How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice?

I've been an artist since the age of 4. I didn't really consider it as a career path until I was 17. It was my teachers and members of my community that convinced me it was a great path for me. I honestly wanted to make tons of money being a surgeon.

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project?

My inspiration was based on having tons of music & footage and not knowing what to do with it. I had been making all this music and shooting all of this footage and I was like, "what am I gonna do with all this content??" Am I just gonna let it rot on my hard drive or am I gonna create a meaningful experience out of it. Once, I got the vision about the story and visual exposition I started to test it out at open mics and other collaborative spaces around the city. Eventually, I was able to come up with a conceit that I didn't totally hate and started to collect tons of research and visual content from multiple sources.

What's next for you or your series?

I am currently wrapping up the auditory component of my next project entitled ADORE. The first video should be out around April 2017. I would say, this is probably gonna be my first commercially angled piece of work. But nevertheless, it will always include truth.





How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice?

I believe we're all born "of age" in our artistry, as our passions grew with us in the womb. 

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project?

Initial footage was taken downtown Chicago in the summer of 2016, while I was having a panic attack. I started dancing to calm myself and realized not many people were watching me. I felt free. I danced in several places that afternoon, recording myself over the long 5 hours. In collaboration with Angie Perez, ambivert has shifted into a dialogue about exhibiting physical freedom while managing chronic illness.

What's next for you or your series?

Sharing astrology based trauma therapy through art, film and love.



How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice?

The moment I came of age as an artist was the moment I realized that I couldn’t separate my art-making from my work as an educator. As an artist-educator, I am most interested in raising female consciousness. In my work, whether narrative or abstract, or in the form of an essay or a syllabus, I lean towards exploring the barriers to and the paths toward self-actualization for women. Sometimes I like to do this explicitly, though never didactically, and other times I like to do this more covertly. In The Furies, for example, because the stories and themes contained in the original narrative have been translated into dance, I found an opportunity to look at the ways in which women identify the subtle oppressions generated in a patriarchal culture - the subjugation of women inherent in heteronormative coupling, for instance, or social prohibitions against female anger - in order to ultimately see how movement can contain and express both the detrimental effects of capitalist patriarchy, and, more importantly, avenues for defiance.

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project?

The Furies grew out of a a lifetime of discussions with strong women that exposed all the ways in which women are not only silenced but discouraged from expressing a full range of emotions, particularly those deemed “masculine.” It turns out that anger, for women, is especially ill-advised.

Yet, the reasons for women to be angry are myriad. Displays of gender inequality are everywhere: cat-calling on the street, trolls on the internet, harassment on the job, domestic abuse, the wage gap, rape culture, the restrictive nature of reproductive rights. And then there are the more subtle forms of sexism: prohibitive stereotypes (the nag, the bitch, etc.), dismissal of female intelligence, lack of support for mothers, and, for aging or ‘unattractive’ women, a special treat: invisibility.

Aristotle talked about ‘appropriate anger’ and how moral indignation, if expressed at the right time and for the right reason and towards the right entity, is a sign of virtue. He was, of course, talking about men, not women, but in The Furies, I apply these concepts to women. I wanted to reassign women the virtue taken away from them when their angry and upset voices are silenced.

To be clear, The Furies isn’t a series about ‘women on the edge’ or ‘women melting down.’ Anger is natural. Anger is inevitable. And anger, despite its negative connotations, is useful: it is the disruptive muscle of the rebel, the society-changer. If channeled appropriately, it can be used to identify what we value, what we’re willing to take risks for. In this series, I explore the potentially transcendent power of women’s anger, and the dangers of repressing it.

Originally The Furies was created as a narrative series focused on a range of women of different backgrounds and ages, set in the Chicago dance world. Due to funding constraints, however, I kept the dancing and used the narrative to inform the resulting five dance films, which explore how each character’s inner struggle manifests in movement. For this endeavor, I hired three incredibly talented female choreographers (Paige Caldarella, Erin Kilmurray, and Kaitlin Webster) with different styles and aesthetics to set movement on five female dancers, who also would have played the main characters in the narrative version of the series.

With each choreographer, I either shared the script or told her stories about the character she’d be setting work on. This allowed us to discuss evocative themes and imagery that would shape the choreography. Similarly, I worked with each dancer on her character, exploring her inner conflicts and strivings, along with the ways that her anger over the daily indignities all women endure affects her life. With each individual woman, choreographers and dancers alike, this was a conversation about what it’s like to move through life as a woman and what it could be like if, for a brief moment, she was allowed to express the frustration that’s been growing since her consciousness awoke. What resulted was an intimate series of personal-professional conversations that shaped the dance and the work as a whole. Working with my female collaborators in this way allowed us all to be our complete, authentic selves, to be people and artists at the same time.

What's next for you or your series?

I’m interested in evolving my artistic practice. I will continue the shift from narrative web series like Full Out to dance series like The Furies. Over the next year, I will be working on another dance-focused project called If Left Unchecked with choreographer Paige Caldarella and dancers Jess Duffy and Keyierra Collins.

In terms of web series, I’ve co-written and am directing two episodes of a sexy adult sex-ed series called F*ck Yes, which showcases positive, realistic situations in which adults negotiate what they want out of sexual situations.

I’m also currently writing a series of essays called How Not to Overthrow a Dictator about an 8-year span in my career as a public high school teacher in Chicago, during which my school was run by a petty, educrat tyrant, and in which I explore the frightening parallels to the current presidential administration and all of the ways that the resistance at my school tried and, unfortunately, failed to come out on top.

If you are currently involved in another Open TV project please speak about the connection here.

My previous series Full Out, a queer dance series focused on the lives of Chicago dancers, lives on OpenTV and was very much the initial inspiration for The Furies.



How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice?

