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New Documentary Explores the World of Telephone Hotlines
By Hans Pedersen - Nov. 6, 2014
Are telephone hotlines relevant anymore? The documentary Hotline reveals that the answer is a resounding yes.
A friendly voice on the phone is a greater asset to social service groups than Internet chats, according to Tony Shaff (right), the film’s director and writer, adding that he believes phone numbers that provide anonymous help are an essential and undervalued resource that needs to be preserved.
Shaff explores the parallels among several types of phone lines and the underlying reasons people call them in this fascinating documentary that’s essentially a compilation of interviews with folks who staff a variety of phone numbers, including a teen hotline and the national LGBT line.
The idea for this moody movie about what makes people dial them came to him after college when his car broke down.
“I was in need of some quick money,” the director explained during a recent phone interview with Echo. “I looked in the back of the LA Weekly, and I actually worked for Ms. Cleo’s Psychic Hotline.”
Years later in New York he worked for a suicide hotline.
“I noticed the calls I was getting at the suicide hotline were really similar to what I was getting at the psychic hotline,” he recalled.
Shaff believes there’s a pervasive loneliness in this age where everyone is interconnected online and the result is many of these telephone numbers are racking up a record number of calls from folks wanting to talk to strangers.
But there’s another reason the GLBT National Hotline in San Francisco is overrun with calls.
“There are a lot of regional (LGBT) hotlines around the country and now two-thirds of those shut down due to funding issues,” the director said, explaining the record number of calls are flooding that national phone line.
“There are so many other hotlines out there, like the GLBT hotline, that don’t have the resources they need to take all the calls,” he said.
“I don’t know if people realize, in this day and age, the value of a hotline,” he lamented. “I do hope the movie sheds a little light on that these places need help and support.”
Filmed over the course of two years, the director says they encountered an array of other fascinating subjects, too.
For every interview he landed — including Ms. Cleo and a phone sex operator who uses her real photo — there’s another he didn’t include, like the Butterball Turkey hotline (which denied him access) and those devoted to UFO sightings or graffiti prevention.
Additionally, the director said the discoveries he made while creating this documentary have convinced him that people aren’t getting the opportunity to connect with others in the social sphere.
“People are very isolated and they’re feeling lonely and they feel there’s no one else they can turn to,” he said. “Reaching out to a hotline, which is anonymous and a lot of times confidential, allows you to express your innermost feelings and talk to a stranger about it.”
The privacy and anonymity of these hotlines is often their biggest asset, he added.
“It seems like through these hotlines it’s an opportunity to be free and speak whatever it is you’re feeling and not feel like you’re going to be judged,” he said.
While places like the LGBT or teen hotlines use the Internet as a tool to establish contact, Shaff said that a telephone conversation remains the preferred mode of communication. And because texting is ripe for misunderstanding, he added, the tone of voice over the phone can speak volumes.
“Whether it’s coming out for the first time or having some serious depression or anxiety you need to talk about, I think the voice is really powerful,” he said solemnly.
Shaff noted that the struggles and issues of the gay community are not limited to the LGBT phone numbers, they carry over to phone sex operators, suicide prevention hotlines and even veterans crisis lines.
“A lot of their callers might call them because they’re depressed about something but maybe that depression is rooted in their sexuality,” he said. “I think every hotline is seeing our community being represented.” e
Available On Demand Nov. 18
By Hans Pedersen - Nov. 6, 2014
Hotline is like a confessional where we’re privy to poignant stories coming from hotline operators, making for an altogether riveting movie. A wide variety of phone lines are explored here, including hotlines for teen issues, suicide and phone sex.
The first operators in the movie are two workers at the GLBT National Hotline in San Francisco. The center received 9,680 calls last year, many of them from conservative parts of the country. And because local LGBT phone lines have disappeared across the country, folks have been turning to the national center for support.
LGBT phone line operators, along with the other operators interviewed in the movie, talk about the importance of pulling away and backing off when a caller needs space.
Similarities abound among all the workers of these various hotline numbers, as the movie explores the underlying reasons people dial them. Whether it’s bullying, homework, weight issues, immigration help or sexual abuse, the movie reveals the workers at that hotline ready to help people in need.
One of the more revealing subjects is a phone sex operator who uses her real name and photos, saying she combines her acting and playwriting skills with her phone sex career.
She points out her callers are just human beings who want to be “witnessed,” and are essentially folks who are looking for someone to listen and “tell them you’re OK.”
Another subject, a counselor at a suicide hotline, says desperate people regain strength to carry on after they call him to talk. He eloquently points out that loneliness and desperation “become magnified at night.” Like a street poet, he speaks of how Jesus came to help the misfits in the world.
We even hear from a woman who talks on camera about her suicidal thoughts and how the hotlines have helped her.
