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We Need to Talk About Kevin

Barry Church-Woods

I use the word kismet far too much for someone who is only a little bit Arabic in the face. I guess beshert would be a better fit for my cultural sensibilities, though again, I’ve never been to temple. Either way; you catch my drift. I live in a world of chance and consequence and as wanky as it may sound, since I met my husband and fell hopelessly in love, I’m a massive believer in fate.

A month or so ago, someone started following me on Twitter that caught my eye. His avatar looked familiar in the way that many do. I work in the arts and as such, many of my followers are my contemporaries. Lots of people scrub up pretty well for their head shots and I’m used to seeing tiny beautiful faces peering out at me from my phone. But this guy reminded me of someone.

The curse of the ageing homosexual is that we have seen and done many things. I use ‘ageing’ pejoratively as a 38 year old gay man. That’s 266 in gay years. You know… because we’re like dogs. As the old Quentin Crisp mantra echoes, at some point of being a practicing homosexual, the ‘practice makes perfect’ thing must kick in. So today I consider myself a perfect homosexual. That’s just a really long winded way of saying I’ve bummed a lot of guys in my time. Maybe that guy that followed me on Twitter was someone from my past? Someone from a younger time of poppers, alcohol and dance music. Someone I had an awkward fumble with in my old college dorm. Someone I met at a party.

I checked him out, couldn’t place him and moved on to the rest of my day.

Cue 8 hours later sitting up in bed in the middle of the night to a subconscious screaming realisation:

“OH MY FUCKING GOD. IT’S KEVIN STEA!”

11For those of you who don’t already know, Kevin Stea is an American dancer, choreographer, actor,  singer, director and model best known to me as ‘that hot guy from the Vogue video, Blond Ambition tour, In Bed With Madonna and the Herb Ritts poster on my 14 year old self’s bedroom wall’.

So yes. I had bummed him.

But only in my imagination as a horny gay teen whose only access to porn was the underwear section of the Littlewoods catalogue and Smash Hits magazine.

Lying awake that night it struck me that this was one of those moments I should try to grow. Thinking about how to develop LGBTicons, I’d told myself that 2014 would be a year where I’d pursue some more in-depth writing. Perhaps reach out and try to interview some people of note. People that our readers might be interested to hear about.

The following morning, I sent him this message:

@KevinStea: Check out LGBTicons and let me know if you’d be up for an interview 😉

I know, not very polite, but it’s best to be forward. I learned this in all my years ‘practicing’.

Almost immediately, he replied and said he’d love to, and that he already subscribed to the site.

KISMET!

How the hell did I miss that? I’ve been so obsessed with Frances Bean Cobain following us that I neglected to spot the REALLY cool person.  The one who actually worked with the woman I’ve idolised for my entire adult life. The one who was on that stage at Wembley Stadium as Madonna swore 22 times during a live radio broadcast and a 14 year old boy from West Lothian screamed with joy.

So how cool is he really? The answer is PRETTY FUCKING COOL.

9A little bit of research found Kevin to be right at the heart of pop culture in 1990s and associated with many of its finest moments.

It’s also worth pointing out at this point that he and her Madgesty aren’t going to be sipping Lemondrops anytime soon; Stea is notoriously one of the three dancers that filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court against Madonna’s production company Boy Toy Inc, Miramax Films and Propaganda Films, alleging fraud and invasion of privacy as a result of the documentary In Bed With Madonna.

Still; he seems to be over it now and you can read more about his experience of the tour on our Facebook page.

He was born in Hollywood, California, and is half-Caucasian and half-Chinese. He grew up in various places in the United States (Los Angeles, California; Marlette, Michigan; Eugene, Oregon; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Santa Fe, New Mexico), then completed his high school education in Singapore on a scholarship at the United World College of South East Asia, where he received the International Baccalaureate Diploma.

Following that, he went on to the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, but left to pursue a dance career.

A gymnast while in his youth, Stea began dancing seriously while he was at college. Just a year after his first dance job, he was hired by Madonna as a dance captain, dancer and assistant choreographer on her 1990 Blond Ambition Tour. Subsequently, he danced and assisted with choreography for Michael Jackson.

He has also worked with numerous other high-profile music acts including Prince, Ricky Martin, Janet Jackson, George Michael, David Bowie, Celine Dion, Macy Gray, Anastacia, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Cher, Christina Aguilera, Tony Bennett, Will.i.am and the Pussycat Dolls. The list goes on.

During this time, he performed in numerous movies and TV shows, mainly in dancer roles, including Newsies, Melrose Place, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Showgirls, The Birdcage, Charlie’s Angels, Friends, Austin Powers in Goldmember, Rent, Scrubs and Naked Boys Singing.

He has also appeared in over 50 commercials, most notably for Gap, Old Navy and Pepsi.

Stea spent several years in Italy, performing, singing and choreographing on a variety shows including Buona Domenica, Non Dimenticate Lo Spazzolino Da Denti and Carramba Che Sorpresa.

On top of all that, he also sings and performs under the name That Rogue Romeo.