I never thought in a million years that I would begin to direct videos or make films. I began in fits in starts with drawing and painting, spoken word poetry, and occasional DJing, all while working very traditional corporate or academic jobs. However, I've always been strongly attracted to imagery of beautiful Black women and the more nuanced aspects of Black popular culture even as a child artist. I took that attraction into my work and began working with camera-based media, simultaneously photography and video, in 2011 when I began attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I became known for this work in Chicago pretty quickly, particularly my self-portraits and images of my family in my first solo show Vagabunda at the Chicago Artists Coalition. Since then I've also begun doing more conceptual performance work incorporating my writing, usually in the form of performative lectures and projections with images culled from popular culture and my own practice. I'm still learning a lot about shooting and editing video, but I find it has an accessibility to folks who don't enjoy the elitism of the art world. It's my goal to always be able to navigate the worlds of academia, the contemporary art market, and popular media simultaneously with relative ease.

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project?

A few years ago, my cousin Sharhonda Stockman was attempting to shoot a reality TV show pilot and was having a hard time getting her project picked up by major networks. Eventually she was in heavy contract negotiations, but the show was dropped, probably very likely because she and my mother did not want their image to be exploited for negative stereotypes. I was very intrigued by the idea of making a reality inspired show that didn't really make a lot of sense or disrupted our typical notions of how that show should go, especially one featuring an all-Black female cast. I became more interested over time in trying to create a sense of connectedness to the people behind the camera, perhaps even more than the ones in front of it.

What's next for you or your series?

I intend to create a much longer edit of this, incorporating new footage since my sister's wedding. I want to turn the video into a three-part feature and submit it to film festivals. I imagine it will take many years, but my dream is to eventually go to Sundance with some type of film. I also would like to do a documentary about my academic interests in religious syncretism. I really look up to how independent filmmakers such as Lena Dunham and Issa Rae have made the leap to popular culture.



How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice?

I feel like I've had several coming of age moments as an artist. All of these small milestones that changed me, that made me the artist that I am. Like the first time I ever performed a poem. I was so afraid I had to sit down on the stage, I couldn't stand up. Or the moment that I totally forgot my whole poem in front of a crowded auditorium of about seven hundred people.  Or the moment I tried to get a government job and realized when I wasn't writing I wasn't happy. I think that a few years ago, during a very cold winter in Chicago, I felt like something in my voice clicked. That moment was when I realized, in a lot of ways, the reason why I was a writer, why I was doing this. It was after a period of immense rejection, when I felt like I wanted to walk away or give up, and I found myself at the table again. Praise is a fickle little shit. We want it, but it can't be our fuel. If its our only fuel, we risk losing ourselves. I had kept putting myself and my self-confidence at the whim of other peoples praise, and I was destroying myself. I had to have a hard conversation with myself, about how I couldn't let anyone else tell me if I was good or not. If the work that I was doing was important or not. I couldn't let institutional acknowledgment define my idea of my success. Either, I was going to create or I wasn't. And if I was going to create, it would have to be for the communities that I came from, the communities that raised me. Once I had that, my voice clicked. I knew who I was writing for. I knew why I was writing, and what stories I was drawn to and wanted to tell.

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project?

The inspiration for Brown Girls is my relationship with my best friend, Jamila Woods. My relationship with Jamila is one of the most important relationships in my life. I've never seen a relationship like ours represented in TV or media. Usually when TV shows depict two women of color from different racial backgrounds, they are usually there to serve in contrast to each other, or to tear each other down. That's never been my reality. That's never been where my politics are at. So I wanted to create something that felt closer to my world. Also, being a person of color in America is so hard. Theres always so much heartbreak politically. I wanted to make something that could bring my friends joy in a politically turbulent time. Something that showed the beauty of the communities of color that I come from, not just the pain or the turbulence.

What’s next for you or your series?

I just finished a draft of Season Two, so Inshallah we'll have that to look forward to soon.




How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice?

Kayla Ginsburg: I’ve always loved film. I minored in college and after moving (back) to Chicago, I discovered the dope independent film world that thrives here. That, and falling in love with the glitter beauty of the Chicago queer community funneled my dreams towards queer filmmaking. Filmmaking has always been a medium to do my favorite things: collaborate and portray the beauty/humor/complexity of sexuality and community. But basically my current practice is waking up every morning and asking myself, “What the eff am I DOING right now?” and never having an answer.

Ruby Western: I think I’m coming of age right now. That thing when you’re 14 years old and you’re totally excited about what you’re doing one minute and then completely horrified by it the next? Yeah, that. I have always loved writing, acting, painting, singing. Since I could wield scissors, I’ve put together shows and made (invited?) family and friends (to) watch them. I’ve been tinkering with what stories I want to tell and the best way to get them across. I’m still working on that. What I know is that I always want to make people laugh, and I want to talk about love and queerness and tenderness and fucking. And part of this coming of age for me is listening more and supporting other people in telling their stories.


What was the inspiration for your Open TV project?

It started about three years ago. We knew we wanted to make a web series together—Ruby had just been through a big breakup and Kayla had just ended a year-long relationship with her senior thesis on the history of lesbian sex magazines. Ruby started asking herself how she could get over heartbreak and Kayla started asking herself what a lesbian feminist magazine would look like today, so when we started throwing around ideas it just came together: a breakup story set at a fictional feminist periodical--Snatch Magazine.

What's next for you or your series?

Kayla Ginsburg: Afternoon Snatch is about to COME OUT which is so exciting and I am just as proud as my mama was when I came out. I’m cooking up a couple short dance films with my partnerlove Kaitlin Webster, but mostly I am starting a totally different venture with my little sister called The Radical Stitchery.  We embroider and sew things and make journals—basically we’re trying to change the world one stitch at a time. Different medium, same political project as Afternoon Snatch: to portray the queer-feminist-radical-respectful-sometimes-angry-but-mostly-fierce-and-lovely world we want to see.

