About Face Youth Ensemble

The sparkly hoopla of the 2015 Pride Parade is history, but for the young artists of About Face Theatre, the celebration continues with a new docudrama delving into the history of LGBTQIA Chicagoans. Whether or not you identify as L, B, G, T, I, Q or A  (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and Allies of all the above), "15 Breaths" promises to be a compelling exploration of a vibrant, important Chicago community. Opening today, July 23, "15 Breaths" will run through August 6, including four free performances in collaboration with Chicago's Night Out in the Parks program.

The About Face Youth Ensemble devised the production after interviewing dozens of LGBTIQA people who grew up in the era when same-sex marriage (or as I like to call it, "marriage") wasn't so much as a dream on the distant horizon. The interviews were rooted in a trio of pivotal queries: What are we fighting for? What did others fight for before us? How can we bridge the gap?

"The title is a nod to the very first About Face Youth Theatre ensemble production, '1st Breath,' put up 15 years ago this summer," said Ali Hoefnagel, Education and Outreach Director for About Face. "It's also in reference to using breath and breathing as methods of healing and connection; all things that are often necessary for social activists to take part in as means to refocus and rejuvenate."

The youth ensemble sculpted the play to incorporate current events, from the appearance of "Orange is the New Black" star and trans-activist Laverne Cox on the cover of Newsweek, to the seminal Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. But while strides in both visibility and legality have been tremendous over the years, those in the LGBTIQA community still fight daily battles against marginalization, phobias and hate.

"Laws don't change values," Hoefnagel said. "When  you look at the hate crime stats against gender non-conforming youth, you see that those numbers are actually going up."

Those numbers are shocking.

  • Every month, at least one transgender youth is targeted and murdered because of their gender identification, according to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network. (Those are just the reported murders, Lamda Legal notes. The actual number is no doubt higher.)  
  • Every year, almost 30 percent of LGBT youth drop out of school, citing bullying and fear of attack as the cause.
  • Upward of 90 percent of LGBT youth hear slurs at school, one third of those slurs coming from teachers.
  • LGBT youth comprise 30 percent of youth suicides annually, according to Lambda Legal.
  • Roughly 34 percent of LGBT youth are subjected to violence at the hands of their parents, violence triggered by parents' attitudes about their child's sexuality or gender identification.

Through its Youth Ensemble, About Face strives to create a safe space and a creative outlet for young people. With productions such as "15 Breaths," the company hopes to help young people see that their roots are deep, wide and strong.   

"I hope the drama immerses people," Hoefnagel said. "I hope it allows audiences to see that even if this isn't your specific story, it's an important one. And one that should be told."

"15 Breaths" runs July 23 - 26 at the Greenhouse Center, 2257 N. Lincoln. Tickets are $15, $10 students. For more info, call 773/404-7336 or go to aboutfacetheatre.org.

Free performances of "15 Breaths" will be July 30 and 31 in  the Humbolt Park Boat House, 1301 N. Sacramento and August 6 and 7 at Chase Park, 4701 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago.

Tickets for Night out in the Parks performances are FREE, however reservations are strongly recommended through aboutfacetheatre.org.