BOSTON: “Queer” was once a perfectly respectable adjective, but transformed into a noun, it became a slur. Now activists are working to reclaim the word as a verb.
“We need to think about ‘queering’ our work,” suggested Brendan Healy, artistic director of the Toronto troupe Buddies in Bad Times this past July to a gathering of theatre artists who work with LGBTQ youth. Healy defined “queering” as an ongoing process that never arrives at a fixed style or content but “makes a space for the complexities of lived experience” in all its confusions and contradictions.
The event, the third annual Queer Youth Theater directors’ retreat and conference, brought together 16 organizations from across the U.S. and Canada—including TCG members About Face Theatre of Chicago, New Conservatory Theatre Center of San Francisco and Omaha Theater Company in Nebraska—for a three-day meeting at the Boston Center for the Arts. The companies agreed to formalize their loose consortium into the Pride Youth Theater Alliance, or PYTA.
In the spirited discussion led by Healy, non-gay participants expressed their relief that his definition of “queer” provided them with a “bandwidth” inside the rainbow spectrum of LGBT experience.
The assembled directors elected Evelyn Francis of the 23-year-old company The Theater Offensive (TTO), which hosted the conference, and Omaha Theater Company’s Brian Guehring as the new alliance’s first co-chairs. They hope to spearhead the nascent organization’s efforts to shore up funding for its members, increase their recognition in the field, and raise awareness about the issues facing today’s LGBTQ youth.
As with the past two national meetings, which took place in Orlando, Fla., and Omaha, Neb., the 2012 conference was underwritten by the Mukti Fund, which also is a primary financial supporter of the educational programming for queer youth that brought the attendees together. Mukti trustee Mike Dively invited organizations interested in starting programs geared to in-need youth populations to apply to take part in PYTA’s future workshops and best-practices sharing. These Incubator Fund theatres, which include Lexington Children’s Theatre in Kentucky, will each be assigned a mentor from among PYTA’s membership, who will serve as a sounding board for the newbies.
After a performance by TTO’s True Colors youth troupe alumni, managing director Adrian Budhu summed up the feelings of many conferees: “It’s important to create a safe space for young people to express themselves freely, and it’s important for us to listen to them.”
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