Ruby Western: Since we wrapped, I’ve been spending my time hosting live shows, doing standup comedy, and trying to bring politics into all of it. Let’s talk about IUDs at an open mic where I’m in lineup of nine cisdudes and I have to yell over six TVs showing sports! Yes! Let’s do that!



How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice?

Artists are always evolving, but I think the creation of my one-woman-play, "A Great Dive," as well as producing my first web series, "Friendly Confines," were particularly defining experiences. Both projects gave me the opportunity to bring together writing, acting, movement, and music to tell a personal and original story. My current practice is really about writing and producing original stories that have both comedy and heart, with the intention to help, inspire, and uplift others. Stories foster empathy and connection, and a great one can spark a revolution.

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project?

I went through a devastating, life-defining breakup, and had to learn to move on from grief. Leonard Cohen sings, "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in." I think "Geeta's Guide To Moving On" is about accepting the cracks and finding the light.

What's next for you or your series?

We've written 12 episodes that make up Season One, so I hope to produce and release 9 more episodes.



How did you come of age as an artist? How did you come to your current practice? 

It feels safe to say I’ve been writing since about as long as I’ve been able to. When I was young, I had aspirations to be a visual artist or musician, but I come from a family of great storytellers and teachers, so writing and later directing became a huge passion once I entered high school. In college, I wrote my first play. The moment I saw my characters come alive in front of me on a stage, I knew that this was the only thing I could do with my life. I studied theatre and literature in undergrad, wrote and produced a few plays in the years following, and am now at Northwestern earning an MFA in Writing for the Screen + Stage. Since entering grad school, I have gravitated more toward film and television, which is what has brought me here. In my work I am most interested in capturing intimacy, and for me, the camera has become my favorite magic wand by which to do that. 

What was the inspiration for your Open TV project? 

Various versions of these characters and the world they live in have been attempted as a play, a musical, and ultimately a half-hour series for which these webisodes serve as a kind of prologue. But the idea really began percolating during my undergrad career. I came out as gay my senior year of college (you’ll see a version of that night in the pilot episode). As I began consuming media about my newfound identity, I felt there was a major disconnect between these narratives and the reality I was experiencing as a 21-year-old surrounded by other 21-year-olds trying to figure out who we were. As I watched what were considered “positive” portrayals of the community, I noticed a kind of sentimentalization of the queer experience that just didn’t quite add up with the messy reality I was living. As I grew as a writer and a member of this community, I decided I wasn’t interested in strictly positive representations, just honest ones. I certainly don’t claim that this show speaks to any definitive truth or experience, but it is reflective of my desire to show the frank, awkward, even downright unkind moments I have had and/or witnessed alongside my LGBT+ friends. The language of representation terms some of these portrayals as problematic, but it does not mean they are untrue. My goal with this piece is twofold: first, to humorously, self-consciously, and lovingly point out that this community is not perfect. Second, and perhaps most importantly, to portray friendship that exists beyond kindness. Friendship old enough and strong enough that frankness and honesty, sometimes brutal, is the way you show love, and how that dynamic does and does not shift when someone just needs you to be happy for them.

What’s next for you or your series?   

The future of IRL is undetermined at this moment in time. I’ll be graduating in June, and some of our cast is scattering to the coasts. What I do know is that the team of myself, Mark Davis, and Sarah Antao are excited to pursue projects together as soon as possible. We’ve made one short film together in addition to this series, and hope to produce another next year. But our mission right now is to look around us and recognize whose stories need to be told right now and whose can take a back seat, and from there seeing where our voices can be most useful and effective.  



I created Open TV Tonight to queer the late night talk show. Late night ranks among the least diverse hours of TV, even though late night programming tends to be the "edgiest" in TV history. Instead of promoting the latest macho blockbuster to be sold internationally I wanted to use the format of the talk show to showcase Chicago's queer artists. Instead of Jimmy Fallon, you got me, a black queer academic who could never book our president as a guest. Instead of a live band, we had Hijo Pródijo, who has DJ'ed some of the dopest queer events in the city. Having a spot on a free night at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago helped us attract our biggest audience at the time, around 200 people -- though we would soon outdo that with the premieres of the shows we previewed, BrujosBrown Girls, and Afternoon Snatch. The event was a roaring success. So many people came up to me afterward to tell me how invigorating it was to be in a space that artistically represented the least powerful but most brilliant artists and communities 10 days after the inauguration. 

In this video you'll see interviews with the teams behind Open TV (beta)'s most ambitious series to date. These shows have already developed large passionate fan bases and I guarantee you will see more of these artists in the future! Check it out:

Artists // Kayla Ginsburg, Ruby Western, Hannah Welever, Minita Gandhi, Ricardo Gamboa, Reshmi Hazra Rustebakke
Videography // Bradley Murray
Executive Producer // Aymar Jean Christian
Producer & Set Designer // Elijah McKinnon
Assistant Producer // Chris Walker
Assistant Editor // Sean Magner
Production Assistant // Carolina Poveda
Furnishing // Humboldt House

Outfit for Aymar Jean Christian by Reformed School, Ssavior, CRAM Fashion
Filmed January 31, 2017 in the Edlis Neeson Theater, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago



If you want to develop with Open TV, you can email me at developer [at] weareopen [dot] tv. If you don’t get a response within two weeks, send it again because something weird has happened!

However, if you’d like to schedule a meeting with me to talk something over, I have public Office Hours! I will be online available for a Google Hangout to talk over your project or interest face-to-face. Signing up is easy, just use this link, via Calendly, and select open slots (highlighted).

