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QSpeak: Gay Youth Find Place through Art
Walking up to the Fine Arts Center on Sunday, I was unsure of what I was getting myself into. I had met with Beck, the coordinator for 1n10, earlier this week where we had a chance to talk about the non-profit organization dedicated to serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth ages 14-22 in the valley. After our meeting, I was excited to receive an invitation to watch one of QSpeak’s rehearsals that weekend. I was eager to see how these personal stories come to life from people who didn’t have much, if any, theatre experience.
After a short introduction to the staff and performers we made our way into the practice space, removed our shoes and waited for the rest of the cast to arrive. Moments after walking into the room music started blasting from the speakers as a few kids ran out to the center of the floor and started dancing. This wasn’t the nervous dancing of kids at their first school dance. It was all out hip bumping, hair shaking, hands in the air dancing. Eventually, all ten performers jumped in and their warm-up really began.
Beck made sure every joint was worked, and at one point during the warm up they were galloping around the room on imaginary ponies- some of them even going backwards. Once everyone was adequately out of breath and a little flushed it was time for Candle.
I was invited to sit in the circle with them as each person said their name, and what they were putting into the candle: something that would hold them back from today’s rehearsal. Their responses ranged from the simple “being tired” and “getting into college” to the difficult “having to deal with grown-up things sooner than I thought I would.”
After watching a run through of the first 20 minutes of their performance, I was speechless and couldn’t believe that for many this was their first time of being on stage. There were times where I felt like I was being let in on an inside joke, and others where I was seconds away from tears welling up in my eyes.
The most emotional moment for me happened during a scene where a boy’s locker has been vandalized and FAG scrawled across it. He tries again and again to cover it up, but the word continues to reappear. Finally he makes an impassioned demand that his locker be repainted, stating that he knows his rights and is not afraid to remind whoever is in charge of what those rights are. My eyes were stinging with the tears as I tried to keep control of myself, all the while being mindful of the fact that these were true stories.
The script is composed of the performers own words from stories shared in 1n10’s group meetings, and from anecdotes sent in from youths who are unable to be a part of the performance. “There is an incredible respect for the stories from everyone involved in the production” Beck told me. I was able to witness the way they showed maturity beyond their years in the way they worked and re-worked the pieces.
It is through these stories that the audience is given a peek into what the youths want the community to see, and to know about them. Throughout the performance we see a personal side of the kids, as they explore their experiences and deal with their shifting identities.
It is hard to imagine that this is only the second production from QSpeak, which Beck founded as her thesis project while pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University. Considering she also holds her Certificate of Nonprofit Leadership and Management on top of the four years she spent with About Face in Chicago, she is clearly the woman for the job. Beck didn’t always know that she would end up working in theatre, only that she was very interested in exploring storytelling through the body as a means of social activism.
She has tried to instill these leadership qualities in the kids she works with, as well as a sense of pride in their artistic skills. Her focus is more on the process, and less on the product. It becomes evident while watching the kids work through the scenes that they are indeed taking pride in what they are doing.
As far as the social activism goes, right now they just want to bring awareness to as many people as they can. As Beck puts it “if you are serving the youth, then you are serving gay youth.” It is naïve for any leader to think that their organization serves only straight youth, as one out of every ten people is gay.
One more run through and it was time for closing Candle. Just like before, everyone sat in the circle and shared their name. This time people said what they were taking out of today’s session. It was touching to hear what people were taking with them to make them smile, it was evident everyone had a good feeling about today’s practice. One girl said she was taking out that she felt better after rehearsal than she had before; and several of the kids, including myself, were taking funny moments from the rehearsal to carry us through the day. Beck was excited she was able to be picky about their performance in the run-throughs because it meant they were improving so much, and their production would be that much better.
When it was time to go, hugs were exchanged and I got a sense that this was more than just a theatre group or a support system for everyone involved. I got the feeling that it was a family that comes together and cares about one another, even and especially when they feel they have nowhere else to go.
Beck has done a tremendous job with the program and these kids in only two years. To see QSpeak’s production, “On the Move” tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com, event title: QSpeak. It runs April 27-29. To get involved with 1n10, visit their website at www.1n10.org.