Windy City Times
Friend Movement combats bullying, builds bridges
by Terri-Lynne Waldron
Why are Bruce Vilanch, LeAnn Rimes, Adam Lambert, Tim Gunn, Cloris Leachman and a host of other celebrities flipping the bird?
As the branding image behind the anti-bullying campaign Friend Movement, the photos show celebrities holding their blurred out middle finger up to the camera in an effort to raise awareness about bullying. Out director/activist Elliot London and openly gay actor/model/activist Ronnie Kroell are the creators behind the controversial campaign that was designed to turn the F-word into the new F-word (“friend’).
“We knew going into this that the middle finger has a lot of negative connotations,” explained Kroell, a Chicago native. “But much of what Friend Movement is trying to do is take a negative and turn it into a positive. It was important for us to make a statement and say that this is not a literal campaign, it is very figurative and it’s about empowerment and it’s about your inner monologue.”
Friend Movement was conceived after Kroell and London were introduced to one another by a mutual friend. Both men thought to combine their independent projects and create one anti-bullying campaign.
“I was working on a film project and Ronnie was working on a campaign project and both our projects really needed a lot of love,” said London who is originally from Australia and got his start as an intern on The Jerry Springer Show. “We decided to figure out how to combine forces and that’s how Friend Movement came along.”
Both Kroell and London were bullied as kids. Kroell was called a ‘faggot’ and had his pants pulled down at school and London was also called a ‘faggot’ and was spit on while riding the bus to Harlem High School in Machesney Park, Illinois. London recently went back to his high school to film a narrative short as part of the campaign. The premise of the film is to capture the stories of kids who have been bullied.
“Each student from the school created the anti-bullying film project and we went in and brought a Hollywood crew and gave it the Hollywood feel,” said London of the project they hope to have finished by late July. “It gives the students self-empowerment, it gets the people involved and it is conversation. This is something that we want to add to what Friend Movement is all about, which is going to high schools across the country and even across the world and bringing them the mentors and the help and bringing a voice to these projects.”
On July 1, Friend Movement held a benefit concert celebrating music and friendship with proceeds going towards their campaign. The concert featured the likes of LeAnn Rimes, The Voice contestants Frenchie Davis and Dia Frampton, Abraham Lin (The Glee Project) and singer Austin Brown, who is Michael Jackson’s nephew. Actress Hana Mae Lee, from the film Pitch Perfect, hosted the show.
Friend Movement has reached out to the fundraising website indiegogo.com to raise money for an upcoming cross-country tour that will get the word out about the campaign in an innovative way. The plan is to shoot 10,000 photos in 90 days across 40 cities.
‘’Raising our $99,000 goal on indiegogo.com will allow us to go to these 40 cities and take these photos for free for anyone that shows up,” said Kroell. “Not only take their photo but talk to us about their experiences being bullied and why it’s important for them to be a part of the campaign and be a friend.”
London and Kroell work 24/7 to give the campaign worldwide attention. But the success of the project is of no surprise for two guys who had big imaginations and big ambitions growing up.
“Being an only child is really helpful in a way because we never really had the barriers, so for the both of us we just do what we can do,” said London. “We’re not afraid to reach for the stars and push our limits.”
Kroell is quick to point out that Friend Movement reaches out to people from all communities, no matter their sexual orientation.
“I think one of the things that is important about this campaign is that it’s not just an LGBT campaign,” he clarified. “While we’re finding support and strength from our family and friends in the LGBT community, it’s really important to know that bullying doesn’t discriminate. As Friend Movement continues to move forward the reason why it’s going to be so powerful is that it is all about building bridges and uniting us together to really find answers.”
S.T.A.G.E. Fundraiser Comes to SoCal
Posted 4/6/2013 2:05:00 PM
Who knew one theatre could contain so many celebrities?
Tonight is the 29th annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. This year’s AIDS fundraiser is called “Broadway My Way” and promises an amazing cavalcade of celebrities.
Rannells will be performing the song “What Kind of Fool Am I” from the musical Stop the World, I Want To Get Off, made famous by Sammy Davis Jr.—a star for which Rannells is often mistaken. Bruce will be doing a number from A Chorus Line but wouldn’t confirm or deny if it is “Dance: Ten, Looks: Three” aka “Tits and Ass.” Don’t worry about Vilanch’s ability to keep up with other performers, as he performed in Hairspray for over two years.
