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http://www.gaycalgary.com/a4548 [copy]

The Coming Out Monologues Come Into Their Own

Expanded, independent and a new chapter with faith

Theatre Preview by Dallas Barnes (From GayCalgary® Magazine, March 2015, page 26)
Some of the cast
Some of the cast
Image by: Calvin Seaman
Pam Rocker and Madeleine Hardy
Pam Rocker and Madeleine Hardy
Image by: Calvin Seaman
Bridget Foursha
Bridget Foursha
Image by: Calvin Seaman
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The Coming Out Monologues, YYC, has been dazzling audiences with the true, raw, sometimes funny, and sometimes gritty tales of coming out for the past six years. Originating in 2007 at the University of California, Riverside, TCOM have been an inspiration for other organizations performances. The Calgary organizers have returned with an even more robust collection of stories, diversified with spoken word, movement and musical pieces packed tightly into a three-evening event taking place March 18th to 20th at the John Dutton Theatre.

Consequential to its ever-growing popularity and significance, the Monologues, along with Affirming and Creative Coordinator at Hillhurst United Church Pam Rocker, have complemented the original roster with a one-night-only event, the Coming Out in Faith Monologues, which centres around stories of coming out from a faith or spiritual perspective. This will be held at Hillhurst United Church on March 27th, and is part of their Affirming Anniversary weekend.

As director of the Coming Out in Faith Monologues, and a former Coming Out Monologue Performer, Rocker hopes that this inaugural and complementary event becomes a staple in the Calgary event.

"There is such a rich diversity in religion, and for a lot of LGBTQ+ people, faith is such a complex arena," Rocker says. "It’s so personal – but universal at the same time. There are no shortage of stories and, to have a night specifically dedicated to them, provides a great foundation for people to feel safe, supported and celebrated in their joys and struggles around a topic that can be so divisive, inside and out of the community. So instead of shying away from the difficulty it may pose, why not embrace it and see what we can all learn from each other?"

Director of The Coming Out Monologues organization, and the Coordinator for Leadership Programs with the Leadership and Student Engagement office at the University of Calgary, Madeleine Hardy is just as enthusiastic.

"We would love to see the Coming Out in Faith Monologues as an annual event," she says. "TCOM also hopes to expand its repertoire, and is hoping to reveal a new event for April this year. We have many ideas percolating and we are excited to find partners, time, space and resources to expand them all. Stories are an important part in our community and, if people don’t have spaces to tell them, we risk other people telling them for us."

TCOM became an official independent organization in 2014, originally working with the University of Calgary since its debut. "What first started as a small, one-night performance of read monologues from the Internet is now a three-night show celebration of personal stories that bring to light the diverse LGBTQA* community in Calgary," says Hardy.

When Rocker approached Hardy with the idea for the Faith Monologues, it was an idea that culminated in years of inspiration.

"In my work at the church, as well as in the broader community, I am privileged to get to hear so many coming out stories and, for many individuals, religion has played a role in both negative and positive ways," Rocker says. "Sadly, the negative impact that religion at large has had – and continues to have – on many LGBTQ+ people is an overriding theme, and it saddens me immensely that there are so few positive voices in our faith communities that speak to this and publicly refute the shaming and ostracization that occurs. The voice that we should be hearing is that if you have a spiritual yearning, and seek to explore this within a community, that you should be able to do that without any barriers to inclusion. There doesn’t have to be a split or a choice of one over the other. After both participating as a performer and an M.C. – as well as attending TCOM for many years – I thought it would be amazing if we could create a space for people of various faith backgrounds and experiences to tell their stories. Because Hillhurst is all about removing barriers to religion, I thought this would be a great venue to showcase these brave stories, and continue our own learning of what it means to stand in awe of the burdens that so many have had to carry, as well as to celebrate their uniqueness. I approached Madeleine and asked her if TCOM would consider a partnership, and she enthusiastically agreed! She and the whole TCOM team have done a fabulous job at building this brand, and we are grateful to be a part of it."

Hardy agrees. "TCOM’s philosophy is all about stories... Building events that tell local stories creates an increased understanding of each other, and builds resilient communities. Personally, I grew up in a Catholic faith and quickly realized that it wasn’t an inclusive space for my feminist, queer, activist self. In all my experiences with Hillhurst – although you likely won’t see me there on Sundays – I am continuously blown away by the ever-accepting community that it holds. When Pam approached us about this event, TCOM had no hesitations about partnering with such an inclusive organization."

Not only is the overall vision of TCOM immense, with a focus on the power of the story of an individual, the cultivation of these stories are developed with a well-crafted and timely care that can only be merited by the bravest of storytellers.

"The whole team of organizers are fantastic at making people feel welcome and at ease," Rocker says. "Madeleine has done a terrific job at setting up an environment where newbies and more experienced individuals are treated the same."

"Our coordinators are a committed bunch who are passionate and willing to give hours of extra time," adds Hardy. "Last year we did a debrief with our performers and volunteers to talk about what went well, what didn’t, and where we can improve. We were also a part of an undergraduate research group last year for a development studies class, resulting in suggestions for improvements and a literature review for practicing on creating safe spaces."

All individuals wishing to see TCOM and The Coming Out in Faith Monologues are invited. Ticket prices vary; a pay-what-you-can evening is hosted on the first night of performances.

When asked about their favorite memory of TCOM, both Pam and Madeleine had a challenging time coming up with just one. "I’ll tell people they’ll have moments of feeling me too when they listen to others’ stories, and that’s about building community and understanding," says Hardy.

Rocker has a similar response. "I can’t choose a favourite memory – there are so many – but what I do love is sitting in my seat, with these words resonating within me: I’ve never thought about it that way before; I never know what that may have felt like; and wow, I really am not alone.’’


(GC)

Dave Latos
Image by: Calvin Seaman
Wendy Vollmin
Image by: Calvin Seaman
Christina Kohari
Image by: Calvin Seaman
Marissa Taylor
Image by: Calvin Seaman
Pace Anhorn
Image by: Calvin Seaman

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