Reflecting on the Last Cleaning Closets Workshop

Getting stories from both sides of the closet door isn’t hard; the challenge is finding two sides of the same story. I think it’s because many times the storytellers are on opposite ends of accepting the truth. So I made it my goal in the most recent iteration of this project to recruit participants to share their coming out story along with a person to whom they came out. In the end, I was successful in finding two youth who were willing to do this. The objective during the workshop was for the participants to share their stories through games, lessons, and activities and devise a performance in collaboration with an ensemble of professional actors. This was successful and allowed me to attain my goal of growing the project and reaching new audiences. Because the funds allowed me to hire two filmmakers, I am now able to reach even more audiences by screening the performance with other community groups. I was also successful in using this iteration of the project as a model to continue the work with new groups; two schools in Chicago have already reached out to me to create a project with their students!

As always, one of the main goals of this project was to teach the participants something and create a dialogue in the community. Though audience attendance during the grant cycle was not as high as anticipate due to various reasons, I was able to accomplish my goal of creating a conversation. In the end, both the participants and the artists said they gained something from the process and also made new professional and artistic connections! I also think that I’ve solidified my image as a professional to my peers in the industry. 

Timing was a huge challenge for me because I had to work within the constraints of the grant cycle, the school year, and the schedules of my professional actors. However, in the end, shortening the length of the devising workshop from 10 days to 2 days helped. As aforementioned, finding two sides of the same story was somewhat difficult, but I was able to find four pairs of participants. However, the night before the workshop, two pairs dropped out and one pair was a no-show on the day of. This just meant the participants that did show up were paid more money. I also realized that though I’ve devised work with my peers before, this time was different because I hired them and they treated me like a boss instead of a collaborator, which then made some of the actors feel like I wasn’t listening to their ideas over the other actors. This taught me a lot about how to be a better leader.  

Guest Blog by Actor

Here is another actor's thoughts before the last workshop.  (11/4/17)

My expectations for this workshop are to further immerse myself in the world of LGBTQ to understand how I can help further bridge the gap between people who are out and people who are close-minded.  

Also my expectation is to make a safe environment for people to share and heal; to hopefully help someone who doesn't get it; to make them click.  To understand.  My expectation for this workshop is to help a few close-minded people be open-minded while providing a supportive environment for these young folks to share and understand who they are and know that that is okay.  People love them and support them and there is nothing wrong with them.  These are places where it is safe to be exactly who they are.  

Guest Blog by Actor

During the last workshop, I asked the actors to write blogs before and after the workshop.  Here is one of them:

I'm feeling a bit nervous for the workshop.  I largely came to know my queer & trans identities through my studies in college:  they are rooted in modes of critical thought as well as in my personal experience and knowledge.  But those modes of thought are not readily accessible, especially to folks who haven't gone to college, which obviously these youths have not [yet].  I hope that we are all able to find ways to communicate with each other across the identities that don't bind us together, be they differences in race, class, gender, etc.  The term "LGBTQ community" is misleading in that we are composed of so many disparate pockets of communities--some of whom have nearly nothing in common.  I'm going to continue to breathe deeply and make myself open to the people in the room and the process that lies before us over the next few days.  

As Quoted By...

Wesley Slone, a student from my alma mater of Morehead State University recently contacted me after I was a guest speaker via video conference with SPECTRUM, the alliance on their campus.  He was writing a research paper for class about the impact of social media, more specifically YouTube, on the next generation of LGBT youth.    Here's a little excerpt with my quote in it!  

For some people they are afraid to come out because they are afraid that they will be treated differently or not accepted. When they look on platforms like YouTube they see that they may be treated differently and sometimes not accepted but it’s okay. There are people that because they were different they could have the biggest impact on someone else’s life. As quoted by Jonathan Mayo, “These internet sensations have come out in personal video confessions blazing the trail for today's youth.  Many of them have built their fan base as openly gay men right from the start such as Troy Sivan and Tyler Oakley. These brave individuals allow youth to feel represented in the media and not alone in the world.”, there are individuals like these that use their fame to trail blaze and show youth that they are accepted in the world. 