The S.T.A.G.E. performance is the longest-running AIDS benefit event in the world. Bruce told me that when he left rehearsal on Thursday, Florence Henderson was practicing her number, which involved a whip. Now if that doesn’t convince you to go, I bet it’s enough for Barry Williams.
Tony Award winner Tyne Daly (Gypsy) and The Book of Mormon Tony nominee Andrew Rannells are among the lineup of performers taking part in the 29th annual Southland Theatre Artists Goodwill Event (S.T.A.G.E.), Broadway, My Way, April 6 at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.
The one-night-only performance benefits AIDS Project Los Angeles, one of the largest non-profit AIDS service organizations in the U.S. that provides bilingual direct services, prevention education and leadership on HIV/AIDS-related policy and legislation.
Scheduled to appear are Rannells (The Book of Mormon, Hairspray), Patrick Cassidy (42nd Street), Carole Cook (42nd Street), Karen Culliver (The Phantom of the Opera), Daly (Master Class), Davis Gaines (The Phantom of the Opera), Florence Henderson (The Girl Who Came to Supper), Shirley Jones (42nd Street), Jane Lanier (Guys and Dolls), Vicki Lewis (Chicago), Kimberly Locke (“American Idol”), Tom Lowe, Pat Marshall (The Pajama Game), Patricia Morison (The King and I), Janis Paige (Mame), Madison Claire Parks, Valarie Pettiford (Fosse), Bruce Vilanch (Hairspray), Jim Bailey, Mary Jo Catlett (The Pajama Game), Joely Fisher (Cabaret), Kathy Garrick, Gordon Goodman (Hear! Hear!), Marsha Kramer (Peter Pan), JoAnne Worley (The Drowsy Chaperone), The MuMos, Alex Newell (“Glee”), Michael Orland, Lisa Vroman (Aspects of Love), Lillias White (The Life) and Terri White (Follies).
George Gray is the celebrity auctioneer. The event is directed by David Galligan with music direction by John McDaniel.
Special guests at Broadway, My Way include Mackenzie Bourg (“The Voice”), Charo, Carolyn Hennesy (“True Blood”), Bret Lockett (NY Jets) and Jack McGee (“Rescue Me”).
The Saban Theatre is located at 8440 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, CA. For more information and tickets, visit StageLA.com or APLA.org/Stage.
Confirmed Celebrities: Bruce Vilanch, Allee Willis, Wendy Liebman, Lisa Loeb, Kat Kramer, members of Le Petit Cirque, John Paragon, George Chakiris, Lonny Ross.
Paula Abdul to receive Founder’s Award and will accept via video
Entertainers Bruce Vilanch and Allee Willis, two of the quirkiest, most prolific creative talents on the planet take the stage for an evening of love, laughter and libation to benefit the programs and initiatives of PAWS/LA (Pets Are Wonderful Support/Los Angeles). Grammy-nominated singer Lisa Loeb hosts. Special guests include stand-up comedian Wendy Liebman, actress/singer Kat Kramer performing with members of Le Petit Cirque and actor John Paragon as Ramon Azteca. 6:30 PM arrivals. Avalon Hollywood, 1735 Vine St., Hollywood, CA 90028.
PAWS/LA (www.pawsla.org) is a Los Angeles-based non-profit dedicated to preserving the special bond between people and their pets, by ensuring that those most in need never have to be without their companion animals because of physical or financial limitations. The organization provides essential animal care services, including subsidized veterinary care, spay/neuter procedures, pet food and supply distribution, grooming, temporary foster care, dog walking, animal transport and more to low income seniors and low-income individuals living with a life-threatening or chronic illness.
The Edge Bruce Vilanch :: Exercising his muscles (and fund-raising)
by BeBe Sweetbriar
Wednesday Jun 27, 2012
You canâ€™t help but notice him when he walks into a room wearing his trademark t-shirt with an emblazoned slogan. You canâ€™t help but laugh at his jokes and stories. Those are givens when it comes to award-winning comic writer Bruce Vilanch (the Oscars, Donny and Marie Show, Hollywood Squares).