So… where do you start when you’re interviewing someone who appears to have seen and done everything? Facebook is where, and as is tradition for these pieces, I asked my pals what I should ask Kevin*.

(*he’s far too much of a gentleman to answer the ‘did she ever queef during Like a Virgin? question).

So Kevin, when did you realise you wanted to be a performer and what spurred you on?

The very first moment I stepped onstage in Singapore at a school gymnastics/dance performance I knew I had found something I would enjoy tremendously.  I had no fear or anxiety, just all my attention on how I could make my performance better and bigger.  I can’t say with much certainty that I ever had a decisive moment where I said ‘I want to be a performer’, just ‘I want to do more of this’!  The cheers and attention I received from my appearances made me feel validated and if I couldn’t be the smartest kid in a school of genii, I could at least be the most well-rounded! A few things spurred me on… a teacher spontaneously telling me that I was ‘ok’ at dancing, but in the real world there are much more talented dancers, and later the roar of the crowd in Houston on our first US date for Madonna’s Blonde Ambition Tour.  It was electrifying.

ThatRogueRomeoKevinStea_zpsdd06fbd5At a very young age, you enjoyed massive success with some of the world’s biggest stars.  How do you think this impacted your later career?  Did you have more to prove in auditions?  Does it actually open doors or do people think they can’t afford you etc?

If my career had happened in today’s hyper-connected world where information is a few clicks away, my life probably would have been a bit different.  In my heyday only the working professionals in the business knew my work and reputation.  As years went by, the difficulty was in staying relevant with style and proving that I could still hold my own next to 20 year olds. I put more pressure on myself to outperform anyone that crossed my path in an audition.  I knew I would be seen if I were fantastic or if I were a disaster, because people were always curious to see if I could still dance whether they wanted me for the job or not.

Affording is rarely an issue, but most people know that I won’t stand for a lot of disrespect on a set, though I am extraordinarily patient.  My reputation has given me some jobs by referral though, and people do listen to me like my opinion has weight.  Working with heavyweights has given me an ease around artists and talent that has always helped, and the new artists I worked with years ago are now heavyweights themselves.  Treat everyone with respect, who knows where your paths will cross again!

Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour is widely regarded at the tour that changed tours.  At what point of the process (if any) did you realise that you were part of something special?

Since that tour was my first tour, I had no idea it was anything ground-breaking or new, it was simply the way a tour should be.  I don’t think it was until about ten years later that I really started becoming aware of the impact that it had on pop culture, mostly from people who had come of age during that time and were beginning to reach out and express their thanks to us for making a difference to them.

I have the naive tendency to think that everything is special.  Perhaps everything is special to me, but sometimes no one sees it, this just happened to be one of those moments in time where millions of people actually got to see what I do all the time. Madonna had an incredible capacity to make simple gestures into culture changing statements, and knew how to take advantage of it.  That was definitely special. I’m not sure those opportunities still exist, it is more and more difficult to make people care about anything.

Tell us something no one else knows about that show…scrapped set lists, tantrums, tiaras….

I had my own tantrum when the dresser filled my mermaid tail with strawberry jelly during a quick change.  I had no sense of humor at all, I was such a jerk and young.  I would probably bust out laughing now.

Your website features some amazing photo galleries of your body of work.  Right at the end, there’s a collection of personal images of Gabriel Trupin.  I wonder if you might be willing to share your thoughts on his death and how it affected you.  Do life experiences like this inform your work?  Did it make you address your own mortality?

kev-and-gabe-tourDeath was such a foreign thing to me, I approached it like a scientist up to that point.  I observed, I studied others’ reactions, it always seemed something very distant, but natural.  When Gabriel passed I was stunned.  I knew he was ill, but I didn’t know he was close to death or suffering so much because I was off in Italy doing television.  I didn’t know what to do, or how to mourn, and it’s still a difficult concept for me to this day.

Life experiences directly inform my work of course.  I don’t sing about popping bottles and skipping the line.  My music to this point hasn’t been about escapism, but rather about connecting further to reality.

The world is full of beauty even when it seems dark and difficult, so though Gabriel’s death gutted me, that one tragic moment is far outweighed by the light and love and humour that we shared for the time that we were together.  I’ve seen my own mortality much clearer recently.  I certainly became more aware of it when he passed, but it wasn’t until recently that the awareness of my own mortality actually has had me moved into action in response.

You are in one of my favourite films of all time: Showgirls ( I kid you not).  Were you approached to be in the musical?

I wasn’t!! I was approached to do the sequel, though I was unable to.  Pennies from Heaven, out now!

How did the modelling gigs come about?  What are the particular challenges you face on modelling jobs compared to other forms of performance.

Soon after our tour finished, Jean-Paul Gaultier invited me to walk in his runway show in Paris.  A friend had just become a modelling agent and offered to represent me.  Being an Asian male model was not a viable profession in that era, but I had photos from Herb Ritts and lots of industry connections already, so I pushed my way in.  I was not always accepted, but those whom I did work with were wonderful and many are still my friends now, 20 years later.

