Every story has a hero. “Living Proof,” a documentary directed by LGBTQ youth activists Erin Davies and Kalima Young, has 14.
Eight years in the making, the film chronicles what Davies calls a creative approach to therapy. For six months in 2003, 12 LGBTQ youth between the ages of 15 and 22, brainstormed and wrote about their lives and experiences using theater exercises as a catalyst for their work. Together, under the guidance of Davies and Young, they compiled their efforts into a play. Davies and Young filmed everything.
“If you create art with one person, it’s really intense,” Davies said. “Imagine creating art with 13 [other] people and going through this huge six-month process.”
Prior to the project, Davies and Young were already working with LGBTQ youth in Baltimore. Together, with the aid of the teenagers, they provided sensitivity training to faculty and staff members in the Baltimore City Public School system. The response to the kids sharing their personal experiences as LGBTQ youth was hugely positive.
“We educated so many from them just telling their stories,” Davies explained. “It was kind of the next natural progression to put this play together based on their real-life stories.”
Davies and Young were tired of hearing the adverse aspects of being young and being gay. For Davies in particular, who worked for Chase Brexton doing youth outreach, the message she was spreading was one of “doom.”
“In the different workshops I would lead, I would always be talking about the negative statistics,” said Davies. “If you’re a young person, and you hear all of these negative things about yourself and you don’t see something to counter that, I think it [creates] a serious outlook, something bleak,” she continues.
After two years of consistently talking to youth about suicide, depression, and HIV, Young and Davies decided something needed to be done to counteract the image of LGBTQ youth. They rallied some of the youth they were working with, had an open call for anyone who was interested, and [in February 2003], “Living Proof” was born.
The thrust of the project—and the message Davies and Young hoped to convey—was one of hope. For Davies, it was about showcasing young people, who happen to be gay, living well-adjusted, confident, successful lives.
“It is something you don’t see very often,” she explains, and she and Young believed that putting together a play based on the real-life experiences of the youth involved would be a good way to showcase all of the positive aspects of the lives of LGBTQ youth.
Using Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero’s Journey” as a guide, Davies and Young implored the young artists to discover how each was a hero in his or her own life. Davies describes an exercise where the kids had to “think of themselves as not themselves.”
Everyone was given a camera and instructed to create a self-portrait without including their image. Once the photos were developed, the kids were divided into two groups and given pictures not their own. They then had to write, direct, and perform a skit inspired by the image. It was the first time many of them ever acted, and Davies said it was a profound experience for the kids.
“You’re sitting in the [audience] watching your peers who have created something directly out of something you created,” she said.
The play ended up being a huge success. After its three-day Baltimore run at the Theater Project in June 2003, the show hit the road. It was featured at the national Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) conference in Washington, D.C. The play was also showcased in Syracuse for the Cultural Workers National Peace Calendar for pride month in 2005.
“Living Proof” makes its Baltimore debut on Friday, July 22 at the Patterson. Both Davies and Young will be in attendance along with those who starred in the original play. There will be a discussion following the film with Davis and Young and the cast.
DETAILS: “Living Proof” (2011, 52 min) screening and discussion. Friday, July 22, 6pm. Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave. $5-10. CreativeAlliance.org.