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Home arrow Entertainment arrow Youth News/Events arrow Cyndi Lauper Uses Kinky Boots Platform To Create The “RAISE YOU UP” Program To Show LGBTQIA Youth The Many Opportunities Available In Theater
Cyndi Lauper Uses Kinky Boots Platform To Create The “RAISE YOU UP” Program To Show LGBTQIA Youth The Many Opportunities Available In Theater PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Scott Lewis   
Apr 21, 2017 at 09:35 PM

I was thrilled when I got a call inviting me to attend a six hour program developed by Cyndi Lauper designed to show LGBTQIA youth about the many diverse employment opportunities available in the theater.  Opportunities that extend far beyond on the stage itself.  Thanks to a program created  by “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” superstar and LGBT champion Cyndi Lauper these teens were about to go behind the scenes of one of Broadway's biggest hits.  “I always figured, if you’ve got a big mouth, use it for something good,” says Lauper.  “These kids are extraordinary and talented. They have the same dreams and hopes as we all do. They've just had to deal with a much heavier burden than a lot of kids. That's why it's so important that we all stand by them and help give them the support and opportunities that they deserve in order to succeed. These kids are not victims — they are our future leaders, scientists, artists, teachers, social workers. You name it, they can become it. We just need to step up and do our part.”, Lauper extols.

Cindy Lauper

We arrive at 5:30 PM just a few hours before Kinky Boots' third performance at Dallas Summer Musicals' Music Hall at Fair Park. There were some 20 LGBTQIA Youth aged 13 to 19 about to be given an experience many so many broadway fans would love but will never realize.

Lauper's program seeks to introduce LGBTQIA youth to the many opportunities available to them in the theater.  Well beyond working on the stage these youth were about to learn about the hundreds of people it takes to put on a Broadway show.  Further, they would hear from the many teams of people it takes to run the theater that hosts these giant shows all over the country.  When asked about her dedication to and her focus on LGBTQIA Youth and their with a focus on their high rate of homelessness Lauper opines, “Where I come from you stand by the people you care about. I cannot sit quietly by while their civil rights are being stripped away, and I won't stop speaking out until we have full equality for everyone. I especially won't give up until we make sure that no kid is homeless simply because they are gay or transgender. As a mom, I cannot understand how any parent can throw away their kid, let alone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The evening's program starts in a break room not unlike any you have ever seen.  Filled with tables and chairs, various vending machines and a small kitchen it is here that the rules of our evening are laid out for us.  We are about to be taken onto the stage where all the magic happens.  No one including the company manager is allowed to touch anything.  Everything has a place and even the most minor disruption to the placement of even one prop, costume or in this case boot could create quite a problem during the production.  As with any Broadway show Kinky Boots wants every audience member to enjoy a perfect performance no matter on what night or in what city they see the extravagant production.

Youth with $6,000 pair of Kinky Boots.

As we step onto the stage the first thing you notice is how incredibly crowded it feels.  Almost every set piece graces the stage at once.  In the wings more props, costumes, and an unbelievable amount of shoes and yes, kinky boots.  It was a thrill to watch each and every one of the teens' eyes widen with excitement and wonder.  The company/stage manager guides us through the very narrow lanes created when multiple sets are lowered onto the stage all at once.  Each piece is being checked and rechecked assuring it will function properly when its' time in the spotlight comes.

Kinky Boots is no simple production.  I've seen more than 50 Broadway shows and Kinky Boots has some of the most complex set pieces and choreography you will see outside of a Cameron Mackintosh production. Miscellaneous items are pointed out, explanations of the way different pieces work are given.  At no time during the entire presentation does the visible awe of each and every teen involved subside.  Great respect is given to the teens and any and all questions are answered before we move onto the next stop in the program.

Leaders from every department in Dallas Summer Musicals speak about

opportunites in the theater beyond the stage.

Moving out into the Front of House at Music Hall at Fair Park one by one the heads of each and every department at Dallas Summer Musicals speaks to the youth about their job, what it entails and how they came to hold their current position.  Striking to me was how some of these senior leaders within the organization came into their positions with little or no experience in the role.  Some came from other theaters, some achieved their position by climbing the ladder within the organization itself.  Each executive showed great attention and took each and every question posed and and answered with the thoughtfulness they would give questions from a major magazine reporter covering the organization.

After a dinner provided by the theater in a private dining room it is showtime.  For some this will be the first Broadway show they have ever experienced.  While Kinky Boots is spot on appropriate for this group it also happens to be an incredible production.  This production could hold its' own up against anything Cameron Mackintosh has put on and that is no easy compliment to come by.  Any production that can garner a comparison to a Cameron Mackintosh production is one Hell of a show.

Timothy Ware "Lola" with Elizabeth Lewis.

I visited with several of the youth throughout the evening and they could barely contain their enthusiasm for the extravagant production.  Many were taken back by the incredible generosity of their benefactor Cyndi Lauper.  She had given them an evening most could only dream of experiencing and while they knew who she was, none knew her personally and the fact that she cared so much about them and their future was not lost on this group.  At the conclusion of the production as the audience left the theater the youth were moved to the front few rows of the house.  I do not imply the youth did not enjoy great seats for the show because they did.  However, now they were seated front and center in the nearly 3,500 seat Music Hall.

