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LOS ANGELES -- A new online web series, about the normal ups and downs of relationships with the additional challenge of differing sexual orientations, launched its second season this last week.
"A Rose By Any Other Name" stars Stephanie Reibel as Rose (top, left), a very out and comfortable gal who unexpectedly captures the attention - and heart - of Anthony (Kyle Schickner), a nice, unassuming straight guy.
The trailer and other promos have fun with the idea. "It's about a lesbian. It's about a man. It's about to get confusing!"
Schickner, who plays it straight in the series, is actually a lifelong bisexual activist.
He does more than simply act, however. He also wrote, produced (through his own Fence Sitter Films), directed, and edited; even running food for the craft services team, whenever necessary.
Set in Los Angeles, the story follows Rose and Anthony's serendipitous meeting and the after-effects caused when they begin having feelings for one another, much to the confusion -- and in some cases the chagrin -- of their friends.
The first season of "A Rose By Any Other Name" was sponsored by the American Institute of Bisexuality (AIB) and offered for free on their YouTube channel. It had a total of 11 webisodes and is now available as an entire 60 minute series.
Season two follows closely in season one's footsteps, but in the relatively new online media format also referred to as "web television." Each season consists of a number of short "webisodes," which are generally released every two weeks and made available for rental online.
During its debut season released in 2009, each of the primary characters and their quirky interpersonal relationships were introduced and explored, so anyone new to the series would need to catch up with season one to understand the plot line before starting season two.
In the first episode of season two (now available), we learn that the two romantic leads have apparently ditched their controversial relationship; or have they? To catch up with the complete hour-long debut of "A Rose By Any Other Name," rent or buy Season One by visiting this website, and then immediately get ready to begin your new journey with Season Two.
An out, proud activist by another name
The mastermind behind this bold series took some time out of his busy schedule recently to speak to San Diego Gay & Lesbian News about how the series came about, his 20 years of bisexual activism, and whether or not Dan Savage is really sending the right message to teens, behind the scenes of his famous project.
Schickner knew he was bisexual as a teen, but despite this awareness, he had a pretty typical high school experience.
"I had no religious baggage, I was a jock and I had plenty of girlfriends," he said of his New Jersey upbringing.
His parents found out he was bisexual from a television news program (something he now regrets) after he opted to be interviewed for a mid-morning broadcast. The experience did nothing to affect his popularity with his guy friends or the gals, and his parents remained incredibly supportive.
"In the parent lottery, I really lucked out," he said.
He and his pals continued to share a love of sports and their interest in girls. The only difference in Schickner's high school experience, even after his "secret" was broadcast on that news program (he received some 40 messages from friends, family and teammates after the segment ran), was that he was fully aware of his sexual attraction to both males and females. It was just never a problem -- until he got to college.
It is often said that students feel more comfortable exploring the various layers of their sexuality in college, and Schickner was no exception. In fact, he described his "queer life" in the early 1990s as "great."
While a full-time student at Rutgers, he sought out the campus LGBT group, a group that clearly had a B (for bisexual) in its name; but for the very first time, he was rejected for being who he was. They basically said if he identified as bisexual, they would not accept him into the group.
This made him angry.
"We're in this place together, and the fact that I wasn't gay enough was very disconcerting," he said.
Feeling rejected, frustrated and angry … Schickner decided to get political. A few months later, he started Bisexuals Achieving Solidarity (BIAS), the first college bisexual group in the country. It would be the start of a life dedicated to bisexual activism.
The LGBT mirror with two faces
While it is true that great strides have been made in the years since and many things have moved forward for the gay and lesbian community, bisexuals are often still left behind. Case in point: Although Schickner thinks the It Gets Better Project is very important for struggling teens and he fully supports it, he is less supportive of its founder, Dan Savage.
"[Savage] is openly anti-bisexual," Schickner said. "He has several YouTube videos maligning bisexuals and yet he is hailed as this wonderful human rights person. Sure, it gets better, but not if you are a bisexual. You don't exist."
