In a cramped dressing room in Burlington, two go-go boys are bending over to show how little their G-strings cover.
“Oh, shit,” groans a newcomer to the room, shocked by the display of flesh.
“You’ve never seen asses before?” one performer retorts cheekily.
“At least our junk is covered,” the other adds. “State law: No pickles on parade.”
No, Burlington hasn’t suddenly acquired a gay nightclub. The dressing room — part of FlynnSpace — currently holds these three speakers, a director, a cinematographer, a guy with a boom mike and a few other crewmembers. They’re shooting a scene for a web series called “Queen Dad.”
The show is the brainchild of Sëan Moran and Don Bledsoe, writing partners with years of experience in Hollywood. A Vermont native and Saint Michael’s College grad, Moran, 56, danced in the movie Grease and has appeared in a slew of movies and TV shows. These days, he lives in Shelburne and flies to LA periodically to play roles such as an angry customer on the hit sitcom “2 Broke Girls” — or to participate in the annual Hollywood Bowl Grease Sing-A-Long.
When he’s not earning money on a network show, Moran is putting his own into “Queen Dad,” which he produces and directs in and around Burlington. He and Bledsoe, who lives in Kansas, collaborate long distance. They plan to produce a full first season, running 70 minutes in total.
In the old days of the small screen, shooting a series without committed funding from a network or investors would have been unthinkable. In the brave new world of digital media, however, independents can produce TV pilots on the (relatively) cheap and pitch them to established networks. “We had to make the whole thing and then sell it. The rest is out of our pockets,” Moran explains — excepting about $3700 raised through the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
The project’s budget is considerable for Vermont filmmaking, though tiny for Hollywood: The first season of “Queen Dad” will cost about $20,000, Moran says, and represent roughly 2400 hours of labor. Much of that budget pays a crew of eight and cast of 18, all locals except for a few guest stars.
The plot of “Queen Dad” is a classic “odd roommates” situation, with a twist. In the eight-minute pilot, we meet Monty Ellis (Moran), a beefy, plaid-shirted plumber with a nocturnal life as a drag queen. This comes as a rude surprise to his homophobic son, Jack (Matt Parisi), who is meeting his dad for the first time — in wig and costume.
The premise of “Queen Dad” is “based on the true story of a father and son,” Moran says, with some modifications: “The real-life Monty wasn’t a drag queen.” When he and Bledsoe conceived the project, he recalls, “We said, you know, this would be a good web series, because everything now is going to the web. New media — that’s the new frontier in entertainment.”
The trick, of course, is making money from web content, which more often serves as a pitch or a lure to established media outlets. The DVD of “Queen Dad” will “be like our shopping tool,” Moran says. “We can take it to Oprah’s network [OWN], Showtime, MTV.” If a network shows interest, the possibilities are several: Moran and Bledsoe might find themselves selling the show’s concept and walking away from it, reshooting it, or watching it run on TV as is.
The crew is currently shooting a scene set backstage at the Male Box, the club where Monty performs and Jack finds himself reluctantly earning a paycheck. Arnold Wetherhead, a local video producer who serves as director of photography, promises the scene will be cut to afford only a modest view of the go-go dancers’ rear ends, which scandalize Jack.
As the crew prepares for more takes, Moran bemoans the difficulty of finding male G-strings and size 13 pumps (for Monty) in Burlington. “You’re wearing your socks this whole scene? That is so farmer,” he tells one of the go-go boys.
On a low-budget web series, Moran says, time is tight. He cautions Wetherhead that they only have 10 minutes left to get all the pickups (close-ups and other supplementary footage) they need for the scene.
“Almost done,” Wetherhead assures.
“That’s Arnold’s biggest lie,” Moran says jovially.
The youthful cast and crew include several local college students and recent grads. Others are familiar faces from the Vermont theater scene, such as Parisi, who’s starred in several Lyric Theatre Company productions, and Jon van Luling, cofounder of Green Mountain Cabaret.
Moran has his own roots in local theater; as a teen, he ushered at the Flynn. At St. Mike’s, he shared the stage with Ethel Goldstein, daughter of the then-owner of Burlington mainstay Henry’s Diner. In “Queen Dad,” she plays the Male Box’s owner, a maternal figure who presides over a bar that sharp eyes may recognize as that in the FlynnSpace.
“I’m having a blast,” says Goldstein, a retired educator now living in Westford. “The people are great.”
Labor, locations and rented equipment — the costs of a web series add up. “We pay all our kids, and we feed them, which we’re very proud of,” says Moran, who seems to be settling into a role of mentor to the young Vermonters on the set. “We don’t pay them what they’re worth,” he adds.
There’s a bonus, though: Moran says he’s helped 17 players in the show become eligible for the Screen Actors Guild. That’s important to cast members such as Dustin Bruley, who studied improv at St. Mike’s and now wants to pursue voice acting in LA.
So far, Moran says, reactions to the show from his LA contacts have been positive: “They saw this and said, ‘Wait, this is all Burlington actors?’” To get that result, he says, he had to coach Parisi and others to tone down their broad theatrical style and play more intimately to the camera.
Still active in the theater — he’ll direct the Williston School District’s upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast — Moran notes, “It’s very hard to go from stage to screen.” He’s considering building a database of screen-trained actors to aid local film students in casting their productions, he says.
For now, producing “Queen Dad” provides plenty of work. With December 2 set as the end of principal photography, Moran expects to have this season of “Queen Dad” edited and scored, and ready to upload, in February.
Coordinating everyone’s schedule is “a nightmare, but fun,” Moran says, as the cast and crew move out to the bar for a snack. The town may frown on “pickles on parade,” but the saucy style and inclusive message of “Queen Dad” seem to suit Burlington just fine.
Watch the pilot episode of “Queen Dad” at queendad.com.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Queen for a Day"