Right now, Open TV is a part-time operation. My full-time job is as a professor, where I have to write and teach. My heads of production (Stephanie Jeter), marketing (Elijah McKinnon), social media engagement (Chris Walker) and social media analysis (Mark Díaz) all have other jobs. As such, the development process will have inefficiencies, delays and issues that need to be regularly accounted for and fixed.



A project is in development when I’ve met with the artist and we’ve agreed to work towards collaborating on a project. The artist has given me a pitch, outline, treatment or script of their series. Projects in development need funding and a production team before we can enter pre-production. For me, a project starts in development and moves the process never leaving development. In other words, once we start development with you, we’ll always be developing your work, even after it’s released.



Projects in pre-production have secured funding and production team to head into production. This is planning stage. Producers hire the crew, find the locations, organize the shoot and troubleshoot the whole process.




Projects are in production when they are capturing the footage they need to complete the story. Our shoots last anywhere from one day (Let Go and Let God was shot in one day, Nupita Obama in two) to two weeks (for You’re So Talented season two) to several months (Futurewomen, which shot through all of 2015). Productions need at least one person to capture the image, typically a photographer or cinematographer, and often but not always someone to capture sound on location. While I made an exception in our early months (Southern for Pussy), the vast majority of future Open TV projects will be shot in Chicago or developed in Chicago with Chicago-based artists. Series from elsewhere will have to come to me completed or near completion.

Open TV does provide funding for a limited amount of projects through our partner production company, Under the Spell Productions, a 501c3 non-profit organization tasked with advancing diversity in the arts. No in-house production budget has exceeded $5,000 and most are under $3,000. Thus, for us to fund projects they must be scaled for a low-budget: small crews, minimal locations and special effects, with collaborators for music, art direction, set and costume design, etc. 




Post-production involves the editing of a project, adding any elements that cannot be or need not be captured in production. This sometimes includes the creation of a score or licensing of music, transcribing (for documentary) and assembling the story. Editing can be costly, but happily I’ve had support from Northwestern to train and hire students in editing, and they’ve been doing a fabulous job. Many people underestimate the cost of post-production. I’ve done this myself in the past, and not planning for post can delay a project for years. This is why it is very important to have a doable plan for a project in pre-production. 




After we reach a final cut, it’s time to plan release. All Open TV projects screen locally before going online on our site, so we have to plan an event! Events range in size. The premiere for Southern For Pussy attracted around 20 people, whereas our event at Woman Made Gallery drew over 50. Events are also key research sites for Open TV, where my graduate students collect feedback from attendees, either through one-on-one interviews, or recording the conversation or Q&A. When it’s ready to release online Eli McKinnon designs a website for the project and a social media campaign. 




In Hollywood, a project’s readiness is only one of many factors in its development. Often times projects need powerful producers or studios attached, fully employed departments for all element of production (casting, costumes, makeup, visual effects, etc.), a built-in audience (franchises), the “right” audience (a desirable demographic), and a story that’s acceptable to LA executives, advertisers and/or the press, all of which are brokered by agents, managers, lawyers and unions.

For Open TV our criteria are a little less complicated. In any given project I look for:



The first question I ask of a project is whether it is “art.” Open TV is interested in expanding the art of television production, narrative and distribution. My definition of good art is one with a clear and unique vision or purpose. Most of the time this means I want to develop series that would have a hard time getting through the commercial – and in particular, advertising-driven – broadcast, cable and web TV networks because of its subject matter or the identity of its creator (their social/cultural identity and their artistic discipline).



The second question I ask of a project is whether it’s ready. A project is ready when there is a script or plan in place, there’s a team to make it happen and the money to pay everyone who needs to be paid. The script, treatment or outline is most important. Having this is critical for us to understand what you want to do and what resources it will take to do it. I accept scripts in any format. There’s tons of resources for writing treatments, but again, I don’t need formulas. It just needs to communicate enough information to show that you thought about the story and its core elements.

That said, a full treatment for me includes:

* A log line (one sentence description of the series)

* A detailed plot summary (for TV, usually a detailed description of the first episode and an outline of the season, with notes on how things sound/look/feel)

* Character profiles (who are they, what do they do, what do they want, also age/race/gender/sexuality and other key identity characteristics)


It might also include:

* List of locations needed and secured

* Average length of episodes

* List of confirmed or desired collaborators (actors, producers, music, crew)

* Exhibition plans (where/how to do the premiere, release schedule)

* Ideal production schedule (when we should shoot based on where you want to shoot)

* Influences (e.g. this show is Transparent meets I Love Lucy meets Game of Thrones): photography/art that inspires, music that inspires, or a vision statement


After the script/treatment, we set about creating a team. Nearly all video projects are collaborative in some way. You cannot make a show on your own, nor can you make an indie show without allowing other people to influence it creatively. The most important part of the team, I’m finding, is the producer – I’ll get to that in a minute. Depending on the project, more could be needed. If you’re planning a music video or musical, you should secure musical collaborators. If you’re planning a scripted series, you should know the actors who will be in it. Open TV has connections to all kinds of artists and crew, but I find production works smoothly when the core team is familiar with each other, passionate about the project and clear on the vision. We can introduce you to people, but, especially if you’re new to video production, I find it is better to work with as many people you are comfortable with as possible and we can fill in the gaps (particularly if the gap is in more technical crew like editors).

NIC Kay, who developed a docu-series with Open TV, gave me great advice to give to every artist who wants to work with us: make sure your Open TV project is integrated into your existing artistic practice. This is something experienced interdisciplinary artists know; your time and your ability to learn new skills is limited. If you’re a singer, don’t pitch a silent film, but rather think expansively about what video can do for you. You can pitch a docu-series about the making of your next album, a series of music videos, or an animated film in collaboration with a painter you know where you’d supply the music to their images. Think about what you’re already working on and how video can help you develop it further. This will also help clarify the value of it. In other words, if you’re a performance artist with no intention to leave Chicago, maybe you should use your series to make connections with local artists or pitch a local grant-making institution, and not necessarily something you think will get lots of views online. In general, chasing views is a fool’s game. Don’t play it. Be true to your practice and vision.