Savage's "biphobia" is further explained in this After Ellen article, one in which Schickner can be seen personally addresssing Savage in his own It Gets Better type of video.
Schickner shares his concern for the struggling bisexual teens of the world who may seek out the It Gets Better videos, and, finally feeling validated and wanting to learn more, stumble across Savage's biphobic videos, only to become confused and devastated, once again.
Bisexuals are considered "invisible" and often are referred to as "confused" by others in their own community; stuck in a place where they merely haven't yet accepted who they are. Once they land in a relationship, many consider them to have finally settled into their true sexual identity, one way or the other.
Savage may blatantly say bisexuals don't exist, or that bisexuality is just a pit-stop on the road to "gayville" -- but Schickner is here to tell the world -- that couldn't be further from the truth. Bisexuality is a reality for many and should be accepted by all.
"When we are all fighting to get equal rights for everyone, it is very short-sighted to shut out those who want to fight alongside you," he said.
Unfortunately, even the gay softball league Schickner plays in considers him straight.
"My job is to explain it," he said. "I'm not really into labels, but it's not a perfect world and I don't want to be considered straight. I want to make [bisexuality] less of a mystery, so I have to come out every day."
Schickner is currently in a committed relationship with a woman who identifies as a lesbian, which is ironically similar to the storyline of his web series. He was quick to point out that one was not the basis for the other.
He knew his current partner back at Rutgers, but they both went their separate ways and only reconnected a couple years ago. When Schickner first left college just a few credits short of a degree in 1995, he moved to New York City and started Fence Sitter Productions.
His first off-off Broadway play was the very successful, "Rose By Any Other Name." He soon rewrote it, produced a film version, and moved to LA; but spent several years trying to get it into distribution. Finally the idea of turning it into a web series came along and he was finally able to bring his project to fruition.
Although someday he'd love to get a home video deal, for now, he's decided that allowing "Rose" to develop and mature as a web series is the right vehicle to engage audiences and bring more awareness to the bisexual community.
"Music, film, television and pop culture are what moves the country forward," he said. "Nothing bigger happened for the LGBT movement than Ellen. Having Ellen - and now Chaz - in their living rooms, changes people. If my work changes the opinions of 1,000 gays and lesbians, they will pay it forward without even realizing it," he continued.
"It's why I make films."
An exciting new season for Rose
Just last week, the first 7 minute webisode of season two was released. Episodes cost just .99 cents each and will become available every two weeks.
To view either season of "A Rose By Any Other Name," click HERE. Follow the onscreen instructions to help you make your viewing and payment decisions.
Three out of the four women in the series identify as bisexual; that wasn't done on purpose, it is just how it worked out during casting.
This season each of the characters will more fully develop, the relationships will continue to expand and contract, and viewers will not only enjoy a playful, intelligent, romantic comedy, but maybe also learn a little something about sexual fluidity.
That is why Schickner makes films.
A very busy man
This is not Schickner's first foray into bisexual representation on film.
His last full-feature film, Steam, starring Ruby Dee, Ally Sheedy, Katie Segal and Chelsea Handler, also had a bisexual storyline. Distributed by Wolfe Video, it is available through Wolfe, Netflix and Amazon.
He is currently adding the finishing touches to "Hurricane Sandy," a documentary about Sandy Sachs and Girl Bar's 20th Anniversary of their Dinah Shore scene. Watch for this in the Fall.
Next up, he is working on another feature film, called "Text." Text will have a lesbian storyline and is about women who carry on communications without ever seeing each other. He expects this to be ready by early 2012, in time for Sundance.
He is also working on a documentary, called, "A White Man Walks into a Barber Shop," also due out in 2012.
You can follow A Rose By Any Other Name on Facebook.
You can also keep tabs on Schickner's production company, Fence Sitter Films (something he calls, "Cinema for the rest of us") at their website.
Check out the trailer for the web series, A Rose By Any Other Name: