On 42nd Street, Hetrick-Martin examines violence against young queers
Violence permeates American society. Whether it’s the innocent cliff-diving comedy of animated Saturday morning cartoons or the summer blockbuster where the flavor-of-the-year action-star storms his way through a barrage of special effects and choreographed fight scenes, we are a culture that has acclimated itself to violence as a norm. Sexual expression on television continues to be an issue of grave social concern, yet violent imagery is given free reign to trot across screens at every instance possible.
Yet the everyday violence—played out in situations that offer history names such as Lisa Steinberg, Sakia Gunn and Rashawn Brazell—continues to go unnoticed, often slipping deep between the cracks. In some cases such stories garner momentary front-page coverage, but even then vanish quickly.
However, for some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the issue never takes a backseat. For anyone who has experienced violent homophobia—and made it out alive—the notion that such everyday brutality is behind us simply doesn’t hold water. For every well-coiffed gay or lesbian character on television, there are many people in the real world dealing with the trauma of homophobia and its sometimes tragic consequences.
It’s these prosaic occurrences, made large in the media only when they reach extraordinary proportions, which will be examined center stage in a dramatic presentation on May 31 and June 1, when Kef Productions presents “Three Ring,” a series of one-acts, as part of its “School’s Out” series, featuring the work of students from the Hetrick-Martin Institute, home to the Harvey Milk School.
Kef productions, under the direction of Adam Fitzgerald, Lori Prince and Michael Poignand, is an independent company, helping small theater companies and individual theater artists produce singular theatrical works. The “School’s Out” series is a theater/community outreach project presenting original works written and performed by New York area students.
“Rather than predetermine a season,” Fitzgerald explained, “we look for projects fueled by the desire of the individual artist.”
The Hetrick-Martin Institute is a non-profit organization based on Astor Place in the East Village established with the belief that all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their fullest potential.
This particular evening of one-acts, culled from the minds of student playwrights and real-life news stories, and incorporating styles from absurdist theater to modern-day reality shows, has been created through grants from the Advantage After-School Program, a program funded by the State of New York that places strong emphasis on violence prevention and conflict resolution.
The first piece, “Burning”—which traces real events in Los Angeles, 2002—tells the tale of a reclusive gay man who was beaten, dragged into an alleyway and burned alive by two assailants. Told through the narration of four unrelated characters, each impacted by the violence in a different way, the piece confronts head-on the reality of hate crimes in modern America.
Set on a dark reality show, the second piece—”The Wacko Smacko Show!”—uses the conventions of absurdist theater to take the audience into the minds and behind the motivations of abusers and those who allow themselves to be victimized.
Hetrick-Martin participant Cassandra Sam authored “Final Goodbye”—the evening’s final piece—in which three women come together at the funeral of a friend and in the course of just one act become cultural archetypes of how our society views, addresses and, at times, ignores the violence that happens behind closed doors.
Each of these pieces was developed via a series of workshops with the youth, who originated the concepts and performed improvisational exercises to develop the scripts prior to performing the pieces.
“This is such a wonderful way for the youth members of ‘Bodies With a Voice,’ which is the after-school theater program at the Hetrick-Martin Institute, to share their outstanding work with the community,” said E. Dale Smith, education specialist in arts and culture at the Hetrick-Martin Institute. “And I know those in attendance will be pleasantly surprised at the level of work they produce.”