Rainbow Alley LGBT Youth Use Theater to Battle Isolation
As part of their wide-sweeping efforts to help Denver's LGBTQ youth deal with personal and social challenges and overcome discrimination, The Center's Rainbow Alley youth program is staging a Youth Theater Program's performance of John Cariani's play "Almost, Maine," a comic, romantic roundelay about falling in and out of love. The play will be staged on October 12, in celebration of National Coming Out Day.
"Young people are heavily involved in the decision-making process," said Rainbow Alley's Director of Youth Services, Cody Barrett. "This production of 'Almost, Maine' has an all-youth cast, and relies on youth to paint sets and do other behind-the-scenes jobs."
The Center is a nonprofit community center that provides support and advocacy for the LGBTQ population of Colorado. Rainbow Alley is the youth services division, whose primary purpose is to provide a safe space for LGBTQ people under the age of 21.
Theater has long been an important vehicle for telling unheard stories; to that end, Rainbow Alley created the Youth Theater Program. According to The Center’s website, this program uses theater "as a platform to eliminate the fear and isolation caused by homophobia" by putting on performances that present LGBTQ issues and experiences.
"’Almost, Maine’ was a good choice for the Youth Theater Program, as it deals with feelings people have for one another, and has a sense of humor, but deeper moments as well," said Barrett. "The play also lends itself to a wide variety of adaptations or options, giving the Youth Theater Program ample opportunity to highlight LGBTQ themes throughout the show."
"Almost, Maine" can be performed with as few as four actors or as many as 19. Rainbow Alley’s performance will feature only four cast members taking on multiple roles, with some "gender-bending" in the casting, in addition to rearranging of the material so that it includes same-sex as well as opposite-sex couples.
Rainbow Alley Offers Many Programs to Keep LGBTQ Youth Safe
In addition to the Youth Theater Program, Rainbow Alley helps keep gay youth safe through a variety of programs and services. They maintain a drop-in center, which runs events and activities from drag shows to free STD testing, offering youth a place where they can feel accepted and explore their interests.
"The safety and inclusivity Rainbow Alley provides is crucial to young people who may not feel accepted anywhere else," said The Center’s Director of Communications and Marketing, Dani Perea. "We help youth with issues from substance abuse to HIV and AIDS, coming out, suicide prevention, personal safety and family issues."
Perea points out that 10 percent of LGBTQ youth are homeless, and many more have family conflicts that lead to their feeling unwelcome or excluded. These young people are already at an increased risk of suicide relative to straight youth, and parental and familial rejection can heighten that risk exponentially. It also increases the probability that they will take illegal drugs, have unprotected sex, or experience depression. Rainbow Alley offers a support group to teens dealing with these and other challenges.
Rainbow Alley also unites participants with adult mentors from the queer community, providing access to a caring and supportive role model that might otherwise be unavailable. In their Royalty Prep program, aspiring drag kings and queens have the chance to work with and learn from professional performers; other LGBTQ mentors oversee drop-in hours at The Center and chaperone other activities.
"These interactions are important," said Perea, "because these adults have been where these kids are, and can offer a real-life example of how to grow up safe and healthy, even in a hostile world."
In addition to its various activities at the drop-in center, Rainbow Alley works to establish safe space elsewhere in the community. They collaborate with schools and families to create what Barrett describes as "emotional safe space."
"There are young people who don’t actually come into the center who we have a connection with and are able to provide support," said Barrett. Students who want to start gay-straight alliances, or GSAs, in their schools can receive training through Rainbow Alley. The organization also provides training and education to adults and professionals who work with youth, helping them to develop a sense of normality and comfort in dealing with LGBTQ issues.
Barrett says that the most important thing that can be done to support queer youth is to avoid treating them as oddities or exceptions, and to recognize that their needs and struggles are essentially the same as those of any children and teenagers.
"There are still steps that need to be taken before LGBTQ youth will have access to the same resources and opportunities as their straight peers, but once we achieve that, you should treat them as you would any other youth," said Barrett. And like all young people, the participants in Rainbow Alley want to express themselves, not allow adults to speak for them, which is why projects like the Youth Theater Program are so crucial.
The Youth Theater Program’s performance of "Almost, Maine" runs October 12 and 13 at 7:30 pm at the Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington St. in Denver. For tickets or more info, visit http://www.glbtcolorado.org/YouthTheater.aspx