For Lynchburg production company Pals Of Dorothy, it’s important to bring LGBTQ stories beyond the big cities, and make clear that the LGBTQ community exists everywhere.
Richmond is no stranger to LGBTQ film and theatre, but Lynchburg-based production company Pals of Dorothy is taking steps to bring LGBTQ media beyond the capital city to the commonwealth’s rural areas. The company was founded in 2019 by Emmy Award-Winner Andrew Wilcox and Broadway Veteran Ken Arpino.
“I have a background in theatre and [Andrew] has a history in digital [media]. We wanted to combine our two passions,” said Arpino. “We wanted to create our own company that focused on creating and normalizing gay content.”
The company’s unique name is an homage to the phrase “Friend of Dorothy,” a coded reference to Wizard of Oz actress Judy Garland used by gay men to identify each other during the mid-twentieth century.
Pals of Dorothy officially formed in 2019, but the company’s roots date back to 2015 with the comedic web series The Queens Project. The series, which follows the lives of a group of gay men living in New York City, currently has three complete seasons available on YouTube, and has amassed hundreds of thousands of views.
“[It] went unexpectedly viral,” said Arpino. “I was just amazed at how people connected to those stories.”
In response to the series’ great reception, Pals of Dorothy plans to turn the The Queens Project’s fourth season into a fully fledged TV series. They will start filming this year, and plan to have it released in 2021, according to Arpino.
In addition to their successful web series, Pals of Dorothy also held the first screening for their debut short film, Also With You, on February 9th. The film, written by Arpino and Sophie Mashofsky and directed by Ellie Gravitte, was set and shot in rural Virginia. It follows two married Lynchburg couples who decide to exchange partners after becoming bored with traditional domestic life.
“When I first read the script… it was originally supposed to be a pilot [for a TV show],” said Gravitte. “We played around with the story, and we thought the best way to tell this story would be as a short film with a beginning, middle, and end, rather than an opening chapter.”
For Arpino, it was important to both create and set the film in rural Virginia rather than a more urban setting. “I didn’t feel represented in media,” he said. “There are lots of stories about LGBT life in the big cities, but what about the rest of us?”
Arpino and Mashofsky also star as two of the film’s protagonists, Simon and Willow. The two are approached by another married couple, Pace and Addie, played by Jack Fellows and Amber Janai, and the four become involved in a polyamorous relationship.
“It’s not about necessarily swinging,” said Arpino. “It’s more about normalizing lifestyles that are contrary to what people in the area might think are required or necessary, and embracing all different kinds of lifestyles.”
Due to the film’s subject matter, many of the scenes involved sexual and intimate interactions between the main characters, a process that was aided by director Ellie Gravitte’s experience as an intimacy coach.
“[Ellie] was really instrumental in making actors feel comfortable as they started exploring the more sexual side of things. To make sure everyone was feeling safe,” said Arpino. “Because of [that], the four of us were really able to click and create a chemistry that I definitely think reads into the film.”
The film’s debut screening took place earlier this month at the Wolf Den Theatre in Appomattox, where Arpino works as Executive Director. A second screening will happen on February 18th at the Norwood Theatre in New York City. The next step, according to Arpino, is to develop the short film into a feature-length production or a television series.
Beyond Also With You and the new season of The Queens Project, Pals Of Dorothy promise more films, TV shows, and animated projects coming in the near future. Be on the lookout.
Photos via Pals Of Dorothy/Also With You