By Ciara Reid, staff reporter
OVERLAND PARK - Over the last several years, the “It Gets Better” cast has toured a selection of cities; engaging the local communities through interactive workshops before culminating the week with an emotional performance of true stories from communities nationwide.
This season’s performance features 12 real-life stories. The cast performs the words of individuals that include public figures like Jason Collins, the first openly gay man to play in one of the four major professional team sports. The production also features music from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
The “It Gets Better” cast will begin their week-long residency in the Overland Park/Kansas City area on April 17. Various events are planned throughout the week leading up to the show. The cast will help facilitate discussion with the community, including anti-bullying workshops. Two workshops will be located at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa, Kansas. The week will culminate in a performance, which begins at 8pm on Saturday, April 22 at Johnson County Community College’s Yardley Hall.
Liberty Press spoke with Liesel Reinhart, the show’s writer and director, about what the local community can expect from the cast’s outreach events and performance at Yardley Hall:
Liberty Press (LP): The “It Gets Better” show has been touring since 2011, and has included a stop in Lawrence, Kansas in 2013. How are the cities chosen, and how much preparation goes into planning the outreach events leading up to the performance for each tour stop?
Liesel Reinhart (LR): We share our availability at performing arts conferences and via word of mouth and then are invited to each community by a local performing arts presenter - sometimes a year or more in advance. The local presenter may fundraise to help cover the costs of our visit and our organization also raises funds and sponsorships to support the show (our sponsor Southwest Airlines provides our flights, for instance). It really takes a village.
The local presenters and our tour coordinator work together to pack as many events as possible into the calendar during our week in each city and begin planning those many months in advance, reaching out to schools, LGBT organizations, and civic leaders.
It’s a really big job for them and we’re so impressed with the work that was done to prepare for our visit to Overland Park. Kansas has a wonderful arts community who serve not just the cultural needs of the community, but also some of the social, emotional, and practical needs of people in their service areas.
LP: What can the Overland Park/JCCC community expect from the IGB week-long residency?
LR: While one week can’t fix everything, we do hope that our visit shines a spotlight on the need to create a supportive climate for LGBTQ+ youth (and all youth) in the community. A lot of organizations are working hard every day on that task, so our visit is meant to bring a new energy to the issue - perhaps some new connections between people who haven’t communicated before.
We do a World Cafe - a community dialogue that is usually open to members of the public - as well as school performances and workshops and a program called the “community chorus” where we work with local singers, who then perform on stage with us during the performance.
LP: How are the 12 stories in the performance chosen, and how often do they change?
LR: The stories are chosen with great difficulty from the submissions we receive from across the country - some through the It Gets Better Project website, some through people we meet while traveling, and some through the other 280 members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. We select stories that capture the reality of life in America as people try to find the “better” in their own experiences. We have queer voices, but also some ally voices, too. Of course - it is theater so we also select stories that are entertaining, dramatic and funny with engaging characters at the center.
We change the show annually - keeping some content and modifying other content to keep the show immediate and responsive to what we are hearing in communities we visit. Curiously, on our first visit to Lawrence we met an individual in our residency who made such an impression that we added his story to our show. As part of his story he refers to a visit to the Shawnee Mission Medical Center in Overland Park. Each story in the show is real and uses the actual words of the person we interviewed.
Notably, the show also has a lot of great music - both original and popular songs sung in creative arrangements by the eight-person cast.
LP: What has the response and feedback been from recent tour stops?
LR: There has been great response during our sessions and in our Q&A’s after the shows. We always receive a lot of messages via all forms of social media - some from parents or teachers, but mostly from young people. Often they describe being at a very difficult place, but feeling hopeful because of the time we spent together.
After doing this for several years now, I realize that part of what makes the show important is the basic act of a community bringing us to town. It’s the local courage to invite us to come, the local commitment to hosting our events, and the local power of hundreds of people gathering to show their love and support at the theater.
Our show serves as a capstone moment, but to a young person in Overland Park who is watching our visit unfold, what will likely blow their mind is to be in a theater full of friends and neighbors they never knew cared so much about their experience. We hear about that feeling again and again.
So - if you have ever wondered how to communicate your support for LGBTQ+ people in your community, we invite you to join us at the performance or one of our events during the week! Stand up and show that you are a friend and ally!
Tickets range from $12-$35. For more information, visit:
www.jccc.edu/performing-arts-series/events/2016-2017/it-gets-better.html or www.itgetsbettertour.org. l