Posts Tagged ‘Coming Out’

The Justice Theater Project presents “Bent” – a drama about Germany’s Third Reich’s persecution of homosexuals.

Max and Horst, two homosexual prisoners branded with the “pink triangle” at Dachau’s death camp.

In November, I published an introductory blog (link) about North Carolina’s The Justice Theater Project, a social justice theater company whose mission is to produce compelling theater experiences that create community dialogue and give voice to social concerns.

As a diversity consultant who often address these same issues, I am a big proponent of transporting people out of their daily lives through the performing arts to give them a fresh prospective on societal issues. (see additional blogs at the bottom of this one.) What is particularly unique about The Justice Theater Project is that in addition to offering various plays, they pair that with pre-show discussions, highlighting community organizations, educational opportunities and outreach.

The Justice Theater Project’s 2017 – 2018 season is titled “Equity and Identity” and is addressing issues such as racism, homophobia and classism. The season’s first play last fall, “A Soldier’s Play” dealt with various issues around racism through this murder mystery set in a 1944 desegregated army base in Louisiana. And now the upcoming play is “Bent”; this path-breaking drama is a lesson in history, a cautionary tale, and a tragic love story about the Third Reich’s persecution of homosexuals. Homosexuals in Nazi Germany were ranked at the very bottom of the human scale, and the pink triangle, a sewn-in badge of shame, was introduced into the Nazi concentration camps.

Indeed looking back at recent history through plays such as “A Soldier’s Play” and “Bent” delivers insight into the harm done to marginalized groups, how they cope with their challenges, and that society as a whole needs to take ownership to address it.

The play runs February 9 -11 and 15 – 18. Earlier community activities include a movie showing and a book discussion about “The Pink Triangle.” For a full listing of activities and to purchase tickets to the “Bent” show, visit The Justice Theater Project’s “Bent” show web page.

And now some big personal news! My own involvement with “Bent:”
• At the February 9th show, I will be representing the Raleigh Business and Professional Network, Raleigh’s LGBT Chamber Commerce, giving the five minute intermission advocate introduction and staffing an information table after the show.
• And at the Saturday evening February 10th performance, I will lead the 6:30 p.m. pre-show discussion sharing my “Eight Life Lessons as an Out Gay Man that can apply to everyone,” discussing coming out, LGBT workplace issues and more. This pre-show event is free, and you may attend if even you are not staying for the play.

I look forward to seeing many of you at The Justice Theater Project’s production of “Bent!”

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Links to support The Justice Theater Project and to previous blogs about diversity and inclusion being promoted through the performing arts:

• You can support the work of this wonderful organization through sponsorship or becoming a season subscriber – details on the JTP website.

• I introduce the JTP through the blog “The Justice Theater Project – Societal Impact Through the Performing Arts.”

“Promoting Diversity and Inclusion Through Bluegrass Music,” is about an innovative annual concert called “Shout and Shine” of diverse Bluegrass musicians. This celebration came about in 2016 as a direct response to North Carolina’s oppressive HB2 “bathroom bill” discriminating against our LGBT citizens.

“A great diversity experience – Theater Breaking Through Barriers” about enjoying an off-Broadway play in New York City which featured actors with a wide range of disabilities.

An Outstanding Millennial Community Leader

Jackson Cooper, Executive Director, Chamber Music Raleigh. Photo courtesy of Curtis Brown Photography

As a diversity and career development consultant, one of the most interesting areas is generational diversity in the workplace. So often, older generations stereotype millennials (generally now in their 20s) as entitled and spoiled, unwilling to work hard. But instead, millennials should be seen as creative, looking for purpose and personal growth in their work, and for hand-on managers who act as coaches. (see my recent blog “What Millennials REALLY want in the workplace.”) And we even saw in the recent season of one of my favorite TV reality shows, Survivor – GenX vs Millennials, that the Millenials held their own and were creative and determined in winning many of their challenges.

Locally I know an outstanding young millennial, Jackson Cooper, who at age 22 is believed to be the youngest executive director of a performing arts organization in the country. I recent sat down for a discussion with Jackson.


STAN: You are currently the Executive Director of Chamber Music Raleigh. Can you tell me a little more about this group and your responsibilities?