Build your team from the start. It makes the whole process smoother for everyone. I strongly suggest you write a complete treatment and/or script in as much detail as possible and find a writer/producer/director you trust completely to help you execute the project. That person doesn't necessarily need film/TV experience. They can have produced performances, events, parties. I can mentor a new producer so long as they’re willing to put in the tremendous amount of work it takes to get a project through development. It's most important producers be organized, clear, dependable, passionate about your project and have the time to do it.  This is the only way scripted series/films get done: if there's a team in place who are passionate about and 110% on board with your vision. 




Open TV is not open to everyone. In particular we are not open to artists who get ample support from media industries to make and market series, primarily straight white men, who, study after study shows, disproportionately hold positions of power in Hollywood and art markets.

Open TV develops television by queer, trans, cis-women and artists of color. In our first year, however, I’m finding myself more open to queer, trans, cis-women or artists of color. In this awkward phrasing, race is privileged but I am open to content by and about white people, particularly if they are LGBTQ, represent a range of gender expressions or inhabit some other intersectional identity. When I look at my development slate, I want majority-minority programming but I also want a range of identities, because differences bring out meanings. In other words, I want our audience to compare and contrast our programs and ask themselves why and how race, gender, sexuality, age, class, disability, etc. influence how they interpret programs.



In between the first and second cycles we’ll be re-releasing existing web series through Open TV Re-Presents. Open TV Re-Presents is basically our “re-runs.” I’ve asked a select group of artists and producers to combine all the episodes of their series into one “binge-able” file for Open TV beta.

Why re-release series already online? While we like to think of the internet as accessible, in truth people miss interesting and great projects all the time. Algorithms hide programs from us. We get distracted with the hours of video uploaded to the web every minute, not to mention new releases in film, video games, music, art, etc. People tell me all the time they miss programs they swore their social networks would have caught. We clearly need a secondary market for indie TV.

Open TV Re-Presents starts an archive of original series by queer, trans, cis-women, and artists of color. I’m curating shows I find artistic, focused on great writing even in the absence of technical sophistication or lengthy narratives. Some series sacrifice traditional cinematic quality to tell a fuller story, whereas others tease audiences with a short story in order draw them in to fully realized world.

Whatever their relationship to production value, each of these series is historically significant and marks an evolution in television stories by and about queer people. Curl up and enjoy with generosity and love!


Open TV Re-Presents: Kissing Walls

Kissing Walls is full of heart and love. With sharp dialogue and sumptuous cinematography, it is one of the most confident, full realized queer comedies I’ve seen. The team released its first season as three short episodes, which amount to the length of your standard TV comedy pilot. It’s my pleasure to re-release the series as a pilot here, so viewers can feel the show’s confident acting and direction and get comfortable in the world created by Zak Payne.

Zak says: “There are many people in this country who have zero regard for the LGBT community, people of color, and every intersection in between. They don’t want to watch a show like Kissing Walls, and they don’t want you to watch it either. But every obstacle Kissing Walls has faced has only affirmed its necessity as a series. Art remains one of our most powerful tools against oppression. We must continue to demand these stories and continue to demand adequate representation both in front of and behind the camera. I’m entering the new year with this knowledge: making television is hard. Making television about queer people of color is harder. But I think a series like Kissing Walls is worth fighting for!”

Kissing Walls is a 3-part comedy that explores work, sex, and friendship between queer 20-somethings living in Chicago.


Open TV Re-Presents: Melody Set Me Free

Years before Empire, another black queer producer, Kalup Linzy, wrote and produced a drama series about empire set in the world of music and featuring an original soundtrack. Linzy uploaded his epic narrative Melody Set Me Free to YouTube in 2010, following a 2007 short film of the same name. He released three seasons, totaling over two and a half hours of drama: the first independently, presented on YouTube in four separate episodes, and the next two shot at MoMA PS1, produced by James Franco’s Rabitt Bandini production company and released as one “feature edit” on YouTube. As a pilot, the short introduces a reality competition show where Patience, Grace and Faith vie for a record deal. Patience (played by Linzy) wins, and season one picks up with her recording her album for KK Records, owned by KK Queen, Linzy’s Lucious Lyon. Melody Set Me Free replaces American drama’s long-standing tradition of the white male hero or anti-hero driven to maintain or acquire power, with an ethically complex and bedeviled black woman driven to conquer the music industry with the “nasty ass hits” comprising the series’ soundtrack. KK Queen invested the estate of her late husband in the company to conquer the music industry. She is powerful, and the core of the drama is her struggle to keep the company together as her artists pursue their own desires.

Set in a record label ran by dame diva KK Queen (played by Linzy), Patience O'brien (also played by Linzy) continues her journey of being in love and singing. However, she soon realizes it is not the dream she dreamt.


Open TV Re-Presents: Outtakes

Outtakes is one of the most experimental, engrossing web series I’ve seen, and it is the rare show written and conceived of by a transmasculine person, Sylvan Oswald. Not only does the cast represent some of the strongest actors working today, but Sylvan also stars in the series and grounds it as an exploration into how we shape our identities in real life and through media.

