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April 11, 2008

Artists from four cities join in youth troupes benefit show

Youngstown--What began as an exchange of e-mails between colleagues and friends Liz Rubino and Susan Haugh resulted in an unforgettable show in Youngstown April 5 by a Pennsylvania queer youth theater troupe and eight adult performers from Ohio.

“Last year about this time,” said Rubino, a Youngstown actor and recording artist, “I was looking to get involved in a LGBTIQ youth arts group to advance into drama therapy. When Susan set up Dreams of Hope, she sent out a lot of emails and I saw this as an opportunity to work with kids and do more as a teaching artist.”

Dreams of Hope, founded and directed by Haugh, is a Pittsburgh LGBTIQ, questioning and allies performing arts group with players as young as 13 and as old as 21 years. Throughout the year, they perform material written by the troupe members, designed to educate and entertain audiences through song, drama, poetry and dance.

When Rubino heard that the group hadn’t met their performance quota to qualify for grants, she saw this as an opportunity to fulfill that goal. Rubino told Haugh about Youngstown’s Oakland Center for the Arts and the two planned a benefit performance.

“I started contacting people I knew, along with names from Susan, and developed a list of performers who donated their time,” Rubino said.

The first half of the evening began with selections from those artists, including Cleveland singer-songwriter Alexis Antes and poet Jan Held, Pittsburgh jazz singer Patrick Arena, and Kent State University associate professor Daniel Raymond-Nadon. Joining them were dancer Richard Bell, drag personality Starrlet O’Hara, also known as Robert Dennick Joki, and poet and theater aficionado L. J. “Tess” Tessier, all of Youngstown.

“The kids were thrilled to perform with them,” added Rubino.

Rubino, who co-produced the event along with the Oakland Center, was the emcee. She also performed several solo numbers and sang duets with Antes.

Haugh, a composer by trade, also founded Pittsburgh’s Renaissance City Women’s Choir and has been active in the national Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses. Rubino will begin her master’s degree in drama therapy at New York Univeristy in the fall.

After an intermission, the audience was introduced to this year’s Dreams troupe of seven members through their 2008 production, “Out at Work, Out at School.”

They performed skits, songs, dances and spoken-word pieces illustrating situations where they have met discrimination, as well as acceptance, among their classmates, peers and parents.

When the house lights came up at the end, the audience was treated to a question and answer session with troupe members on such topics as coming out to their parents and how they became involved with Dreams of Hope.

Dreams of Hope is one of only six LGBT and ally troupes in the United States and is looking forward to traveling to Miami in July for the GALA Choruses festival. All seven members of this year’s troupe will be attending.

Dreams of Hope is funded in part by the Heinz Endowments, Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts Program and the Three Rivers Community Foundation.

There are no costs to members to join the organization, which relies on additional support from benefit performances and individual donations. Their modest wish list includes rehearsal space in downtown Pittsburgh, a digital camera and a digital video camera, sound equipment, a digital keyboard and a couple of easels. For more information, see



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