The first thing you need to know about the flagship event for the nonprofit support organization To Write Love on Her Arms, aptly called Heavy and Light, is that the night of music, poetry, and honesty is not a benefit show. The organization isn't looking to raise funds, or even to raise awareness, explains TWLOHA's founder, Jamie Tworkowski.
"We're literally trying to move people to know that it's OK to be honest about their struggles," explains Tworkowski. "[Whether it's] depression, addiction, questions — it's OK to ask for help. … If [we are] raising awareness, it's the idea of inviting people to be aware of other people's needs and people's hurts."
Those needs, hurts, and the hope that can overcome them were on full, vulnerable display Saturday night, when the stage at Los Angeles's House of Blues on Sunset Strip was filled with musicians, poets, and speakers dedicated to sharing one important message with the audience: You matter.
The evening's playbill included out, Grammy-nominated musician Mary Lambert, whose powerful and emotional performance set the tone for the entire show. Switchfoot front man Jon Foreman (pictured below, beside Lambert), singer-songwriter Tristan Prettyman, and Arizona-based pop-rock band the Summer Set followed suit, turning in tender acoustic performances that clearly resonated with the packed house. Providing verbal transitions between acts were award-winning spoken word poet Anis Mojgani, comedian Kevin Breel, and actress and host of Lifetime's The Conversation Amanda de Cadenet.
The night's agenda mirrored the organization's: to provide hope and encouragement to those struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and thoughts of suicide. Throughout the four-hour event, one theme was abundantly clear: You are not alone in your struggles. Reach out and talk to someone, write a poem, sing a song, and take comfort in the knowledge that you are loved and have a life worth living.
"I feel that a common thread, not just for this show, but that can apply to most people's lives is the idea of vulnerability," Lambert says. "Part of the difficulty with coming out and being honest with yourself is a willingness to communicate that to other people, and that can take years, if not an entire lifetime for some people to come to terms with."
That communication is exactly what TWLOHA hopes to foster, and why the organization provides connections to existing resources for those who are struggling, including to suicide prevention hotlines like the Trevor Project's. Tworkowski proudly states that the organization, with just 14 staffers and a revolving team of interns, personally responds to every letter and message received.
The Advocate sat down with each of the headlining artists as well as with Tworkowski before they took the stage in Los Angeles and asked about how the organization's mission might resonate with LGBT people — who are, statistically, 40 percent more likely than the general population to attempt suicide — and where the group's religious background comes into play. Read on to see photos from the event, and find exclusive comments from the stars of Heavy and Light.
"We all relate to pain," Tworkowski says. "We all relate to questions, and so to me, our message is one that's for all people — no matter what you believe, no matter who you love, no matter where you live, and what you listen to. Sometimes we just say it's a project led by broken people, and it's for broken people."
The same team will take the stage at 6 p.m. on Sunday at Orlando's House of Blues, when Heavy and Light heads to the East Coast. Find tickets here.