Proud Theater, an arts organization dedicated to helping lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teenagers find peace through creative means, will kick off its year-end play, titled “Beyond,” at Memorial Union from May 3-5.
The play, which is composed of original skits produced by the teenage members of Proud Theater, speaks out on issues faced by the LGBT community. Skits can range from humorous, to dark to, occasionally thought-provoking, said Callen Harty, community outreach coordinator for Proud Theater.
“The culminating show at the end of the year is the compilation of pieces the [teens] have created throughout the year,” Harty said. “We take the best pieces and create a show of 20 to 30 skits.” The bulk of the selections are theatrical pieces, but members occasionally submit written word submission as well as their self-composed music,” he said.
All of the skits presented by Proud Theater are based on real-life experiences, Harty said. “We gather the youth together every week and trade theatrical pieces on their own life stories,” he said. “All of them are original.”
The average age of a Proud Theater participant is around 15, although the organization has allowed kids as young as 12 to participate in its theater program. “Typically, the youth in our group tend to be more activist,” Harty said. “They also want to be in a group with other kids who understand them.”
Although there are adults employed with Proud Theater, Harty said the role they play in the creative process is minimal. “As adults, we need to guide that [creative] process,” he said. “But since it is created by the youth, they have more say in our organization.”
The program attracts both teens interested in professional theater and those who just seek a place to be free, Harty said. “We have kids who have never, ever done theater before,” he said. “They are often incredibly shy, but they want to be part of the creation process.”
For 2012, the members of Proud Theater wanted to create a unique experience. “The title is a reference to 2012 supposedly being the end of the world,” he said. “What if someone came from another planet and the whole world was … destroyed”?
The annual themes vary depending on current events. Although humor is always a part of the year-end show, outside factors can determine what topics the students choose to cover. For example, the year Wisconsin decided to ban gay marriage saw an uptick in the number of serious skits being presented, Harty recounted.
The enormous amount of creativity, coupled with a never-ending lack of material, keeps Proud Theater going, Harty said. “We’ve been doing this for 13 years, and we haven’t come close to running out of usable material,” he said. “There have been lots of really powerful skits and powerful pieces, in different years and for different reasons,” he remembered.
One production particularly stuck out in Harty’s memory. In a skit titled “The Gauntlet,” a character who is being bullied displays his inner wounds by wearing a velcro vest. Every hurtful word the bully says is added to the vest, and the play culminates with the main character throwing off his vest and walking away. “He was carrying those hurtful words, symbolically and literally, wherever he went,” Harty recounted. “It was very powerful and moving.”
“We put on a very high-quality production,” he added. “All of the mentors have been involved in theater for years. Not only do we want to help them share their stories, we want to do it in high quality.”
Proud Theater was founded in 1999 by a 15-year-old girl named Sol Kelley-Jones, who partnered with Harty to create a theater company that would speak for LGBT and racial justice. Proud Theater was the end result of combining her passion for theater with her support of LGBT rights.
“The goal was to change the world through theater,” Harty said. “We’re a very unique theatrical and youth organization. We’re basically non-hierarchical.”