: That's fair. Final thoughts?

Kat Cunning: I want to be the poster child for pretty gayness.

[Laughter.]


See Kat sing the haunting "Sweet Thing."


Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for Edge. His film column can be read at newyorkcool.com. Frank is also a proud Dramatists Guild member having written a slew of plays including "Consent," which confronts bullying and homophobia and was a 2012 semifinalist for the 2012 O'Neill National Playwrights Conference, "Vatican Falls," a play set against the backdrop of the Catholic sex abuse scandal which received Special Mention at the 2013 O'Neill (and will be produced next season) and his latest, "Orville Station." Ten of his plays have been produced (seven in NYC). Frank is the recipient of a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts for his play, CONSENT.


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