Guest Speaker for SPECTRUM

I'd like to give a big shout out to SPECTRUM, the alliance on campus at my alma mater Morehead State University in eastern Kentucky.  I was so honored to be their first guest speaker of the semester via Skype last night.  They asked me all about Cleaning Closets and the work I do in the LGBTQ community.  In fact, one of the students has asked me for a quote for one of their research papers.  I just hope I can live up to my apparent reputation.  These youth give me hope for the future.  They play a major role in making the coming out process easier for everyone!  

Journals Are Old School Blogs

In a moment of self reflection, I recently decided to thumb through some old journals that I've been keeping since at least middle school. In doing so, I stumbled upon and entry from January 19, 2002.  In this journal entry I laughed about the great date I had with one of my best friends. We went to the movies, and when it was over I chose not to go to the bathroom because I saw some gay boys that made me nervous because I wasn't out to anyone else yet. Only myself. And I hadn't even been out to myself that King at this point. Perhaps about a year. In this entry I state that "I almost met some gay guys in the bathroom (at least I think they were gay--I don't have official gaydar yet)." I thought this was hilarious and so telling of who I was at the time. And I love that it was on paper instead of the computer. It made it more nostalgic. I've grown so much since then. 

One journey to and through the community Part 4 of 4

One journey to and through the community Part 4 of 4

Gretchen Rachel Hammond is a senior staff writer for the Chicago-based LGBTQ publication the Windy City Times and the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Lisagor Award.  Hammond has also written novels like The Last Circle.  

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Generation Love: Coming Out in the New Age

Generation Love: Coming Out in the New Age

Guest Blogger Eric Yoak is a fifth year at Morehead State University. Originally from Willard, KY, he studies Strategic Communications. He has served as a board member for Campus Pride Board of Directors, performed on stage in the original production, Cleaning Closets, and hosted LGBT events since beginning his college career.

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Closure

Like the clasp on the bracelet pictured here, I finally got closure.  Last week I got to Skype with the ensemble from Morehead after not even getting to say goodbye to them due to the massive snowstorm in Kentucky.  Our entire week of performances was cancelled.  One performance was rescheduled for a date when I had already returned to Chicago.  Great for the students, sad for me. I also sent them a care package with pride bracelets made by Moonshine Gems and cards made by Frances Mayo Photography.  I told them to really take to heart the feedback they received at the post-show talkback.  I agreed with a lot of the critiques and questions posed by the audience, but even the things that we didn't necessarily agree with are important to consider.  But now it's up to the students to take their own show to the next level.  Many of them are interested in editing their personal stories and submitting them to some 10-minute play festivals.  I say go for it!  In a post-show survey I gave the students for feedback on the program, one of them said that they want to "use [their story] to help people on a smaller scale."  I wish all of them the best of luck.  I can't wait to take the feedback from the students and create a better program that I can take to other institutions!  

When asked in the survey what they learned from the experience, one actor said, "I am unsure what to say. I learned a lot about the LGBT community in general, but I feel like I also learned things about myself and my peers that I can't put into words. I guess I furthered my understanding/respect for others' situations. And I think I gained confidence."


Student Blog #5 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Rachael

Now that we are reaching the end of Cleaning Closets I cannot express how grateful I am to be a part of this experience. I have learned so much, not only about the LGBTQ community but about myself. Through this process it has allowed me to realize that a dream I had is obtainable. When I first declared myself as a theatre major my goal was to own my own theatre and use it as a way for children to come to a safe space and express themselves creatively. Thinking this is an unobtainable goal I divulged myself in many different realms of theatre to find where I would be able to excel. Now that I’ve been through this process and have talked to many professionals doing exactly what it is I want to be doing I know that it is a goal I can reach and will do one day. Jonny has helped me so much and I am very grateful to have signed my name up for Cleaning Closets because maybe this confidence and hope wouldn’t have shown itself.

