it gets better in Iowa — A Summary of Activities


Hancher — The Uni­ver­sity of Iowa — Octo­ber 15–19, 2012



Meet­ing with Hancher staff
The Com­pany met with area lead­ers for the Hancher team to learn more about why they brought us to Iowa City and their goals for the week. The team was unbe­liev­ably help­ful and eager to share their ideas and thoughts. Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Charles Swan­son told us he even recruited singers from his church cho­rus to be part of our com­mu­nity chorus.

GMCLA Rehearsal
Com­pany rehearsal time to review music, script edits, and adjusted arrange­ments for Friday’s show.

State-wide Meet­ing with GSAs
We met with a very diverse audi­ence that included GSA stu­dents, GSA advi­sors, high school and col­lege fac­ulty, grad­u­ate stu­dents, and mem­bers of the Iowa Pride Net­work. Tod and Liesel pre­sented a slideshow with video to review the ori­gins of the It Gets Bet­ter Project and GMCLA’s involve­ment, lead­ing to the devel­op­ment of the cur­rent pro­duc­tion. Cast mem­bers shared per­sonal sto­ries and per­formed three num­bers from the show. We also had time to sit in smaller groups for table con­ver­sa­tions in which we learned more about the par­tic­i­pants and LGBTQ life in Iowa City and the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties. This was a reward­ing way to begin our trip and we were so pleased to see many of the same faces from this ses­sion as we con­tin­ued activ­i­ties through­out the week.

First Rehearsal with Com­mu­nity Cho­rus
Jason, Drew and Sacha worked with our small but strong cho­rus of 21 singers to learn music for the pro­duc­tion. The singers came from 7 dif­fer­ent vocal groups and were unac­cus­tomed to singing together, so we all enjoyed the process of mak­ing new friends.



Meet­ing with Local Video Cre­ators
Com­pany mem­ber Jason met with two local stu­dents who par­tic­i­pated in the mak­ing of the Uni­ver­sity Health Ser­vices video for the It Gets Bet­ter Project. They pre­pared for their appear­ance on stage dur­ing the upcom­ing performance.

Pro­mo­tional Video Record­ing for Social Media
Com­pany mem­bers Tod and Mario cre­ated a short promo video for Friday’s per­for­mance for the Hancher Face­book page.

First-Year Sem­i­nar: Col­lege Out­side the Class­room: Being a Community-Engaged Stu­dent
Liesel, Mario, Tod and Lee vis­ited this inter­est­ing fresh­man sem­i­nar class and dis­cussed social empow­er­ment through the mod­els of the It Gets Bet­ter Project and GMCLA. We were sur­prised that so few stu­dents were famil­iar with Kick­starter, though a large num­ber of them had vis­ited the It Gets Bet­ter Project site. Stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in the dis­cus­sion by con­tribut­ing their analy­sis of the rhetor­i­cal appeals within It Gets Bet­ter (they are study­ing rhetoric as one of their course top­ics). The stu­dents and fac­ulty seemed very pleased with the pre­sen­ta­tion and many asked about attend­ing the per­for­mance on Friday.

Kick­starter Video Update
Cast mem­bers cre­ated a short video on the Uni­ver­sity of Iowa cam­pus as a thank you for the Kick­starter sup­port­ers who funded the show.

Com­pany rehearsal time focused on local show elements.

Activ­ity with GLOW, City High’s GSA
This was an ener­gized and fun event with a group of 25–30 stu­dents from GLOW (Gay, Les­bian or What­ever) – a GSA at City High School. The stu­dents went wild for the cast – lit­er­ally in a few cases – and were excited to learn that we wanted to make a video with them for one of our project songs. Stu­dents split into five groups – each with a dif­fer­ent focus: chore­og­ra­phy, lit­eral imagery, fig­u­ra­tive imagery, lyric per­for­mance, and text. The video seg­ments were all shot on ipads and iphones (cour­tesy of our Kick­starter com­mu­nity) and scenes were shot to accom­pany the song, “The Solu­tion” by our 16 year-old song con­test win­ner Julian Hornik. The video was later edited and is being shared on our website.

The stu­dents also made a mov­ing pre­sen­ta­tion to the com­pany, giv­ing us t-shirts cre­ated to memo­ri­al­ize a tragic event involv­ing one of their peers. The fac­ulty adviser for this group, Mau­reen Hill, is out­stand­ing, sup­port­ive, and inspi­ra­tional. We loved our time with these stu­dents and were delighted when a group of them arrived with Mau­reen at the Fri­day per­for­mance where the com­pany was able to rec­i­p­ro­cate by giv­ing our t-shirts to the students.

