Members of Kalamazoo’s Queer Theater Set the Stage

By Sarah Wallace

Within The Fire Studio on Portage Road, Laura Henderson’s vision for a theatre that creates an atmosphere of acceptance for the LGBT community has recently taken form. Queer Theatre Kalamazoo (QTK) is founded on the idea that the more people are exposed to gay-themed entertainment, the more they will be accepting of the LGBT community.

Laura Henderson, a Western Michigan University graduate, founded Queer Theatre Kalamazoo shortly after her production of “Queering Quintero,” which she wrote and produced for her master’s thesis.

From going through her own experiences exploring her sexuality, Laura wanted to create a comfortable atmosphere for those who are going through the same experience, or just want to support the LGBT cause.

Talking with Laura about her inspiration for the theatre’s founding, she talked about her own outlooks and their transformation as she become more comfortable with the idea of LGBT in general. To in order to start her journey, she knew she needed to recognize her initial prejudices about the queer community. In particular, she reflects on one of her teachers whose sexuality was unclear to her or any other students and her natural inclination to label her.

“I had to have a cut and dry label for [my teacher]. Like, are you lesbian, are you bi-sexual, are you straight? That’s how my mind was raised,” said Henderson.

It was her exposure by a television show called “The L Word” or, in her mother’s words, “The Lesbian Show” that made her more comfortable with the idea of all things queer. Henderson was at first uncomfortable by the show, and then intrigued.

“It was entertainment, that’s basically what it was, but it was also a façade for me to explore my sexuality,” said Henderson.

She recognized the role that a simple entertainment show played for her, and this sparked her involvement with the eLLe Kalamazoo series, a staged production based off of the show “The L Word.” She recognized what this group did for her in terms of understanding and accepting her sexuality, and from it came the idea for her master’s thesis, as well as her founding of QTK.

“My goal is to expose people to any kind of representation that they may not be getting in the physical world. A lot of people either don’t have anyone they can talk to about their sexuality, or don’t feel comfortable expressing those thoughts and questions openly; entertainment becomes more like a mentor. Seeing proud, out individuals makes a difference for those struggling to accept themselves,” said Henderson.

The first major production from QTK is coming up in May.  The upcoming play is two individual acts, both written by John Thierwechter, a playwright from the Kalamazoo area.  The first act, “Tale of the Dark Side”, is a 10 minute long act and is a parody of a Star Wars segment.  The second and feature act is called “I Ain’t Afraid of No Xenu” and addresses the issues of Scientology and masculinity.

The productions are held at the Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative and is located a short drive from Kalamazoo College on 1249 Portage Road. The shows performance dates are May 3- 4, May 9-10 and May 16-17 at 8:00 p.m. Laura Henderson may be contacted for further information regarding actor auditions and submissions for writers at queertheatrekalamazoo@gmail.com.

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