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20/20 Workshops Update!

Thursday, June 20, 6:44 PM written by AFT Theatre

Throughout the winter, the AFT offices were graced by incredibly powerful and moving guest artists visiting the youth ensemble, sharing stories of their life history and the queer history of Chicago. The final guest artist invited to impart wisdom and share stories with the youth ensemble was Mama Gloria. Gloria Allen, who invited the ensemble to call her Mama Gloria, is a 73-year-old black trans woman from the South Side. She shared stories of having created a charm school at the Center on Halsted used for mentoring other trans women back in the day. At the end of her time with the ensemble, they asked if there was anything Mama Gloria wanted to do with her girls that she never got to do. Mama Gloria told us she never got to host all her girls for a tea party…

and thus, About Face Youth Theatre’s tea parties were born! The ensemble was getting together on a weekly basis anyway to talk about how to make a script for the summer show, but now, we were also using that time as an opportunity to be together with some cozy tea and snacks.

(our tea-time spread!)
(living for all the sugar)

I’m Amy (or snames), pronouns they/them/theirs, and I’m going to be stage managing AFYT’s show this summer. My role began here, in the workshops, laying the table for each of these tea times and helping prep materials for us to look through. One concept we’ve been working with to create the script has been looking back on 20 years of the youth ensemble, including researching writings that the ensemble has done over the last 20 years. There has been a lot of content to go through, and so many cool stories have been found through this process of digging through the archives together.

My favorite story from the process was one of the sessions we had where we were all coming together with stories we had picked from archives to share. Throughout the process, we were all diving through boxes of old AFYT writings, looking at the stories of the ensembles who came before us in this space. We wanted to be inspired by what’s been on the minds of the ensemble for the last 20 years, and maybe even to lift some of those stories off of their pages and bring them to life in our script. One day, we had set the agenda to be that we would all read through stacks of archives, put our favorite ones in piles categorized by different themes, and come together to read those favorite pieces aloud. I had contributed several pieces to a pile on “Romance”, but there was one in particular I was really waiting with baited breath for it to be read aloud. In this story, as far as we know a true one from a past ensemble member, a young closeted lesbian falls in love with her neighbor next door. The pieces goes on for about 4 hand-written pages describing how this person was in love with her neighbor, how they became close friends, but how she was devastated that they would never be together because “we were both girls”. Angelíca was reading this piece out loud (thank goodness, there’s no one better to read this out loud and have the reaction this piece deserves) and when she got to the end, when this girl who’s in love with her neighbor goes on a sleepover with her neighbor and they finally, actually, surprisingly KISS, the room went wild. Angelíca and Sharon SCREAMED and LEAPT out of their chairs, literally screaming at the story. It was amazing, it made me laugh so hard. I knew Angelíca and Sharon would love it. I wish I’d recorded their reactions because I knew they would be epic. The closest I have is this picture:

(Angelíca and Donny sharing a laugh at a workshop)

I took this on a random workshop day, but it makes me so happy to see Angelíca and Donny laughing with each other. So many of the workshop days had these feelings of warmth in community and friendship, excitement in what we were finding and what we were building.

(the process is messy, y’all!!!)

We can’t wait to share all the reflections coming out of this dive into the past! Hope to see y’all in July for this very special show.