D.I.L.F. Does Fire Island :: Colton Ford in Pines Musical
Glenn Soukesian knows all about the soul-sucking drain of an industry based on greed, exploitation and the suffering of others. He used to work in a bank. "I was working a corporate gig," he explains, "but I was still writing and recording. That’s just what I’ve always done."
Soukesian-who using name Colton Ford burned brightly, but briefly for three years just after 9/11--was previously signed by music industry heavyweight Denise Rich and collaborated with DJ Frankie Knuckles. He details the 90s as a decade when multiple major label deals--two of them with Virgin Records--came together and then fell apart. Enter Wells Fargo.
"What I was doing was great," he says of his bank job. "I was managing their volunteer program for five states." But what he calls "corporate positioning and play," or those machinations by which an executive’s wife would ring him up asking for 500 volunteers from the employee-driven program for some charity event where she was a board member, eventually burned him out.
"It was just kind of wearing on me," he explains, "and with the creative spirit I have, I just felt a little stifled." It certainly wasn’t all bad and he remains friends with his former boss to this day, but he describes "the 9-5, same thing day in and day out" thing as no longer cutting it. "So I went to the other extreme for a minute," he laughs.
A porn star was born
He is referring, of course, to his brief but prodigious porn career whose 2001 genesis played like that ingenue turning point in the musical "42nd Street" and ended in 2003 with a GayVN Award for "Gay Performer of the Year" just before he retired from the business. His Peggy Sawyer moment came when his then-boyfriend’s scene partner for the film "Porn Struck" was shanghaied in New York when planes were grounded after 9/11. Peter Tiefenbach, better known by his nom de porn Blake Harper, asked if he’d like to come along to Palm Springs and come back a star.
"I thought about it," he recalls, "and I thought I’m not major label material anymore and I’m really just not feeling the whole corporate experience. And I was in the whole circuit party play-scene anyway, so it just seemed like, ’Let’s have an adventure.’ I was doing it with my boyfriend, who I loved and trusted, but I didn’t have any expectation of it. It was just to have an experience."
But that experience proved transformative down to the core of his identity. On the way from Los Angeles to the film’s Palm Springs set, the California desert town of Colton supplied his new first name. Shortly after shooting his first scene, he had dinner with Chi Chi LaRue. That director began the meal by screeching about a porn debut manufactured outside the Chi Chi LaRue imprimatur, but suggested somewhere before the check was dropped, "You need a strong last name, like a car." And Colton Ford was born.
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Watch Colton Ford’s video of "Tug of War":
D.I.L.F. or M.I.L.F.?
Between our two meetings, the first on a beautiful fall day on the campus of Lincoln Center and the second a few weeks later at a press event for the new musical "Little House on the Ferry" that he’s starring in, Ford turns 49. For some, that’s a little long in the tooth for another Peggy Sawyer moment, but then Ford was already in his early 40s when he launched his porn career. His appeal has always been predicated on being older.
"I’m in a unique position," he says. "I’m in a generation that’s redefining what our age is. We grew up in an era where we conditioned to believe that people in their 40s were settled in their careers. They certainly weren’t taking chances. When it came to the creative dynamic, if you really hadn’t established yourself, forget about it. And that’s not the case anymore."
Whether or not he is the original D.I.L.F. or just a handy face to slap that emerging label is a chicken or egg discussion, but it’s clear that a lot has changed in the youth-oriented gay culture since the New York Times reviewed Ford’s 2004 documentary "Naked Fame" and suggested that "when a gay pornography performer’s goatee goes a little salt-and-pepper, he may want to consider a new livelihood."
Still, Ford has to occasionally remind himself that the playing field is different now. "I have to manage that voice that comes into my head every now and again and tries to apply that conditioning. It says, ’You’re 49, what are you doing?’ And I’m like, ’I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.’"
Age isn’t just a number for Ford, but largely a construct in other’s heads. "People don’t perceive me to be the age that I am," he says, "I haven’t skirted the issue. I don’t think I would want to, but everyone says people in the entertainment industry are usually ten years older than they say they are. Fuck that. People are really responding more to authenticity now."
A big old girl
For Ford, this authenticity takes a mostly feminine form. He describes his character breakout for "Little House on the Ferry" as "muscular and masculine and sexy and surprisingly smart." He takes a beat before adding, "It’s a little bit of a stretch, but I think I can do it." Of his casting in the show, he says, "There’s something about my porn persona that created in the minds of people some hyper-masculine type of thing, but, you know, I’m a big old girl too."
Indeed, when looking at models for the type of crossover from porn to performance that he’s looking for, almost all of the people Ford considers are female. When the subject is first broached, he lets out a silky-voiced, "More, more, more..." and then asks, "Remember that song? She was a porn star!" He is referring to Andrea True, the adult performer who took her disco-era anthem of excess to number four on the Billboard charts in 1976 and enjoyed a more recent resurgence as the score to that "Sex and the City’s" commercial spot featuring Sarah Jessica Parker on a swing.
