No one said that being a teenager was easy. Our youth face a variety of issues like low self-esteem and depression, as well as modern-day ills like cyberbullying and internet addictions. It’s also a time in life when we try to figure out who we are, which can mean coming to terms with our gender identity.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2% of high school students in the United States identify as transgender. A further study indicates that a third of these teens feel unsafe at, or going to or from school, experience bullying or have attempted suicide. The lack of a solid support system leaves these teenagers in a highly vulnerable state.
The Dallas Children’s Theater is addressing these teen transgender issues in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. The DCT has a history of prioritizing stories about teenage struggles. Past productions have tackled topics such as eating disorders, cyberbullying, screen addiction and alcohol abuse.
Every performance is followed by a post-show conversation meant to create a safe place for teens and their parents to open up and explore different courses of actions. During these conversations, warning signals and help resources are also discussed. Along with the audience, members of local school districts, community activists and experts all take part in these discussions. Sandra Robertson, DCT’s senior director of communications and philanthropy, says the panel helps audiences digest what they’ve just seen.
DCT’s current production, Andi Boi, tells the story of a transgender teen. The play isn’t about one individual, but was inspired by the stories of different teens who have been part of the DCT. The play revolves around Andi’s first day of high school as a transgender teen identifying as a male and the journey of discovery that he — and his peers — embark on.
The playwright, Bruce Coleman, broaches the subject with humor and wit, because he thinks kids are funny and wanted the story to be accessible to people who are not talking about the issue and should be. “It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry; it’s got a little bit of everything,” Robertson says of Coleman's script.
Coleman was looking to find a way to connect with kids, and, well, what do kids have in common? A fascination with video games. So, he added a multimedia component to the play in the form of a video game as a connecting thread that binds the characters. The video game, Robertson explains, serves as an analogy of both a community coming together and of the journey of a person making a transition.
Dallas Children’s Theater partnered with a local company called Grob Technologies to create an app so that the audience could see the video game characters though 3-D animation and augmented reality during the play.
After every show, a panel of professional counselors and members of the transgender community is on hand to answer questions and to share their perspectives and their own challenges growing as transgender.
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The audience’s response has been overwhelmingly positive, Robertson says, adding that she notices the audience's appreciation for the opportunity to learn about the appropriate language to use when discussing transgender issues, which reinforces their desire to be better allies.
Robertson explains that the company wants to create awareness and understanding through plays like Andi Boi, as they're particularly concerned about the enormous number of transgender teens who commit suicide.
“We want to make sure people know what’s going on, so they can provide a support system,” Robertson says.
Andi Boi had a run that ended on Feb. 16 at the Dallas Children’s Theater, in partnership with the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. On Feb. 29, there will be a community follow-up event at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas. During the event, presenters will share stories and statistics, and the audience will learn about transgender topics and how to become a better ally. Also, they will be able to take part in writing a letter to political leaders mentioning their concerns about current and future legislation related to transgender issues in Texas.