Painting the World with True Colors: An Interview with Two Jewish Women Helping to Tell an Incredible Story
In the one instant of silence between the curtain and the applause I remember feeling alive. I remember feeling like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, bounced down a basketball court, and thrown through the hoop for the winning shot. Then we (the audience) erupted in cheers. I was elated, proud, and profoundly humbled.
Two years ago, I attended my first performance by True Colors: OUT Youth Theater. True Colors was founded by The Theater Offensive, New England’s premier LGBT theater company. It trains lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth, and their straight allies (LGBTQQA) to write, produce, and perform shows inspired by own their lives and experiences. The stories that are told by the youth of True Colors are certainly their own, but they could also be mine or those of my friends. The pride, honesty, and effusive love of the actors dangles the audience in front of a mirror, reflecting the stories of despair, heartlessness, tenderness, and triumph in each of our communities.
Now, seasoned filmmaker, educator, and activist Ellen Brodsky is working with a talented crew to make an independent documentary film about True Colors. The film “promises to share the authentic voices and struggles of the youth themselves, who model the importance of being out as they support each other falling in love, surviving breakups, and finding their true selves.”
I had a chance to interview Zohar Fuller, True Colors’ faithful and inspiring Assistant Director, as well as the film’s director/producer Ellen Brodsky, about working with True Colors and on the film.
Etta King (EK): How, if at all, does your identity as a Jewish woman inform your work on this project (and as a filmmaker in general)?
Ellen Brodsky, Film Director and Producer (EB): As with many different groups of people, Jews have a history and literature committed to social justice. Jews also have a lot of liturgy and secular writings about love. Here we have a theater troupe full of young people having crushes, first kisses, and difficult break-ups, but who so often have to justify their love to their friends, family and communities. I'm attracted to that story as a Jew, as a woman, as a parent, and as a person who has fallen in love.
I spent eight years working as a co-producer on At Home in Utopia directed by Michal Goldman, a superbly accomplished filmmaker who taught me so much. Together, we got to know the secular Jews of the radical housing cooperatives built in the Bronx in the 1920s, and as Michal and I celebrated the high holidays, they celebrated May Day. I was raised as a secular Jew and only started attending synagogue after falling in love with Abe's brother, Ted Ryeck, from West Virginia. My work on At Home in Utopia reinforced that there are many valuable belief systems and traditions that I have from my childhood as a secular Jew, and my introduction to religious Jews has shown me many of the spiritual sources for these believes and traditions.
My friend, Lisa Lovett and fellow congregant at Temple Beth Zion, wrote a fundraising letter about our Kickstarter campaign connecting DOMA, Passover and our film. She wrote: “It is very fitting that I am writing you after two days of historic Supreme Court hearings and two nights of telling the story of our liberation from slavery and oppression. This film about an LGBTQ theatre troupe in Boston promises to teach us about liberation and freedom and to show us clearly the power of telling the story—both for the teller and the listener."
I think Lisa captures how our history of telling the stories of Torah, and the story of our own lives informs our vital belief as Jews in the power of stories.
EK: What do you hope will be the impact of the film on the Jewish community and on the world at large?
EB: When you think about it, what does mainstream media typically show of LGBTQ youth? Often you hear the stories of the bullying or the depression and the suicide rates—which is true, queer youth are disproportionately affected by these challenges. But when do you get to see the stories of queer youth being the agents of their own transformation? Agents of cultural change? It’s time for a new story.
There is an inherent power to being OUT about our core identities—whatever they may be. And shame on us if we cannot relate to people's full identities. It's not always easy to do so, but we must try.
The troupe and its members tell inspiring stories, but until now, few outside the Boston area have had a chance to hear them. We want audiences everywhere to witness the spirited process of this theater troupe as it changes hearts and minds. Our film does not shy away from the risks of being open and honest about a stigmatized identity, nor does it romanticize the choice to embrace being out. What the film does is help generate conversations about the harm of homophobia for all of us, and how a group of young people finds strength for themselves and their communities. Because these young people are so often invisible or misunderstood, the medium of film is a powerful vehicle for showing the lives of engaged, committed LGBTQ youth and amplifying their voices.
EK: Tell me a little more about why you work with True Colors. What motivates you? How, if at all, do you see your work fitting into the larger struggles around LGBTQ issues, queer activism, and supporting queer youth?
Zohar Fuller, True Colors Assistant Director: I believe more than anything, that change is first driven by personal narrative. When touched by another’s story, we are stirred to all types of action. Theater it is my tool for social activism.
Issues related to the LGBTQ community are so often silenced or misunderstood. There is rarely a safe space to explore, raise awareness, and answer questions. True Colors provides an opportunity for all of these things. The young people in this troupe are fierce in the work they do. They are extremely vulnerable in sharing what so many of us can’t. For these teens, True Colors it is a space where they can be completely themselves, for audience members it is a time to hear stories that might never be said elsewhere and need to be heard. True Colors reminds me how important it is to proudly believe in who you are and speak out. These young people are some of the most courageous, thoughtful and talented activists and artists I know.
EK: How does your identity as a Jewish women inform or inspire the work you do with True Colors?
ZF: I feel most connected to my identity as a Jewish woman when in need of community. When I want to share joy! When I need to mourn. Without knowing I have this community to turn to, I would be lost. This creation and necessity of community is what motivates the work I do in True Colors. For all queer people, community is necessary. With a lack of validation and visibility of LGBTQ identities often in family, schools, work, and religion, one might not already have a community that is accepting. True Colors creates that community for the young people in it, and shares it with audiences.
EK: Do you think it is important to document the company's work on film? Why or why not?
ZF: The prospect of creating and spreading this documentary is extremely thrilling and important. Although there is currently a network of queer youth theater groups similar to True Colors across the country, we need more! We need groups not only more widespread in this country, but internationally as well. I always wish more people could experience the performances at True Colors and hear the stories that are told. With this film we can share our work in a way that is so widely accessible. Hopefully this will inspire more groups to form, and more LGBTQ youth to share their stories worldwide. Please help in making this a reality!