But how many times does do the titles â€™musical theater performerâ€™ or â€™songwriterâ€™ come to your mind when you think of him?
Always poised to take command of an awards show or benefit with his wit on the microphone, Vilanch, however, will call upon his song and dance skills at the upcoming benefit event One Night Cabaret Benefit in San Francisco for the Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation which is far more commonplace for the funny man than we might imagine. Making it happen
BeBe Sweetbriar: I think it is wonderful that the One Night Only Cabaret benefiting Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation at which you are set to appear on July 2 in San Francisco with the cast of Green Dayâ€™s â€™American Idiotâ€™ will give many in audience their first chance to see you in a musical-type forum. Many of us have not had the privilege of seeing you in the touring company of â€™Hairsprayâ€™ as Edna Turnblad, and think will be surprised to see your performance at this event.
Bruce Vilanch: Nobodyâ€™s going to be more surprised than I am (laughs). Iâ€™m going to be on the road until I get to San Francisco the day before the show, so me and the cast of â€™American Idiotâ€™ will be working on something when I arrive. If not, youâ€™re going to get me to host the thing and I will see what little musically I can come up with (alone).
Iâ€™ve done this a bunch of time. When there is a big musical in town, Richmond/Ermet gets with the cast of the show on their night off and turn it into a benefit. Iâ€™ve done it with â€™Young Frankenstein ,â€™ â€™Hairâ€™ and now â€™American Idiot .â€™ The thing about â€™American Idiotâ€™ is that it is all Green Day music, so these guys (and gals) are doing Green Day eight times a week (Tuesday-Sunday with 4 shows on weekends). They are probably going to use this opportunity to sing Puccini and Britney Spearâ€™s â€™Toxic .â€™... all the musical literature they would like to expose to a San Francisco audience. In that vein I will try and come up with something to match what they are up to. Iâ€™ve seen this company of â€™American Idiotâ€™ when they played Los Angeles, and they are incredible—extraordinarily talented. â€™Benefits â€™R Usâ€™
BeBe Sweetbriar: Itâ€™s fair to say that you will be in good company…
Bruce Vilanch: Very good company, because a lot of them were actually in â€™Hair.â€™ They went from â€™Hairâ€™ to â€™American Idiotâ€™ because they are both rock musicals, and they require similar skill sets. When I was in â€™Hairsprayâ€™ we did the same thing (benefits). We did a lot of Monday nights all over the country.
BeBe Sweetbriar: You know, many times when I speak to actors doing some real serious Shakespearean-type theater, they use working in comedy as kind of a release to get out of that serious vein. Is this musical-type performing like that for you—a release or break from the comedic writing that you do all the time?
Bruce Vilanch: Yeah! Iâ€™m just â€™Benefits â€™R Usâ€™! That should be my corporate logo. Iâ€™ve done so many of these over the years. Iâ€™m beginning to wonder what am I breaking away from… other benefits?
The fundraising needs to be done, but I guess it is an opportunity for me to get to exercise the performance muscle as opposed to the writing muscle. It is out of the ordinary because it is not what I generally do.
Extraordinary… but common
BeBe Sweetbriar: Because you present yourself to us, the public, the audience, as sort of â€™one-of-us,â€™ I think we sometimes forget about the Hollywood insider that you are. I mean your skills that you utilize to do the writing for all four of the major entertainment award shows (Academy Awards, Tonys, Emmys, Grammys), so many variety shows, and concert shows (Diana Ross, Bette Midler, Michael Feinstein) has established you in high regard in the Hollywood circle. We forget about this because you are so approachable and down to earth.
Bruce Vilanch: Well, Oh! Iâ€™m common, what can I tell ya? Extraordinary… but common.
BeBe Sweetbriar: To even think that we can put â€™songwriterâ€™ in front of your name when introducing you…
Bruce Vilanch: (interjecting) Funny, I did have a hit disco song. I had a disco career 30 years ago. I wrote a song for Eartha Kitt called â€™Where Is My Man?â€™
BeBe Sweetbriar: Yes indeed! I remember that song by Eartha very well.
