“It gets better.” That was the message columnist and author Dan Savage and his husband, Terry Miller, shared in 2010 in a YouTube video after a number of kids who had been bullied in school killed themselves. They wanted to tell today’s lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered youth that it did get better for them.
The message spread and soon more than 50,000 videos carrying that theme were made. Everyone from President Barack Obama to actress Anne Hathaway to pop star Ke$ha to ordinary people made videos.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles also made a video, singing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” and had almost a million hits. A year after the first video, Liesel Reinhart, who is the co-artistic director of Speak Theater Arts in Los Angeles and a member of the board of the chorus, had the idea of turning it into a musical and taking it on the road.
She became the show’s writer and director and raised more than $72,000 through a KickStarter campaign to produce the show. By last fall, the show was written and being performed across the country. It comes to the Long Center on Friday.
The show takes some of the best “It Gets Better” videos and turns them into a musical. It centers on CJ, who is in his room after a bad day at school. He’s watching “It Gets Better” videos, but he doesn’t want to listen to them. The characters in the videos get frustrated and show up in his room.
A cast of six performers travels to each venue and is backed by local choirs. In Austin, Conspirare, the Capital City Men’s Chorus and Amphion Youth Choir will perform.
Some of the songs are ones you have heard before: Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time,” Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy. Other songs were written specifically for the show by cast member Sacha Sacket and “Avenue Q” creator Jeff Marx, among others.
Craig Hella Johnson, artistic director of Conspirare, says they were happy to get the invitation to be part of the show. “At the very core, the seeds planted with the original campaign carry a message that we can’t hear enough,” he says. “Anything we can do to support the movement of deeper acceptance and a deeper celebration of all walks of life … especially in Texas. We want the message to permeate the culture that Texas is a place where all people can live and be welcome.”
Paul Powell, the vice president of the Capital City Men’s Chorus, argued for that chorus’ participation in the program for many reasons, including his own personal story. “I was very conflicted as a kid,” he says. “To have something like this would have been a huge deal for me.”
Powell, who came out when he was in his 40s, still remembers being a 5-foot-2-inch high school freshman and getting picked on. “It still feels like yesterday,” he says. “Anything we can do as adults to change the future of a kid who has been bullied … the scars run deep and last a long time. We’re just honored to be the backup section.”
The musical is just one component of the show. Next week the company will visit area schools and community organizations, doing workshops for small groups and all-school discussions.
At middle schools, the tour tries to focus on bullying and self-esteem, rather than sexuality. “Any middle school student is experiencing some kind of identity questioning,” Reinhart says. “They are more open to talking about it than in high school.”
The high school program touches more on the show and sexuality.
On Wednesday, the project will host a world cafe to bring together people from different community groups to talk about bullying and other issues teens face.
“We really want the community to talk about issues,” Reinhart says. Even in areas thought to be progressive like Austin, she has seen teens still struggling. On a recent visit to the Seattle area, the cast went to a high school where not one student was out, and there were students who were giggling when the cast talked about the stories in the show. “It was not a safe place to be LGBT,” she says.
The show tries to let each community decide what the needs are and how to make supporting young people happen.
Yet, even since the show begun, she has seen big changes. She points to the cheers that came during the performance of “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at MTV’s Video Music Awards last month, and, of course, the Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act.
“We can point to things that are getting better,” she says.
“It Gets Better”
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive
Tickets: $45-25, $10 students
Information: 512-474-5664, thelongcenter.org
It Gets Better Project World Cafe
When: 7-10 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive