Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Terence Alan Smith: The real 'MS. BLAKK'
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times

This article shared 3135 times since Tue Jun 18, 2019
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Terence Alan Smith, the Detroit native behind the drag persona Joan Jett Blakk, is still taken aback that a portion of his life has been transformed into a world-premiere play at Steppenwolf Theatre.

MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT travels back to 1992 when the Chicago chapter of the protest group Queer Nation endorsed Joan Jett Blakk as the nation's first drag queen candidate for President of the United States. One of her campaign slogans was "Lick Bush in '92."

"It's not something you would ever expect that somebody would do," said Smith about the play. "Usually people, when this kind of thing happens, are dead already."

But Smith and Joan Jett Blakk are still very much with us. Smith was just one of many luminaries like Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot who were in attendance for the opening night performance of MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT earlier this month.

Smith also returned to Chicago this past weekend as Joan Jett Blakk for two late-night Lookout Series performances in Steppenwolf's intimate 1700 Theatre. Blakk, along with co-host Babette, held court as talk show hosts and were feted by the MS. BLAKK cast and creative team—especially by the Academy Award-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney ( the play's title star and co-author ) and Tony Award-nominee Tina Landau ( the play's director and co-author ).

"I wasn't ever sure that anyone got it," said Smith about his political drag activism. When Smith as Blakk first ran for Chicago Mayor in 1991 and then the next year as president, it was largely to draw attention to the LGBTQ community at the height of the AIDS crisis.

"There were so many wild things that happened along the way," said Smith, remembering both terrifying and welcoming moments during his Chicago years of protest. "It's weird how emotional it is for me."

For instance, Smith said it was not uncommon for police to remove their badges so they couldn't be identified when roughing up ACT UP or Queer Nation protesters in mass demonstrations. But he also remembers kind gestures, like when Illinois Senator John Cullerton shared his spot in Chicago's St. Patrick's Day Parade so Joan Jett Blakk could participate.

MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT focuses on Smith as Blakk trying to gain entry to the 1992 Democratic National Convention at New York's Madison Square Garden. Not only does the play focus on Smith's moments of self-doubt, but also the potential for real violence at the hands of convention security.

"On the convention floor, I thought they'll swoop me up and I'll disappear," Smith said. "But doing drag is very much like armor. You're afraid, but you feel invincible because you are so visible. It was both fear and excitement."

Chicago's harsh winters are what pushed Smith to relocate to San Francisco in 1993. There Blakk joined the gay African-American performance group Pop Afro Homos and ran as drag candidates again for president and San Francisco mayor. She also did a live drag talk show.

"I did it up until about 2000. I really haven't done much drag since then," Smith said. "I kind of viewed it as something that I did."

Joan Jett Blakk's 1990s political campaigns were mostly noted in the LGBTQ press at the time, even including a mention in Alison Bechdel's comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Joan Jett Blakk later received attention in books like L.M. Bogad's 2007 scholarly journal Electoral Guerrilla Theatre: Radical Ridicule and Social Movements, and in the 2008 historical overview Out and Proud in Chicago edited by Tracy Baim ( publisher of the Windy City Times and the Chicago Reader ).

It was Blakk's photo on the cover of the latter book that spurred Landau and McCraney to reach out to Smith and ask his permission to create MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT. Smith is grateful to be remembered, especially when he considers that so many other drag performers have been forgotten.

"I'm really big on drag history now more than ever," Smith said. "The people who were doing drag in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. My god! What would it have taken to go to a drag ball? We think that we're brave. I think about that and all the unsung heroes and heroines who don't get mentioned at all."

In terms of contemporary drag, Smith said he doesn't follow the current TV phenomenon of RuPaul's Drag Race too closely. Yet he does enjoy Drag Race alums Trixie Mattel and Katya Zamolodchikova in their online comedy show UNHhhh. Smith also had loads of praise for the talent and LGBTQ advocacy of stars like singer/songwriter/choreographer Todrick Hall and Tony Award-winner Billy Porter of Pose fame.

Smith is also surprised every now and then to run into people who remember Joan Jett Blakk during her heyday of visibility and activism.

"The best thing about it is that people have said to me, 'Because I knew about and was following Joan, it made my coming out easier,'" Smith said. "That was not a goal of mine, but when it does happen it's so wonderful."

And as someone who survived the worst of the AIDS crisis, Smith can't help but think "about all of my friends who aren't here anymore who would have loved [MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT]."

"Tarell and Tina got it. They really took this moment in history—a moment in my life—they really understood and it comes across quite well," Smith said. "It's very humbling and very flattering."

MS. BLAKK FOR PRESIDENT continues through Sunday, July 21, in the Upstairs Theatre of Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Performance schedule varies, but largely at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 2 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $20-$94. Call 312-335-1650 or visit .