Sec­ond Rehearsal with Com­mu­nity Cho­rus
For tonight’s ses­sion, the group worked on the song “More Friends than you Know” by Jeff Marx and Mervyn Waren. Liesel and Tyler assisted with block­ing the scene and adding the­atri­cal­ity. Solo­sists were also selected at this time. One of the two selected was a 12-year old boy who recently came out at home and school. His mother told us she was a bit lost about how to help him to do but got an email about the com­mu­nity cho­rus oppor­tu­nity and decided they could par­tic­i­pate together. She was so thrilled when he was asked to sing a solo.



Intro­duc­tion to Stu­dent Affairs with Pro­fes­sor Cassie Barn­hardt
This group of bright, diverse grad­u­ate stu­dents wel­comed Liesel, Lee, and Tod with open arms for a great dis­cus­sion. The class topic for the day was “Plu­ral­ism, Diver­sity, and Inclu­sion” so we engaged them in a dia­logue about het­ero­nor­ma­tiv­ity and whether or not it con­sti­tutes a form of tacit bul­ly­ing. Since these are edu­ca­tors cur­rently work­ing in stu­dent ser­vice posi­tions as part of their grad­u­ate work, we focused on ways to improve cli­mate for LGBT (and other) stu­dents by build­ing com­mu­nity. The model of GMCLA as a 34-year com­mu­nity orga­ni­za­tion was shared and stu­dents posed excel­lent ques­tions to the panel about strate­gies that can be effec­tive in strength­en­ing com­mu­nity both within and among LGBTQ organizations.

GMCLA rehearsal
This rehearsal focused on music performance.

Dis­cus­sion with Col­ors, West High School’s GSA
We were all so impressed with the West High GSA group. This very sup­port­ive club of about 25 stu­dents has clear bonds and trust with one another and, espe­cially, with their won­der­ful adviser. We decided to focus on lis­ten­ing to stu­dents in this ses­sion and asked each stu­dent to share some­thing as we talked (the ses­sion lasted an extra hour, and was really worth it). Stu­dent sto­ries ranged from painful to empow­er­ing. It was espe­cially impres­sive to see how the stu­dents were so encour­ag­ing toward one another.

While there are many reg­u­lars who attend their weekly meet­ings, stu­dents expressed that there are oth­ers who won’t attend for fear of being asso­ci­ated with them. There is still a stigma there. Some stu­dents have issues at home, often with just one par­ent. Stu­dents and cast mem­bers shared sto­ries about peo­ple in their lives, includ­ing par­ents, who grew and changed – and we had a great talk about how things improve dras­ti­cally after high school for many – espe­cially in col­lege. We asked stu­dents to think about com­ing back to their high schools after they grad­u­ate to let them know how life is dif­fer­ent for them. We also made an It Gets Bet­ter video with the stu­dents and took time for one– on-one con­ver­sa­tions at the end of the main discussion.

Com­mu­nity Round Table Event
On a rainy night, atten­dance was not very good – so we changed plans and brought in two show choirs from West High into our audi­to­rium and sang songs for one another. The stu­dents gave Sacha an extended stand­ing ova­tion for his per­for­mance of Jamey’s Song, and we spoke with them briefly about our show and about ways that they, as artists, can find ways to turn their inter­est in music into a tool of change and com­mu­nity engage­ment. The com­pany also attended a bit of the stu­dents’ rehearsal to see them per­form addi­tional music. They were great!



Tech­ni­cal Load in and Setup
Com­pany mem­bers pre­pared for the upcom­ing per­for­mance in Memo­r­ial Hall. The Hancher tech­ni­cal team did an amaz­ing job trans­form­ing an old ball­room into a the­atri­cal space.

Col­lege of Education’s Anti-Bullying Train­ing: Event Kick-off
This was the open­ing event for a series of anti-bulling train­ing ses­sions by the Uni­ver­sity for stu­dents study­ing elementary/secondary edu­ca­tion as well as fac­ulty and staff in the Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion. The cast was joined by Chris, Lee and Jason from GMCLA and Jimmy Nguyen for a dynamic dis­cus­sion that included per­sonal sto­ries and per­for­mances of a few songs from the show, as well.

Mini-show with Q&A for Col­lege Tran­si­tions Pro­gram
About 350 stu­dents attended our tech­ni­cal rehearsal for the show and stayed for a pow­er­ful Q&A with the cast imme­di­ately after­ward. Despite some prob­lems with the audio sys­tem and micro­phones, the stu­dents were very atten­tive and appreciative.