Sylvan says: “Outtakes came out of a moment of frustration with the American Theater, where I'd come up as a playwright. In 2013 the conversation around trans artists and trans content was even less developed than it is now. I felt like I was having trouble being heard. There was also a moment of idleness - performer Becca Blackwell and I had some time booked to work together, but what I had in mind was feeling kind of dead to me. So we just started messing around and watching videos online. Naturally we landed on YouTube transition videos. Neither of us had ever made one. We were like, let's make one, but what should it be? ‘Should I play you? Should you play me? Should we play ourselves?’ We shot on my 2009 laptop webcam because that's the aesthetic of those transition videos (and because I don't own a camera and had no prior experience making video). I showed the raw footage, which included me directing Becca, to my best friend, filmmaker and editor Maria Cataldo, who later became the co-director, and said, "What do you think we should do? Which approach do you like better?" And she said, ‘No, Sylvan, this is the show.’ That's how we found the style.”

Season 1 followed creator Sylvan Oswald and actor Becca Blackwell as they set out to create a web series about a guy coming out to his partner, played by Zuzanna Szadowski, as trans.

Season 2 starts one year later. Becca, now Beckett, is trying T, Sylvan’s leaving Brooklyn for good and Zuzanna’s trying to sort out the future with both of them.

Outtakes is a lo-fi web series about two trans guys. It is based on the genre of the transition video, videos created by people in the process of transitioning their gender. These videos, created all over the world in bedrooms and living rooms on laptops and webcams, are a way for trans* people to share experiences and information, and to feel less isolated by reaching out and building community online.


Open TV Re-Presents: Filipino Fusions 

Kiam says:“Much of the Filipino food I grew up with was meat-based. I want to create new fusions with Filipino food that take it beyond its origins while questioning what it is exactly that defines Filipino, or for that matter, any culture’s cuisine as it crosses boundaries.  What is lost? What remains?  My vision is to connect Filipinos, Filipino Americans, and people around the world through a culinary experience by offering new insights, new spices and shifts to familiar (or unfamiliar) dishes and show the breadth of what Filipino cuisine is and could be.”

Filipino Fusions is a cooking show by Kiam Marcelo Juino, star of Open TV Presents: Nupita Obama Creates Vogua! In this show Kiam hosts as Jerry Blossom and shows us how to make Filipino food with a vegan twist.




Nupita Obama Creates Vogua is a series very near and dear to our hearts. It was written and directed by Aymar Jean Christian , Open TV's creator and head of development. It's the series that launched Open TV as we know it, and now we have more to share.

We have just released three new Nupita Obama videos, each an interview with one of the three stars: Mister Wallace, “Curtis”, Kiam Marcelo Junio, “Reyes”, and Saya Naomi, “Gia”. 


Christian on the artists and actors: "Nupita Obama would not have been possible without these incredible artists, who gave their skill and art to the project. I wrote the script, but they added to it. I didn't have to plan for costumes, set design, or so many other elements of the production because Erik, Saya, and Kiam brought so much to the set. Each artist has their own incredible practice. Kiam is a truly interdisciplinary artist, with experience in performance, photography, video, fashion design, all in addition to being a yoga instructor and one of the best videographers for performance I know. Saya is one of Chicago's fiercest and most compelling drag queens. She exudes charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent. Erik, a.k.a. Mister Wallace, is queering hip hop in ways we've never seen, all while co-running a queer indie label, Futurehood, spotlighting a diverse group of artists. Sit back and spend 20 minutes to get to know these talented folks. They're only just beginning!"





How and why did you start collecting trans stories?

I founded the Trans Oral History Project 8 years ago, and have been addicted to recording trans stories every since. As a baby trans person, I was struggling to figure out what it meant to grow up. The only trans folks I met were homogenous (white, middle-class, academic people in their 20’s). It felt crucial to understand where my people had come from and to see people who I could grow up to become if I went down this path. I keep doing this work because despite the great strides towards visibility our community has made, many of those issues are still in play for emerging trans folks from marginalized communities. As a trans person of color, I strive to honor the trust and vulnerability involved when people in my community share their stories with me.


Where did the inspiration and title for Been T/Here come from?

I’m working on a national series called America in Transition, which is a documentary web series about social change featuring trans people from marginalized communities across the United States. I also work for Trans Lifeline, a suicide hotline for trans people. When Open TV approached me, I realized I literally think and talk about trans people dying every day. I wanted to make a more hopeful and celebratory series. I wanted younger trans folks, people who were just coming out, or people who are in the struggle every day to be able to take a few minutes to connect with the stories, and say, “I’ve Been There!”


What types of stories will viewers see in Been T/Here?

As media makers from marginalized communities, we are told that we have to make our narrative “relatable to a general audience” which is commonly envision as white-middle class cisgendered people. I believe that if we tell genuine, insightful stories, we are offering something special--the opportunity to step outside of your narrow perspective and to experience something that helps you understand another person's reality. I don’t want to pander to people who can’t appreciate that.


Through StoryCorps, you interviewed 500 people and through TOHP, you’ve interviewed over 75 trans folks across the US. What has most surprised you in your conversations with trans and GNC folks?

I am always surprised by how real and vulnerable people are willing to be during interviews, especially when they don’t know me very well. All of my media work centers around giving people the platform to talk about what matters most, and so I am often talking to folks who aren’t used to being listened to. The first time this really hit home was when I was talking to an older trans man who has been an incredible activist for decades. I was really nervous about doing his story justice, and honored that he took the time to share it with me. When we finished, he got emotional and thanked me for listening to him. I was just a kid with a camera, but I started to realize the power that can have in my own community.


What about Chicago makes it an important place for understanding queer and trans community today?

Lots of people say that if you want to do LGBTQ stuff or media work, you need to live in New York. New York is an outward facing city--people are cosmopolitan in their views, and it is always looking to position itself on the world stage. I love Chicago because it’s an inward facing city--if you want to really understand America, this is the place to be. We are a huge city with tons of immigrant from all over, but we are solidly working class, and people come here from small towns across the heartland. Chicago is a microcosm of the US overall. The issue confronting us--privatization of public resources, police violence, gentrification--are the issues that poor people and people of color face across this country. Trans folks in Chicago face these constraints but find ways to thrive just like trans folks everywhere have for generations.