After about a 20 minute wait giving cast members the opportunity to get out of costumes, make up and into their street clothes Kinky Boots main players enter the theater from the side of the house and spend more than an hour answering any and all questions presented to them by the youth.  Once again the youth were treated with incredible dignity and the Q&A Session went on until every single question was answered, more than an hour in total.

Questions ranged from how to promote yourself on social media and the internet when you are trying to make a name for yourself to questions about pulling off some of the more challenging choreography in the show (The incredible work of the cast singing and dancing on giant conveyor belts running at speeds that reminded me of Lucy trying to wrap chocolates).  The importance of rehearsal, joining the tour mid run, remembering choreography and your lines also come up.  It is clear that there are many in this group with big aspirations.  Thanks to Lauper's initiative and to all of the people in the show, the crew and those at the theater embracing her objective these youth were able to learn from those that have already traveled the road they look to follow.


Cindy Lauper True Color Charity.

The “Raise You  Up” program which shares its' name with the bring the crowd to their feet finale was started by Lauper during the shows original broadway run and continues there to this day.  Lauper however had a bigger vision for the program and used her authority as score writer to take the program on the road.  Kinky Boots presents this same program in every city it stops.

There were several times throughout the evening that I was able to explore some deeper discussions with various youth.  While they had come to see and experience the story of Charlie the shoemaker and Lola the Drag Queen I was more interested in hearing their story.  The many and diverse stories of the Youth that make up Youth First-a program of the Resource Center. As the saying goes “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  I could not have found this to be more true as I heard some of my own stories reflected in the the stories of these youth albeit we are some 25 years removed from my teen years.

I thought we had come so far I thought things were so different from 25 years ago, and they are.  However, we still have a long way to go.   The discussions are about youth who are struggling with the repercussions of who they were born to be.  Their identity causing issues in their world, in their family, their schools.  I can't get many of these stories out of my mind.  Their similarity to my own youth has brought up old pains, old hurts, memories of the bullying I suffered from Second Grade through High School, though back then there was no name for it and it was not considered a problem that needed to be addressed.

As someone who spent most of my 20s as a leader in the Houston chapter of Queer Nation involved in aggressive activism intended to change the world for future LGBT generations I am saddened by the validity of the saying.  The more things change the more they stay the same.  One youth I spoke to has attempted suicide seven times and when caught the seventh time when in their mid to early teens found their Mother's way to deal with the tragedy was to throw this young person out of the house and into the streets.  While I assumed this likely was still a reality for some, I assumed it was few and far between and in places like Arkansas.  Shame on me.

I would soon discover that there were many similar stories to be heard.  The stories literally upset my stomach.  The mere thought of them as I write this now has my stomach in knots.  All those years ago when I marched the streets of Houston, making dozens of appearances  on the news and on television shows.  The countless interviews.  The attention getting stunts we would pull to gain attention to our plight for equality always targeted the public and public officials but equally targeted was the media. No matter what stunt we pulled our reach was limited, the media was our ticket to the masses. We always made sure the media was there, they loved us and the lengths we would go to outdo our last stunt. All of that and the nearly ten years I had the only LGBT focused radio show in South Texas I did it all for one reason and one reason only.

Sometime in the mid 90s I was invited to speak at a youth group somewhat like Youth Texas.  After I spoke I visited with the youth of HATCH (Houston Area Teen Coalition of Homosexuals).  After my speech and the Q&A I mingled with the youth for a while.  I will never forget the young man that approached me and told me how he had listened to me on the radio for several years.  He explained how he would place his clock radio on our station, adjust the volume just right and then place the radio under his pillow.  He would then place his head on top of the pillow so that he and he alone could hear the show.  For several years he told me our show was his only connection to his community.  Our show he told me was what let him know that it was going to get better, long before there was a catch phrase.

All the years and all the hours were for me about one thing.  It was never about marriage, it was never about the military, not joint tax returns, none of these were important to me.  For me it was that young man, his generation and the generation after his and then next one after that not experiencing the existence I suffered in my school years.  For me it was about those that came after growing up in and later into a world that found them to be just another person no better, no worse, than any other.  For me it was about eradicating the experience that was my youth.

Now let me be clear, many of the youth in attendance have very different stories. They have supportive families they have a good home life and enjoy a very different experience than I did but for me one is too many. That is why this has gone from a piece about Cyndi Lauper's youth outreach to a series about her outreach, the Youth First Program, the resources available and most importantly giving voice to some of these young people and their stories.

Luckily, these youth all have one very positive thing in common.  They have an incredible, secure and safe space available to them several days a week.  Here they can be themselves in their full glory.  There is no fear, they are surrounded by others like them and those that support them just as they are.  That place is Youth First.

I was privileged to be invited by the youth attending Kinky Boots to attend their “Friday Family Dinner”  the following evening.   It was an opportunity for me to see the Youth First experience first hand.  Friday nights at Youth First features a giant spread provided by a corporate sponsor and it is the only night of programing where anyone over 18 is allowed in the space.  Family and family of choice join the youth for dinner and it becomes a time of bonding and support for the parents on Fridays as much as it is every night for the youth.

Next week I will tell you more about Youth First in the next piece in this series.  Find out more about Cyndi Lauper's LGBT focused charities and programs here: https://truecolorsfund.org/ and you can learn more about Youth First and ways you can help their programing here:   Youth First-A program of Resource Center.

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