3 min

A war cry against homogenization

Queer youth present their own lives on their own terms

Credit: Xtra West files

Spencer Herbert first worked with youth when he still was one. A bright 23-years-old now, he keeps one foot in the fountain.

Herbert also has strong connections in the theatre world-acting in shows as a kid and growing up around a family of theatre geeks. The stage is set, then, for his youth-driven theatre project, Identity. Co-sponsored by Gab Youth Services and Addiction Services, this unique production will ask queer youth to present their own lives, on their own terms. All the queer folk from your high school’s drama club are about to be vindicated.

Identity, running in conjunction with Pride 2004 at the Firehall Arts Centre, draws its content from the youth themselves. They don’t all agree on what that content should look like, either. Superheroes have come up during workshops-think Trans-formers, Dykes-R-Us and Super Fag. An exposé of Bert and Ernie’s illicit love may also be in the works. If that rubber ducky could talk. . . .

As director, Herbert takes on the substitute teacher’s role with these youth. He can attempt to guide them, but isn’t really in control. “I don’t know what I’m doing anyway,” admits Herbert impishly. Just the right attitude. It’s the young(er) ones we’re paying to hear, after all. “This is really the first time any one of us has done anything like this,” says Herbert of the project, “so it’s a big risk, and it keeps me up at night-but at the same time I feel privileged to be working with such generous people, willing to share themselves with an audience. It’s a real treat.

“The youth make the decisions,” reasserts Herbert. “I hope to challenge my practice as a director by seeing how much power I can give away.

“And I find that’s the kind of work that really excites me. You never know what to expect and your views are constantly challenged. I was in shows as a kid where the director would tell you what the story was and then make you be all cutesy so that your parents would love it-while you felt like an idiot.”

Not so with Identity-parents beware. The earnest, this-is-your-brain-on-drugs preaching of teen drama is simply not on the menu. “I don’t want to do that with youth,” Herbert insists. “I find if you give them a large portion of the control, that won’t happen.”

So how does the project fit into this year’s Pride celebrations? Queer youth continue to struggle, in school and at home, for the right to exist. Youth often know more about the adversity of forging selfhood than more established adults. We all can learn from their perseverance. Herbert knows that theatre can enable that struggle with a strong mouthpiece: “From the ACT Up protests, to Michel Tremblay-we’ve seen theatre as a humanizing force. And once you see someone as a human, it’s so much harder to hurt them.” Theatre will always be a particularly queer tool and weapon.

With all those hormones let loose, things are bound to get a tad messy on stage. I ask Herbert whether anything’s taboo and he sounds like he’s been asked that one before. “Ahh, the restrictions question. I’m really free to go where the youth want to go. I’m no great fan of censorship, so really, I won’t be clamping down on anything.”

Herbert knows that youth aren’t innocent. “There’s some statistic that by the time you’re six you’ll have seen 3000 murders on TV … so I’m not concerned. I’m more concerned for the adults watching.”

If all goes well with this first production, Herbert plans on developing a youth-driven theatre practice in the city. A working group may form, composed of youth-serving agencies around town. A reciprocal practice is the goal, where theatre enters the agencies and the agencies come into the theatre.

On a broader scale, queer youth theatre kick-starts young artists and keeps the underground art scene thriving. Herbert sees the Identity project as just that-a war cry against homogenization. “It’s in all of us, and up to all of us, to make sure our stories are told-otherwise we’ll only hear the stories of the straight, white, rich man-and those from south of the border.”

All proceeds from performances will be donated to the Gab Youth Services summer camping trip.


Jul 29, 8 pm.

Firehall Arts Centre Rehearsal Hall.

280 East Cordova St.

Jul 30, 8 pm.

Coal Harbour Community Centre

480 Broughton St.

Only for those 25 years and under.