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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 3 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 31
Orion youth playwrights' festival speaks loudly
Arts & Entertainment
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Orion youth playwrights' festival speaks loudly

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

In an inspiring and hopeful evening last weekend, five homeless or at-risk youth became playwrights and saw their work performed by trained actors on a normal stage with lights and sound and a stage manager - the whole works. Part of an ongoing project called Orion Out Loud, developed by four Cornish College of the Arts grads working with clients of YouthCare's Orion Center (a youth shelter near the Cornish campus), the Orion Out Loud Playwrights' Festival was held at Richard Hugo House on July 28.

According to YouthCare's website (www.youthcare.org), up to 40% of the youth who become homeless or at risk of homelessness identify as LGBTQ, and some are evicted from their homes just because of who they are.

About four years ago, Samie Detzer, Sarah E.R. Grosman, Tim Smith-Stewart, and Carol Thompson started inviting Orion Center youth to work in an intensive writing workshop, learn some playwriting techniques, and have their work read by Cornish students and local professional actors. The four have learned how to write grants for their project, which they have continued since their graduation.

The organizers wanted to find a way to demonstrate that theater could be a fundamental tool for social change. Year after year, they have certainly seen it happen. And it whets the appetites of some participants for more. In a talkback after the festival, Smith-Stewart said some of the youth who had participated in Orion Out Loud came back to the organizers and said they wanted to keep writing, and was there some more support available for creating theater?

They applied for, and received, a $5,000 City of Seattle grant, with a promise of another $7,000 for this year.

'There's a magic in this project that people who are needed just tend to show up,' said Grosman. 'Like the actors - talented actors and generous human beings. There wasn't any point where we couldn't cast a part.' Most of the acting participants are current or former Cornish students, although well-known actor Tim Gouran, who works for YouthCare, also played a role in several of the evening's pieces.

Once the organizers got the grant, they went to the interested young writers and asked them to sign contracts to do the work. Five homeless or at-risk youth committed to meeting twice a week - an individual tutorial and a group meeting - to develop material. The writers worked for five weeks. Then there was a two-week process of rehearsing with actors and directors. And the contract included rewrites, and required the youth to show up and participate. The organizers felt that it was important to pay the youth for their time. Grosman explained, 'There is something really important for us about saying that this can be a job and your work is valuable enough for us to pay you for it.'

The writers got to experience both generating the work and hearing others interpret their words. According to Grosman, the organizers also learned some new lessons, such as how 'things can be considered universal, even if we haven't experienced exactly what they've gone through.'

Some of the five pieces were clearly autobiographical, and some included either fantasy or aspects of both. (Due to the writers' tenuous life situations, SGN has withheld some of their personal details.)

'Champagne and Cash' explored a relationship over time, showing at first an insecure girl who allows herself to be badgered by a more powerful male. After gaining confidence, she successfully moves on while he disintegrates.

'Daughter to Wake Up Mother,' by S-Legacy, was a heartbreaking piece including some beautiful spoken-word poetry, reflecting a girl's desire to have a relationship with her drug-addicted, out-of-work, defeated mother, where it clearly was beyond the girl's ability to help her mother.

'Shotguns in Seattle,' by Jamaica, focused on the recent shooting in Seattle of young people at a party and the death of a popular teen. The characters at first wanted to confront and shoot up the perpetrators, but they find the strength to turn their anger into positive affirmations to change lives for the better.

A fantasy about a writer trying to develop a character was written by Demetri Forte and titled, 'My, What Character You Have.' This piece has moments of humor as the writer creates a character he calls 'Dig Tracy,' who is Dick Tracy's brother and lives in the famed detective's shadow. But there is pathos, as well, in this story about a young man in jail for drug dealing, who is beaten up after failing to pay off his pusher. Ultimately, the writer goes insane because he can't write his character.

Lastly, M'Monique Frazier, in 'The Lost,' wrote movingly about the death of a best friend at age 12, and the pain of that experience combined with living in a foster-care environment where no one really cared about her.

In the talkback, the writers expressed huge hopes for the future - and often, a desire to continue to write and do creative work. The audience showed appreciation for their efforts loudly as well.

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