JACKSON: Chamber Music Raleigh is a 75 year old presenting organization, meaning that we invite groups from all over the state and world to come and perform on our concert series. We have two concert series: the ‘Guild” series that features artists from all over the country and world (groups like the Harlem Quartet, Juilliard, Chamber Society of Lincoln Center) and our “Sights and Sounds” series which highlights emerging and established North Carolina artists.

One of the first things I have done in my job is to establish the North Carolina Museum of Art as our permanent home for presenting these concerts. This further deepens our relationship with the Raleigh community by presenting our series at a central, public space like the museum. It also allows for exciting collaborations which we have plans for in coming seasons!

As ED, I am responsible for maintaining the day-to-day operations of the organization. I am a staff of one, with the help of volunteers and my dedicated board. I maintain donor relations, write grants, help facilitate decisions about the coming seasons, prepare contracts, and a slew of other responsibilities.

Jackson mingles with constituents at a Museum of Arts gala, sharing about Chamber Music Raleigh future plans and their move to the museum. Photo courtesy of : Joseph Rafferty


STAN: How did you get interested in this type of work?

JACKSON: I grew up in Raleigh arts, working in internships since I was 13 years old, specifically in arts administration. I used to go to school until 3pm, drive to an internship and work till 6, eat dinner, then sometimes go rehearse a show. I was lucky enough to have several mentors early on (still do) who pushed me to work hard and translate this passion and excitement I had for working in the arts into results.

However, the stereotypical gypsy / freelance lifestyle of an artist never appealed to me. I still keep up with my various crafts and have been lucky to always be working on projects, but I like stability too much to be a freelancer my entire life. I still do believe an arts manager should also be an artist (though, I’ve learned recently from example that the opposite isn’t always true). But you should practice an art if you are a manager. It grounds you and solidifies your work on a deeper level.

I love making connections, connecting artists and people, communities and works of art, etc. I’m still growing and acknowledge that, and every day feels like a new adventure.


STAN: What essential skills do you bring to your job that you believe will help you succeed?

JACKSON: Early on, I recognized that initiative and passion go a long way. I have encountered quite a bit of push back about how young I am. People didn’t think it was possible for someone so young and enthusiastic about the field he was working in to do a good job.

So, I began to hone my skills so that I could prepare myself for leading effectively. I wanted to show people that I had learned the importance of Big Picture Thinking and Day-To-Day Thinking, Planning for Long-Term Success and Last Minute Disasters, and the power of the grace note. By that I mean, the power of following up with your audience, community members, and others who are important to you or your organization. In this age of hyper-behavior, people like it when you remember their birthday, send a Christmas card, or just say thank you. Kindness goes a long way. And no matter how busy you are, you always have time to tell someone “I hope you’re having a good day.”


STAN: Where do you see yourself career wise 10 or 15 years down the road? What are your aspirations?

JACKSON: I hope to hold an upper level artistic position at an arts organization. I am currently looking into graduate programs and Executive Leadership programs at Harvard Business School and Duke University for furthering my education. Eventually, I would like to open my own arts consulting firm or work for one.

I plan to continue giving back to my community by serving on community boards, volunteering, and donating. In my (little) spare time I write so I am hoping to publish more. I have a book coming out early next year, and hopefully it’s the first of many!


STAN: In addition to being the youngest ED of a performing arts group in the country, you are also an out gay man. What encouragement would you provide to your LGBT peers in terms of their future or career?

JACKSON: Don’t ever stop being yourself and put yourself in everything you do. Every day you make a decision about coming out. To do that, you have to be confident in yourself and stand up for you. You are all you have in this life so why waste it pretending to be something you’re not?

There will always be people better than you, there will always be better jobs out there that you can’t have at this moment–but if you let things that aren’t in your control get you down, nothing will ever make you happy. And always listen to that little voice in the back of your head. It knows things better than you do.


STAN: Is there anything else you would like to share with my blog readers?

JACKSON: Chamber Music Raleigh is now at the Museum of Art so come by and pick up a brochure or subscribe to our mailing list at chambermusicraleigh.org. We are about to announce our exciting 2017-2018 season.


STAN: Thank you, Jackson! I look forward to building our friendship, following your career and reading your first book when it comes out.

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