Building community on stage: Queer VOICES theater project at TACAW in Willits

Sarah Girgis
The Aspen Times
From left to right: Hattie Rensberry (she/her) - ensemble Kat Dressman (they/them) - ensemble Travis Dean Wilson (he/him) - ensemble Micha Schoepe (he/him) - ensemble Dani Rivera (she/her) - ensemble Renee Prince (she/her) - Executive Artistic Director, VOICES Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas (they/he) - ensemble Cassidy Willey (she/her) - co-director Art Williams (they/he) - co-director/ensemble member Jeanette Adams (she/her) - bassist/ensemble
Susannah McLeod, McLeod9 Creative

This weekend, VOICES and TACAW present a three-day, multi-disciplinary theater project called A Green Bird On Orange Trees, created by seven local queer artists. The production is directed by Cassidy Willey and Art Williams.

Willey is the lead teaching artist at VOICES, a Carbondale-based, nonprofit arts organization aimed at amplifying unheard or underrepresented voices through the arts. She was born and raised in Glenwood Springs and has been active in theater as long as she can remember.

“I did a lot of theater with my family growing up, and my first play was when I was 11 months old. Yeah, I played ‘baby with a mustache,'” she said.

Her co-director, Williams, a Dallas native, is a multi-disciplinary artist who identifies as queer. He came to the valley in 2018 as part of the ArtistYear Americorps program to teach choir and theater to middle school students in Glenwood Springs. He did a short stint in New York but eventually returned, at which time he reconnected with Willey, who mentioned that “centering queer stories had been on her mind,” he said.

Art Williams (they/he) – co-director/ensemble

He was excited about the prospect, even though it’s no secret that the Roaring Fork Valley isn’t the most diverse place. But, after speaking with the VOICES board and taking the temperature of some possible community partners like TACAW, they felt the time was right to proceed.

“While we have had queer participants since the beginning of VOICES, this is the first time that we have centered queer voices in one of our theater projects,” said Willey.

For a lot of young queer and LGBTQ+ people in the valley, it’s hard to figure out where to connect with their peers. Unlike more metropolitan areas, there are not a ton of bars, clubs or events that are obviously welcoming spaces. So, how does the community come together together to combat this issue?

“You know, there’s different kinds of loneliness, obviously, anywhere you go,” Williams said. “But, I really hope that people start to realize that we don’t need a lot to have community. We don’t need a bar. We don’t need a physical establishment. We have each other, and we can be creative with how we build our spaces. And, there are other people who want to connect.”

Kat Dressman (they/them) – ensemble and Hattie Rensberry (she/her) – ensemble
Energy company eyes South Canyon

Both he and Willey hope A Green Bird on Orange Trees will just be the beginning. They describe the show as a multi-sensory experience for the audience, encapsulated in personal vignettes. Those vignettes can include spoken word, music or movement. It doesn’t follow the traditional narrative of a three-act play, but there are interwoven themes that come together through the intimate nature of the storytelling.

Travis Dean Wilson (he/him) – ensemble

“The people coming out on stage are really laying their hearts on the line,” Willey said. “And, the stories are inspiring, they’re funny, they’re whimsical, they’re imaginative, they’re heartbreaking.”

Micha Schoepe (he/him) – ensemble and Kat Dressman (they/them) – ensemble

Another unique approach they are taking is that each of the three nights will host a different event. Friday will feature a Q&A with cast and crew, moderated by Halle Zander, host of All Things Considered on Aspen Public Radio. Saturday, there will be a dance party with a DJ set by “The Guest,” aka Simon Klein, hosted by AspenOut, and Sunday Gay4Good & AspenOUT will host a special activity before the performance.

Both Willey and Williams encourage anyone to come and support the show whether you identify as queer or not. Willey especially stresses the importance of allies attending the event to support the community.

“This is not a production that is made only for people who identify as queer or LGBTQ+,” Willey said. “This is a production for anyone who identifies as human. You will see yourself reflected in the stories on stage.”

Williams agrees.

“I hope that people take away, you know, that we are all not as different as we think we are, and that we have so much to learn from people who look differently and express themselves differently,” he said.

Dani Rivera (she/her)-ensemble and Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas (they/he) – ensemble
If you go…

What: Queer Voices Theater Project
When: Oct. 21 7:30-9 p.m., Oct. 22 7:30-9 p.m., Oct. 23 4-7 p.m.
Where: The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW)
Tickets: $25 or pay what you can
More info:

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