With 'empathy and acceptance,' artists share stories of LGBTQ identity on the stage
This weekend, seven local artists will share heartfelt, funny and often vulnerable stories about their identity and their community on the stage at The Arts Campus at Willits.
The original production, “A Green Bird on Orange Trees,” is dedicated to amplifying the voices of the LGBTQ community in the Roaring Fork Valley.
It’s a product of the “Queer VOICES Theater Project,” a collaboration between TACAW and another local arts nonprofit called VOICES.
(The term “queer,” originally used as a pejorative, has been reclaimed by some members of the LGBTQ community as an umbrella term.)
The show is structured as a series of vignettes: Some artists profess their stories directly to the audience, or, in Travis Wilson’s case, to a younger version of himself.
Others use dialogue, music and metaphors to express revelations about their identity — to speak the truth without stating it explicitly.
Hattie Rensberry uses that approach in her scene, which opens the show.
Rensberry incorporates familiar imagery from the world of European folklore: She plays a weaver, The Fatemaker, who finds a tightly woven knot in her fabric.
“My hope was to create something where people could really truly empathize with the experience of finding out that you're part of the queer community and learning more about yourself in the way that there's uncertainty and there's confusion,” she said. “And there's often a lot of affection that you have to find for yourself when you discover something, especially as an adult.”
Rensberry said she chose the format to establish a feeling of comfort that she hopes sets a soft tone of “empathy and acceptance” for the show.
She said public shows such as this one can be an affirming, positive experience for people who are currently grappling with their identity.
That is especially the case for people who grew up in environments where some people — including some in our community — may not see that identity as a positive thing, she says.
“It's also important when you live in communities that may have some adverse reactions towards queer people in finding opportunities to change your opinion, and finding opportunities to connect with people that you didn't think you could before,” she said.
Art Williams, who co-directs the show with Cassidy Willey and is part of the ensemble, said now is the time to be sharing these stories with the community of the Roaring Fork Valley.
Williams, who uses the pronoun they, said they have seen the excitement for more spaces and events such as the first-ever pride celebration in Glenwood Springs and a drag show at TACAW this past summer.
To Williams, “the community is ready” to hear these stories.
"Alongside that, we still live in a rural community,” they said. “There’s obviously going to be divide and there’s obviously going to be people who aren’t supportive. … It's so important that we start to move closer to people that we don't understand as much and have preconceptions about.”
“I feel super, super lucky to be doing this work right now,” they added.
They see artistic expression as a “powerful medium” to tell vulnerable stories and communicate difficult, challenging themes.
The ensemble has poured time, heart and intention into the pieces that are part of the program, and the team has worked to build trust with one another in the process, Williams said.
“This ensemble has done such a rich job of portraying some of their most uncomfortable experiences in a way that is accessible, in a way that is funny, in a way that is relatable, in a way that is easy to follow, which is such a testament to their talent as as artists,” Williams said. “So I hope that the people understand that we're not so different.”
Williams said those experiences go beyond relationships or partnerships or sex.
“It's really tied to people's core identities, and because of that, I think it's something that everyone can relate to,” they said. “Because we all have a spirit, we all have a consciousness, we all have a mind. We all have identities that we struggle with, and identities that some of us have made ourselves fit into because of our upbringings.”
They hope audiences will come away from the show with more understanding of others’ experiences and some inspiration for themselves, too.
“I hope someone goes home and writes a poem or, you know, just like, writes a song, does something, starts to explore who they are as people and starts to question, ‘How do I see myself in this world? Why are all of my beliefs what they are?’”
Williams said they hope audiences can “move closer to themselves” in the process.
Performances, which started Friday night, run through Sunday, with special programming tied to each show.
Aspen Public Radio reporter Halle Zander on Friday moderated a post-performance Q&A with the cast and crew.
On Saturday, Aspen Out will host an after-party at TACAW. The Guest, also known as Simon Klein, will be the featured DJ.
On Sunday, Gay4Good and AspenOUT will host a preperformance meet-and-greet.
For tickets and more information, go to TACAW.org.