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.  

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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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 #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!!!!

Many Things To Be Merry About

I'm sitting here with my dear friend the fine human Kim Morris.  She was so lovely in helping me produce the storytelling event.  She's asked me to give her a tutorial on Squarespace (the website that hosts this site).  I of course obliged because she is amazing.  And collaboration is what Cleaning Closets is all about.  Besides, how could I say no to my fellow artist who helped me out.  'Tis the season to help others.  Happy Holidays!  

Venue Booked

Well, it’s official!  I finally have a date and venue reserved for Cleaning Closets:  A Night of Storytelling.  It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get this event booked, but there’s nothing more satisfying than when things fall into place!  This one-night storytelling event will highlight pairs of storytellers who will both tell the same coming out story but from opposite perspectives.  If you or someone you know is interested in submitting a story, check out this link for details.  Novice storytellers are encouraged to submit!  Save the date:  September 27, 2014 at 7:30pm at Parlour on Clark.