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Kris Kerzman, Variety contributor, Published August 04 2013

Theater troupe looks to social justice groups to help ignite discussions following performance of “bare: A Pop Opera.”

If you go

What: Act Up’s performance of “bare”

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday

Where: The Stage at Island Park, 333 4th St. S., Fargo

Info: Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for students and $6 for kids. (701) 235-6778.

FARGO – For parents of sexually active teens, and the teens themselves, the opportunities to frankly discuss issues of sexuality can be difficult to come by.

And, if this discussion involves a gay teen, plenty of additional roadblocks can suddenly present themselves.

A new production of “bare: A Pop Opera” by Act Up theater troupe hopes to change that, and where the play leaves off, a variety of community groups will step in.

Even a synopsis of “bare” invites discourse. The play focuses on a love story between the closeted Jason and Peter, students at a private Catholic boarding school. As their relationship becomes burdened by its secrecy and stigma among their fellow students, the two young men must also navigate the consequences of illicit drug use, the reactions of their teachers and priest, and their school’s presentation of the play “Romeo and Juliet.” Similar to “Romeo and Juliet,” ‘“bare” ends in the suicide of one of its protagonists.

But when the curtain goes down each night on “bare,” Act Up’s real work begins. Talkback sessions, designed to get audience members discussing the play’s complex package of emotions, are held after most performances. To assist in the discussions, several area nonprofits are offering their expertise and services while also getting some exposure.

Kaleidoscope, a small nonprofit that serves LGBT teens, is one of those groups.

For co-founder Heather Krause, partnering with Act Up provides a less formal tie to the issues with which Kaleidoscope addresses.

“People aren’t going to be able to leave the theater without having a conversation. Being part of that, creating some awareness and talking to parents, relatives, and youth, it’s a more powerful way to talk,” Krause said.

“We give out a lot of facts, and I think this will create a more powerful, emotional response.”

Krause said her group, which formed in November of 2011, has never worked with an arts organization before, but she appreciates the opportunity “bare” presents to put her message in a new set of ears.

“If kids don’t know about Kaleidoscope, or if they’re not talking about coming out or if their family isn’t supportive, they can at least identify with this play,” she said. “It can show them there are people out there to talk to.”

Kailyn Allen, a board member for the FM Pride Collective, likes that her organization is involved with the play because a local dramatization would work better than the media at large in handling the nuance of LGBT issues.

“Sometimes, pop culture presents LGBT issues in a way that you get the illusion that it’s the way all of us are, and that can be negative and encourage stereotypes,” Allen said. “(The play) gives people the opportunity to internalize and put humanity into a situation that they might not all understand.”

The play’s director, Rebecca Meyer-Larson, refers to this process as “social justice theater.” It’s the backbone of Act Up’s mission and was also practiced in its past productions of “Rent” and last year’s “A Spring Awakening.”

“Art opens a door. It’s a different way in and allows access to a different population than (the organizations) usually have,” Meyer-Larson said. “Some of the fear of talking about these issues falls away because these are people you probably know, potentially your neighbors or relatives.”

The connection between these issues and the play goes even deeper than the talkback sessions. It also influenced the production and cast.

Both Allen and Krause discussed interacting with members of Act Up during rehearsals for the production. In the case of Kaleidoscope, Act Up talked with group members and performed a couple of numbers from “bare.” That work, along with the tragedy and emotion involved with “bare,” has had an effect on the cast.

“We can’t, as a collective whole, get all the way through the play without losing it at least once,” Meyer-Larson said. With the cast so involved, the opportunities for dialogue and for addressing the myriad hurdles faced by LGBT youth will continue once ‘bare’ concludes its run this weekend.

“These kids, when they go back to their schools, they’re going to be seen as a safe person, and they should be able to open up some people to talk,” Krause said.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo, and its online publication, ARTSpulse. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net/artspulse.