How did you meet Shea Couleé? Why did you join Lipstick City as a producer? 

I have a story that I suspect is becoming more common in drag communities across the country due to the popularity of Drag Race--over the course of May 2013 I binge watched seasons 2-5 of drag race (season 5 wrapped airing that month). For a while I only attended drag race events, then realized I should start seeing shows in the Chicago community. One of the first ever drag matinees I ever attended, I saw Shea perform. I was introduced to her after the show and we talked about how her dress reminded me of the Beyoncé video "why don't you love me" and she told me that video was a huge source of her drag inspiration. I would say the rest is history, but it took about another year before we became familiar enough with each other to become close friends. 

Around the beginning of summer last year, I offered to help Shea with some of her scheduling to help keep her calendar organized. That offer quickly snowballed--Dan, Shea, and myself joined forces to work on creating Shea's website and fully fleshing out her brand. Then one morning, Shea woke up and said she had a film idea. Shea is the kind of creative mind whose vision is so clear you just have to see where it's going to go. I had never worked on a project like this but I was at a point in my life where I wanted to challenge myself and see what I was truly capable of, so I decided to see it through to its fruition with Shea and Dan. For a long time "Lipstick City" had no title at all, and then was just "Lipstick". It became Lipstick City when we decided we wanted the title to have connotations of an alternate reality as opposed to just a one word title. Shea came up with both Lipstick and Lipstick City of course, but I was a huge advocate for "Lipstick Menace" for a second there :)

What was the biggest lesson you took from this experience?

I'm torn between my biggest lesson being the things I learned about myself and my value as a creative contributor versus something incredibly practical. Let's just say...my biggest takeaway is that you have to communicate about everything to the point it feels like over communicating, and get it all in writing!!!!

What about drag inspires you?

This question immediately makes me think of that line in Party Monster--"I'm not addicted to drugs, I'm addicted to glamour." Except insert drag for drugs. I just love glamour and fashion so much.


I studied art and gender/women's studies in college, but then on top of that I've always been an avid pop culture fiend and obsessed with femininity as a whole. Drag is basically the encapsulation of everything I'm interested in. I think the biggest draw overall is that drag represents an opportunity to shape and reshape a person's identity while exploring a deeply personal desire to express yourself visually...as a queer person, I think the most harmful part of compulsory heterosexuality is the idea that you have to live one kind of life to be accepted or to live a "good" life, and drag is constantly pushing against the boundaries of what it means to live a good life. And I have so much respect for an art form that basically blows the game wide open and says "hi i'm here to be my most authentic self, even if you don't understand it." It's beautifully vulnerable.



What inspired you to write Lipstick City?

I wanted to take the opportunity to push myself out f my comfort zone, and I felt like a short fashion film would be an ideal way to showcase my brand and unique vision for Shea Couleé. I have always described myself as equal parts bourgie, and banji. So I wanted to showcase that by playing two characters and weaving them within a narrative that mimics Chicago Queer Nightlife.

Was playing two characters your biggest challenge in production?

Not at all. I have done theatre all my life, and feel very comfortable adapting different characters. Honestly my biggest challenge was balancing being both in front and behind the camera. Those roles are far more parallel than the ones I tackled on screen.

Lipstick City features a lot of Chicago drag queens, including Kim Chi, currently in the top tier of RuPaul's Drag Race. What distinguishes Chicago drag from other cities?

I would say honestly that we have SUCH an amazing and diverse pool of talent with many different intersections throughout. We are conscious of one another as well as being super supportive of one another's individual visions. Everyone you see in the film donated their time to the effort for nothing more than credit, and in some cases not even that. So it's humbling for me to experience being part of a community where everyone is so committed to one another's visions.

What's next for Lipstick City?

We are currently just taking in the response to the film and considering all constructive criticisms. We are interested in public reaction, so that our next steps can optimize the effect of the project. 



Why did you join Lipstick City as a producer

I signed on to Lipstick City for two reasons: because I believe in Shea Coulee's vision and because I wanted to work on some sort of creative project that would completely put me out of my comfort zone. 

What was the biggest lesson you took from this experience?

Feed the crew. 

As the art director for the piece, how would you describe its aesthetic?

Lipstick City is a gritty, neon metropolis; it's dark and moody with lush pops of colors juxtaposed with rough textures. I was heavily influenced by the movie Drive, Lady Gaga's videos "Paparazzi" and "Telephone" and Quentin Tarantino. 

You work at Smart Bar, where part of Lipstick City was shot. Why do you think this space -- and the other key spaces in the film -- are important to the drag community?

Chicago is Shea Coulee's Lipstick City the same way it's been Batman's Gotham. A lot of the settings allowed us to showcase modern glamour yet still have something raw. 

SmartBar itself is important to the drag community because it helped pioneer house music and fostered queer culture in the era of Keith Haring. Queen! on Sunday's specifically pays homage to the club and ball scenes in the 80's and 90's. Drag is now being consumed by popular culture now and places like SmartBar help keep its roots firmly planted. 



You're not only an actor but a host and entertainer. Can you share your creative passions and projects?

I am an artistic free spirt. I like to dip my feet in a lot of different art forms. I am passionate about projects that further me as an artist and a human being. I love a challenge and something that keeps me on my toes. I am passionate about new work, whether that be in form of music/theatre/film or modeling. This is also why I enjoy being an MC/Event Host so much! You get to be right in the heart of the action, getting the audience excited about something. Sometimes that is a Burlesque show, a film premiere, a theater event, or a talk back. I am passionate about being the audiences tour guide to the arts. That makes me happy.

Do you relate your character?

Minus being a pot dealer.... yes lol!!!  I think everyone has met that fabulous stoner in their life.  I was honored to play the character of Leslie! She cracks me up!

