Seasons of Love

Adults around the world offer inspiration to LGBTQ youth through the It Gets Better Project.

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A scene from It Gets Better. Photo: Morten Kier.

In 2010, a series of teen suicides shocked the news cycle, shoving the real-life consequences of tormenting classmates into the national spotlight.

Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist and freshman at Rutgers University, leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly Facebook live-streamed Clementi in a romantic encounter. Seth Walsh, 13, of California, and Billy Lucas, 15, of Indiana, hanged themselves after non-stop verbal abuse by their middle school classmates. Asher Brown, 13, from Texas, shot himself for the same reason.

There are other stories across the generations, all equally horrifying, all the direct results of school bullying of kids who happened to be gay.

The psychological effect of ridicule, especially in middle school years, shapes the brain and taps into one of the greatest human fears: the fear of abandonment (being outcast from one’s community). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) young people, who report that they often have no adults in their lives who they can talk to about personal problems*, must face this hostile school world day after day after day. And, let’s face it, middle school and high school can be rough enough socially without the added pressures of dealing with someone else’s arbitrary judgment about sexual orientation.

It can seem, trapped in a well of ridicule, that life will never get better, that there’s no way out.

These LGBTQ suicide reports fell across the desk of syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who survived middle school and high school as a “semi-out gay man” and went on to create a really great life for himself. He decided to carry a very important, very vital message to the next generation of young people toughing it out in the often cruel heteronormative ball of confusion that is middle school and high school: it gets better.

Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, created a simple video, posted it on YouTube, and it went viral instantly. The It Gets Better Project was born, and adults around the world saw their chance to step up and offer hope to LGBTQ kids. The list of celebrity testimonies grew, as did the corporations who valued diversity, creativity and inclusivity: Apple, Google, Pearson Education, Pixar, Facebook and NASA all taped videos for the It Gets Better Project. So did the Fire Department of New York, the Austin Police Department and Lt. James “Jim” Young of Orlando PD.

In time, It Gets Better went on tour, stopping in cities around the country for week-long residencies with local LGBTQ youth to create a concert based on the unique experiences of those young people.

It Gets Better evolved from a simple message of hope to an entire out-and-open community specifically lifting up LGTBQ young people who need support making it through their toughest years. Community serves as a source of strength, and adults built a visible, accessible network through It Gets Better as living proof that every wonderful, vibrant, creative and resilient fiber of an LGBTQ person has a place in the world somewhere, with something unique and valuable to offer.

As NASA says in their video: “You are necessary.”

This year, It Gets Better arrives in Tampa, with a performance here at The Straz on March 24.


For more information on the show and tour, take a look here .

*from the Human Rights Campaign’s report “Growing up LGBT in America: HRC Youth Survey Report Key Findings.”

Frock On, Sisters and Brothers!

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Kinky Boots tour.

We’re celebrating the arrival of the Broadway blockbuster bromance Kinky Boots and wanted to take a minute to talk about how much drag queens have contributed to the joy that is the performing arts.

RuPaul

Actor, drag queen, model, author and recording artist RuPaul.

And transgender folks.

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Wendy Carlos, born Walter, wrote scores for A Clockwork Orange and Tron. She is considered one of the greatest music innovators of the 20th century.

Oh, and cross-dressers. And gender-benders.

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Grace Jones is known for her unique look at least as much as she is for her music, acting and modeling career.

Of the many perks of life in the performing arts is the singular power of theater life to allow people to be who they are—and who they’re not. A theater world’s magic brims with exploration of identity, and for many centuries, humans have used the stage as a forum and refuge, a liminal space where character, reality, fantasy and persona blur into performance. LGBT identity historically challenges the arbitrary definitions of normal gender behaviors and sexuality for society at large, but LGBT is LIFE in the performing arts, part of the norm that adds its own value to the mix.

Mainstream movies tend to typecast drag queens as a comic device for sexual gags and variations on the bitchy glamorpuss, though it’s worth noting that in popular films like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and its American counterpart, To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, as well as in Kinky Boots, drag queens continue to teach audiences the value of tolerance in a world too charged by judgment and violence.

Long a “fringe” performing art form, drag is making its way, slowly, as normative. In Kinky Boots, Lola is a complex character, not the schtick comic in a double act working off (literally) the straight man. Lola’s ambiguous sexuality in Kinky Boots remains one of the cooler parts of the musical often overshadowed by the fun of it all. Is she gay? Straight? Does it matter? And why are we so preoccupied with a man in a dress’s sexuality anyway? Can’t a person just be happy in a dress?

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Johnny Depp in a scene from Ed Wood, a 1994 biopic about the cult filmmaker, directed by Tim Burton.

So, keep rocking the frocks, brothers and sisters, and we’ll see you stage side.

Patron alert: the Straz Center continues to see more fake ticket agencies pop up on the internet, selling our shows for far more than our ticket price, especially for the Broadway series. Be sure you get your tickets for Kinky Boots at strazcenter.org. Any other website is a ticket scam.

Diversity in Ballet

Many performing arts lovers shouted “Bravo!,” “Finally!” and “What Took So Long?” when American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland broke the oft-unspoken color barrier in the European-standards of ballet to become an international star. Her recent commercial for Under Armor went viral, forcing people to rethink their notions of ballet dancers as athletes and also as white women in tutus. Fortunately—for ballet and for all the dancers of color who want solo and prima places in ballet companies—Misty Copeland’s rise to public prominence has brought a new respect to the art form and a more public conversation about the experience of black and brown dancers in the world of ballet. Caught in the Act came across this recent article on Mashable to address the history and social challenges of this fact of life in American dance—one that, with our understanding and changing ideas—will hopefully soon turn into history instead of reality.

NEW YORK, New York — In three to five years, no one will be talking about diversity in ballet.

That’s according to Virginia Johnson, a founding member and artistic director of New York City’s famed Dance Theatre of Harlem. In a few years, she thinks it will be a boring topic “because it will have happened,” she says in a light but commanding voice. Soon, she says, the largely white world of ballet will be populated with dancers of color.

Soon — but not today. Not in 2015.

Today, the ballet world still has a race issue. Brown ballerinas are almost invisible, rarely in the spotlight. Pools of talent are left untouched, as major dance companies glide over people of color in favor of white dancers. Dancers of color don’t often get coveted principal or soloist roles, and browsing through the corps de ballet roster of renowned institutions like the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet shows that diverse swans are in short supply.

Johnson rests comfortably in her three- to five-year theory, though. She is in a position to push that change forward. Along with companies like the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre, the Dance Theatre of Harlem is a well-known entity in the ballet world, founded in 1969 “shortly after the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” the site declares. Its mission statement is clear: “To present a ballet company of African-American and other racially diverse artists who perform the most demanding repertory at the highest level of quality.”

“Right from the beginning, this company started making people think different about ballet,” says Johnson.

She remembers her early days at New York University, cramming in church basement ballet classes on the weekend with dancer Arthur Mitchell. Once she found out he was starting his own company, she took a leave of absence from college and joined him at his Dance Theatre of Harlem. It was a bold idea in a tense dance era for people of color.

“People had told us, ‘You can’t do this,'” Johnson recalls. “All of us were in that place as warriors, who were like, ‘Yes we can, just give us a chance.'”

She’s been with the company 27 years now.

For the whole article, read here.