Theater Immersion Experience kicks off Youth Program at General Synod

westside2.jpgNever mind that the smash Broadway musical “Hair” emerged in the 1960s, 25 years or more before they were born, 200 UCC young people kicked off their 2015 Youth and Young Adults @ General Synod program Thursday evening engaged in an immersion experience at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre with the cast of NWT’s “Hair.” 

After listening to Artistic Director Bob Navis Jr.’s emotionally charged message – and meeting UCC contemporaries from around the country and a couple dozen NWT “Hair” cast members – they were ready to enter their own “Age of Aquarius.” And, of course, to let their sun shine in.

“Wouldn’t you love to believe we’re in that time right now?” Navis asked enthusiastic YYAs, many of whom had spent the day traveling to Cleveland. “The age of Aquarius: where the conditions are right for love, peace, harmony and understanding, to break through in a startling, unsurpassed way.”

The goal of the program was to portray theater as an agent for change; to reflect onstage the realities of communities the world over, providing inspiration for action and social justice.

Anne Hughes, co-director of the Silver Lake Conference Center in Sharon, Conn., and event representative for the Outdoor Ministry Association of church camp settings in the UCC, looked around the large auditorium at the dozens of interactions involving young people from all over the country.

“They are interacting and basically dismantling our inhibitions about social justice issues,” said Hughes. “They are using the magic of theater to bring the personal into the public square. They are forming a safe community of inclusivity. Some of them didn’t even know about this event until this evening. It’s just showing up and trusting that something good is going to happen.”

The NWT cast performed a few scenes from the play, and Navis provided a primer on what audiences can expect when the show opens its two-week run July 24.

“They enter the theater to find some actors lying onstage in twisted configurations, images of body parts, bloody sheets and torn clothing strewn about,” said Navis. “There’s a sense of a Vietnam battlefield with dead Vietnamese and dead American soldiers. Video screens all over the place show news footage of the horrific images of the Vietnam War.”

Navis hailed “The Age of Aquarius” as a “powerful song that speaks to a startling alignment of energies in the universe for change; the dawning of a new time when things we thought impossible are becoming possible.

“Your generation is positioned to achieve what no one on this planet has been able to achieve. Do you believe that?” No sooner was the question posed than energetic hoots and hollers arose from the group.

“A lot of people say, ‘Nothing ever changes.’ Let me tell you, I grew up in the ’50s, I’m about to turn 64. A lot has changed in that time,” said Navis to additional applause. “One of them is that so many people are talking about sexual minorities and rights for all. When I was growing up, nobody wanted to talk about that – especially a church group.”

Outside the theater after the program, the group boarded the half-dozen school buses that awaited them, carrying on a sense of accomplishment and confidence.

“We were all very open,” said Lucas Grove, a UCC ministry student and youth leader from Glastonbury, Conn. “I liked sharing some things that I’m uncomfortable sharing with my group back home. They were very accepting tonight and open with me as well.”

For Victoria Bower, a member of Rocky Hill (Conn.) Congregational Church, the experience was an affirmation.

“I learned that I should not be afraid of who I am and where I come from. I come from a different family,” she said with a wide smile. “I have two gay dads. Sometimes I hold back from sharing that, but I came here today with an open mind, and everyone was just so awesome about it. I got to share with everyone who I really am.”

Navis offered a memorable “take home” for the evening. “I believe in young people. I just wish I could live another 60 years to see what you people are going to do.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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