“Grindr” (An Operatic Ode to Absent Queer Community During Pandemic)

Grindr (And Other Concerns) Act 1: An Annotated Singthru

A Comedic Chamber Opera
Fundraiser for Marsha P. Johnson Institute

Directed by Ingrid Oslund
Music by Marc Hoffeditz
Libretto by MJ Halberstadt
Featuring performers Brad Baron, Jonathan Harris, Wes Hunter, Adrian Jones, Craig Juricka, Sara Kerr, and James Lesu’i

June 26 – 27, 2020

Content warning: adult themes and sexual references

Review by Gillian Daniels

ZOOM — “Queerness is about so much more than who you’re sleeping with. It’s also about a sensibility, a sense of camp,” says director Ingrid Oslund.

This could easily serve as the thesis for the zoom presentation of selected pieces from the comic opera-in-progress, Grindr (And Other Concerns). The show follows queer men Brandon, Riley, and Riley’s long-term, timid partner, Eugene, as they use and debate the merits of the titular hook-up app. Their odyssey includes such contemporary pratfalls as mysterious acronyms such as DDF (drug and disease free), sexually transmitted infections, and excitable adults obsessed with Disney.

Among the many delights offered, Riley sings of sexual exploration with unadventurous partners, ultimately hitting on the most terrifying of unknown frontiers, emotional vulnerability. His soaring voice is easily the strongest on display.

Brandon sings an aria describing various dating apps, from OKCupid to Recon. Ultimately, his song becomes an exploration of his own desires in a partner. He lists such specific characteristics as sparkling green eyes, someone who likes Brandon for Brandon and can “save him” from himself, and a “coke-can cock.” The comfort with which the character has with himself, and the fears of loneliness his performance suggests, are brilliant and deeply funny.

Eugene, Riley’s boyfriend, in contrast to Brandon, is hesitant and terrified of exploring the dating scene and opening up his relationship. The music that accompanies him is choppy, bare, underlining his nerves. If he immediately nixes the idea of an open relationship, will he and Riley be able to continue as a couple?

My favorite segment involves the sweaty, confident charm of a character straight from Grindr (and an archetype of many dating apps), horny4now, a leather clad potential paramore. horny4now skips any romantic pretense and begins to sing of blindfolds, nipple clamps, and, that old chestnut, “poppers.” Brandon’s reaction is, to put it in polite terms, one of utter delight.

The sampling of the songs alternates between video “annotations”: context for pieces, comic skits, suggestions for mixed drinks by “silent” (non-singing) character, Tiff the Bartender, interviews with creators and performers, references to the corporatization of Pride, the importance of the work done by the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, and some anecdotes on the history of gay culture and its inclusion (and exclusion) in the world of opera. Director Ingrid Oslund, librettist MJ Halberstadt, and composer Marc Hoffeditz have crafted a delightfully raunchy, queer gift for us.

Critiquing a show in the workshop stage is a lot like trying to describe a sculpture that is still mostly a block of marble. The end product is a distant reality, here hinted at in polished, queer shapes that are ready, but not yet able, to coalesce into a final production. I want to see Grindr (And Other Concerns) as a whole work, one day, with a proper beginning, middle, and end. In the words of the creators, we are promised a future of “surprises and revelations,” as long as an opera producer can be found (if you’re one such individual, I recommend emailing grindropera@gmail.com).

So, how do you endure the darkness of lockdown without in-person queer spaces? Well, BGLTQ individuals have a long history of being stepped on by the boot heel of an inept, cruel government and a pandemic of a different sort for decades. Until we can all meet again, touch skin-to-skin once more without fear, we have the gift of shared virtual spaces by the miracle of the same 21st-century technology that brought us Grindr. We can empathize with each other’s frustrations. We can make each other laugh. We can sing to each other.

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