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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 24, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 25
Queer Teen Ensemble Theater celebrates biggest group yet
Arts & Entertainment
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Queer Teen Ensemble Theater celebrates biggest group yet

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

QTET: Queer Teen Ensemble Theatre
June 23-26
Washington Ensemble Theatre


QTET is going strong in its fourth annual production, this time fielding an intrepid group of 10 teens to develop an ensemble-created show about their feelings and experiences being Queer teens and straight allies.

Jessica Hatlo, director of the QTET (Queer Teen Ensemble Theater) project has been with the unique program from the beginning. Each year, Hatlo explained, teens are recruited 'primarily through GSAs [Gay-straight alliances]. Most of those are extra-curricular school groups. We also teach workshops in theater programs. So, for instance, we'd like to get into [Seattle's] Cleveland High School, but can't because they don't have a GSA or a theater program.'

For the first four years, only a few teens came together to develop the shows. Each one has been a creative and interesting production. Last year there were five participants, but this year it doubled in size.

Hatlo said, 'What's fantastic about outlets like Facebook is that they get the information out, and there was a young man from Cleveland [High School] asking about it this year, and I was able to encourage him to apply for next year. It's great for broadening our reach for kids knowing about the program.'

'The majority of our participants are not from Seattle this year. They're from Shoreline, Redmond, and even Newcastle. The vast majority are riding public transportation to get here, some from pretty far away. In the past, most of the kids have been from the Central District.'

Hatlo's history with Washington Ensemble Theatre gives her a solid background and support for creating great ensemble pieces. WET focuses on ensemble work and is dedicated to a high level of theatrical performance. Hatlo and her volunteer staff get the teens started on the steps it takes to bring their ideas to theatrical life.

Starting with free writing, they write about their own true stories and experiences. They trade stories and continue until there is a sense of cohesion. Then Hatlo said, 'I take the text away and with my assistant director mold the text into a working script which we adapt to our final script. When we make the script we highlight the theatrical themes in their stories (conflict, objective, obstacle, stakes) and take what is often passive writing and make it active (add monologues into scenes, change a story about what happened into a scene that is happening).'

This year's production is I've Never... Or: The Ride of Lady Gaga's Unicorn, written by Heather Alexander, Jacob Braxton, Maggie Davidson, Elizabeth Freebairn, Elijah Greiner, Kia Hellrigel, Kate Holmes, Emerson Lynch, Shireen Nori, and Paula Reiher.

The LGBTQ community should know that this has often been a 100% volunteer effort and is totally free to the teens. The last two years, they did not get any grants to support it (though next year they will receive a small grant), and Hatlo is a part-time barista who has not only volunteered dozens of hours of workshop teaching, but also reached into her own meager pockets to defray needed expenses.

Hatlo credits the 'countless people' who volunteer, including Jodie Anderson, program manager, who does all the contacting of communities, and Kemeya Harper, web and graphic designer, who takes care of the website and brochures. WET provides access to the theater space and set and costume shops, and provides some marketing support and fees for things like the Pride Parade entry.

The program is expanding from the five-week summer intensive, too. 'We're visiting high schools year-'round,' Hatlo said. 'Our focus is to be in schools doing these workshops with kids who can't do a five-week commitment in the summer because we've seen what it does for the kids: empowerment, finding their voices. So now the focus isn't exclusively on the summer program. That can include kids who don't specifically want do theater.'

It's possible that a cap on participants might be needed in the future for the five-week intensive, but Hatlo wants the project to accommodate anyone who wants it. 'We're searching for the money to fund going to a school and doing a semester-long program similar to what we do in the summer. In particular, East Side kids seem to have fewer outlets for theater programs. I haven't done research, but that's what it seems like to me. We want to do QTET somewhere on the East Side that is not as long. If not very soon, we'd hope to do that by 2012.'

'We already go to Camp Ten Trees in August and do an intensive day [a six-hour workshop]. We did two plays last year.'

A new development in the last couple of years is the growth of Queer Youth Space as an organization, pushing for Queer youth leadership and empowerment. Hatlo said, 'I've been running the program since I was 20, but these people were skeptical about me being an 'adult' when I was only 23! They want to have a space led by [and] run by youth, not run on behalf of youth. We've talked to Queer Youth Space about working with them when they get a venue.'

Hatlo said that developing this program has been the most rewarding work of her young career. To see the fruits of this year's labor or get very cheap tickets, go to washingtonensemble.org, call 800-838-3006, or go to www.brownpapertickets.com.

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