PITTSBURGH – Giving voice to LGBTQ neighbors in Western Pennsylvania, staged readings “Invisible in Plain Sight” will feature stories gathered throughout the 26-county Western Pennsylvania region, June 24 and 26 during LGBTQ Pride Month.
The stories told by seven readers illuminate the joys and challenges of the LGBTQ community–from love, marriage and parenthood to discrimination, abuse, and violence. Each excerpt is derived from the responses of #AMPLIFY participants.
Celebrating LGBTQ pride, the pair of readings, directed by Virginia Wall Gruenert, artistic director of off the WALL Productions, will run on Fri., June 24 at 8 pm with reception for audience following the performance and Sun., June 26 at 4 pm. Tickets are $10 online in advance or at the door. Call 724-873-3576 for tickets or details. All proceeds from the performances will benefit the AMPLIFY project.
Off the Wall Productions is located at Carnegie Stage, 25 West Main St., Carnegie, PA 15016. Directions and details at; http://www.carnegiestage.com/
In addition, the Friday event will be live streamed via Stream Pittsburgh at: http://www.streampittsburgh.com/video/amplify/
Fueled by more than 165 participants in an online survey of Western Pennsylvanian, #AMPLIFY has been documenting aspects of the lives of those who comprise the region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community.
Created by Sue Kerr, artist-in-residence at Most Wanted Fine Art in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, #AMPLIFY is the only initiative of its kind in the region. Responses are featured on Kerr’s Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents blog. She will continue to collect responses through the end of 2017.
Gruenert describes a three-part program:
- A dramatic reading from Elise Forier Edie’s play The Pink Unicorn, performed by veteran Pittsburgh actor Ingrid Sonnichsen. The story involves a recent widow raising her 14-year-old daughter in a small, conservative Texas town, “ “Trish works at a nearby hospital and cherishes her church, her home, and everything else she can count on in a world she now finds herself alone in,” says Gruenert. “Suddenly she faces a crisis she never saw coming: her beloved teenage daughter announces she is genderqueer, and that she’s starting a chapter of the Gay and Straight Alliance at the local high school.”
- A movement theater piece conceived and performed by Moriah Ella Mason tells her story of persecution and discrimination as a young girl growing up Jewish and queer.
- A dramatic reading in the words of #AMPLIFY respondents by seven LGBTQ volunteers. The piece shares the answers to questions posed in the #AMPLIFY questionnaire created by Kerr. “Every word is taken from the questionnaire – no revisions, no additions,” says Gruenert.
Readers are: Harry Java, Pixie Colbert, Staci Backauskas, Adrienne Fischer, LaMar Williams Alexander Smithson, and Laura Dunhoff.
The June events are made possible by funding from Theater Foundation. Funding for #AMPLIFY LGBTQ Voices was provided by the A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation. Other sponsors include GLAAD, PFLAG National, PFLAG Pittsburgh, Big Burrito Restaurant Group, and Music Night on Jupiter.
The #AMPLIFY project aims to accurately represent a strong sample of the estimated 200,000 members of the LGBTQ community the 26-county Western Pennsylvania region. Now, the project will benefit from more visits with LGTBQ organizations and community members outside of Allegheny and its adjacent counties.
#AMPLIFY is equally about identifying resources for queer and trans people as hearing individual stories, says Kerr.
“We are learning how disparate the support is for those dealing with stereotypes and lack of community organizations and even safe spaces in the more rural and small town communities that comprise most of this region,” Kerr states. “This unique regional view provides an important representative snapshot of queer and trans life in America.”
Kerr believes that sharing #AMPLIFY stories can educate and connect with allies in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ equality.
Nina Sauer, co-owner of Most Wanted Fine Art, concurs: “Storytelling and preservation has long been a form of community art and this project is an old art form made new again with technology.”
In May, AMPLIFY published the first issue of its zine with financial support from more than 20 sponsors. All 500 copies were distributed within a two-week period. The project plans to produce a second issue which will serve as the event program for the staged reading.
BACKGROUND ON #AMPLIFY
The goals of #AMPLIFY include:
- Exploration of the realities of our LGBTQ neighbors in their own words so as to better understand how their identities impact their day to day lives.
- Identifying barriers LGBTQ individuals face in daily life, including discrimination and bias.
- Understand how LGBTQ citizens contribute to a thriving region.
- Connecting with 26 counties in Western Pennsylvania to identify resources, services, and support that may not be widely known.
Aspects of relationships, employment, neighborhoods, education, healthcare, family, and parenting are just some of the areas discussed by #AMPLIFY respondents.
#AMPLIFY contributors have also shared experiences related to the lack of statewide non-discrimination protections in Pennsylvania. While the Supreme Court’s historic decision in June 2015 struck down state bans on marriage equality, the LGBTQ community members juggle unique concerns well beyond questions of the law.
Members of the LGBTQ community experience a broad spectrum of discrimination that can range from bullying to physical violence. A recurring theme represents a leading concern for the LGBTQ individuals: rejection by their own family members.
HOW TO CONTRIBUTE TO #AMPLIFY: To contribute to #AMPLIFY, participants should be at least 18-years-old, have ties to at least one of the 26 counties of Western Pennsylvania, and identify as part of the LGBTQ community. While contributors are asked to identify themselves to the #AMPLIFY editors, they may provide their name, be anonymous, or use just a first name and last initial for the public story. Photos are optional. The blog archives all the published content which is shared via social media and other channels.
ABOUT SUE KERR: Sue Kerr has been blogging from more than 10 years and founded Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents in 2005. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her community activism leadership and editorial, blogging, and social media work has been recognized regionally. In 2016, AMPLIFY was named “Best GLBT Media Project” Kerr received a master’s in social work at University of Pittsburgh and is a Pittsburgh area native. Read more about her on LinkedIn.
ABOUT MOST WANTED FINE ART: Most Wanted Fine Art, a community service organization disguised as an art gallery, opened in 2007 and has exhibited over 40,000 works of art and represented around 150+ artists a year. They currently host 24 artists in residence.