What’s The T? is the latest production of About Face Youth Theatre, an offshoot of the queer theater company aimed at engaging young people to tell their stories and create community through the stage. Every two years the youth ensemble selects a new topic to tackle, drawing on their own stories and interviewing community members to create a script.
For this production, the ensemble had originally intended to craft a play solely on transgender identity.
“The AFYT ensemble and I wanted to create some space for positive, real trans narratives. We needed to step it up as allies,” wrote Sara Kerastas, the playwright who collaborated on What’s The T? with the youth ensemble.
Following an influx of crime in the Boystown and Lakeview area, residents began singling out queer youth of color, particularly black transgender women, who access social services in the neighborhood. Lakeview and Boystown have become increasingly affluent and increasingly white while maintaining the hub of LGBT community and social services, particularly for low-income and/or homeless queer youth.
“As an ensemble, we decided to use our work exploring trans identity to frame a play that addresses these issues,” wrote Kerastas.
What’s The T? chronicles the experiences of Ms. Ma as a transgender woman of color who creates community and an activist uproar all while spreading the word about queer safe spaces with her YouTube videos. The audience follows Ms. Ma through her entanglements with other queers offering an honest take on life for many of Chicago’s queer youth.
But Ms. Ma and her friends are never portrayed as victims. They are empowered. The audience never feels sorry for them. There is no savior. These youths help each other out, create safe spaces for each other, and overcome adversity with a spring in their step all while exposing the true ugliness they face from their community that has discarded them. It empowers their stories, and that is groundbreaking.
What’s The T? runs July 13–29 at Red Tape Theatre in Boystown Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Additional performances are at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen Friday, Aug. 3, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 4, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. For tickets, visit About Face Theatre’s website or call (866) 811-4111.