The anti-bullying campaign comes to the Houston stage.
by Donalevan Maines
Houston, we have a bullying problem.
Help is on the way.
Beginning on April 28, a cast of performers from the it gets better tour of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (GMCLA) headlines a weeklong series of events that addresses bullying and the broader issues of tolerance and diversity, says Karen A. Watassek, director of public relations for Houston’s Society for the Performing Arts (SPA).
“It all leads up to a performance of it gets better,” explains Watassek.
The Jones Hall performance on May 2 is presented by SPA in partnership with Legacy Community Health Services and Bayou City Performing Arts (BCPA). BCPA performers appear in the show with six GMCLA members who tour with music and video production elements that are woven into local content.
GMCLA created the show based on the “It Gets Better” campaign against bullying that was launched in September 2010 by columnist Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller.
The Internet-based project came in response to a rash of suicides that included Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old in eighth grade at Hamilton Middle School in the Cy-Fair Independent School District. Brown’s parents said he shot himself in the head after being “bullied to death” for being gay.
In fact, says Watassek, “Bullying is the most-often-cited contributor to the extraordinary rise of violence and suicide among LGBT, black, Latino, and physically challenged people.”
“This cutting-edge tour brings out the best of the human spirit and dares to transform communities across the country, one week at a time,” explains outreach material at gmcla.org.
On April 29, the Better Now Forum is presented at the Holocaust Museum Houston. During a panel discussion moderated by Ernie Manouse, a team of experts delves into the issues of bullying specific to Houston. Among the panelists is Deb Murphy, youth services specialist at Montrose Counseling Center.
More than a hundred guests are expected, so reservations to the free event are highly recommended.
“Hopefully, from the discussion, people will come up with solutions,” says Watassek.
On April 30, GMCLA company members present an educators’ professional development workshop, “The Art of Teaching Equality,” at Texas Southern University. Asking educators “How do you support students at risk of being bullied or of bullying others?” the chorus members engage participants in an exploration of how the performing arts can serve as an antidote for intolerance in the classroom. In addition, participants learn practical methods for using It Gets Better Project videos in the classroom.
Houstonians can catch the GMCLA cast singing their favorite pop hits and classic standards on April 30 at a Karaoke Cabaret at Guava Lamp. It’s also an opportunity to socialize along with the BCPA chorale on the night before their final dress rehearsals.
On May 1, members of the company present a multimedia history of the It Gets Better Project at the University of Houston. The informal discussion covers various aspects of developing and presenting the live stage production. The artists reflect on their own stories of bullying and suggest steps to create a safe and supportive climate for all youth and young adults.
It gets better is a program that combines the power of song and story to transform painful histories of bullying, harassment, and discrimination into a celebration of courage.
Out songwriter Sacha Sacket, who was bullied as a child, penned three songs in the show, which also features Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” the power anthem “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger),” and the iconic “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian, who came out in 1993 and married Patricia Snyder 11 years ago.
Among other hits on the show’s song list are “If I Could Turn Back Time” and “Beautiful,” along with “Over the Rainbow” and the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.”
Sacket is a featured performer in the show along with GMCLA members Jason Currie, Tyler Houston, Todd Macofsky, Mario Mosley, and Joshua Skidmore.
After the show, the audience is invited to join the cast for an expanded talk-back on stage with company members and representatives of local groups to discuss what can be done in the Houston area to improve the climate for LGBT students.
BCPA is using the performance and the Los Angeles choir’s residency in Houston as an opportunity to focus on outreach and education going forward in its coming seasons. “As we celebrate our 35th anniversary, this joint venture is the perfect addition to our season,” says Mel Montanez, the group’s office and outreach manager. “It continues our mission of advancing tolerance and inclusiveness through artistic expression. We are very excited to join our brothers in song from GMCLA as we address the important issue of bullying through this performance.”
“We want to make it better now,” says Chree Boydstun, chief development officer for Legacy Community Health Services. “The topic of bullying is very important to us. It’s real, and it exists. Health care and performing arts are two very powerful entities, so we had to be a part of this inspirational message. We will be on-site at all of the events.”
PARTIAL EVENT SCHEDULE
• See full schedule at spahouston.org/igb
Tuesday, April 29, 7–8:30 p.m.
“Better Now Forum” – panel discussion with moderator Ernie Manouse
Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline St.
Reservations recommended, contact Mary Lee Webeck at 713.942.8000, ext. 123, or [email protected].
Wednesday, April 30, 4:30–6 p.m.
“The Art of Teaching Equality” – educators’ professional development workshop presented by GMCLA members.
Texas Southern University.
To participate, contact Jessica Neito at 713.632.8112 or [email protected].
“Karaoke Cabaret” at Guava Lamp, 570 Waugh Dr.
For more info, contact Allison Lott at 713.632.8108 or [email protected].
Thursday, May 1, 2:30–3:30 p.m.
“It Gets Better Project” multimedia presentation, U of H, LGBT Resource Center. To participate, contact Joe Angel Babb at 713.632.8102 or [email protected].
Friday, May 2, 8 p.m.
It gets better concert, in partnership with Bayou City Performing Arts and Legacy Community Health Services. Musicians of The Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus and Houston’s Bayou City Performing Arts. Audience talk-back session after the show, on stage with company members and representatives from Houston groups. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana St. Tickets: spahouston.org.
Donalevan Maines also writes about By the Way, Meet Vera Stark in this issue of OutSmart magazine.