Anyone who tells you that modelling jobs are difficult has never danced.  If you are not a ‘natural’ model, and have to diet and work out constantly to stay in form, now that IS difficult.  I have never done a modelling job that was even half as tough as a normal dance job, and I’ve jumped off of trampolines down the side of a mountain repeatedly, and been on set for 36 hours consecutively!  Staying in one position for hours was difficult, but never as tough as multiple rehearsals and the toll that takes!

Tell us about That Rogue Romeo. How did it come about and what is your ultimate ambition?

I’m not sure there is an ‘ultimate ambition’, it sort of assumes there’s an arrival point.  The wonderful thing about being creative is that it is ongoing and unfolding!  That Rogue Romeo is my music project, and came from the discovery of my joy of song-writing, and the longing to be heard.  Sometimes as a dancer I’ve felt I couldn’t say all I wanted to say in my art and expression.

KevinStea_That-Rogue-Romeo1When I finally allowed myself the freedom to say ‘I can do this’ and let go of my personal constraints of ‘I’m too old’, and ‘why bother’, I found an opportunity to stretch all the muscles I had been building in front of the camera all these years.  What it will become I don’t know, but for now it’s a wonderful outlet for my creativity and a new channel of expression that I love.  it challenges every creative piece of me… producing, styling, imagery, choreography, song-writing, graphics, marketing, hair, makeup, photography….I can dig in as deep as I want, and it is extraordinarily fulfilling hearing something I imagined in my head coming out of some huge speakers, and even more wonderful when I hear others who identify with what I’m saying.

What’s your favourite experience been so far as a musician?  

Every time I finish a new song, THAT becomes my favorite experience.  There is a sense of completion, of creation, of expression, and of pride.  It’s addictive.

LGBTicons exists to profile LGBT people of achievement.  Can you tell us about your experience of coming out and what advice you’d offer to anyone thinking about it.

I’m not sure I really had a ‘coming out’, other than an official phone call to my mom and grandmother at one point to confirm and say it out loud.  Madonna sort of did that business for me with the release of the movie ‘Madonna: Truth or Dare’, (In Bed With Madonna in Europe), and all the publicity about her and ‘her gay dancers’.  There was not much talk about sex around me growing up and ‘gay’ wasn’t in our sex education class, so I didn’t even know what it was when I was growing up and had no way to label what I felt.

Sometimes I think that was a blessing because no one really spoke about being gay or what that was, so when someone yelled ‘faggot’ at me in the halls one day at school, I sincerely had no idea what he meant.  As a result, I didn’t have any shame about my feelings, just extraordinary curiosity.  I was surrounded by people living alternative lifestyles, but alternative like purposeful poverty, anarchists, hippies, communes, punks, and I felt pretty mundane amidst all that.   My ease with my own sexuality made for a much easier transition to adulthood.

Coming out is such a non-event in most metropolitan areas now, but I’m constantly shocked by the venom spit by so many in more rural areas.  It seems positively medieval.  Sexuality should really be a non-issue.  It baffles me why people are so fixated on what others’ sexuality should be, when there are 6 billion valid sexualities in the world.  We are all unique and should celebrate ourselves and each other’s sexuality as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else (unless they want to be!) and is consensual.  Repressing sexuality leads to darker stuff sometimes, so in many ways the anger thrown at others’ sexuality is really at cause for many of the things they abhor.

My advice?  Make true friends, gather your strength from people who love you, know that whatever others say it only means something or is real if you agree or believe it.  Search and explore who you are and know that you are precious and unique and those who try to make you fit into a mold of something you are not are terrified of themselves and need to feel powerful by taking yours.  Coming out is a declaration of power, because it takes a self-aware courageous soul to announce themselves to the world in the face of whatever response may come back.  Know that there are millions like you, and that there is always a place in the world where you are accepted and loved, and sometimes that place has to be your mind, so start there by accepting and loving yourself.  Others will fall in line eventually.

We always ask our interviewees to elect another LGBTicon.  Who really floats your boat from the LGBT community that we should know about?

I adore Beth Ditto.  She is such a vanguard, outspoken and cool, grounded and self-aware, bold and courageous.  I interviewed her for the LIFEWORKS charity and she blew me away.  A powerful person doesn’t need to exert their power over others, a powerful person speaks truths and knowledge gleaned from self-examination, compassion, understanding and experience and then shares it.  She is a Wonder Woman.  I hope our paths cross again.

gossip1And that’s where our time with Kevin ends, on a sentiment that I really hope echoes in our relationship. That our paths will cross again.

FT9-HViUBarry Church-Woods is a perfect homosexual living in Edinburgh, Scotland with his husband Josef.  He works for the largest arts festival in the world and still finds time to swear and drink martinis.  Today he smells of Armani Diamonds.  Sometimes it’s just garlic.  Follow him on Twitter.

Over 49,000 people currently follow LGBTicons by subscribing for free, ‘liking’ us on Facebook or joining the conversation on Twitter @LGBTicons

 

 

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