Home can be a hard thing to define. It doesn't need to be a structure or a specific place; it could be a sense of belonging, the feeling of being understood. A space in a person's life where they are accepted for exactly who and what they are without reservation, a space to be loved and a space to be free.
I found my version of home, when I was 12 years old, in a musical review at Wilkes University as part of the summer Encore Music Camp. In a filled auditorium, I was to go out and sing a solo. As I nervously walked out on stage, everything went dark, the lights literally went out, the power cut out and I was stuck, center stage, with no song to sing and nothing to do, but wait. So I started to make jokes. "Well this is what happens in Not for Profit Theater. We can't pay the light bill." And the audience laughed, so I kept going. When the lights did finally come back on, I made one last joke, sang my song and walked off stage to thankful and glorious applause. It was this time, talking to people in the dark, that I knew where I was meant to be. It was this time that I had found my home.
My story is not that original. Ask any person in any audition waiting room, about the time they "knew," when "the bug" bit them, and they will tell you something similar. A time, a moment, a feeling that let them know that the stage, was their home, the place they were meant to be. Ask them further and you'll find out that maybe they didn't feel like they belonged, that maybe they were a little too different, a little too fat or shy or gay or awkward or edgy, a thousand adjectives that set them apart from other people and led them in that distance right to the stage door.
If you're lucky.
The unfortunate part is that many aren't. For so many young people, their differences become fodder to be preyed upon by bullies at school, and more terrifyingly, bullies at home. And the word Home becomes not about a feeling of belonging or the joy of finding purpose, but simply about having a place to feel safe or to sleep for the night. LGBT kids account for 40 percent of all homeless youth nationally. For far too many of these kids, the feeling of not belonging can manifest itself in the very real and very dire consequence of being kicked out of their family home and left to the street.
The Ali Forney Center is one of the top organizations working in New York City to house and assist homeless LGBT Youth. Besides finding these kids a place to sleep, they help directing them towards purpose. They help kids finish degrees, apply to college, keep them on a track toward what they want to become. In a way, the AFC is constantly directing these kids toward home in all senses of the word. Home as a belonging, a becoming, and a blossoming.
For three years, I've had the privilege to work with AFC to create the event, Night of a Thousand Judys, an evening of songs commemorating the life and legacy of Judy Garland. But more so than any tribute, the show has become a testament to community. The hours of dedication put in by my producers Dan Fortune and Adam Rosen, our friends at the AFC Paul West, Alex Roque and Carl Siciliano, our musical director Lance Horne, and our choreographer, now director, Jason Wise, plus the scores of talent from downtown to Broadway have been overwhelming. But not surprising. We all care. We all want to be there. For one night, we want to share our talents to stand up for the kids we all felt like, the different kids, and make sure they know that they are loved and accepted for being the brave young people they are. We want to give all we can because as Judy so famously said, "There's no place like home," and everyone deserves that.