Dim blue light filled the house. The sound of a sold-out audience faded into silent expectation. It was time. 9 weeks of hard work, 40+ hours of class, and 1 dream was about to come to fruition on the Richmond Triangle Players’ stage. One week ago today, SPECTRUM’s first season debuted Let Her Liv* an original piece of devised theatre with heart, laughs, and an undeniable message of youth advocacy for the queer community.
9 weeks, 40+ hours and 1 dream ago no one imagined how this would end.
Sitting in the lobby of Richmond Triangle Players, the founding members of SPECTRUM brainstormed words on a white pad:
“What do some people think of the LGBTQ community?” Faggot. Dyke. Tranny.
Harsh words on white paper.
“This is what LGBTQ youth are facing.” Deejay Gray’s vision for a queer youth theatre program had been growing for years. For almost four years, he has been trying to find a way to bring to life his idea of a safe space for LGBTQ youth and their allies; a space for them to tell their stories and learn self and community advocacy through the arts. In 2014, a partnership with Richmond Triangle Players began turning that idea into a reality.
“What do WE think of the LGBTQ community?” Pride. Freedom. Community.
Revolutionary words on white paper.
In August 2014, the SPECTRUM team was wondering if any students would register for the pilot season. In October 2014, the lobby of RTP was filled with interested parents and teens from across the Richmond community. SPECTRUM was here.
“My colors of the wind are a little more rainbow, honey”. With a laugh two students displayed their retelling of Pocahontas complete with illustrations of a jaw-dropped John Smith. From recreating well known stories to writing their own, the SPECTRUM ensemble arrived at the Gay Community Center every Sunday to use the arts as a way to tell their truths. Each week, the ensemble met with a guest artist who led a workshop about different creative outlets. Ensemble members not only worked with professional artists from the Richmond Community, they also had in-class mentors who maintained stability and built classroom community. The mentorship aspect of the program is unique and was critical for building a safe space for everyone to open up in a creative, collaborative way. From narrative writing to character work to queer history to creative play; ensemble members gathered knowledge they then put to use constructing a piece for the season’s finale.
There were moments in class when the ensemble clicked. Magical moments when all of the energy in the room aligned to create something from nothing. Her name was Liv. And she was bright and passionate and sometimes flustered but always fierce. Liv wasn’t real. And yet she came to life through the words of the SPECTRUM ensemble. Each member crafted a small part of her with their words. Friends. Partners. Family, made and born. The SPECTRUM ensemble created a unique piece of theatre that was sparked from personal experiences and spoke to the heart of many issues faced by the queer community. One student spoke about America’s independence from Britain and how it affected the evolution of the English language. On the day of the show her character stood in front of the audience and spoke about anti-LGBTQ bullies, “Faggot. Dyke. Tranny. Their vocabulary makes no sense. Their word choice and grammar are incorrect. You identify as who you are. You don’t need a country to gain its independence to hear the words that will give you the respect you deserve.” Harsh words taken from white paper and confronted, dismantled, undone by the heartfelt message of a young woman advocating change.
On January 18, 2015, eight LGBTQ youths and their allies took the stage and confronted the harsh words that write the destinies of too many LGBTQ individuals. 9 weeks, 40+ hours, and 1 show later SPECTRUM has come further than anyone expected. Deejay’s vision of a collaborative space for LGBTQ youth and their allies to learn, laugh and create has come true in a big way. SPECTRUM’s pilot season has already created a legacy of pride, freedom and community through revolutionary words taken from the confines of paper and spoken into the silent expectation of sold-out room. Over the next few years, SPECTRUM will continue to grow, changing not only the participants, but the Richmond community. In 2014, no one could see how far SPECTRUM would come and in 2015 we cannot wait to see how much further it will go. SPECTRUM is here. Stay tuned.
The mission of SPECTRUM from TheatreLAB and Richmond Triangle Players is to provide a safe and collaborative setting where LGBTQ-identified youth and their straight allies can share and celebrate their stories through the theatre arts.