There's a particular kind of pleasure that comes from watching a former Disney star fall.

From Lindsay Lohan to Miley Cyrus, so many of our childhood icons have shocked us time and time again as they shirk off their guises of innocence.

Few have taken a choppier plummet than Bella Thorne. Since she starred on the Disney show Shake It Up with Zendaya, she's gone on to surprise us with her frank discussions of sexuality and chaotic relationships with women, men, and sometimes both at the same time. She's been embroiled in a number of controversies, most recently involving leaked nude photos that earned the ire of none other than Whoopi Goldberg.

Her latest project pushes things to a new level. At 21, Thorne can add "director" to her resume—director of a adult film, that is. She has now directed her first explicit film as part of Pornhub's Visionaries Director's series.

Entitled Her & Him, the film seems to have gone through many iterations before reaching its final form. In a behind-the-scenes video about the project, Thorne stated that the film began as a Christmas-themed horror movie, but instead turned into something "beautiful and ethereal."

Still from 'Her and Him'Image via Metro

Wait, what? How does an explicit film go from a Christmas-themed horror movie to a story that "depicts an edgy twenty-something guy who stumbles upon a surprise text in his girlfriend's phone, interrupting their morning routine and spinning everything into an out-of-control sexually charged encounter," according to the film's press release?

It seems that the film has been brewing in Thorne's brain for a while, so it's had plenty of time to metamorphosize. "I'm really lucky that Pornhub wanted to come on and produce this with me because originally I was shopping it around a very long time ago and things were very different," she said. "People are kind of scared to make a movie like this one when it comes to dominance and submissive(ness) between a male and a female and how this relationship can turn quite sour." The film features a large knife, apparently, as well as a Romeo and Juliet-like relationship that "transcends time and space," according to Thorne.

This isn't the only creative project that she's been involved in recently. On July 23, she released her book, The Life of a Wannabe Mogul: Mental Disarray. The book features scraps of poetry, printed typewriter-style, detailing her struggles with sexual abuse, depression, dyslexia, and more; it quickly became an international bestseller. "I constantly wonder how I'm so OK because sometimes I get lost in my thoughts of all of the darkness that I've kind of been through, and I wonder where I would be if I wasn't me," she said at the time of the book's release. But she emphasized the importance of a pliable mindset, stating, "You change your mind, you change your opinion, you change your whole entire mindset, and that's OK because you live, you learn, you get older and you decide differently."

She has a multitude of new projects in the work. "I've got like two movies coming out, I'm about to film like four movies back-to-back, I have an album coming out with Sony, I want to start working on the second book, I'm writing a TV series I hope to direct, I'm doing a weed brand and I'm redoing my makeup line (Thorne by Bella), head to toe. I'm always out here hustling," she added.

While her endeavors might seem increasingly unexpected, and are indicative of an unstable sense of self, overall, Thorne is turning herself into quite the accomplished and subversive character. Unafraid to depict sexual topics with some nuance and vision, open about her sexuality and mental health, and unabashedly unashamed of who she is, Thorne's actions make her a refreshing contrast to stars who make shows out of their flashy lives, unattainable appearances, and opulent wealth. While her descent from Disney stardom might seem like a fall from grace, perhaps it's an ascension in its own way—a shift from the constraints of having to present as a "good girl" and a movement towards a wilder selfhood that's empowering in its own right.

Perhaps she's not a great role model for young girls, but perhaps the world isn't so kind to young girls as it is—and seeing a young woman so unafraid to turn the scars that the world has given her into art (even when it's Christmas horror-flick-turned-knifeplay) definitely can't be as harmful as some of the sponsored posts that float around Instagram today.

Culture Feature

FringeNYC Ships Mercutio and Tybalt in New Play Starcrossed

Fringe play Starcrossed re-imagines Romeo and Juliet side characters as lovers.

Romeo and Juliet is the ubiquitous love story...

