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Latest Basement Arts production 'bare' explores LGBT issues

Courtesy of Chris Dzombak

By Jacob Axelrad, Daily Community Culture Editor
Published December 1, 2011

Three flat rectangular backdrops lie against the upstage wall with a cross at the center decorated in Christmas tree ornaments. An elevated platform sits center stage where actors will briefly inhabit the lives of Catholic high school students, tackling the pertinent issue of revealing one’s homosexuality.

With the culmination of World AIDS Week tomorrow, the cast and crew of the latest Basement Arts production, “bare: A Pop Opera,” hope to spread a message of activism: Anyone can make a difference when it comes to increasing support for AIDS research. As such, wristbands and T-shirts will be sold outside of Walgreen Drama Center’s Studio One before and after each performance, with proceeds going toward AIDS research.

“bare” depicts a group of teenagers in a Catholic high school as they come of age and struggle with their identities. The story pivots around Jason, a young man secretly in a relationship with his roommate Peter. While Peter wants to come out and tell people about the romance, Jason insists on remaining in the closet, for fear of letting down his parents and even himself.

The show discusses the potentially tragic consequences of adolescents not receiving support from peers and family. In recent years, groups have emerged to prevent suicide among at-risk LGBT youth, said “bare” director and School of Music, Theatre & Dance junior Jason Kovacs.

“(Suicide) should not be where our youth go to today,” Kovacs said. “It does ultimately get better.”

Before social issues factored into Kovacs’s decision to direct and the actors’ interpretation of the text, the artistic reason for performing the show was simple: It’s a chance to explore a relatively unknown piece, and the crew was impressed by the soundtrack — since it’s a rock opera, “bare” is sung all the way through.

“It’s almost like doing a new work, helping to find the hearts of the characters and their wants and needs,” Kovacs said.

Initially unsure as to whether Basement Arts had the resources to fund an entire pop opera, Kovacs reached out to the Spectrum Center for additional money, and he said the center was more than willing to help out. Once Kovacs got the green light, the next task was to find a cast capable of disseminating the show’s complex themes.

Leading the cast are MT&D senior Sam Lips and MT&D sophomore Michael Hartung, who play Jason and Peter, respectively. For them, the roles present an opportunity to learn firsthand what many face all the time.

“It’s a very similar view of homosexuality people have had, which is the ‘I’m-gonna-hide-it-from-people view,’ which is very different from my own life,” Lips said. “My family is very accepting of me, and I’ve never really had to deal with what Jason has to go through on a day-to-day basis.”

Lips does not view Jason as the show’s protagonist because he does not think audiences will or should root for the character.

“What he wants is to stay in hiding while having this little secret love affair on the side,” he said. “Hopefully, audiences won’t want him to continue doing that. And that’s something that I think a lot of people go through.”

More than anything else, Kovacs said he wants people to understand that, even in times of extreme crisis, there is always someone to talk to. Whether it be a 24/7 crisis intervention line or a nun in a Catholic high school, there is a shoulder to lean on for kids facing similar problems to the characters in “bare.”


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