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Q&A with Jason Schmidt of The Golden Gays

by Steve Desroches

It’s cuter than an intrauterine. It’s funnier than Stan’s toupee. It’s better than a night out at the Rusty Anchor. It’s The Golden Gays Halloween Show as they put a musical comedy spin on the iconic episode of The Golden Girls  “The Case of the Libertine Belle” where the ladies enjoy a murder mystery weekend, until a real murder happens, or does it? Jason Schmidt, who plays The Dorothy, took some time to talk to Provincetown Magazine about the enduring love of The Golden Girls, what it takes to pull off a great impersonation of the Miami four, and why this episode is perfect for a Halloween send-up.

Provincetown Magazine: The Golden Girls is more popular now than ever, more popular than when the show ran for the first time! Why do you think the show has such an enduring legacy?

Jason Schmidt: As Bea says, it was the writers. She called it literate, funny, and genius. It endures because of the usage of archetypes, so we each identify with one or more of the characters, that’s why we call our characters The Dorothy, The Blanche, etc., because people always say, “I’m The Dorothy!” And last, it endures because it has been on our TVs for 30 years! TV Land, Hallmark, We, and now Hulu, and also Disney+ have kept our favorite girls in our living rooms our whole lives!

PM: Since The Golden Girls premiered on September 14, 1985 it had a large and vocal LGBTQ fan base. That cast talked about it frequently from the 1980s on. Why do you think it was such a hit with the LGBTQ community?

JS: Again, with the archetypes, we as LGBTQ people were able to identify. Also as a marginalized community, i.e. women of a certain age, we have a lot in common with them. They were allowed to be unapologetically themselves, and that’s what we desperately wanted in the ‘80s and ‘90s when being gay felt especially dangerous. The actresses were always pro-LGBTQ. Bea was great friends with Charles Pierce, just to name one. Rue always had a gaggle of gays, and so did Estelle. I don’t know of a specific example for Betty, but she was on TV with Charles Nelson Reilly 1000 times, so that must count. And finally, the writers. The Golden Gays are good friends with Stan Zimmerman, who wrote on the first season with his writing partner James Berg, and they were gay (though forced to be closeted). Having gay writers just imbued the characters with empathy for LGBTQ+ people. The writers put LGBTQ+ themes into the storylines and not in a hokey-pokey way. Some were just there, like Coco the chef, or more heavily involved in the plot lines like Jean the Lebanese Lesbian or Blanche’s brother Clayton, and even in a less direct way with Rose facing the AIDS crisis on our behalf.

PM: What are some of the key elements to nailing the characters? And what is essential when it comes to costuming and the set?

JS: In acting class the thing that I clung to most was THE SHOES. Once I had THE SHOES, I knew how this character would walk, and hence who they would be. So it’s about the shoes and the walk for me. And then of course, it’s about  the vocal impression, which I have thankfully tweaked over and over, over the years. I think it’s the same for the other characters, think of Blanche in those little kitten heels, and Rose in her shoes with matching buckles. Betty always had earrings that matched the buckles on her shoes!! Sophia—orthotics. I think it’s also helpful at the beginning to take two or three key gestures and vocal stylings and run with those.

In the beginning, the costumes were mostly true ‘80s, ‘90s vintage combined with fast fashion that would indicate the character well enough. As we became more successful we were able to hire a costume designer Amy Rawe Weimer (Clothes Were the Days) to create custom pieces for us. That really took us to the next level, because when the fans see a replica costume, they freak out! Because we tour to giant theaters and little tiny venues, we’ve always had to be creative with the set. We’ve had an entire set built for us, which we used for a two-week run in Fort Lauderdale, and we have traveled with furniture pieces that indicate. We also have backdrops and digital slides we use. It all depends on the venue, but we have to make it all work with an entire tour. If you plop a round table with a floral tablecloth in front of a kitchen backdrop, plop the three broads into white chairs, it definitely gives the audience what they want. We are working with prop designers now to create portable pieces that would be much closer to replicas, so stay tuned in 2024 for that!

PM: Have people associated with the show seen The Golden Gays and what has been their response?

JS: We have met and worked with so many amazing people from The Golden Girls, it would be hard to list them all. Our closest friends are Stan Zimmerman, writer, and Marsha Posner Williams, co-producer. They have supported us and been involved in many events with us over the years and their support has been immeasurable. The most recent nod that we received was from Isabel Romero who was the script supervisor for all seven seasons. She pulled me aside after one of our performances and let me know that what I was doing was just so “Bea.” She said it was “like being in the room with her.” And that made me feel so good. As actors and writers and creatives, we really want to get that validation, and to receive it from the one person who was in the room with the girls each and every week, was super cool and something I will cherish forever.

PM: While The Golden Girls never had a Halloween special, the episode “The Case of the Libertine Belle” is perfect for the season. Remind us what happens and tells us how The Golden Gays make it their own.

JS: That’s exactly what I thought when Flip Phone Events and Golden Fans at Sea (The Golden Girls inspired cruise) asked me to create a murder mystery musical for one of our outings. The episode centers around the girls heading off to a murder mystery weekend put on by Blanche and the museum. She wants to use the event to impress her boss and get a promotion. Dorothy is of course, a mystery aficionado and should be able to solve the fake murder easily, but then another unexpected murder occurs and Blanche is the only suspect! Mayhem ensues! I hope they iron it all out before the last commercial break! This episode was RIPE for musicalizing, so that’s exactly what we did. I went through and found the “biggest” moments that could be turned into songs. We leaned all the way into the camp of it, and just kept going. It is our most interactive show to date, with many different audience members playing walk on rolls. Don’t worry, we pre-recorded your lines with famous Golden Girls actors and other celebrities. This is our first brand new show after many years of touring our other three musicals so it is very exciting and challenging for us! We also have used new actors in this run, namely for the P-Town show local Provincetown designer and actor Jonathan Joseph Peters will be playing The Blanche!

The Golden Gays Halloween Show: Ring Ring! It’s the Libertine Belle Murder Musical plays at the Red Room, 258 Commercial St., Friday, October 27, 7 p.m. and Saturday, October 28, 4 p.m. Tickets ($35/$45) are available at the box office and online at redroom.club.

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