Across the board the operators describe how they’re supposed to keep boundaries and not build relationships with the callers. They also all seem to agree that there’s always an exception to that rule.
Other interviews are surprising, such as “One Lonely Guy” who receives tens of thousands of calls a year: anyone wanting to talk can call him up. After publishing this number, Jeff One Lonely Guy has been inundated with calls, presenting him with a unique overload of callers and messages to answer.
Phone psychic Ms. Cleo, famous for her infomercials in the 1990s, is one of the most fascinating interviews in the movie.
Still offering advice on the phone, Ms. Cleo explains how her popularity among lovelorn callers got her promoted to become the spokesperson for a psychic hotline, which she says existed a decade before she got hired. She dishes the dirt on the lawsuits that ended it all, before all charges got dismissed, and shares her moment of disillusionment.
The movie includes a playful split-screen of many 1-800 and 1-900 numbers popular in the 1990s to help illustrate the variety of places one can call to talk to strangers.
Lovely ambient music spinning in the background, incorporating dial tones and busy signals, keeps this interview-driven film humming right along. Created by Los Angeles-based composer Jeff Stroup, the minimalist electronic score preserves a human element, thanks to all of the “found sounds” gently woven into the music.
Coupled with super-wide shots of cityscapes and clips of vintage films, these songs keep the movie compelling.
People behave differently because of the anonymity of a hotline, the subjects of this movie point out. But the underlying reasons these callers dial these phone lines seem to be loneliness and despair. The movie succeeds in its exploration of why, when people are most in need, the sound of a human voice over a phone line is a source of support while other modes of telecommunication like the Internet seem to falter. e
Hotline is available On Demand Nov. 18.
Club Skirts presents The Dinah — the annual music festival and pool party weekend and the largest lesbian event worldwide — is taking over Palm Springs from September 21st through the 25th.
Now celebrating its 31st year, the star-studded weekend will kick off a five-day party known to draw in upwards of 15,000 women from around the world.
This year, for the first time ever, the event will take place in Palm Springs’ most iconic hotel, The Margaritaville — formerly The Riviera — famous in the ’60s for its role as celebrity central, drawing the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Sammy Davis Jr., and Sonny and Cher.
Photo courtesy of The Dinah
“I think it is definitely a rite of passage and a bucket list item,” said Mariah Hanson, ”and it’s a beacon in a way. I think that what we create there is so magical and so inspiring that you hear about it and you want to be a part of it because it’s life-changing.”
Hanson explained that the magic is intentional. She said along with her staff, they set to produce an event that is diverse, welcoming, and life-changing.
“We create a world for five days where people are united by the common theme of just acceptance and diversity and living in a world you want to live in,” Hanson said.
Hanson said she is proud to offer what she says is one of the “most diverse, inclusive, celebratory events.” She said The Dinah recognizes that our community is very diverse, and she wants everyone to feel welcome.
The festival includes various performances by nationally-renowned recording artists, massive pool parties with world-famous DJs and go-go dancers, red carpet events with celebrity guests and musicians, and meet-and-greets with lesbian celebrities.
The Dinah pool party
Photo courtesy of The Dinah
While in previous years, the Dinah events centered mostly on pool parties, the Dinah of the past decade has flawlessly amped up the pool parties, while also simultaneously becoming an enormous music festival, drawing in huge superstar artists over recent years, such as Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Chaka Khan, Meghan Trainor, Iggy Azalea, Eve, Salt ‘N Pepa and more, many of them while they were just on the cusp of hitting the big-time.
Hanson explained that she has a formula, a set of ever-changing criteria, that she uses to book acts. She has a knack for finding artists to perform at the Dinah who is on the cusp of enormous stardom.
“My favorite example is Lizzo, who headlined the Sunday afternoon pool party in 2017,” said Hanson. “Nobody really knew who she was, and she’s a major star now. No one will ever see her in that small of a venue.”
Hanson has another incredible all-female entertainment line-up again this year.
“I’m excited to offer the lineup we have. I think it’s powerful. It’s almost all queer except Taylor Dane, but she’s welcome because she’s so cool!” said Hanson.
Taylor Dane, 80s pop icon, is taking over the stage at Friday night’s Black & White Ball and is bringing her full band for a special Dinah performance. The GRAMMY-nominated powerhouse’s groundbreaking debut single "Tell It to My Heart" turned her into an overnight star in 1987. She followed the smash hit with 17 Top 20 singles including “Love Will Lead You Back.” Co-headlining Friday night is a breakout hip-hop artist, Haviah Mighty, who is poised to follow the footsteps of Lady Gaga, Bebe Rexha, Iggy Azalea, and Lizzo. She is the first Black woman to win the Polaris Music Prize.
