In 2010, amid a rash of gay teen suicides, Dan Savage created a YouTube video, "It Gets Better," and invited people from across the nation to contribute their own "It Gets Better" video messages. The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles contributed a video rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors." And within a couple of days, the video impacted hundreds of thousands of people and has since been seen by more than 900,000 people around the world.
As a result, leaders and members of GMCLA, including Liesel Reinhart, Co-Artistic Director of Speak Theater Arts and Director of It Gets Better, began to dialogue about the power their music has to bridge cultural divides along with the impact the chorus could have outside of Los Angeles. Seeds were planted, money was raised, and GMCLA, in partnership with It Gets Better Project , Speak Theater Arts, and AT&T began a year long journey developing a live tour of this campaign of hope and empowerment called It Gets Better. The tour kicks off in Los Angeles on Friday, February 1 at the Wilshire Ebell Theater at 8p.m. with performances and appearances by Lily Tomlin, Dan Savage, and GMCLA.
Written and directed by Liesel Reinhart with musical direction by Morton Kier, It Gets Better features an ensemble cast of six actors (Jason Currie, Tyler Houston, Tod Macofsky, Mario Mosley, Sacha Sacket, and Drew Tablak) whose real-life stories of growing up gay are woven into the production. The show contains a combination of original songs and songs by a who's who of popular recording artists, including LeAnn Rimes, Gnarls Barkley, Kelly Clarkson and songwriter Diane Warren.
This tour will travel to smaller rural and suburban cities to visit college campuses and high schools. In the week leading up to each performance, the creative team of actors and director will work in the community and at area schools with an outreach program designed exclusively for this production. In addition to performing excerpts from the musical, smaller groups will meet discussing the issues of bullying and acceptance. Students will watch It Gets Better Project videos and respond with their own videos and stories.
Director Liesel Reinhart says,
Part of what we set out to do is create a direct experience of the It Gets Better Message, listen to the issues LGBT youth and others in the community are experiencing, and as we go from city to city create a national network of support by sharing the stories we learn in each city, creating online networks, and connecting students to resources and each other throughout the country.
The tour premiered in Iowa City last October where this vision has already begun to be realized. Last spring the creative team launched the "It Gets Better Song Contest," and chose 16-year-old Julian Hornik's "The Solution" as one of two winners. During their week in Iowa they filmed scenes featuring the students of City High School to accompany Julian's video. The video powerfully illustrates the impact this tour is already having on the lives of the students it touches in only one week in one city:
Of his experience in Iowa City, cast member Jason Currie shared, "We assume a place like Iowa City to be a conservative, homophobic environment. It was a great surprise to see that our message 'it gets better' was starting to happen before we arrived." He explained to me that the cast met two transgendered students who are out, open, and seemingly accepted in the Iowa City High Schools they visited. Currie also shared that by staying in touch with students through social media sites like Facebook he has been able to connect some of them to critical resources.
Of course, as Liesel Reinhart explained, opportunities for learning and progress continue to present themselves. The cast worked with admirable graduate students at University of Iowa's College of Education. "Their desire to help LGBT youth was palpable, however, they were largely unaware of It Gets Better Project, The Trevoer Project, and they need training to help address LGBT issues. None of which is currently contained in the college's curriculum." The cast works with one of the tour's sponsors, The Trevor Project, to ensure that as they encounter these opportunities they are equipped to provide necessary resources to the students and communities they visit, which this month includes University Park, Penn. (Penn State University); Lawrence, Kan., Seattle, Wash. and more.