SPEAK 2023 provides platform for those voices that all too often go unheard
On Saturday evening, April 8, Advocates of Routt County will host SPEAK 2023: Belonging, an event that is personal, playful, and at times, extremely moving as it connects people through the theme of belonging.
“This is my third year being involved in SPEAK, but this is the first year that it’s been run by Advocates of Routt County,” said Chelsie Holmes, who serves as confidential services program director for Advocates of Routt County as well as director of SPEAK. “I think that it’s become a staple because there’s just nothing quite like it.”
SPEAK will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday at Standard Gallery and features an array of powerful performances. Inspired by the creators of the show “2 Dope Queens” and Eve Ensler, who is well-known for her play “The Vagina Monologues,” SPEAK is an annual event written and performed by people living in the Yampa Valley.
Holmes said SPEAK isn’t like any other local performance, and it’s a special opportunity to build community by sharing stories through creative expression.
Entertainers will utilize several different performance styles including spoken-word storytelling, slam poetry, stand-up comedy routines and dance exhibitions. The event was originally hosted by Young Bloods Collective to lift women’s voices and raise awareness of the issues they face.
Organizers are carrying on that tradition by giving a platform to those who are too often unheard, including performers of all gender identities. This means that SPEAK is now a platform for all voices, representing all identities.
“So, you’re hearing about the experience of the people who live here speaking about their lives, and it kind of invites people to talk about things they otherwise wouldn’t — maybe topics that are taboo or challenging,” Holmes said. “I don’t think we’re invited to talk about things like that.”
Participants often feel safe to share about tough topics.
“It used to be a women’s event, and anytime that we kind of invite women to speak openly about challenging topics I think sexual violence and domestic violence are natural topics to come up because so many women deal with those things,” Holmes said.
She said the theme of “Belonging” will run through all of the performances and refers to both the feeling and a reality. Organizers said that a sense of belonging enriches our lives and has lifelong benefits for our wellness and added that we often put emphasis on fostering a feeling of belonging rather than embracing and celebrating each other’s differences, so that everyone truly does belong. The absence of true inclusion can even place barriers around who belongs on stage at an event like SPEAK.
“This is the first year that we’ve opened it up for men and people of all genders to perform, and the reason for that is we got some feedback from our transgender community members,” Holmes said. “We have heard that women only events do not really make them feel welcome, and we feel like it’s important, especially right now, to lift trans voices and give them a platform to be heard and share their own stories and define themselves for the community. We wanted to make the change, so that all kinds of people would be welcome.”
Holmes went on to say that there is limited space in this year’s venue at Standard Gallery, and there is a limit to how many tickets can be sold.
“I would recommend people buy them in advance,” Holmes said. “Last year we did sell out.”
Tickets can be found at advocatesrc.org and cost $20. Holmes said tickets may be available at the door, but last year’s event did sell out. Tickets are also available at Eventbrite or AllEvents.in. Doors for this year’s performance open at 6 p.m. with performances expected to start at 7 p.m.
Cocktails will be available before and after the performances where people can mingle. Proceeds from SPEAK will support Advocates of Routt County and its work serving victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking.
“It’s really inspired by the ‘Vagina Monologues’ and ‘2 Dope Queens,'” Holmes said, “It’s that spoken-word performance event that is meant to lift voices of people who are often not heard or marginalized.”
John F. Russell is the business reporter at the Steamboat Pilot & Today. To reach him, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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