While Hollywood has made tremendous progress towards accurately representing the struggles and successes of the LGBTQ community, traditional movies and TV series continue to present extremely stereotypical depictions of out characters. As Snobby Robot has documented, though, web series like EASTSIDERS, ANYONE BUT ME, OUT WITH DAD and others have led the way towards achieving honest and compelling portrayals of the LGBTQ experience.
So too does the new serialized comedy CHAPSTICK, which follows the adventures of two best friends/young creatives: Marlo Klein (played by Charlotte Kennett) and Addy Martin (played by Kearney Fagan, who co-created, co-wrote and co-directed CHAPSTICK with Kennett). Together, Marlo and Addy seek romantic and career success, while trying to understand the complicated and satisfying aspects of their own lives.
Filmed in Chicago, and with a cast/crew comprised of LGBTQ talent on and off-camera, CHAPSTICK’s first season of 12 episodes can currently be seen on its Youtube and Facebook pages, plus the LGBTQ subscription video platform REVRY.tv (see additional links below). Later this month, Kennett and Fagan will launch an IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign for its second season, aiming to make major improvements to the show’s overall quality. (Details on the campaign will be announced soon.)
Of course, those aren’t the only significant modifications that CHAPSTICK’s fans can expect in season 2. “The characters’ relationships will be developing, and new characters will be joining the show to stir the pot, as well as (to) develop different character arcs,” explains Kennett. “We want to entertain, so this season will continue the plot while getting more comedy-infused,” Fagan adds. “We are hoping to ramp up the number of jokes you see per episode.”
Before any further discussion of what comes next with CHAPSTICK, it does help to recall how the entire project came to be. To that end, Kennett and Fagan first conceived of the show’s plot and characters towards the end of their studies at one of comedy’s most iconic and influential institutions.
“It (CHAPSTICK) started as a project for Charlotte’s class at The Second City (in Chicago), but we were both getting close to graduating, so we wanted to create something while we still had the school resources,” Fagan remembers. “We always wanted to do an LGBTQ comedy show, and then the premise just came naturally between the two of us.”
Yet, as Kennett and Fagan add, the truest inspiration for CHAPSTICK’s creation came from within themselves. “We wanted to create something that we thought was funny and (something that) we could relate to. We felt that by creating CHAPSTICK, we were adding quality content in this specific genre (LGBTQ comedy).”
CHAPSTICK doesn’t just shine a comedic spotlight on LGBTQ life. It also takes a close look at romantic relationships within the community itself – including among its two main characters. “The show is much more surreal than the other comedic lesbian web series that we’ve seen,” Kennett and Fagan explain. “We aren’t afraid to be ridiculous, which is partially why we decided to play each other’s love interests, and not just Marlo and Addy. We didn’t want people to take the show too seriously.”
As stated at the beginning of this story, Hollywood has made important strides toward bringing moviegoers and TV viewers realistic depictions of the LGBTQ community. Unfortunately, for all that progress, there are still many instances of stereotypes, token characters and infamous “bury your gays” scenes (where prominent out characters are killed in gruesome fashion) on the big and small screen alike. CHAPSTICK, and other web series, are determined to change that.
“We wanted to normalize LGBTQ roles on television. That was our main goal of CHAPSTICK. We didn’t want to accentuate stereotypes so much as (to) humanize our characters. We definitely didn’t want any lesbians to die,” the show’s co-creators say. “We wanted to show that not all lesbians are ‘U-Haul’ lesbians. We wanted to showcase that bisexuality is a real sexuality. We want to defend these groups of people that often feel combatted with hate.”
Crucial to CHAPSTICK’s storytelling approach is how it effectively and humorously attacks the media’s outdated and inaccurate portrayals of LGBTQ individuals. “…We (Kennett and Fagan) wanted to put a comedic twist on something rather dark to talk about,” Kennett adds. “Negative stereotypes of LGBTQ people definitely exist, and are constantly expressed in film and TV. So, we are hoping that our web series can help shift these negative views.”