This article shared 3135 times since Tue Jun 18, 2019
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

Kokandy Productions announces 2023 Season 2023-03-22
--From a press release - CHICAGO (March 22, 2023) — Kokandy Productions is thrilled to announce its 2023 season, including two fully produced musicals, plus plans for the return of the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival. This summer, Kokandy will dive into ...

Gay News

Opera Preview: Life of gay World War II hero Alan Turing transformed into a world-premiere opera 2023-03-17
- It has taken a decade for The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing to grow from an idea into a full- fledged opera. Chicago Opera Theater stages the world premiere of composer Justine F. Chen and ...

Gay News

Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project to present dance concert 'Sans Pareil' 2023-03-14
--From a press release - Deeply Rooted Dance Theater joins the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project again to take the stage in a dance concert entitled Sans Pareil—French for "unparalleled," a nod to the Haitian lineage of Chicago's founder, Jean-Baptiste Pointe ...

Gay News

House Musical, Coming of Age in the Age of House, coming to Hoover-Leppen Theatre 2023-03-14
--From a press release - Campsongs Productions presents the world premiere of House Musical - Coming of Age in the Age of House, with book by Marcus Waller, music by Scott Free (with Michael Foley) and lyrics by Scott Free and ...

Gay News

RuPaul's Drag Race WERQ THE WORLD in Chicago Aug. 4 2023-03-12
--From a press release - RuPaul's Drag Race WERQ THE WORLD, the largest drag show on earth, returns in 2023 with a show in Chicago Aug. 4 and in 100+ cities across the United States, Canada, Australia, Asia, Europe and Mexico! ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Little Richard, Indigo Girls, Rodriguez's honor, dance film, Pedro Pascal 2023-03-10
Video below - Produced by Bungalow Media + Entertainment for CNN Films and HBO Max, in association with Rolling Stone Films, director Lisa Cortes' Sundance opening-night documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything will debut in theaters and on VOD ...

Gay News

Steppenwolf Theatre Company's 2023 Gala May 13 at The Old Post Office 2023-03-06
--From a press release - CHICAGO (March 6, 2023) — The Steppenwolf Ensemble and Board of Trustees are pleased to host Steppenwolf 2023 Gala—an unforgettable evening celebrating 47 years of powerful and thought-provoking storytelling. Emceed ...

Gay News

Center on Halsted presents annual Intergenerational Talent Show 2023-03-06
- On March 2, Center on Halsted hosted its Fifth Annual Intergenerational Talent Show, featuring performances from participants from the Youth and Family Services and the Senior Services programs. Participants in the free event presented a program ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Wanda Sykes, Jonas Brothers, 'Queen of Versailles,' 'Bloodshed' 2023-03-04
Adam Lambert video below - Award-winning comedian Wanda Sykes' new comedy special, I'm An Entertainer, will premiere globally on Netflix on May 23, a press release announced. The special, directed by Linda Mendoza, was filmed in early February 2023 at Philadelphia's ...

Gay News

Theater Review: one in two 2023-03-01
- Playwright: Donja R. Love. At: PrideArts at Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway Tickets: 773-857-0222; $35. Runs through March 19 Playwright Donja R. Love stresses that lower case letters should be used for the title of ...

Gay News

The Jeff Awards to honor Myrna Salazar with special non-Equity honor 2023-03-01
--From a Jeff Awards press release - (March 1, 2023 - Chicago) — Recognizing a lifetime of theater excellence, the Joseph Jefferson Awards will honor the late arts activist Myrna Salazar at the organization's 49th Anniversary Non-Equity Awards celebration on Monday, March 2 ...

Gay News

PrideArts presents 'one in two' 2023-02-22
--From a press release - Title: one in two. By Donja R. Love/ Directed by Jordan Ratlliff Monday, Feb. 20 - 7:30 p.m. Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago One in two Black men in America who have sex with other men will be diagnosed ...

Gay News

Christine Heesun Hwang personifies Eponine in Les Miserables 2023-02-19
- Out performer Christine Heesun Hwang "dreamed a dream" of joining the cast one of Les Miserables—now showing at the Cadillac Palace Theater—and now she's made that dream into a reality. Set in 19th-century France, Les Miserables ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Black queer films, Janet Jackson, Paramore, WNBA, GALECA contest 2023-02-19
- Queerty ran a piece on 10 films that celebrate Black queer love. Some of them include The Skinny (with Jussie Smollett), Dee Rees' movie Pariah, the Oscar-winning Moonlight, the Marlon Riggs classic Tongues Untied, Brother to ...

Gay News

Theater Review: Cabaret continues to reflect on our modern challenges 2023-02-14
- Title: Cabaret. Book: Joe Masteroff; Score: John Kander & Fred Ebb. At: Porchlight Music Theatre at Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St. Tickets: 773-777-9884 or; prices begin at $25. Runs through ...


Copyright © 2023 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.