Tech­ni­cal Rehearsal with the Com­mu­nity Cho­rus
Our com­mu­nity cho­rus rehearsed block­ing on stage and our soloists prac­ticed with the head­set micro­phones for the first time. The cho­rus mem­bers were extremely pro­fes­sional and easy to work with, and their emo­tions really started to emerge after they saw the scenes lead­ing up to their appear­ance in the show for the very first time.



Media Updates
The cast par­tic­i­pated in many media inter­views lead­ing up to this engage­ment. They were delighted to see so many promi­nent fea­tures about the show, includ­ing print and television.

Pub­lic Per­for­mance
Our 7:30pm show brought in a large and very appre­cia­tive audi­ence. The age of audi­ence mem­bers ranged from junior high to seniors and included many of the peo­ple we met with through­out the week in our out­reach activ­i­ties, includ­ing a group of stu­dents from City High School’s GLOW group and the entire Intro­duc­tion to Stu­dent Affairs class, as well. The cast received huge laughs and big applause through­out the show – includ­ing a stand­ing ova­tion from about half the audi­ence dur­ing the show for Drew’s mov­ing mono­logue and song. The per­for­mance by the com­mu­nity cho­rus gen­er­ated an extended ova­tion, as well – eas­ily the most mov­ing moment of the night. A the end of the show, the crowd leapt to their feet in appre­ci­a­tion and support.

Post-show Talk Back
Well over a hun­dred peo­ple stuck around after a short break to speak with the Com­pany and com­ment about the show. The dis­cus­sion was co-facilitated by Liesel and Erin Dono­hue, Hancher’s out­stand­ing edu­ca­tion spe­cial­ist. The cast were joined onstage by song­writer Jeff Marx (Avenue Q) as well as Anna Laris and J.P. Horn (mak­ers of the pre­vi­ously noted local It Gets Bet­ter video). Many audi­ence mem­bers cried as they shared their responses to the show, includ­ing some mem­bers of the cast.



The it gets bet­ter com­pany mem­bers of GMCLA would like to thank the Uni­ver­sity of Iowa, espe­cially the incred­i­ble team at Hancher.

We are also so appre­cia­tive for the warmth and kind­ness of the entire Iowa City com­mu­nity, from the great staff at the Heart­land Inn to the ener­getic folks at Stu­dio 13. Our com­mu­nity cho­rus mem­bers were par­tic­u­larly inspir­ing – and fun! We loved the small town feel and the pro­gres­sive spirit of this community.

As we set­tled in on the small plane to head home and sleep­ily dis­cussed our week, we real­ized that each of us were fun­da­men­tally changed by our expe­ri­ence. We will never for­get our con­ver­sa­tions with and our per­for­mances along­side the peo­ple of Iowa City The Com­pany emerged more deter­mined and more inspired than ever to con­tinue our it gets bet­ter journey.

–Liesel Rein­hart, Director

Featured on — Sacha Sacket Announcing our New Music Video — The Solution by Julian Hornik
Featured on — Sacha Sacket
Announcing our New Music Video — The Solution by Julian Hornik

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About James: Webmaster at GMCLA

Comments to “it gets better in Iowa — A Summary of Activities”

  1. Webmaster

    […] Finally, I want to come back to the It Gets Bet­ter Tour, a col­lab­o­ra­tive project put together by the Gay Men’s Cho­rus of Los Ange­les, Speak The­ater Arts, and It Gets Bet­ter. This incar­na­tion takes ideas, themes, and responses to the online video phe­nom­e­non and incor­po­rates them into a trav­el­ing stage show and com­mu­nity out­reach pro­gram with stops in cities from Ogden, Utah to Hous­ton, Texas, White­wa­ter, Wis­con­sin and many more. Writ­ten and directed by Liesel Rein­hart, the It Gets Bet­ter Tour blends music, the­ater, and mul­ti­me­dia for an orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion that addresses issues related to the lives and expe­ri­ences of queer youth. In addi­tion to the per­for­mance, each tour stop includes sev­eral days of meet­ing and work­shop­ping with the local com­mu­nity, high schools, and col­leges, engag­ing with and learn­ing from youth. While this project was not con­ceived and imple­mented by youth, it is worth not­ing that the tour is cer­tainly a step towards build­ing dia­logue and coali­tion between adults and youth by mov­ing beyond dis­tant mes­sages of hope and engag­ing with youth at the local level. The end-product of these stops yet again reveal the power inher­ent in mobi­lized and empow­ered youth (like col­lab­o­rat­ing with Lawrence, Kansas mid­dle school kids to pro­duce this PSA). Check out a full log of their first tour stop in Iowa City, Iowa here. […]


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