Mark Shaw's message for the gay communityThere's no chance...

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

March 26, 1995|By Rob Hiaasen

Mark Shaw's message for the gay community

There's no chance you'd stumble on a column called "Queer Culture" in your family newspaper.

"People kept telling me I'd get hate mail. I have never gotten any," says 35-year-old Mark Shaw. For six months, Baltimore's City Paper has carried Mr. Shaw's "Queer Culture" column. The ribald title wasn't his idea, but the words are. He writes about gay issues, lifestyle and culture. He writes about himself.

"I've neglected my friends who are not infected, who stand with me on the sidelines while our loved ones disappear. I don't often enough tell them that I love them," Mr. Shaw wrote in his March 8 column in the alternative weekly.

Neglecting friends? Telling them you love them? How very alternative.

But Mr. Shaw, a spokesman for ACT UP Baltimore, doesn't want to write columns for a living. He has been writing a novel for eight years. "It's about dead people and bugs -- and redemption," he says. To pay the rent, he works for a medical survey research company.

Every other week, he hands in his column to City Paper. "I honestly don't know what my limits are," he says. In his March 8 column, he essentially wrote an open letter to his surviving friends:

"We have unsafe sex with each other for the same reasons we smoke, drink too much, drive too fast, eat fatty foods," Mr. Shaw said. "We have unsafe sex because sex is not a rational undertaking."

In gay culture, he says, people often check the New York Times obits to see who has died of AIDS. The obits are called the gay sports page, and the death watch is getting old.

"Please take care of one another," Mr. Shaw wrote. "I don't want to be the last surviving homo in America." Actor David Kelts never intended to be a Baltimorean, it just kind of happened.

On his way to New York from Florida, he stopped here to do research on Edgar Allan Poe for a show about the writer's life and works. That was in 1973. Since then, another local historical figure has captured his attention -- John Hutchinson, the 19th-century wheelwright who lived in the 1840 House on Lombard Street, now part of the Baltimore City Life Museums.

Mr. Kelts has played the role of John Hutchinson through the Steps In Time series at the Baltimore City Life Museums since the series began in 1988.

"That's one of my favorite projects -- acting there," says the "middle-aged" actor, who doesn't want to typecast himself by revealing a more precise age. "I like being in a place where the events actually happened."

The dramas of the Steps in Time series explores issues concerning the Hutchinson household. In the past, they've focused on race relations (primarily between Irish immigrants and free blacks), women's issues, abolitionist or anti-slavery movements, and the American Colonization Society's movement to move free blacks to Africa.

In one scene from the current Steps In Time production "The Baltimore Nunnery Riot," Mr. Kelts' character must explain to a hot-headed Protestant apprentice the effects of riots on the economy, the fundamentals of Catholicism and the right of Catholics to practice their faith in America. (The historical episode continues each weekend through April 22.)

Since his involvement with the living history program at the Baltimore City Life Museums, Mr. Kelts has worked on a series of one-man shows profiling historical figures including Poe, D. H. Lawrence, H. L. Mencken and Capt. John Smith (a role in which he toured for the State Parks on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation).

His passion for both drama and history converge in the roles he has created. "I am especially fascinated with the time period of the early 19th century, the decade of the 1840s, so the roles of Poe and Hutchinson appeal to me," he says.

But he's not adverse to modern-day characters as well. TV viewers can see his portrayal of a gypsy in the season finale of Barry Levinson's "Homicide: Life on the Streets," which is scheduled to air in April.

Suzanna Stephens

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