Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Youths Raise the Curtain

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Youths Raise the Curtain

Article excerpt

Gay teen actor-writers in Chicago's About Face Theater take their show to area high schools and tell it like it is

The phone in Brian Goodman's half of the tiny, cluttered office keeps beeping. "Sorry, I'm all flustered 'cause I just got a call from somebody and there's a controversy brewing," he says wearily. As the educational-programs director at About Face, Chicago's gay theater, Goodman spends a lot of time defusing controversies. The company regularly presents its company-written play, First Breath, at Chicago-area schools and youth groups, and sometimes that can provoke tension.

"When you start talking about youth and start talking about sexuality, there are issues," Goodman says. Today, for instance, he's learned that a faculty member at the next school on About Face's roster is planning to speak out against the group's visit at a board meeting. "I have no doubt that this person has the right to speak their mind--that's their prerogative, obviously--but stuff like this makes us a little wary and concerned," he says.

So far, though, things have gone almost too well for About Face. The company itself is only five years old and the youth program, called the Youth Theatre Project, is just in its second year, but About Face has managed to achieve remarkable things in its short span. The theater just received a $50,000 grant from the National Theatre Artist Residency Program, administered by Theatre Communications Group. About Face is one of only 17 theaters in the United States to receive awards this year.

First Breath, the show that came out of last year's series of youth workshops, was featured on PBS's In the Life after receiving rave reviews and selling out its monthlong nm. A truncated version of the show has become a key feature of About Face's outreach efforts, through which representatives from the theater--including youth program performers--educate teachers, administrators, and kids about the lives of gay teens.

"I think the program's success is really a testament to the power of performance to provoke issues in a safe way," says Eric Rosen, who shares the company's artistic-director duties with Kyle Hall. "It's kids telling kids, `Look, I'm a human being, this is my personal story, it's a lot like your personal story. …

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