Q&Gay: LGBT+ youth theater of Memphis


Jasmine Simmers (12, right) performs as El in “Over, Under, and Thru the Rainbow.”

All across America, we’ve been hearing about the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for representation and the youth are taking it into their own hands. Right here in Memphis, Playhouse on the Square’s Q&A theater troupe is making a difference for this community. Q&A stands for “Queer and ally” and is a LGBTQ+ youth theater troupe that aims to educate people about the community through theater. The theater community in Memphis has grown tremendously, and has gained popularity through the success of major theater productions like Hamilton.

“Hamilton teaches people [about] Alexander Hamilton’s life through a really fun experience, and that’s what we try to do at Q&A,” Jasmine Simmers (12) said.

Q&A has initial auditions, and through a series of workshops and improvs, they come up with a general theme for a potential production. This year’s play production was “Over, Under, and Thru the Rainbow,” a spinoff of the Wizard of Oz, featuring a time traveling lesbian couple who encounters various queer historical figures.

“It’s not normally a traditional story line arch,” Stuart Thompson (12) said. “What we’ve done is that we have a story that is continuous, and then it is broken up by spoken word, poems, and other just little one-off scenes that happen.”

Q&A reflects today’s society through their plays. The lack of accurate representation in today’s media is reflected in some of the monologues they have written. They even incorporate ideas from the Black Lives Matter movement and the feminist movement.

One special aspect of Q&A is its ability to reach to audiences that have been overlooked. After each performance, all of the actors and actresses sit down and have a conversation with the audience. They found that audience members were pleasantly surprised to find characters or actors who they identified with in the production.

Both Simmers and Thompson agreed that Q&A has affected them on a personal level as well. Even the director of Q&A has a personal story attached to why she decided to join this group.

“When I came out 16 years ago, there was only one type of queer youth organization to join in Memphis,” Claire Rutkauskas said. “In my opinion, it was more of a support group in the typical sense of sitting in a circle and sharing our feelings, which did not speak to me personally in a helpful manner. I grew up doing shows at Playhouse on the Square, so when I was asked to join in working with the group I was very excited.”

The entire play is always written by cast members, bringing in people’s personal stories.

“As an actor, we all pull from ourselves a little bit,” Simmers said. “I think that that’s what makes Q&A so unique and so beautiful is that we do pull from our own stories.”

When the struggles faced by people in the LGBT community are brought to light, it is almost cathartic for queer youth to find out someone is going through the same things.

One of the great things about Q&A is their ability to bring people together through art. Everyone is accepting and encouraging, which fosters an intimate environment.

“I like the fact that Q&A is an opportunity for young people to meet others like them but also contribute to a product that will be bigger than themselves,” Rutkasukas said.

Q&A is still in their early stages of development and hope to expand this program to reach even more people. With LGBTQ+ community gaining recognition in the public eye, hopefully one day we’ll see Q&A on the national stage.