One of my larger challenges during my teaching career started one night with a call at 7 PM from the principal asking me to be in charge of the project graduation trip to NYC. It would entail many stops around the Big Apple including, Ground Zero, Staten Island Ferry, Times Square, etc and an off-Broadway production of Rent. Sounded exciting? Sure! The catch was that the two busses were going to leave our Southern Maine school grounds in 10 hours with 76 high school seniors from the class of 2005. The organizer had a family emergency and the staff person that was supposed to go had something else come up and could not go. What did I just sign myself up for?
Of course the trip started off with one of the busses getting a flat tire on the Massachusetts Turnpike. Three hours later we were on the road. I was not dreading any part of the trip, but was curious as to how the students would be in the performance of Rent. Many did not want to go. These were students from little towns in 97% white rural Maine, a high school population of 740, and culture was not their strong point.
I handled the whining about having to go to a musical with – "you have no choice." With almost half of the students visually upset that I was making them stick to the schedule and see singing and dancing, I was wondering how much more whining I would have at intermission.
There are times that make being a teacher worth while. At intermission a swarm of students approached me. Thinking they were going to protest more, I was shocked by inquisitive minds asking questions to fill in the blanks they may have had in the story presented to them or to ask if they were on the right track. Not an upset face existed.
If you forgot what Rent was about :
Rent is a rock musical with music, lyrics and book by Jonathan Larson, loosely based on Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème. It tells the story of a group of impoverished young artists struggling to survive and create a life in New York City's East Village in the thriving days of Bohemian Alphabet City, under the shadow of HIV/AIDS. The show deals with a variety of themes such as homelessness, drug addiction, love, sexuality, disease, and death. – wikipedia
That was 2005, but I remember it like yesterday, not because of the musical, but how the musical was received by the students.
A new project to bring a more modern musical to the masses looks to have that same effect on people. Alan Motley just recently shared with Huffington Post his hopes for getting his project Streetkids into production.
As a composer and writer, I started work on a piece to bring light to the problem of youth homelessness. “Streetkids” revolves around LGBT homeless youth and their friends in New York City—it’s a rock opera intended for young adults. The show delves into methods of survival, love and loss, including family dynamics.
Organically, the story evolved. The characters grew older and the themes became a little darker. I developed an interest in shining a light on trans youth of color. Often forgotten, this segment of the population deserves a platform. I aimed to create a character people could bond with and care about. I spent countless hours reading about my trans sisters, their lives, and unfortunately, their too-many deaths. Fifteen trans people have been killed in 2017 ― all of whom were trans women of color.
One of our top 10 stories viewed last year was "Shelter for LGBT Homeless Youth to Open in Early 2017. Thanks Bea Arthur!" It was amazing how many people did not know that there is a massive homeless LGBT population in our cities across the United States. We need a story like Streetkids to shine a light on this awful epidemic and make more people aware of the scenario.
What we also need to do is not only make people realize there is an issue, like the Bea Arthur story did, but we also need to humanize the numbers. I did not tell my kids ANYTHING about Rent before they saw it. If I mentioned AIDS / HIV, homeless, singing, and dancing, I would have had a riot on my hands. I already had kids saying f-this and f-that as they found their seats in the balcony before the musical started. They went in, took in the musical, the messages, and it was amazing to watch them experience and learn Rent.
Here's more on Streetkids.
We wish Motley the best in his project to make Streetkids happen. To be able to add emotions, faces, voices, love, loss, and personalities to the simple facts and raw numbers of LGBT homelessness will be a daunting task. But if it is good, and receives accolades and great reviews, it will help bring attention to the horrific LGBT homeless issue or nation faces.