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State of the Arts: QuTheatr Steps Into the Spotlight in Akron

QuTheatr Ensemble members warm up before rehearsal at the Balch Street Theatre in Akron.
Mark Arehart
QuTheatr Ensemble members warm up before rehearsal at the Balch Street Theatre in Akron.

A group of teens in Akron is building a theater troupe from the ground up. The goal of the company is to provide a safe space for young people in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer community. On this week’s State of the Arts, WKSU’s Mark Arehart visits with members of QuTheatr to see how the ensemble is coming together.

A half dozen 14- to 17-year-old actors are running in place inside the dimly lit Balch Street Theatre in Akron.

They are warming up for one of the group’s first rehearsals. Then, all of a sudden they shoot across creaky wooden floors, changing direction at random.

Peer leader Rosilyn Jentner is directing the exercise. She said this is a different kind of theater group.

"Which means we are working with youth from the LGBTQ community. We handpicked and we are working together to discover what it is to create theater in this community," she said.

A Fresh Approach

Jentner said Qu works as an ensemble.

"It’s a little bit more alternative to a traditional method acting approach. So we’re working full body, full tools, your whole creative energy, not just emotionally pushing," she said.

The opening exercises are a way to help these teens, like 16-year-old Carter, open up and become more comfortable in their own skin.

"So QuTheatr is a brand-new initiative to employ youth, teach them skills to employ them in the future in theater. And to kind of get the word out for other people who don’t have a voice, who are queer," Carter said.

The ensemble is a mix of teens, who are just acting for fun and others who want to turn it into a career.

"I hope to make it to Broadway one day and star in ‘Kinky Boots’ as Lola," said Wayne, 17.

Qu is unlike any ensemble he’s ever been a part of.

"So for me to be somewhere where there are people just like me is really special to me," he said.

Working Together

Even though there are adult mentors helping guide these teens, it’s really up to the actors to build Qu’s productions from conception to stage.

"It’s about them, the youth," Jentners said. "And their ability to be given the tools to create. And to work with themselves on their own identity, which we’re all doing. I’m still doing [this] as a 28-year-old woman."

Right now the ensemble is working on a short spoken word piece as its first performance to debut at the Akron Pride Festival later this month. But there’s no script to study, no lines to memorize just yet. They’re getting to know each other.

That’s how this ensemble method of acting works.

"And that’s one of the beautiful things about this is usually when you go into a situation where you’re creating a piece you might have an idea of what your script is going to be," Jentner said. "Here, our sources are ourselves, our experiences, the youth."

Joining Qu

Previous acting experience isn’t a prerequisite to be a part of Qu.

"I originally joined with the intent to do visual art because that’s what I enjoy the most is painting, but I've found that I actually really like acting by doing this," said 14-year-old Jaxx.

The QuTheatr Ensemble rehearses at Hardesty Park in Akron.
Credit Mark Arehart
Mark Arehart
The QuTheatr Ensemble rehearses at Hardesty Park in Akron.

The organizers of QuTheatr spread the word about auditions through social media and local LGBTQ groups. Thirty-five actors auditioned, and six were chosen. And they’re getting paid, but for ensemble members such as Carter, it’s more than just a job.

"I enjoyed my previous theater group, but being able to be out with these people, honestly, brought into my ability to work with my body and my ability to work as an actor. Because I can be completely open with myself and I feel like that’s really what acting is about," he said. 

The debut spoken word piece is just the first step for Qu. The ensemble will meet monthly throughout the school year. Over that time they will craft a full-length production to be presented next summer. 

Copyright 2021 WKSU. To see more, visit WKSU.

Mark has been a host, reporter and producer at several NPR member stations in Delaware, Alaska, Washington and Kansas. His reporting has taken him everywhere from remote islands in the Bering Sea to the tops of skyscrapers overlooking Puget Sound. He is a diehard college basketball fan who enjoys taking walks with his dog, Otis.