Metro Weekly

Reel Affirmations streams Ryan Spahn’s ‘Nora Highland’ for 24 hours only starting Feb. 26

Spahn's magnificent film tackles the issue of why LGBTQ actors are often passed over for LGBTQ roles.

nora highland
Nora Highland

“I’m an actor, and I’m openly gay,” says Ryan Spahn. “And because of that, I have received a lot of thinly veiled homophobia in [casting] decision-making. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not.

“It’s such a hard pill to swallow in this business,” the noted New York stage actor continues, “because [a casting director] can’t ask somebody their sexuality, but they can subtly — or not-so-subtly — discriminate against actors for their sexuality, and just claim they didn’t know because they can’t legally ask.”

Spahn says this creates a “repetitive result,” in which “actors who are open about their queerness become smaller and smaller within the business with what they’re able to play, allowed to play, and celebrated for playing.”

Spahn set out to address the LGBTQ-casting problem in his smart, scorching play Nora Highland. After the pandemic struck last March and using extreme social distancing measures, he adapted the work for the screen. The engaging hour-long movie plays as a Reel Affirmations Xtra stream on Friday, Feb. 26, at noon.

The movie is divided into three portions. The first and the third veer into humor, though with a bite, but it’s the middle — and fundamentally key narrative section — that serves as Nora Hightland’s heart.

Ryan Spahn
Ryan Spahn

It lays out Spahn’s point during an exchange between two old, estranged friends — one a director (Marin Ireland) who has finally scored a Broadway break, the other a celebrated actor (Michael Hsu Rosen) who is being denied a gay role because of the fact that he is openly gay. Their encounter, magnificently acted by Ireland and Rosen, evolves from casual and friendly to shockingly brutal.

Spahn uses clever visual techniques to propel the narrative. As such, Nora Highland feels like it could have been made before the pandemic, even though it adheres to our present-day realities. The actors are all physically separated, but there’s a careful authenticity at play. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the remarkable Facetime chat between Ireland and Rosen.

Filmed in a single, masterful take, it’s a stunning sequence that nails every single moment. When asked how many takes it took, Spahn responds with “One,” adding, “We did a lot of rehearsals.”

Nora Highland streams for 24 hours only as part of the Reel Affirmations Xtra series, starting at noon on Friday, Feb. 26 and ending on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Tickets are $10, and include a 24-hour watch window, as well as a pre-recorded Zoom discussion about the making of the film with Spahn, Ireland, and Rosen.

Visit to reserve a ticket.

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