Akron’s QuTheatr Highlights LGBTQ+ Youth Experiences

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Jaxx Cheline never acted before joining QuTheatr Ensemble in Akron, but an appreciation for art and interest in making money was enough to propel the 14-year-old to give it a try. Cheline plays “Anthony” in the upcoming production, “Through His I.”

“He is trans, and he is in high school. And it's about his experiences there,” Cheline said. “He gets bullied a lot and gets ignored by the administration, and so he's in a really dark place about it.”

Now in its second year, the group provides theater experience for LGBTQ+ youth ages 14 to 22. QuTheatr launched with a Knight Arts Challenge grant, and members receive a stipend for participating.

Cheline and a handful of others have been working with New World Performance Lab, an alternative theater company in Akron, to develop their first full production.

“We very often devise or develop our own pieces,” said Jim Slowiak, administrative director of QuTheatr and artistic director of New World Performance Lab.

QuTheatr members worked with a playwright to come up with the story for “Through His I,” which is based in part on their experiences.

“I hope that people come away from seeing this piece slightly more educated about transgender people and definitely more aware of what's going on in the world. And more aware of the small actions that they take, how much that can affect people,” said Fennel Morrison, another actor in the play.

Respecting someone’s preferred pronouns, for example, is something the play addresses.

Prior to this production, the group did smaller performances, including last year at Akron Pride Festival. QuTheatr is also part of the national Pride Youth Theater Alliance, and members of the group will attend its annual conference in Pittsburgh later this month.

“Giving leadership to the youth is very important, and so that’s a major part of this project,” Slowiak said.

QuTheatr Ensemble presents “Through His I” June 18-21 at the Balch Street Theatre in Akron.

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