Look out Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho: I bring twenty college students out of the closet in a single showMonday, February 14th, 2011
Equal parts raunchy, serious, awkward, and inspirational, her routine opened doors for the LGBTQQ community here on campus and opened the eyes of everyone less aware…it was an introduction to the life of Heather Gold, an extraordinary person.
[for the] people who stayed… to talk to Heather Gold—not even listen to or laugh at, but engage in authentic conversation with—her direct approach, her humor, and her interest in every individual was a welcome reprieve from an otherwise generally repressive atmosphere….Heather Gold is someone who deserves the chance to speak to more than just an audience of people seeking acceptance: she needs to speak to those who deny it, because if anyone can raise awareness and support for the LGBTQQ (which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning, in case you didn’t know) among us, she can.
I perform and speak at college campus' regularly, usually about LGBT and diversity issues. For me this comes from the same heart as all my speaking in the Net and business world as well: creating spaces in which pretense can subside and people can be connected as their more authentic selves. Jokes help.
But I am feeling really proud, and not just because I'm now entitled to a whole lot of toasters. I got serious about this goal of connecting the "audience" in my shows over a decade ago because of my San Francisco peers, mostly early web creators who all often asked "how can I add value." Many performers give people a public example of something, or publicly advocate for rights as comics Kathy Griffin and Margaret Cho do for LGBT rights. I do that too, but since I began doing solo shows (for me these are monologues with lots of dialogue in them), I began asking "what if the show were not about something over there but were focussed on making something really happen right here, right now."
What kind of difference can you really make in an hour or so? You can change how someone feels about themselves in public.You can change an environment.
To be fair this Gettysburg show did go over the hour I'd prepared to do because I was obsessed with bringing the room together and tipping the public balance in the room there so that people could come out. The students were individually telling me about their frustrations. And who were all these people showing up to have abstract discussions about civil rights, yet had real concrete social and personal difficulties? They didn't feel safe. They felt isolated even in a room together. And sadly, many of these students were in their young twenties and had already made it through adolesence without getting to openly feel ok about the feelings and actions straight kids take when they are 8 or 9 "I have a crush on him. Which boy do you like best?" and so on. They were in a small isolated college. Were they going to have to go through 4 more years not honestly connected to themselves or dating or sexuality?
I deal in the unspoken. Now the only student I physically brought onstage is definitely straight. But she has a version of the same stuff to deal with as everyone. Could she say no to me? Could she tell her truth? Not being able to talk about what you're really feeling or what's really going on isn't an issue limited to queer kids coming out. It's at the heart of the breeding ground for everything from unsafe sex to bad bad corporate meetings to dictatorships. It's one of the main obstacles to our being able to be #WITH (an ongoing project of mine) each other, which I believe is our main collective need right now.
So I stayed on stage until it became easier to be out than in. Till these students had someone else they could talk to in the open, or maybe even ask out. I did my best to use what was about me in the show was used to make things helpful for everyone there.
The awkwardness, the seriousness, the conversations, the discomfort, the comic relief was all done consiously in order to achieve something socially. As I teach in workshops and my keynotes, there's an informational flow (or a narrative or theatrical flow and there's a social flow. I wanted both.
It was a funny show. In comedy terms I killed.
But in life terms, I did something much more important. I connnected.
We all want to meet more people and feel more ourselves and more connected. This experience inspired me to want to accomplish more every time I perform. I'm a performing aiming for, as Umair Haque would say, thick value. Artists: ask yourself, how can I help? Directly.
Video to come.
To bring me to your campus or event, contact my lovely agents at Speak Out.