San Francisco’s Gay All-Male Burlesque, BALONEY, Laid Bare in Expertly Choreographed documentary

Baloney follows San Francisco’s wildly popular Gay All-Male Burlesque show over 18 months as the group rehearses for New Year’s Eve 2020. Told through the eyes of the group’s co-founders, as well as the larger ensemble, the film contemplates the struggles that come with being a performing artist in San Francisco, the most expensive city in North America. Through a mix of interviews, rehearsal footage, and filmed performances, Baloney captures the group’s unique combination of humor, confession, and sex positivity in ways that directly reflect the private fantasies of people who come to the show. It’s also a story of the people who choose to perform in Baloney who, like their audience, find themselves in a world that constantly silences kinky, queer, and gender non-conforming people. Finally, it spotlights that real failure in life is often not doing that thing you know you need to do or being the person you know you need to be. Even if that thing is daring to be an artist!

Gen and Gravitas Ventures are proud to present Baloney, Joshua Guerci’s no-holds-barred documentary chronicling 18 months in the life of Baloney, a mostly male, mostly naked, very erotic San Francisco burlesque troupe. The clothing optional documentary made its world premiere at Frameline and went on to inspire audiences at Outfest Los Angeles, Seattle Queer Film Festival, Cinema Diverse Palm Springs, Winnipeg Reel Pride Film Festival, TLVFest: Tel Aviv LGBT Film Festival, Boston Wicked Queer LGBTQ+ Film Festival, and Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. At RuPaul’s DragCon Los Angeles, the film is nominated for Best Documentary.

Baloney was directed, produced and shot by Joshua Guerci in his feature debut. Marc Smolowitz (Being BeBeTransfinite) produced. Queer artist Michael Phillis realized that “his worst day as an artist was still better than his best day as a tech manager.” So, he quit his day job, not just to create art, but to connect with other artists, many of whom work in jobs similar just to cover the cost of living in America’s expensive queer mecca. Thus, Baloney, the performance troupe, was born — a classic variety show combined with burlesque, using theatre, dance, and strip tease to explore and celebrate queer sexuality and life experience. Michael, together with his life partner Rory Davis, have been delighting and surprising audiences for years, and this documentary offers up an under-the-covers look at the real life people who create and perform the show, and a behind the scenes view into all of the hard work that goes into putting on this powerful and beautifully produced professional theatrical production.

With Baloney about to be released to the world, co-creators Michael Phillis and Rory Davis shared, “After doing the show live onstage for the past 8 years, it’s thrilling to see Baloney reach an international audience through Joshua’s documentary. Our hope is that young queer adults will see the movie, connect to the show, and know that they’re not alone. There’s a wonderful world of underground queer performance out there and your chosen family is waiting for you.”

Ahead of Baloney’s VOD debut, director Joshua Guerci shared what Baloney means to him as a filmmaker and a human. “Looking at the world today, I’m proud of Baloney because it challenges the prevailing narrative that sexuality is something to be ashamed of. Opponents to equality want to push LGBTQ identities back into the closet and this film demonstrates how queer identity is the entire lived experience of a person beyond what people do behind closed doors. I hope when people watch the film, it sparks a conversation about how we learn to be more like our authentic selves. I made Baloney to look beyond the coming out and the process. The Baloney journey explores not just who you love but how we love each other and ourselves.”

While moderating the screening at Outfest Los Angeles, Drag Race star BenDeLaCreme enthused, “Baloney feels very much related to drag. There really is a relationship between Baloney, drag, and indie filmmaking that’s all about being scrappy and making everything happen yourself and being all hands on deck to make the art be what it needs to be. That’s something really beautiful and relatable and exciting and I love that it’s uniquely San Francisco.”

YASS Magazine met the director Joshua Guerci and the leads, Michael & Rory, creators of Baloney.

What is Baloney and what shall we expect?

JOSHUA: Baloney the film is about independent queer performance art and in this film I wanted to show that community theatre is just as special and worthy of praise as any of the mega stars you’ve probably seen documentaries about. Its their own stories, in their own words, about how the performers’ lives shape the show but also how the show re-shapes the performers in return.

MICHAEL: Baloney is San Francisco’s Gay All-Male Revue! It’s part theater, part dance, and part peep show. We’re on a mission to showcase and celebrate gay men and queer sexuality in all forms and flavors, so expect to see many body types on our stages doing very dirty things.

How does Baloney blend male burlesque and drag?

JOSHUA: Michael’s actor’s journey is about trying on a variety of masks to find his true self. Drag is a mask that embraces the taboo of femininity. Society teaches men in general to feel ashamed of their femininity and drag is sort of an act of rebellion that says “I will not feel ashamed” and celebrates the wisdom of being a woman. Baloney drops the feminine mask and synthesizes the lessons of drag into the male identity. Michael says masculinity is itself just another mask to play around with and Baloney has a lot of fun playing with masks of both masculinity and femininity.

MICHAEL: For many years my partner (choreographer Rory Davis) and I worked in the San Francisco drag scene creating numbers for some of our favorite queens. We knew all these talented male dancers who had performed as backup for years, so when the time came to do our own show we wondered what would happen if we took the queens out and let the backup boys come forward. Not that we don’t still love our queens! But there are plenty of stages upon which drag queens can shine— what we wanted was a show with the camp sensibility and bawdy humor of a drag show, but where the male form is the mask we’re all wearing and commenting on. And Baloney was born!