“We are trying to send the message (to viewers) that LGBTQ people are people,” Fagan replies. “It’s important that we all bond through comedy. We feel comedy can break a lot of awkward barriers down between people. We hope that our show provides a medium where others can gaze into how we (specifically) live.”
Fagan and Kennett were determined to not just give viewers a realistic look at LGBTQ individuals and their lives, but to reflect that realism in its ensemble cast. “We only wanted LGBTQ actors to play LGBTQ characters in CHAPSTICK. A show about people in a community should be played by people from that community,” they explain. “We believe it is significant to see that LGBTQ people come from all different backgrounds. The LGBTQ community isn’t only gay and lesbian. We’re not just butch or femme. We are individuals.”
Employing talented LGBTQ filmmaking professionals behind the camera was equally important to Fagan and Kennett. “As often as we could, and was possible, we would have LGBTQ directors of photography, sound, set decorators, and producers,” says Kennett. “We really put an effort into giving more LGBTQ film people opportunities. We did blasts on Facebook groups in pre-production, calling for LGBTQ filmmakers, crew and actors. We did get a good response.”
Once cast and crew were in place, Fagan and Kennett knew that acting in CHAPSTICK was only the beginning of their responsibilities. “Throughout filming season 1, we learned a lot of do’s and don’t that you need to learn on your own,” they recall. “Film school can’t teach you everything. (There are) some things you have to learn by being hands-on with the craft. We are working out the kinks, and hopefully that will show. We still plan to shoot the show on a C100 (Canon) camera with a wide range of lenses.”
Through all the ups and downs of making CHAPSTICK, Fagan and Kennett had the expertise and assistance of series line producer Sydne Horton to rely on during filming. “She (Horton) really saved us (Fagan and Kennett) from more than a few breakdowns,” Fagan responds. “Production is always difficult. Charlotte heads the production aspects, as executive producer of the show. When it came to making the show, and being on set, it was a whole hell of a lot of fun. It’s always more fun to get to the actual shooting.”
Overall, CHAPSTICK’s creators hope that their usage of actors and filmmakers whose voices have either been shunned or diminished by Hollywood will do more than just benefit the production of their series. Fagan and Kennett hope that their peers in the movie, TV and web series industries will learn from and follow their example.
“Our network has definitely expanded from creating this show and choosing to run it in a specific way. We are tired of seeing film crews (comprised of) 99% of straight white males,” they remark. “Don’t get us wrong – we love straight white men, and the work some of them have done. But with that said, it’s time to foster opportunities for women, POC (people of color), and LGBTQ individuals. We hope that we are positively putting something into effect.“
Acting in and producing CHAPSTICK has made a profound impact on both of the show’s creators. “Both Kearney and myself find ourselves in our characters – Marlo & Addy. We are constantly learning about how to improve ourselves, not just in life but in our work,” Kennett says. “We hope to look back and be happy with what we’ve made. That’s all anyone can ever hope for: that they’ve left something behind that they’re proud of.”
As life becomes even harder to comprehend in present-day America, and as our own existences continue to be filled with the usual pressures of work and family, comedies are one of the best ways to relax and unwind after a stressful day. CHAPSTICK’s winning blend of humor and relatable characters goes a long way towards helping viewers laugh, while at the same time presenting an honest and positive representation of LGBTQ people.
“We are trying to make content for everyone to watch, but specifically, we are trying to bring up LGBTQ people and women in a positive way in our show,” Kennett says of CHAPSTICK. “We are hoping to make people feel good when they watch our show. Laughter is definitely a cure of some kind, so no matter the situation you’re in at home, or in your life, we hope you can turn on our show and enjoy it for the moment. Enjoy that they’re people like you, dealing with things like you, and liking girls like you.”
NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning/subtitling of CHAPSTICK, Kennett says: “We do intend to make the show as accessible as possible! This is a large LGBTQ deaf community that we definitely do not want to exclude. We have been looking into how to do this (captioning the show) on YouTube, and will get to work (on captioning) as soon as possible.”