On Saturday night’s Hollywood Party, Fletcher, one of the most electrifying queer artists to burst onto the scene, takes center stage. The GLAAD-nominated artist has a slew of hit singles including “Undrunk”, “Bitter”, “girls girls girls”, and “Cherry.” Her new single “Her Body is Bible” is out now and her debut album is being released this month.
“You don’t want to miss any of these acts,” Hanson said.
Club Skirts The Dinah pool party
Photo courtesy of The Dinah
All of the weekend’s pool parties, night parties, and concerts will take place at the Margaritaville. The opening and closing parties will both be held at AsiaSF, a new hotspot to both kick-start and close the weekend.
Hanson said she is excited for the Dinah this year and hopes it will, as always, be an amazing experience for all who attend.
Hanson said her message for attendees, other than to pace themselves, is always the same.
“Don’t be afraid to meet new people. Don’t be afraid to reach out and share your stories and listen to other people's stories because there’s people from all over the world coming.”
Hanson negotiated some great rates with the host hotel, Margaritaville, and it currently has a waiting list. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get the Dinah discount and to add your name to the waiting list.
For more information and for tickets, please visit The Dinah.
Michael Feinstein has become an iconic singer of the modern era. He has entertained audiences and world leaders alike with his jazz standards. Recently he began working with Liza Minnelli to produce a unique stage show that celebrates her mother, Judy Garland's, 100th birthday.
Mr. Feinstein took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions and give us some insight into his creative process, the future of jazz, and the production of this one-of-a-kind show.
Why do you feel the classics still resonate today?
One of the things I love about the music that I primarily sing is that the songs transcend the time in which they were created. They truly are timeless in the sense that they still have incredible power and energy in what they convey to audiences. I always compare them to the timelessness of William Shakespeare or Beethoven or Michelangelo in that people don't experience any of those things and say they're old.
They still resonate with the heart and they have a contemporary sensibility because certain fundamental emotions are forever. The songs that I sing are so amazingly crafted that they're malleable and they can be performed and sung and may any different ways. And that's one of the reasons they survive because they're just adaptable.
And that's one of the fun things about it. Every time I sing one of these songs, it feels fresh to me. And I also know that there are maybe people in the audience who've never heard these songs before. So I'm mindful of trying to present them in their best suit. If you will.
Did Judy Garland influence you more when you were a kid or as an adult?
Judy Garland, what an amazing person; incredible performer. As a child, like most of my generation, anyway, I first became aware of Judy Garland in connection with the 'Wizard of Oz.' That movie was shown every year as an annual event on television. And we would always go to my aunt and uncle's house and watch it there because they had a color television. But the true art of Judy Garland was introduced to me later in my life, when I became aware of her many recordings and other films that she made at MGM, and she had two distinct careers. One was the 28 feature films she made at MGM from 1937 until she was unceremoniously fired by them in 1950.
Then there was her adult concert career from 1951 to 1969. In that period, she performed over 1100 concerts and made classic record albums. And that's such a rich period of American culture and also music. And so the show that I'm doing is a true celebration of the extraordinary joy she brought to her and the pathos and the sadness that's conveyed through the way she sang ballots. It's a multimedia celebration with home movies supplied by the family, a rare recording of hers singing acapella. And I accompany her on the piano that I actually discovered of a song no one had ever heard her sing before. So it's a, a rich program."
In your opinion, has jazz fallen by the wayside in contemporary music, or is it just reserved for a more distinguished crowd?
I think jazz falls into the same category as American popular song, the classic American popular song in that it will always survive, it will always have an audience and perhaps it's more specialized today, but it's the kind of music that people discover when they're a little bit older and then it becomes a permanent part of what they listen to.
Are there any modern songwriters who you feel could be as prolific as Mr. Gershwin?
Well, uh, I believe that Bob Dylan is incredibly prolific. There are many other songwriters who have a work ethic that produces a lot of material. Diane Warren, I'm told, writes every single day, The songwriter Michel Legrand composed, well over 200 film scores as he composed every day. So there are probably songwriters who wrote more than Gerwin, but will their songs be heard in a hundred years as widely as George Gershwins? That I don't know the answer to.
Do you think the best songs are written when the world is in turmoil or when it's more at peace?
Music always reflects the time in which it is created. Uh, if you look at the songs of world war II, the were lots of songs of patriotism that were very, um, what's the word --- jingoistic. Things like, 'Johnny get your gun, get your gun, get your gun.' All these songs about fighting for what's right. And those songs have not lived as long as the love songs that were written in that time.
For example, 'White Christmas' was written at a time when the world was just entering the second world war and that song has lived, and the patriotic songs, uh, have not worn well, even though the sentiment is there. They were very much of their time. I think that there is a certain kind of inspiration that comes out of turmoil. A lot of songs written during the American depression have become lasting standards.