This Documentary Offers Humor & Insight into 21st Century Struggles of Coming Out, Dating, Masculinity, Sex Work and Mental Health. How easy or difficult is it to speak about topics like these?

JOSHUA: Filming was easy, the editing process was much more challenging. As an ally, many of these stories are not mine to tell and it was important to me that Baloney and the LGBT community saw themselves represented on screen in a way that they can be proud of. That’s why I welcomed producer Marc Smolowitz onto the project and involved other queer filmmakers and storytellers to give me feedback. I knew right away that this story was bigger than me and I needed to collaborate with members of the community I was documenting.

MICHAEL: It’s not easy to open up about personal matters on camera. I know the Housewives make it look easy but it’s not! I’m proud of how the Baloney film met us all exactly where we are. Just being gay in this country can paint a huge target on your back. But I’m proud of how we didn’t shy away from the truth about ourselves. I think we all showed that rather than being afraid of ignorance, we can be beacons of hope and individuality just by being who we are without question or shame.

This clothing optional documentary made its world premiere at Frameline and went on to inspire audiences in several festivals. What is the feedback you received?

JOSHUA: Frameline was a beautiful experience. It was an intimate gathering of mostly friends and family because of COVID and it was so special. My mother was there. I was worried how she’d handle the talk about masturbation and water sports but she hung in there.

MICHAEL: People are coming to see the live show! I love how Joshua’s documentary gives you a peek behind our curtain and now we’re seeing audiences experience the live show for the first time. It’s really wonderful to hear from people who were drawn to the stories in the film and then complete the experience by seeing those same people in the live show. Once they come they want to do it again and again…

What part of this documentary did you enjoy most?

JOSHUA: The boudoir scenes are the best.

MICHAEL: I loved getting to hear how the members of Baloney feel about doing this show. We talk about so many things but we rarely talk about what this work actually means to us on a personal level— there’s no time to get philosophical when we’re practicing chair dances and kicklines. So to hear what the people involved in the show think about the work they’re doing and to hear how much the show means to them was a most delightful surprise. It started as a dick & balls show but somewhere along the line it got deepAnd there’s really no going back.

Where did the idea about this documentary come from?

JOSHUA: Most people don’t do what they love for a living and I wanted to show people what its like to do exactly that. Michael and Rory and myself are fortunate to make our living in our preferred spaces but it hasn’t always been easy. I wanted to show some of the sacrifice that goes into living the dream, as they say.

MICHAEL: Joshua Guerci is the genius behind the Baloney documentary. Joshua and I worked on several film projects and he kept saying that Baloney would make a great film. He got to know the group so intimately that we felt safe to open up our process and our homes in ways we never could with a stranger. Joshua really gets Baloney and has seen its capacity to inspire. And now he’s inspiring us right back by showing us what he’s been seeing all along.

How does it feel to see Baloney, that was performed live for 8 years, reach an international audience through Joshua’s documentary?

JOSHUA: Seeing Michael and Rory’s expanding success is the most rewarding aspect to completing this film. No contest. I’m so proud to have opened some doors for them because they’re such talented artists and beautiful people.

MICHAEL: It’s really a gift to see a part of your life story captured in a beautiful film. Joshua’s film makes the Baloney story so accessible, so lush, and he really gets the heart and humor that makes the show shine. We can’t wait for new audiences to meet us through this movie!

What is your hope about Baloney and what conversations would you like to spark with this documentary?

JOSHUA: Its unfortunate how queer identity has become such a hot political topic post-pandemic and it resurrected a lot of the old homophobic tropes into the mainstream. Baloney is very much an adult show and not for kids but its also about resolving the trauma of growing up gay or queer and not having the language or social context to express it or make much sense of it. Michael talks about not having gay adults or role models in his town so he turned to pornography on the internet. I hope this film opens up conversations about helping kids explore their identities. This really shouldn’t be political.

MICHAEL: Gay sex is not going away, now or ever. There has always been gay sex, there will always be gay sex, and the world is a better place with gay sex in it. Baloney will always be unapologetically horny. We will always talk about the realities and the fantasies of gay sex. I hope this film makes everyone who sees it go out and have gay sex.

How would you describe the underground queer performance at the moment and how has Baloney influenced it?

MICHAEL: I’m so thrilled to be living in a time where a show like Baloney can happen— where RuPaul is on TV all day long, where gays and queers are firmly in the mainstream. But I would say that the queer underground is where the really exciting stuff is happening. The mainstream is only ready to accept a sanitized version of what a gay person is. The underground performance scene is where you get to see the real queers at play, warts and all. Our queens have jagged edges and we’re not afraid to get messy, be real, and talk about the stuff that’s too hot for TV. There’s an entire world of underground queer art just waiting for the next generation of queerdos to come find it. Baloney will be waiting for them when they do.

JOSHUA: I love how Baloney challenges the stereotypes that are sometimes reinforced by mainstream media. Theres more than one way to be gay – or straight – and for me, thats the strongest takeaway of the queer story. These labels we use to identify ourselves don’t define us and Baloney shows that its up to us to decide what those labels mean.

Baloney debuts June 7 across North America and will be available on a number of digital and cable platforms, including iTunes, Amazon Video, Vudu, Spectrum, and in Demand.

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