Ford also mentions Traci Lords and Vanessa Williams, but Sylvester Stallone is the only male name to grace the conversation. "He did a little porny-porn," Ford says. "And look at Madonna. She puts out this great sex book and she’s sitting on some guy’s mouth in one of the shots. Now she’s releasing children’s books. Somebody’s bound to do it so why not me? I’m doing it because this is what I’ve always done. I’ll always make music."
Indeed, Ford trained as an actor and singer all through high school and college in roles as varied Reverend Hale in "The Crucible" and Emile de Becque in "South Pacific." "I studied for a long time," he says, "I love to perform. And the reality of it is I’ve been singing all my life. I know I can sing. I don’t care what you say. You may not like my musical stylings or the songs. Whatever, it’s subjective. I get that, but no one can tell me that I can’t sing."
As to what level that singing can take him, and whether or not things are getting easier for performers with porn on their resume, Ford can only look to last year’s film "Black Swan" and Natalie Portman’s Oscar. "There’s that scene where she’s getting her pussy eaten out," he says, "I mean, she was right there. The only thing you didn’t see was the tongue going into her vagina. They must have put a dental dam up there, otherwise, she was really getting her pussy eaten. And that’s Academy Award-winning, so it’s really relative. Perception is a motherfucker."
"I think it’s getting better," Ford continues, "but it relates to our love hate relationship with sex in general. If you’ve got a big studio and the story is dramatic, you’ve got a good director and a great script and money to do it and you happen to put in something salacious like that, you have a much better chance at having it received in the mainstream than if it were specifically porn and didn’t have the same resources behind it."
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Watch Colton Ford’s video of "Losing My Religion":
Putting it together
Ford’s role in "Little House on the Ferry" also stops short of actual cunnilingus, but functions as the play’s sexed-up Pied Piper who takes the twinks to an underwear party, introducing them to Fire Island’s underground sex scene. "The song that I’m doing is called "After Hours" and it’s a really catchy song. It’s great in a musical theater setting, but also could be remixed. It fits in nicely with the context of the other songs and I was really impressed by all of them, especially given this subject matter. It could have been really cheeky and rolling the eyes, but it doesn’t do that."
In terms of doing a musical and the many things a performer must put into that--the singing, the dancing, the acting--none of the usual things that can go wrong are not particularly weighing on Ford. The approach to rehearsing this show is similar to that of MGM’s Freed Unit during the golden age of movie musicals. Individual skills are isolated and drilled with military precision. There are blocks of time set aside for choreography, acting and singing, but Ford’s biggest concern has nothing to do with any of that. He’s most worried about scheduling.
At the rehearsal, a navy-suited Robert Gould, who is producing the musical he co-wrote, is addressing his fresh-faced, but glazed over cast of twenty-somethings. He is explaining something new that he’s trying with this production wherein everyone from the lighting designer to the chorus boy is issued stock certificates in the show.
The business acumen necessary to understand something this complex comes naturally to Gould, who also teaches business development at NYU, but seems slightly lost on his cast. They smile back at him as if their stage directions read: "happy, but with a vacant look behind the eyes." An inordinate amount of time is spent on what happens if the stock certificate is lost.
Ante up the brand
It’s hard to tell if Ford is reminded of his banking days because he sits in a back row hunched over his phone texting. In addition to this show, he’s also trying to coordinate the November release of a new single called "Let Me Live Again" that will anchor a new album.
And between learning lines and recording music, he’s been commuting back and forth to Hicksville, Long Island, to work with legendary producers Razor-N-Guido on a new video. "I’ve also been a personal trainer for ten years," he adds, "so my manager has been talking about shooting a fitness video to coincide with all of this. We’re trying to up the ante on the brand."
"You think back to the stars of MGM," Ford says, "and some people hated it because they were controlled, but other people were like, ’Are you kidding? I had all of these resources. I didn’t have to worry about anything.’ Ford finds himself in the latter camp, with the one thing he misses most about his major label days being the car service. "Having that experience," he says, "coming to New York and being taken care of the way that I was, it’s that whole cliche: ignorance is bliss. It was great not having to think."
"There’s some of that I absolutely miss," he continues, but in addition to all the physical characteristics his new role in "Little House on the Ferry" requires, he is leaning to lean a bit on his character’s "surprisingly smart" interior description. "I ultimately want to make music and act and perform," Ford says, "but the business of entertainment I don’t enjoy. It’s pretty heinous and nasty, and it’s challenging to not let it activate you."
Watch this video promotion for ’Little House on the Ferry":