An "As We Go On: Queer Story" cast photo features Kate Peterson and Leah Schew downstage front. Photo courtesy of the show director Margaret Smith

Queer Stories Help LGBTQ+ Youth at The Ark

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

Ann Arbor - Just saying 'It Gets Better' is not enough. So Margaret Smith has directed "As We Go On: Queer Story," a collection of stories based on the real-life experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the local community.

"A story collects the abstract and makes it real and immediate. A life story can change you, can educate you, can move you to do something new, move you to make a difference," said Smith about the show, which is Nov. 13 at 1 p.m. at The Ark at 316 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor.

"As We Go On: Queer Story," which features cast members between the ages of 17 and 86, is for, by and about the LGBTQ+ community. It will raise awareness and money to keep critical programs responsive to increased demand for services for LGBTQ+ youth. Three nonprofits in the Washtenaw County area known for providing support counseling, health services and safe spaces for young people are Corner Health in Ypsilanti, Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor and the Ozone House, which operates in both Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.

"Far too many youth in our community who identify as LGBTQ+ are made to feel that they are not okay - that something is wrong with them or that they are not worthy of people's respect and love. At Ozone House, we often work with young people who are at high risk of homelessness or who have been kicked out of their homes because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Allie Schachter, development director at the Ozone House.

"It is estimated that up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population identifies as LGBTQ+, and 25 percent of the calls that we receive on our 24-hour crisis line are from young people in this demographic. Community support of 'As We Go On' sends an important message to these young people that they are valued and that their community stands with them in solidarity."

Smith said she was inspired to create this show because of the increased rates of bullying, hate crimes, homelessness and suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, and the willingness of the cast to help by telling their own stories to generate greater understanding.

"I can only speak for myself when I say that this show has been a revelatory experience. I am a performer by training but not a personal storyteller. I usually get handed a script or a score with a character to portray. This would be different and more exposed because I'd be telling my own story. When I started meeting with Margaret, I felt like I had nothing to say that would be even remotely 'interesting.' Margaret was my rock and helped me see that my experiences could be put into words in such a way that I could discover new meaning in memories that I took for granted, and that spoke to the audience," said Robby Griswold, who studied the humanities and vocal music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. In his early 30s, Griswold has performed with many theater, musical theater and opera groups in the local area.

"Rehearsing for this show has helped me revisit past hurts and gains with fresh and more mature eyes, and it has helped me feel more whole. I hadn't realized until doing this show that I had been downplaying how painful it has been to suppress my queerness. Preparing for and performing in this show has helped me 'come out' again, in a way, and to accept and love that queerness."

Other performers include Jim Toy, Robbie Stephens, Fiona Carey, Mack Rasmussen, Kate Peterson and Leah Schuester, Anthany Beasley, Iglesia "Angie" Martell and Mary Larkin.

"As We Go On: Queer Story" is not just a show. It's an evening of storytelling that promises to draw the audience in and never leave them. The performances are said to be funny, witty, sad, infuriating, uplifting and touching.

"True stories told live by the person who lived it. True stories by the person who was able to make it to where you hear them now," said Smith.

"We all need to hear stories we have never heard before, because that is how we learn. We learn from hearing stories from lives unlike our own. That can be the beginning of understanding and acceptance. As we go on with our lives day by day, we should remember that there is a gay youth who needs a safe space in which they can be themselves, and receive support services for their needs."

Tickets for the show are between $15-125 and can be purchased online at www.theark.org or by calling 734-761-1818. Can't attend? Please make checks payable to Ozone House at 1705 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48104. All credit card transactions will be processed through Ozone House. Their fundraising goal, including ticket sales, sponsorships and ads, is $27,000. Proceeds will be divided equally among Corner Health Center, Neutral Zone and Ozone House.

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