With just a week before next Sunday’s CBS broadcast of the 2011 Tony Awards®, I’ve got a serious case of Tony fever. How kind of the Metropolitan Men’s Chorus to open Friday night’s benefit performance of “At the End of the Day…” with the song “Seasons of Love” from the Tony Award®-winning musical “Rent.” Also “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd,” another Tony Award® winner, and two other selections.
I loved the fact that chorus members donned street clothes instead of traditional choir garb. Think red check flannel and Hawaiian print shirts. Khakis and flip-flops. And that they sang surrounded by set pieces resembling old aluminum siding spray painted with brightly-colored graffiti.
“At the End of the Day…” — presented by QSpeak Theatre (of Phoenix Theatre) in collaboration with Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix — is “a play based on true stories and experiences of LGBTQ and homeless youth living in the Phoenix Valley.”
The play was “written in collaboration with program participants of START and GreenHouse Project programs at Tumbelweed Center for Youth Development, and youth participants at 1n10 and Y.E.P.” The one night benefit performance was directed by A. Beck, who describes it as the outgrowth of work with more than fifty youth during the course of nearly a year.
My daughter Lizabeth participated in several QSpeak projects (including “At the End of the Day…”) while attending high school at Arizona School for the Arts. Tomorrow afternoon, June 5, we’ll be seeing “Like Everyone Else” — developed by Xanthia Walker’s “Theatre for Social Change” class at ASA in partnership with Phoenix Theatre and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.” Both works feature snippets of stories meant to convey youth experiences in their own voices.
The 12-member cast did an exceptional job conveying the hopes and fears of LGBTQ youth struggling with homelessness and all that can entail — poverty, hunger, unwanted sexual encounters and more. Plus the issues that plague all teens and young adults, from self-identity to choice of values.
The work sheds light on complexities of societal supports for people experiencing homelessness. Bed shortages. Inadequate training for professionals. Budget cuts. And the tendency of too many to say they want to help the homeless without taking a single step to actually do so.
One message in particular stood out. These youth and young adults don’t want to be stereotyped or stigmatized. They’re people. Period. Yet portions of the dialogue revealed stereotypes some homeless youth hold against peers with mental health disorders, described in the work as “crazy,” “mental” or “psycho.”
Some aspects of life on the streets, including encounters with law enforcement, were deliberately excluded from the piece. The depiction of a youth who feels forced into prostitution by the need to pay rent was done with real artistry, but the sheer number of encounters “shadowed” through a piece of hanging cloth made this scene feel almost gratuitious to some in the audience.
At times, comments by cast and creative team during the post-show talk back were needed to elucidate points conveyed somewhat vaguely during the show. The fact that churches and temples, even those offering free food and clothing, feel unsafe to youth who grew up feeling judged by religious family and friends. And the aversion to accepting help that comes with strings attached. Think sermon first, meal later.
If you missed the performance of “At the End of the Day…” but want to learn more about helping LGBTQ and/or homeless youth, click here to visit the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix. And stay tuned for future “theater for social change” fare from Phoenix Theatre and its many community partners.
Note: Additional information on programs and policies related to homelessness is available from the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.
Coming up: Valley stages featuring Tony Award®-winning works
All artwork from the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle at www.sanctuaryartcenter.org