In addition to my own breakthroughs I have seen many for the others in the cast, and I am elated that I was able to be present for these wonderful people. I am now more vocal about the treatment of others and hope to be a more present ally to all of those in the LGTBQ community. This show has so much substance and I hope (because of the weather) audience will be able to enjoy what it is we’ve put together.


Student Blog #4 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Renee

Unfortunately, we were only able to perform the show we had put together once. Due to an enormous amount of snow and ice, we were out of classes for a week. And as classes were cancelled by the University, so were any other events. Honestly, I was worried about the one performance that we did have. We hadn't rehearsed in a week, so I was worried that things wouldn't run very smoothly. We were able to get a rehearsal in just a bit before the show though, and things ran pretty smoothly. After the show, we had a talkback with the audience members. They asked questions or gave their commentary on the show, and I think we received a lot of pointers on what makes our scenes more interesting to the audience. 
This process was so different from anything I have been involved in before, and I'm honestly kinda sad that it's over. Rehearsals were the highlight of my day. I knew no matter how horrible the day had been, I had an amazing group of people that would be surrounding me that evening, making me laugh and cry and realize how many things I have instead of seeing only what I lack. Honestly, even if it sounds kind of cliche, this was an eye opening experience. Many of the people in the cast were not those I would usually cross paths with, and I would have never guessed the struggles they have been through just by seeing them. I'm really glad that I had this opportunity, and I hope that we can all stay in touch.
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Student Blog #7 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Alyssa

I think what has become the most challenging part about being an actor/actress in these scenes is that we don't want to let the true stories fade, we don't want to let the writers' visions become blurry, so we try harder to understand our roles. We have become much more than a cast and crew, we have become a safe haven for each other. It is remarkable how far everyone has come. 

I will miss our Love Bucket, where we shared our thoughts and feelings toward what we learned each rehearsal. I will miss sitting In my bright yellow chair watching the scenes in front of me unfold, but most of all I will miss seeing the friends I have made here. Of course I will see them after the shows are done, but it was great to work on this beautiful project with everyone. We all stood up for something we felt so strongly about, something that our director Jonathan started. This project to share the

stories from the LGBT community  also helped us create a bond together that can never be broken. 

Student Blog #9 pt. 2

by Guest Writer Samuel

My experience with Cleaning Closets has truly been magical. I would not trade the memories and friendships I have made during this process for anything in the world. I just feel like there is something so special and so unique about people who are struggling with similar issues coming together and sharing their stories. I am truly amazed at the strength and the courage the cast members have shown throughout this process. I am so proud that we were all able to dig so deep inside ourselves and pull out things that may be a little painful. 

Jonathan Mayo is truly a remarkable man. I have personally felt like I have learned so much from him in the short time he has been here. Not only is he an incredible mentor, but I am so proud to call him a friend. It was so easy to see how much he deeply cared for us and this project. Sadly, the weather put a little bit of a damper on our performance week, but we fortunately get to perform the show tonight and I am overjoyed that the public is going to see this awesome show we have created compiled of such interesting and moving stories. My heart is broken that Jonathan will not be here with us but I know we will all be putting everything we have learned from him to the test and our performance tonight is definitely dedicated to him. We could not have done it without him. I honestly hope to be half the man he is one day. 
 
Cleaning Closets is a beautiful project. I look forward to watching this grow and grow in years to come. I hope that down the line I will get to sit in the audience at another university or wherever Jonathan decides to take it and watch other people's stories come to life the way we have brought our stories to life. I will carry Cleaning Closets in my heart for the rest of my life and hopefully can utilize what I have learned from this experience in my theatre career for years to come. 
 
Remember to always Live, Laugh and Love!!!!