How would you describe your experience filming You're So Talented: Season 2 (Sam as director, the on-set experience, etc.)?

AMAZING! I had the best time. It was awesome to be on such a professional set with such a great vibe! The cast and crew are literally the best! Sam knows what she wants, yet gives you all the freedom in the world to play. THAT is an actors dream.



What made you accept the role of Bea's sister in You're So Talented?

When Sam Bailey asks you say yes.

How is Lisa different the other roles you typically play in theatre, TV and film? 

Lisa is different because she is well rounded, 3-D, whole. We see her lovely and ugly sides. We see the sides of her that we love and the sides of her that make us roll our eyes. And that is awesome. So often I (we blactresses) are asked to play one dimensional characters that play in to/ "appease" an audience of what a black woman in America is. Which is usually, sassy, full of attitude, funny. And oh Lawd. Don't be over a size two. Now I have no possibilities of being seen as a lover, a fighter, a fierce human, and woman who owns her sexuality. With Lisa, I was able to be and embrace all the things we as humans, black humans, black female identified humans are.

Do you relate your character?

I may or may not be a little bit bougie. I like the finer things and have lofty dreams of having a fierce career, shopping only at Barney's, going to elite parties and in a loving relationship. I wish my relationship with Tinder and JP Morgan Chase would reflect my fantasies. ...this is probably why I'm an actor.

How would you describe your experience filming You're So Talented: Season 2?

Hilarious, I officially know all the early works that Victory Gardens Theatre produced thanks to hanging out on set there. Shout out to Malcolm Jamal Warner for his role as Spoon. Sad I missed that show. Professional; after years of training, blood, sweat, and tears working to make the dream real what more can you ask for? Sam is gentle, yet focused and honest. She makes one want to work hard for the good of the product. And bitter-sweet because I knew the day would come when we'd say "and that's a wrap."


Watch the first of LaNisa's appearances in You're So Talented, season two here!



You're a founding member of Congo Square. Can you talk about the ensemble's importance to you as an actor and/or to Chicago's cultural life?

Chicago is the ultimate Ensemble town.  I’m no different from the hundreds of thousands of kids that have come to Chicago over the past 30 some-odd years trying to tap into the brilliant synergy that made the world sit up and take notice of Steppenwolf Theatre and Second City.  The spirit of ensemble has become an integral part of Chicago’s cultural identity.  We were fortunate that our work at Congo Square caught the attention of Steppenwolf and some of the other amazing ensembles like Lookingglass Theatre and Jackie Taylor’s Black Ensemble Theatre.  As an actor to be recognized in Chicago, the blue collar City of Big Shoulders, for strong ensemble acting is the highest praise. The ensemble work was striking on YST in Season 1 and I am proud to be part of Season 2.

As an accomplished actor and director, which do you prefer?  

Oh, that question?  I wonder why that question is so fascinating. It’s like deciding which of your children do you like most?  Coppola or Scorcese?  Fried chicken or bacon?  Whiskey or tequila?  I am a “Both, And” type of guy.  They say ‘you can’t have it all,’ but why not give it a shot, ya know?  Which do I prefer?  Honestly, I think it has more to do with the project and the people involved.  The safest but also the most accurate answer is: Whichever project I’m currently working on.

How would you describe your experience filming You're So Talented: Season 2 ?

I had a blast filming YST: Season 2.  It was mostly at a bar!  The crew was excellent, the tone was playful but very professional and productive. My scenes didn’t film until the end of the shoot.  They were a well-oiled machine by then and I was the new guy, but everyone was incredibly kind and helpful despite being exhausted.  My scenes were 1-on-1 with Sam.  I’ve known her for a while, but haven’t worked with her in a few years. I think she’s awesome. It was impressive to watch Sam switch hats seamlessly from actor to director and back.  She’s So Talented!  Literally!

Watch Aaron's appearance in You're So Talented, season two here!



What's in store for Bea in season two of You're So Talented

Bea gets a little recognition in this second season and we get to see how she deals with it. The idea of being afraid of success is a real thing, especially when you're not sure if you really want to be doing what you're doing. Bea has all the same insecurities she had last season, she's just trying to filter them in a less destructive way. Whether or not she's successful at that is kind of the conflict this season. We also get to see a lot more of Bea's family (both biological and chosen) which is a really good insight to why she is the way she is. And, of course, more dope Chicago artists doing dope shit. 

How was making season two different from season one? 

I think we really came together as a team this season. I was much more familiar with being on set, running a set and knowing what the voice was for both the show and Bea. Mateo Gonzales, Vincent Martell, Sam Lee and Alistair Slaughter all returned from the first season and it was really cool to have familiar faces come together with new ones for the entire production process. Having The Goodnight Ladies and Derek O'Rourke join the team has been great. Our aesthetic and vision is much stronger than before. I think that's the goal for any continuing project: you learn from previous mistakes or really good choices and try to build upon them. 

Tell us about your upcoming projects and how you're establishing your voice as a storyteller.

I had an instructor once tell me that there's no such thing as 'finding' your voice. It's always been there, you just have to reveal it. Just by writing as much as I've had in the last year I've been able to shed some of the stuff that was hiding or weighing down my voice. Sam Lee and I came together to start a new production company (Our Names Are Sam) and went to Ghana this past fall to shoot a short film. We're currently writing a feature that we will shoot in early fall of 2016. By creating a body of work (that's diverse in content but cohesive in terms of point of view), I know that my voice is getting stronger and more true to me.


What are your plans for the rest of You're So Talented?

Right now the goal is to get the current season out and then we'll see where we go from there. It is a new year and I know we have a lot of options. I'd be lying if I said didn't think the show had legs. I think it could easily transfer to a 30 minute format. But, for now, I'm just focusing on getting out a final product that makes me happy.