Things like "As Time Goes By.' That was later featured in the movie 'Casablanca' and that sort of thing. So I think that good songs can be written in any time, but perhaps there's more, uh, passion conveyed when there are problems in the world,
Does music constantly play in my subconscious?
Absolutely. Yes. Music is always playing in my brain and that doesn't bother me because sometimes it's music. I know, and sometimes it's new music. That's how I, I come up with the idea for a tune. My friend, George Firth, who died a number of years ago was a brilliant librettist. He wrote the book for the Sondheim shows 'Merrily, We Roll Along,' and company. And he once said that anything that you're whistling or humming in your brain is a subconscious window to what one is really thinking about or what they're really feeling.
So if he ever heard anybody humming or whistling, he would say, what are you singing? What are you humming? He wanted to know the title of the song, because that was his armchair psychoanalysis of what that person was, was going through.
What will the audiences be treated to at the Scottsdale show?
Well, it's a centennial tribute to Judy Garland. And as I mentioned previously, it's multimedia with photographs that have never been seen before, this incredible home recording of Judy Garland, which I found in a house that she once lived in behind a fake wall.
It's just a weird story. Uh, so I'll be accompanying her in this song. So it's a world premiere of Judy Garland singing something that nobody's ever heard before. And I also sing a couple of things that were written for her that never saw the light of day.
And then a lot of familiar things. It's a celebration of the best of her MGM years, and then the concert years, the iconic Carnegie Hall show, and it's a very immersive experience, both, visually and emotionally. The audience reaction has been, spectacular, and I'm very grateful. The enormity of trying to pay tribute to someone with a career, as large as Judy Garland's certainly was not easy, but I feel like we've nailed it.
I had a team of people who helped to put it together, notably, Judy Garland's daughter, Liza Minnelli, who executive produced the show and was very much influential in helping to shape what it's about. It celebrates the incredible art that she gave all of us. It doesn't delve into the tragedy because that's the tabloid stuff. But the reason people remember her at all is because of the talent. And so that's what I celebrate.
Show & Venue details:
Valley audience members can join Feinstein for this celebration of Judy Garland at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. 2nd St., Scottsdale, Arizona. There will be two concerts at 3 pm and 7 pm on Sunday, March 20, 2022. Tickets start at $79. For information click here or visit or call 480-499-TKTS (8587).
All guests age 12 and older must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test, taken within 72 hours of the performance date, along with photo ID, to attend performances. As an alternative, guests may provide proof of full vaccination. Masks are highly encouraged to protect artists, staff and patrons. For full health and safety protocols click here.
- Michael Feinstein to Share Gershwins' Legacy in Song - OutVoices ›
- Michael Feinstein to celebrate Judy Garland at Scottsdale Arts ... ›
Musical icon Michael Feinstein is coming to Scottsdale, Arizona on Sunday, March 20, 2022. His smooth voice and playlist of American standards will soothe audiences of all ages in this special live performance. Feinstein is known for having worked with George and Ira Gershwin, two of the most prolific songwriters in history.
His appearance in Scottsdale will pay tribute to another of entertainment's most iconic voices: Judy Garland. The actress and singer would have celebrated her 100th birthday this year. Her music still lives on in the hearts of millions.
Concert is Executive Produced by Liza Minnelli
Audiences are invited to join a nostalgic and spectacular musical exploration of Garland’s illustrious career. Executive produced by Liza Minnelli, this performance will be packed with special surprise moments as Feinstein honors Garland’s unparalleled talent and charisma.
This brand-new multimedia show features big screen film clips, never-before-seen photos, rare audio recordings, great music and good humor. Feinstein will lead you on a historical journey through Garland’s amazing life, telling stories he learned from Minnelli — Garland’s daughter — and from the legend’s close friends.
Audiences will be treated to recently discovered and previously unheard musical arrangements while gaining rare insight into the enduring Garland mystique.
“We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to celebrate the iconic Judy Garland on her 100th birthday, especially knowing the authenticity and love that went into this project with her daughter Liza Minnelli as the executive producer,” said Abbey Messmer, programming director at the center. “With the Ambassador of the American Songbook leading this journey, it’s certain that we’ll feel Judy’s spirit when we hear songs like ‘Get Happy’ and ‘Come Rain or Come Shine.’”
Photo courtesy of Michael Feinstein.
The Great American Songbook
Feinstein has built a dazzling career over the last three decades, bringing the music of the Great American Songbook to the world. From his multi-platinum-selling recordings that have earned him five Grammy nominations to his Emmy-nominated PBS television specials, his acclaimed NPR series and concerts spanning the globe.
Feinstein's New Album to Feature Music Icons
His live performances, film and television appearances, and 35 albums — including the upcoming release of “Gershwin Country,” featuring duets with country superstars like Dolly Parton, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss and more — have made Feinstein an all-star force in American music.