By Shannon T.L. Kearns
Uprising Theatre Company was founded with a simple but bold belief: stories can change the world.
Uprising tells powerful stories about important topics in a way that’s not preachy or strident, but is instead rooted in people’s lived experiences. From mental illness and suicide to transgender issues; from religion and sexuality to the prison industrial complex; from workers rights to vulnerability while dating, we tell stories that come from people who have lived those experiences. It matters to us that marginalized communities be able to tell their own stories and then embody those stories on stage.
But we don’t want it to stop with just telling stories. We hope people are so inspired by what they see that they want to make a concrete difference in their own community. So we partner with local organizations who are working on the issues presented in the show to funnel the empathy and excitement generated by storytelling into action that will make the world a better place.
Each organization that we partner with makes a specific ask of the audience. It could be as simple as signing a letter to a legislator or as complex as signing up to volunteer. We have done book drives and prom dress drives, we collected underwear for the Sexual Violence Center, and spread the word about the fight for protections for low wage workers. We’ve signed up people to be bail runners with a community bail fund and to host house parties where they would be trained in political organizing. Each show provides an opportunity for new partnerships and new ways to bring about change.
Every performance is followed by a facilitated talkback where the audience can process together what they have just experienced. It’s a place where people can share what resonated with them from the show, but also where they can share their own experiences. We’ve heard stories from people who have lost someone to suicide, from folks who were forced to stay in a dangerous job in order to provide for their families, from people who struggled to gain the acceptance of their family after they came out. These talkbacks are healing and powerful.
We combine all of this into a unique model that allows theatre to change people’s lives, moving them from connecting to a story, processing their experience, and shifting to action to make a difference.
Our upcoming show is a new work called The Resistance Of My Skin. It tells the story of Jess, a plus size woman, and Ayden, a transgender man, who have been dating. Jess invites Ayden to come to her place and they both think that tonight might be the night they finally have sex. But as the night progresses (a night we see played out in real time on stage), they are forced to confront their own insecurities, the messages they have received from other people about their bodies, and how they related to one another. Will they be able to overcome all of these things in order to connect?
This show is important because we still so rarely see bigger bodies and transgender bodies on stage. Allowing these characters to tell their own story matter, and for these characters to be embodied by actors who are, themselves, plus size and transgender, is revolutionary. But this isn’t just a story for plus size or transgender people; this is a story for anyone who has felt uncomfortable in their own body, who has struggled to connect with another person, who wonders what it means to resist in a world where so many bodies are still so unsafe.
This is a story that needs to be told.
And Uprising is so excited to share it with you.
The Resistance of My Skin runs until Saturday, February 24, at the Crane Theater in Minneapolis. The new play is written and directed by Shannon T.L. Kearns and stars Kearns and Ashley Hovell. Tickets are available here.
Shannon T.L. Kearns is a writer, speaker, and theologian. He is a transgender man. He is the founder and artistic director of Uprising Theatre Company. Shannon is a sought-after speaker on queer theology, transgender issues, and the intersections of identity and faith. Shannon is also a playwright. He believes that stories have the power to change the world.
Original photo used in cover art by Tony Gao.