Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer
Los Olivos, CA
I’m winding down in wine country. Grazing the prairie, I behold sculpted vineyards steeped in history, horses swaggering through lush countryside, grassland Victorian homes peppered on continuous rolling, rolling hills, and tiny boutique shops on the main street with no traffic lights! Ahh…that’s Los Olivos! The town used to be the old stagecoach route and it hasn’t changed all that much since, except for some modern conveniences like the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa, where I’ve set my fanny for a few peaceful days. Whew! Just to think that last night in Los Angeles I was trapped in rush hour driving down La Cienega Boulevard. Oy! And speaking of that street….
La Cienega is also a character in the new touring musical, Bring It On—and she’s superbly brought to life by the breakout actor Gregory Haney. Yes, La Cienega is a transgender female and this boy “tears it up!”—as is indicated by the thunderous applause and shrieks during his standing ovation. An athlete who hails from Arizona, Gregory has appeared on Broadway in Tarzan the Musical and Memphis the Musical, and he’s toured in Wicked and Cats. During his time on the Great White Way he carried the signature little red bucket after performances to collect donations for Broadway Cares and has also participated in Broadway Bares as well. Gregory also teaches contemporary jazz at dance studios across the U.S.A.
After seeing this bouncy, gleeful Broadway-bound show I tracked Gregory down and found out he was kicking back for a few days in between his tour here in the panoramic valley of Santa Ynez. And staying at Fess Parker’s Inn (Fess was the star of the legendary TV series, Daniel Boone) is the fringe on top. Cozy, comfy, and captivating, the newly renovated Inn is an intimate and stately retreat. After prearranging our meeting, and after my seminar this morning with Pacific Pride Foundation in Santa Barbara, Gregory and I “dish it up” together on this fine sunny-with-a-nip-in-the-air afternoon at Petros, the Inn’s superior restaurant.
Ruby Comer: When I’m in this area I always feel aligned…you know, centered and calm. [He nods.] On the contrary, when I think of the epidemic I get riled. Can you give me just one word when you think of HIV/AIDS?
Gregory Haney: Misunderstood.
By that I mean…there is a misunderstanding about how much the virus affects people’s lives.
Ah, you betcha. Say, when did you first hear the words, “HIV/AIDS”?
It was in grade school during sex education, Ruby.
Were you taught HIV prevention in your Arizona high school?
I went to Peoria High School, where there wasn’t sex education class, but, being in the theater department, it was a topic we discussed since our favorite musical was RENT.
Land sake’s alive, what a brilliant show. Have you ever dated anyone who was HIV-positive and, if so, were there any challenges involved?
I haven’t dated anyone positive, but I think that the only challenge would be the normal highs and lows of any relationship. [He scans the restaurant briefly mesmerized by the glowing fireplace.] I think if both parties are well educated there shouldn’t be any problem.
Education is undeniably the key. Are you currently in a relationship, Gregory?
I am currently…[He pauses, his expressive eyes beam, and his voice raises as he shouts]…single!
Hmm, sounds like you’re advertising! [He grins mischievously.] Have you always used a condom while playing, my sugar pie honeybunch?
[He cocks his head to the side and his eyes squint acting as if this question is superfluous. He then plainly states his take on the issue.] It’s like driving a car, you have to buckle up. Safety first!
Thank you for your involvement with Broadway Cares.
[He shakes his head side to side] I am not an active volunteer with the AIDS community. I’ve done a few things with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, but, sadly, I haven’t gone outside of Equity to help with the fight.
I have a feeling that in the future you will. It seems you are quite busy just being on the road these days. Will you be with Bring It On for the entire run until June?
I will and I’m hoping Broadway is in our future. Who doesn’t like tumbling men, bitchy cheerleaders, hip-hop Motown songs, a cute but evil sophomore blonde girl, and a beautiful transgender high schooler? I’m in!
Who did you pattern the sassy, strong La Cienega after?
I think La Cienega is a combination of the many strong African-American women in my life. She’s definitely a pivotal character. Being different is hard enough, but throw in being transgender in high school and you can only imagine. In today’s society people still look at being transgendered as negative, and to that I highly disagree. To live your life as your true self is something amazing, and I commend all of the transgender community for living their life one hundred percent.
Gregory, will you address the issue of HIV infection on the rise in….
[He interrupts] I think first, prevention education is a must in all communities be it gay or straight. Secondly, I think education on dealing with the infection is equally important. Also, testing yourself even if you haven’t been exposed is a necessity. Know your status! And I’m not talking about Facebook. [He shoots me a weary look.]
What performers influenced you while growing up?
You might laugh, Ruby, but Whoopi Goldberg has always been a big influence. Without Sister Act 2 I don’t know if I would have taken the leap to move to NYC. She’s a great comedian and performer, and her body of work is something I only dream of achieving.
My dear, in my crystal ball I see that you will. Was there one particular show that inspired you to become an actor, Mr. G?
I was a sophomore in high school and the touring company of Fame was playing at the Gammage Auditorium. At intermission I looked at my dad and told him that this is what I wanted to do. His reply was, “I can see you doing it.”
Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]