Theatre Bay Area Chatterbox

Friday, November 6, 2009

Developing Audiences the Gay Way

I have a new theatre audience development crush, thanks to my cousin who lives in Chicago. She works as the development director for a music organization there, and was at some sort of organization fair sitting next to a theatre company called About Face.

About Face, which is currently running a production of local fave (and hometown boy) Adam Bock's The Flowers, is devoted, at least in part, to "disproving the old model that says the arts are a frivolous extra, the LGBTQ community is 'other,' and that neither are relevant to the real business world."

So what does this have to do with audience development? My cousin sent me the swag that About Face was distributing at this event -- a postcard for a show called Queertopia, and a fabulous magnet that says in big bold letters "Theatre is so gay." What really got me, though, was when I flipped the Queertopia postcard and discovered that it is part of About Face's "Activist Youth Workshop" series -- essentially, it's a class in which young people "study acting, movement, circus arts, drag performance, anti-racism and anti-violence models, self-defense, story collection and playwriting."

This is a fantastic step in audience development -- both for theatre and, I'd argue, for gay rights. About Face is creating an environment in which youth are deeply immersed in the creation of art in a variety of ways, and which is uniquely intertwined with LGBTQ issues.

About Face's card goes on to discuss the goals of the class, saying:

"Join the cast to help create and perform in a new play about the true stories of violence against LGBTQA people in our city and our schools. In addition, we will be documenting true stories of peace, progress and acceptance in our communities."

Teasing out the LGBTQ stuff, which I think is great, I'm still left with a great respect for the larger scheme behind Queertopia -- About Face, through clever marketing and an open mind in terms of what constitutes theatrical performance, is giving every kid in their class myriad ways to connect with the artform -- multiple doors to walk through in order to become theatre consumers and makers as they grow. That's fantastic, and it's something I'm afraid I don't see nearly often enough in our community.

Do you have other examples of great, innovative audience development via youth programs in the Bay Area?

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