Giving Thought: Stories connect hearts and minds across communities

Allison Alexander
Giving Thought

Facts and figures are often the modern default mechanism used to change minds and shift opinions; still, emerging neuroscience shows what many social scientists have long suspected: Stories are a more effective tool.

Humans have connected through stories for centuries, long before we had access to data or even printed materials. Science is demonstrating that our brains are literally wired to understand and make sense of the world through story.

Local nonprofits The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) and VOICES have joined together to share stories from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ+) community this weekend for A Queer VOICES Theater Project’s “A Green Bird On Orange Trees,” created by seven local queer artists with direction by Cassidy Willey and Art Williams. Through movement, live music, spoken word and myth, the ensemble will share personal stories of queerness and the complexities of knowing, loving and being oneself in a world of external pressures and expectations.

Gender and sexuality politics have become increasingly polarized across our region and nationally. Through sharing stories and lived experiences, the project creators and participants hope to share the humanity behind the issues to grow community.

“This show is critically important, as so many of our friends in the LGBTQ+ community continue to feel marginalized and treated as if they are ‘other.’ TACAW strives to be a creative home for all those that call the Roaring Fork Valley home. Lending our stage to this talented cast sends a message that we invite this community into our theater as audience members and artists,” says Ryan Honey, executive director of TACAW.

The intention is to deepen the human connection and underscore the importance of all of our community members.

“When we share and listen to each other’s stories, especially through the dynamic art of theater, we expand our capacity to give and receive compassion, grace and understanding. And, our community becomes more whole, vibrant and alive,” says Renee Prince, executive director of VOICES.

LGBTQ+ youth mental-health struggles have been highlighted in national and regional news over the past several years. Supporting the youth of this community is woven into the foundation of VOICES, and these efforts have proven to be impactful for the next generation according to Prince.

“We work to amplify the often-silenced voices in our community through the arts. We’ve been working with LGBTQ+ youth since our first original theater project in February 2017,” Prince says. “Our projects have created brave spaces for youth to have a transformative experience with the power of their own voice. The spaces we create are also a safe place to make lasting friendships. Two of the performers in our Queer VOICES Theater Project — Quentin ‘Q’ Farris and Daniela Rivera — started as participants in our Youth VOICES Theater, and, now, they are thought leaders in this dynamic theater-making process as adults.”

Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas, another performer, shared that growing up both queer and the child of Mexican immigrants created a difficult intersectionality of identities that left them feeling unsupported and alone as a youth until leaving the Roaring Fork Valley for college in 2015. Growing up, they wrestled with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation as a result of feeling like, “the way I was born was wrong.”

After returning to the valley in 2019, they returned feeling as though not much had changed here and made the decision to intentionally shift that in a public way exploring various types of performance, including drag. As the manager of the Equity Action Project at MANAUS (another local nonprofit), they have committed their lives to social justice work professionally.

In the Latine community, they especially felt that there was a lack of community support for LGBTQ+ individuals. Part of the piece they created for the show is in Spanish to highlight that the conversations around gender and sexuality cannot just happen in English. They also hope to “call out a lot of silence and harm. As well as show that we are here and a part of this community too.

“I want to show others in my community that we don’t need to feel ashamed of the people we are,” says Alvarez-Terrazas.

Through stories and art created from the vulnerable places of the heart, this project aims to explore the humanity of queer voices across cultures and the LGBTQ+ spectrum allowing for a deeper sense of community and connection. Looking beyond the production, the intention is to continue to develop safe spaces for all members of our community to feel seen and included.

While we do have access to data and figures, we also have the opportunity to connect as our ancestors did by witnessing the stories of our neighbors and allowing our hearts and minds to recognize that our unique lived experiences contain invaluable information.

Allison Alexander is the development director of Aspen Community Foundation, which with the support of its donors, works with nonprofits in the Roaring Fork and Colorado River valleys.