Youth Ensemble Project: True Colors & New Orleans Queer Youth Theater by Karter Blake

In March I got to visit New Orleans for the first time. I couldn't wait to get there. My travel companions and co-workers from The Theater Offensive Nick Bazo and Julia Lillis met me early at Logan Airport in Boston to start our journey. We did the usual: check-in, airport security and waiting to board our flight. All through that my stomach was upset. My body and mind were overwhelmed with anxiety and anticipation. I was so excited I was sick, so to speak. The excitement only increased on the plane ride. I tried to calm myself down by listening to music and taking short naps. However, I was too wired and the moment we landed in "Nawlins" I was in awe. My head moved from side to side as I quickly inspected each and every thing I saw in that airport. We hurried outside to catch a cab that would take us to the private house where were staying. I could smell the humidity in the air. I saw wasps zipping in and out of bushes. I knew I didn't need my winter jacket here. Once we settled in, one of our gracious New Orleans Queer Youth Theater (NOQYT) host Evan Spigelman picked us up and we met up with Rachel Lee and Rebecca Mwase to get "po-boy" sandwiches. I had met Rachel one time before in October 2013 but I'd never met Evan or Rebecca and I was really eager to chat with them. Evan and I decided to have the surf & turf  and bonded over the triumph of eating a large "po-boy". The dinner conversation consisted of general getting to know each other and expectations for our workshop exchange with NOQYT. Rachel had to go but the rest of us relocated to a place to continue talking. After an hour and a half or so we parted ways.Julia and I debated whether to venture to Bourbon Street before our big day . We decided to go and convinced Nick to accompany us. The moment we hit Bourbon Street I knew we were there. Nick, Julia and I locked arms so we wouldn't lose each other in the chaos.  I could no longer hear myself think. Each place we passed played different music and people were spilling out into the street. The crowd was immense.  People were drinking and partying in the streets and above us on porches. The streets were lined with empty cups, confetti and beads. It was like a block party times 1000. I was over stimulated but in complete awe. Bourbon Street is unlike anything I've ever experienced. About an hour or so passed and we headed back to our place. Nick went off into his room and Julia and I went into ours. We stayed up until 4am talking about our day and how excited we were to finally meet the NOQYT. A band played loudly outside as we talked and eventually lulled us to sleep.

Day 2
Up early to the bustling sounds outside our place. We showered and got dressed and soon Rebecca picked us up.  The NOQYT directors pick up their youth. So Rebecca, Nick, Julia and I headed over to pick up L'llerrét. We chatted in the car as we drove by and Rebecca and L'lleret recounted moments from Hurricane Katrina. The roads we were driving on, the houses we passed were once over taken by water. Finally we arrived at the church where NOQYT holds their programming. We circled up, did introductions and the fun began. The youth checked-in with their homework assignments. They were working on a play and each working on a different component outside of class and bringing it back to the group. It was amazing how talented they were but also how well their pieces fit together. I was absolutely blown away and impressed with their playmaking process. I was beginning to feel the pressure to impress them the way they had impressed me. They had given Julia, Nick and I their best and we had to do the same. We certainly delivered.  I could feel the energy from them as we facilitated our workshop on roots. We started with a game of "West Wind Blows". A movement game to see what simple things the people in the room  all have in common. It was a great way to connect, get up ,run around and energize ourselves for the rest of the day. After that we did a brainstorm of what things people considered to be roots. Things like race, sexual orientation and gender identity came up among other things.  Using that we then moved into what is called a "Roots Recipe". A writing exercise that explores the things that make us who we are in the form of a recipe. I shared mine to give the group an example of the type of things they could include. Each person spent 5 minutes creating their recipe and then shared back with the group. Following that we broke off into 2 small groups and had people talk about a time when one of the ingredients in their root recipe challenged or complimented their identity as an LGBTQ identified person. For the final activity of our workshop we had each group pick one person's story and stage it with 3 frozen pictures: a beginning , a middle and an end. All three scenes also had to have a title. Each group worked hard to create the frozen pictures and had a chance to present them to the larger group. We saw stories of triumph and stories of conflict. We had all successfully created a safe space based upon our passion for acting and activism. We built upon that foundation in a huge way. By the end of the day I felt like the youth and directors of NOQYT were my family. This is the necessity, the beauty, and the magic of queer youth theater.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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