these stories happened to so-and-so, they’re happening to us.
June 11, 2014 9:01 AM   Subscribe

I was part of a theater project for homeless teenagers when I was 21. I was then homeless too, and the definition of "teenager" was flexible enough to include me.

In a lot of ways, it was catastrophic. It was wildly misconceived, an example of something I quickly learned was dubbed "unconscious liberal condescension" -- well-meaning people will decide what should be done for people in need without either asking them or respecting their answers when offered. It had no mechanism for bettering the lives of those involved. Worse still, because it was in Hollywood, and had been started by an Academy Award-winner, and involved industry professionals, there was an unspoken assumption on the part of the teens involved that this would get the connections in the film world, and many actively passed up real opportunities in favor of participating in the program, some, like me, for almost two years. It all fell apart rather badly, with no real accomplishments to show, and left those of us who had dedicated our time to it unmoored and heartbroken, with no direction.

And yet, here it is, two decades later. I first wrote plays as part of the program, and have now had more than 30 plays produced, with high marks from Variety, the New Yorker, and the New York Times. I have, on and off, made my living as an arts critic for 15 years. I am now organizing a community theater project explicitly designed to encourage local writers to write about local subjects. I went back to school for a degree in theater.

And I wasn't the only one to have benefitted like this from the program, although I think I benefited the most. One of the actors went on to have a career as a performer in Vegas. Another did standup for years. I fell out of touch, but would hear, now and then, that somebody from the program was in a play, or a teevee show, or whatever. Even though the program had no transition into the world of professional arts built in, some of us made that transition anyway, and were ready for it, because we had spent two years learning what it meant to do theater.

Can theater bring justice to homeless transgender youth? Maybe. Maybe it can. I've learned never to underestimate what theater, even misconceived theater, even terrible theater, can do.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:45 PM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

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