By Lucas Grindley
Originally published on Advocate.com April 12 2012 7:02 PM ET
Critics of the "It Gets Better" message say action is needed behind those words, and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles has an idea on how.
The chorus is raising money to take the message of hope from the Internet and deliver it in person to schools nationwide with "It Gets Better," the musical. Six cast members will use a mix of original songs and ones the students have heard from the radio to drive home the point. The performance will cap a week of outreach in the community where the chorus finds people who have posted It Gets Better videos and asks them to share in person with local leaders and school officials what they said online.
"We will talk to videos, we will respond to videos, we will talk to people who made videos and find out how their lives are different as a result of it," says Liesel Reinhart of Speak Theater Arts, which is a partner in the effort, in a fundraising video posted on Kickstarter.
So far 64 backers have pledged more than $15,000, and the chorus has less than three weeks to raise the $75,000 it needs to put on the combination of activism and stage shows in school communities all over the country.
Chris Verdugo, interim executive director for the chorus, was there in October 2010 when the singers gathered in a local church to perform a moving rendition of "True Colors," which it posted online as its It Gets Better video. In a matter of days, it had more than 200,000 plays. Now that number is closer to 700,000.
"We all thought we needed to do something," Verdugo says of the It Gets Better video, and "in 96 hours we assembled everything." They secured a location, a video team, singers, music, and more.
It Gets Better, the musical, has already required a lot more planning. The board first discussed the idea in the fall and then approached the folks at the It Gets Better Project, which now officially backs the initiative. Kickstarter is one of the many ways they're trying to get funding, but grants and foundations and all the regular outlets for a nonprofit are being tried too.
Verdugo says he and the rest of the chorus are inspired onward by the reaction they got to the "True Colors" video. It's still hard for him to talk about the young man who said it changed his mind about suicide. And he's heard from places as far flung as South Africa, where a viewer was inspired to start his own foundation supporting LGBT equality there.
While for some the It Gets Better message might be ubiquitous, Verdugo sees stories like that as evidence the chorus will find school kids who have still never heard it. The Alive Music Project that the chorus already operates goes into schools, holds assemblies and offers some musical instruction. For a lot of the kids they meet, it's the stories the gay men tell about themselves, or just seeing their example, that makes the biggest difference.
"It's not just that they're going to be performing a show," Verdugo said, "but it's also that they're sharing their stories of empowerment and struggle and triumph and bringing a face to the whole message."
Learn more and contribute to the Kickstarter campaign here. Watch a video about the project below.