NORTHAMPTON — Co-ACT, Western Massachusetts’ first trans, non-binary, and gender-broadcast youth theater collective, debuts on stage Wednesday with its initial musical production, bringing to life a scripted account of the experiences realities of the whole as young homosexuals.
The show, titled “What If It Were a Musical,” follows a small community theater troupe navigating familiar circumstances — a pandemic, isolation and the difficulties of engaging in the creative process remotely — and counts on contributions from local composers and facilitators with Co- ACT’s parent organization, Translate Gender.
Bringing participants together to develop the project, said co-facilitator James Shultis, “was a great opportunity to create a brave space, but it was like building something from nothing.”
“We’ve always been here, our transceivers, as we say, have always been here, and historically that queer and trans visibility comes from the community,” Shultis says. “Without the support of our community, this would have been very difficult to accomplish, if not impossible.”
To be able to stage the piece in a performance hall, the 90-minute piece relied on a grant from the Northampton Center for the Arts, and the production also enlisted the musical expertise of local jazz musician Red Jasper, who helped the young participants compose and transcribe their songs.
Jasper, who teaches voice and piano at Prindle School in Hadley, also identifies as non-binary and has reflected on Co-ACT and “the radical act [of] stage the inner life of trans people,” saying the play was “a great opportunity that I couldn’t say no to.”
“The theater is imaginative, there is no fear or shame, it brings joy to everyone involved, and I truly believe it would have changed my life if I had seen this growing up,” they said. . “Having spaces that assert themselves saves lives.”
The play, set in a fictional Northampton, even momentarily pokes fun at the city’s liberal inclusionary veneer. The scene, which depicts a cisgender individual seeking to join the troupe, attempts to bring levity to the confusing experience of being the recipient of what co-facilitator Shai Kuper calls “well-meaning indifference.”
“Part of the healing process is bringing a comedic lens to those everyday events that really happened that were perhaps traumatic, serious, and sometimes dangerous for queer and trans people and for people of color,” said Kuper, who works in the social field. intern at Translate Gender.
“Northampton is an upper class white community and maybe it can be very inclusive – whatever that word means, it means different things to different people,” Kuper said. “For me, I’m an immigrant of color with a heavy accent, not to mention trans, so intersectionality and how we treat people with intersectional identities is how I measure inclusivity.”
Kuper works with Translate Gender to provide a host of support services – book clubs, youth and family meetings, and clinical and non-clinical support – for gay youth and their caregivers in Pioneer Valley.
“The heart of the program is physical unity,” Kuper said. “Everything that happens at Translate Gender is an effort to help these young people feel seen, celebrated and respected.”
Two young actors between the ages of 14 and 17 joined the Co-ACT troupe within the Translate Gender Network, having previously participated in workshops and gatherings at the association. Phoenix Scully, a freshman at Amherst High School, called joining the band “a leap of faith.”
“But then it started to come naturally, I got bored one night and wrote a song,” they said, Kuper interjecting to add that the title of the piece also inadvertently came from the young comedian.
After the curtains close, this Co-ACT pilot cohort, which came together in February to prepare for the show, will move on to other Translate Gender programs, leaving the stage to a possibly younger group of young people. broad genre to explore community theatre. .
Scully said they were already scripting a new show, something that, as an “actor first” and playwright second, they thought would never be possible until they joined Co-ACT.
“And if it was a musical? opens for one night only at the Northampton Center for the Arts on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door for $10 to $20.
Kuper said the sliding ladder was designed as a “nice opportunity not to turn anyone away at the door.”