LOS ANGELES -- Theatre arts are helping local homeless gay and lesbian kids turn their lives around.
Norma Bowles, a staff member at South Coast Repertory, has for the past six years been running the Fringe Benefits Queer Youth Theatre. Based in West Los Angeles, FBQYT has as its mission to save lives with art. Bowles uses her professional theatre background to set up stages where her dozen students -- most of them teenage runaways -- can express their feelings about a world that is often hostile. The therapeutic process involving improvisation, writing, storytelling and acting leads to artistic and personal revelations on stage.
Since 1991 Bowles, a lesbian, has worked with more than 200 homeless youths between the ages of 14 and 24, and has produced three plays that deal with homophobia.
"One of the greatest joys I get is helping someone do something they didn't believe they could do -- those epiphany moments," said Bowles in a recent Los Angeles Times story. "The program is for people on the fringes, the margins, getting the benefits of making art -- and the art they make is of benefit to others."
FBQYT's first production was People Who Live in Glass Houses, a play that explored issues of sexual identity through race, class, gender, religion and family. The play was published by Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre Projects with a foreword by theatre and opera director Peter Sellars and subsequently became the subject of an award-winning documentary, Surviving Friendly Fire, narrated by Ian McKellen. Bowles, with a team of volunteers, is presently running free programs at five sites in Los Angeles County, with an average of ten students each. The end result of her workshops will be Turn It Around, a play that will premiere at Highways Performance space in March.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent