By Travis Dean Wilson
VOICES Radio Hour
Last fall, I had the wonderful opportunity to perform alongside a talented group of locals in the Queer VOICES Project piece, ““A Green Bird on Orange Trees,” an original production by VOICES, the Carbondale-based nonprofit. VOICES was founded by two incredible women who both understood and fostered the importance of storytelling, Renee Prince and Barbara Reese. The vision that these two had for their community manifested itself as a movement here in the Valley to let every voice from every background be heard and for all to listen.
The importance each voice carries in their timbre, whether it be that of a youth, a sage, a woman, a Latino or a queer, like me, cannot be understated. Barbara and Renee both value expression, along with others devoted to VOICES’ cause, and have helped dozens of voices ring alongside the Rockies which shape our diverse community.
My experience with VOICES is one that echoes many others’: it was life changing. Through the guidance of the directors and other cast members, I was challenged to delve deep into the confines of my being to pull forward a story within me that I wasn’t even aware needed to be spoken. It was a voice that I had locked away for the longest time because I felt that it had nothing left worthy to acknowledge, at least in my present life. VOICES taught me that rather than dismissing that part of me, I could give it a chance by sitting with it and listening to what it had to say. This allowed me to approach the cacophony of words in my mind with a sense of curiosity and acceptance, rather than shame and silence.
My piece revolved around a conversation I had with my younger self, recounting the joys, challenges and heartbreaks of my upbringing as a gay kid in the rural south. The dynamics in the piece were powerful and diverse; the retelling of my youth ranging from my comical shenanigans as a tot to the somber moments in my teenage years when life wasn’t always peaceful.
There were many themes which several people in the audience could relate to, whether that was grief, authenticity or, most importantly, self-love. I was determined to touch on all of these while finding a way to balance the humor with the horror. Being challenged by my team to make this not only compelling but succinct was difficult, but, in the end, the work was well worth the praise received and how it made me feel.
A moment from the vignette that will always stick out to me is when I proudly declared my full name, unapologetically bold and (I admit ) in a rather coarse fashion. In response, I was met with thunderous applause — and an ovation none of us on the production side saw coming. This was a moment that will forever live in my memory as one where the voice I had, kept hidden within the vaults of my heart and mind, had finally received the recognition and love it had always coveted. It was a theater moment when the ubiquitous magic transcended the boundaries of the stage and became an experience the entire audience shared in harmony.
Even now that the show has finished and we all moved on to new projects, I can say that the entire process from start to finish will definitely remain in my heart for the remainder of my life. The connections I made with my team, from our first dance and drawing exercises to our final bow, are bonds of which have only strengthened since then. I am forever grateful to VOICES for giving me the gift of letting every part of my voice be heard, even the littlest one. I am so thankful to the current team and to Renee for such a life-changing experience.
To Barbara: Wherever your spirit soars, I know that you shine in seeing how many voices continue to find the strength to speak out clear and strong. That lesson you taught so many of us will never fade, it will only grow into a powerful choir of beautiful and brave VOICES.
This month’s title of VOICES Radio Hour is “Unsung Hero: A Tribute to Barbara Reese, Founder of VOICES.” It will feature 11 people who have been touched by Barbara and VOICES (Barbara’s legacy), as well as classical music by MinTze Wu and other musicians, and three of Barbara’s original poems read and recorded by her in 2022. It will air on KDNK this Friday, Nov. 10 from 6-7pm. It can be found on our website, www.voicesrfv.org, thereafter.