Not the original, but certainly the most definitive. Saying either titular name immediately conjures up the familiar refrain of star-crossed lovers and families alike in dignity. It's status is such that it has been subject to endless movie reinterpretation from Baz Luhrmann's glitzy take, to the parallels of Disney's High School Musical. On the stage, there have been all-male, and all-female takes, as well as gender flipped, gender non-conforming, agender, pan gender, and trans castings. It is a text that has been done every which way. However, this year's FringeNYC presents a version that, somehow, feels fresh. That play is Starcrossed.

In Starcrossed, Tybalt and Mercutio fill the roles of star-crossed lovers. In contrast to many other looks at the material, writer Rachel Garnet is not overly-reliant on the source text. She does draw heavily on thematic and linguistic aspects of the original, as is to be expected, however the vast majority of the play is either newly minted dialogue or a deliberate reinvention of the old verbiage. Tybalt has a speech in which he quotes "A lion by any other name," and Mercutio fights the herald of dawn in saying "It was the nightingale and not the lark," but for the most part the text is new, or is presented in such a way that it feels as if it must be.

Here we see these two enemies transition from antagonists to practitioners of co-somnia. Their struggle is presented both in parallel to that of side characters Romeo and Juliet, and also as a superior, worthy cause to champion. In fact, the few times Romeo is seen on stage he is presented as a simpering fool. Tybalt and Mercutio, on the other hand, struggle with house allegiance, potential societal backlash, and conventional roles of masculinity in a religiously governed civilization. They are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, but instead of existential dilemma, they channel the Geist of gay rights. It's something of a genius conceit, and Garnet's text presents a wonderfully metered love story along those lines that twinkles with amor and lust in each iamb.

Nowhere is that truer than in the work of Connor Delves as Mercutio. As mercurial as the name suggests, he seems to burn his way through every line of verse, delivering a character at breakneck pace that seems to eat sleep and breathe sex, and yet has subtle insecurities. Eric Bermudez as Tybalt is the antithesis of this, and as such makes an excellent sparring partner and romantic foil for Delves. He seems to be weighed down by self-expectation, and stiff to the point of paralysis with overdone masculine drive (if you'll pardon the image). Watching him gradually break down his defenses and yield to the more conventionally queer-coded behavior of Mercutio is an excellent spectacle.

Byron Hagan plays literally every other character in the show. He is at once the simpering Romeo, the simpering Juliet, the traditional lords Capulet and Montague, as well as a host of other incidentals familiar to scholars of the play. He is gently versatile, and does good work in his sprints from one characterization to another. All of this is married together by the director and design team. David Kahawaii IV presents theatre that feels very much in keeping with the Fringe spirit. Limited set in the form of three hollow Ottomans and sparse lighting focused on a plot of predominantly passionate purples, provide enough of a sense of space and emotion without overshadowing performances.

It felt like Kahawaii emphasized the importance of pace to the actors during the rehearsal process, which serves the piece well for the most part. It turns a figurative whirlwind romance in to a literal one, with each scene coming quickly on the heels of the next. However, this is also the production's only real major flaw. Whilst it does slow down momentarily for Tybalt to have a tender penultimate scene with Juliet, the climactic final battle between the two male lovers feels like it is brushed over too quickly. For all the exquisite buildup prior, the last scene of the play feels like it dispels its own well-earned tension with the pop of a balloon, rather than a shot heard around the world. Doubtlessly, it's a problem remediable in the further development of the piece. Development that it very rightly deserves.

Rachel Garnet has done something here that few people have managed. Yes, the play is a re-imagining of a classic story, but so much of it is new, and fresh, and so vitally alive, distinguishing it from the "new coat of paint" or "Shakespeare, but in space" productions that plague Western theatre. It feels timely and timeless, and the flaws it does have will fade like teenage acne as it forges onwards towards the theatrical main stage. Keep an eye out for this in future.

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Thomas Burns Scully is a Popdust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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