Bruce Vilanch: And then the guy I collaborated with which was Jacques Morali, who created the Village People (â€™Y.M.C.A. ,â€™ â€™Macho Man ,â€™ â€™In The Navy ,â€™ â€™Go Westâ€™). So, I did an album for the Village People, which is called â€™Sex Over The Phone.â€™ It was banned by the BBC (laughs).
I got to work with the Village People and Eartha Kitt in the second and third acts of their careers, respectively. This was after their HUGE hits. I didnâ€™t have those. Only God knows what I would have done with all that money! That has been the extent of my songwriting career, up to now, except for a lot of parodies.
Solo show on way?
BeBe Sweetbriar: Like San Franciscoâ€™s own Tom Orr. He writes a lot of parodies for himself and other local celebrities to perform.
Bruce Vilanch: Heâ€™s hysterical! I love Tom Orr. I just saw him in â€™Hot Greeks.â€™
BeBe Sweetbriar: Another thing we forget is the numerous awards you have received for your charitable work for the Â fight against AIDS and the gay rights movement.
Bruce Vilanch: I have a Lucite shelf! I have many items of varying shapes and sizes in crystal and Lucite, and itâ€™s all waiting for an earthquake.
BeBe Sweetbriar: Iâ€™m really kind of scared to ask to describe the shapes of every one of those items you have on the shelf (laughs).
Bruce Vilanch: Oh, my God! Well, thereâ€™s a shaft Iâ€™m looking at. Quite a few shafts, as a matter of fact. Itâ€™s very nice, very encouraging. When you are sitting in the middle of the night by yourself and thinking this is crap that Iâ€™m writing, itâ€™s never going to play, and then I look up at the shelf and go â€™well, something worked.â€™
BeBe Sweetbriar: Well, there was the one-man show you wrote and performed, â€™Almost Famous,â€™ sometime ago… 12 or 13 years ago. Is there any chance we may see that in a reprise with a rebirth?
Bruce Vilanch: Well, Iâ€™ve been doing a one-man show steadily since, itâ€™s just, the stories keep changing as new things happen. Itâ€™s essentially the same idea. I have no act, Iâ€™m just talking about the things Iâ€™ve done for other people, and things Iâ€™ve been involved in. So, itâ€™s not exactly the same show, and I donâ€™t do those songs any more. Iâ€™m actually working on a â€™wholesaleâ€™ new one. Iâ€™m going around the country doing pieces of it here and pieces of it there, and sooner or later it will coalesce into something. Then Iâ€™ll bring it back and try and sell some tickets.
BeBe Sweetbriar: Itâ€™s funny also, because I see you at so many awards shows that you host or present, and you have so many great one-liners and wonderful anecdotal stories that you tell that are hilarious, and yet, when we see descriptions of who you are and what you do, we never see something like stand up comic in there.
Bruce Vilanch: Because I donâ€™t really push it. Iâ€™m not a club comic. They expect that type of performer in those clubs. I perform in those types of clubs for benefits, but I donâ€™t like to. I like to perform in places where people come to see me. I donâ€™t like to perform in a room where they (audience) are in the room anyway. And if they donâ€™t like you, they will just talk, and heckle, and drink until the next guy comes on.
The ritual is different. Thatâ€™s why Iâ€™d much rather play in a theater than in a club. (Itâ€™s) just not my scene. I also donâ€™t say Iâ€™m a stand-up because it means a certain type of performance which I donâ€™t think I do. I have elements of it, but I call myself a â€™sit-downâ€™ comic (both laugh), because I tell stories a lot and you have to pay attention. There can actually be silences while people are absorbing and being interested, as opposed to a sort of laugh-a-second that club comics get.
BeBe Sweetbriar: Some times that one-second laugh is the only laugh many stand up comics ever get in a short-lived career. Iâ€™d take longevity of laughter in the career of Bruce Vilanch, sit-down or otherwise, any day!
Bruce Vilanch will appear and perform with the cast of Green Dayâ€™s â€™American Idiotâ€™ in the â€™One Night Cabaret Benefitâ€™ for Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation at the Marines Memorial Theater in San Francisco on July 2. For info and tickets Richmond/Ermet AIDS Foundation.