AFT Looks Back: FIRST BREATH (1999)

Saturday, August 1, 4:51 PM written by About Face Theatre

In honor of our 20th anniversary, we are reflecting on some of our most popular and pivotal shows from the last two decades. This week, we sat down with Megan Carney as she shared her memories of helping to start the About Face Youth Theatre and stage their very first show, FIRST BREATH. Read on to learn more and stay tuned as we share AFT history every week throughout our 20th Anniversary campaign!
Help us reach our goal of raising $25,000 by August 31st in support of our 20th season!

“There is a sense of urgency from the first moment the About Face Youth Theatre ensemble steps on stage. A barely contained energy that, if not freed, threatens to splatter a rainbow of glitter, piercings, combat boots and those damn baggy pants all over the stage.”

– NewCity Chicago

That quote, taken from a review of FIRST BREATH printed in NewCity Chicago, is Megan Carney’s favorite. It speaks not only to the time and the age of the first participants of About Face Youth Theatre, but to the unbridled energy they brought to the project; an energy that was just waiting for an outlet to express itself.

“The year prior to the start of About Face Youth Theatre, Matthew Shephard was murdered and we all took the streets then. He certainly wasn’t the first, but that was such a high-profile hate crime case that it really galvanized the conversation in a different way about queer youth and bullying and school climate,” recalls Carney. The team of artists that started AFYT recognized the need for a safe space for LGBT youth to tell their stories and build community.

“The commitment was around the fact that the stories of these youth haven’t really been heard and it was a moment of bringing them into the light, turning on the mic and saying okay, what’s going on? It was electrifying. – Megan Carney

Through connections with Horizons (now the Center on Halsted) and Howard Brown as well as fliers on the street and word of mouth, 50 young people showed up to their first workshop. “It was unexpected, ” says Carney. “I remember standing in the middle of that room like ‘Oh my God! We’re really doing this, people are here.’”

FirstBreathFIRST BREATH was devised in a true sense. It started with the workshop exercises around oral history and improvisation. After that, it moved to rehearsals where the stories that would translate best to a stage were roughed out, improved and eventually put into a script. While Megan describes the process as “making it up at they went along,” this team of artists really built a foundation and an authentic way of working with the youth ensemble that is still used today.

And now, just two weeks ago, the About Face Youth Theatre ensemble opened their 15th anniversary show aptly titled 15 BREATHS. Written entirely by the youth theatre, the show’s rawness and vitality still rings true to that very first moment AFYT took to the stage. The energy that buzzed when those first 50 young people showed up to the AFT space in 1999 is still stirring in this next generation and it’s an incredible thing to see how it has evolved. “When I think back on that show and the beginning of it and then all these years since, it’s really gratifying to have been a part of it,” says Carney. “And I’m glad it’s going so strong! 15 BREATHS, how cool is that?!”

Now is a great time to support the kind of work that About Face and the About Face Youth Theatre is known for. Join us this fall and help us to continue bringing you this groundbreaking work by helping us reach our goal of raising $25,000 by August 31st in support of our 20th season!


Help us reach our goal of raising $25,000 by August 31st in support of our 20th season!