has been a month since I’ve posted a blog. It gets harder to post when you’re not staying consistent, that’s for sure. I feel the urge to apologize to you for being quiet but trust that it was because I’ve had a lot of amazing stuff going on and can’t wait to share. August was the greatest/busiest month of my career. I started with my 3rd year of facilitatingLollopalooza’s VIP events with a production group from NY that I love working with and then had a bonus Laugh Track at Sidetrack show to say farewell to Beth Stellingone of my greatest comedy friends and the best stand-up comic I’ve ever known. Then, later in the month, I sold out Zanies with my first production effort OutLoud Chicagofor the show Queer Comedy at Zanies. Then the variety show benefiting homeless youth, We Are Halsted.
I went big for sure and it was no coincidence that it coincided with the end of my first year of being a full-time artist. That’s right, last September I left my full time job at the bar and with the exception of some part-time work at a gym and my regular gig at a publishing house, I’ve been an independent producer/performer/publicist!
I know it has been a whole week since We Are Halsted but I’m still reeling. I’m in a coma, very similar to that burrito coma that I’ve been known to suffer from but instead of burritos and a contented, bloated, drowsy feeling, it’s more like an accomplished and satisfied exhausted feeling. But this isn’t about just burritos, I also wanted to thank everyone involved with We Are Halsted.
If you haven’t heard about We Are Halsted… first of all, where have you been? Secondly, it was a grass-roots fundraiser I started as a personal reaction to events in the gay community in Chicago. After years and years of subtle tension and misunderstanding about homeless youth, the tension erupted this past summer resulting in violence and class warfare. You can read all about it on my blog entry When Fear Turns To Hate.
I was very upset at accusations and ignorance and approached city officials asking to do a fundraiser with essay readings that I would book with readers of differing age, economic status and ethnic backgrounds. I was referred to The Center on Halsted and got a meeting with their community relations director who organized a date that The Center would donate their theater. Fellow writer and friend Patrick Gill and I worked with The Center to create a strategy to raise awareness and money for homeless youth shelters in Chicago.
What started as a series of essays turned into a variety show with a message. We wanted to make sure to avoid the issue class warfare by having a fundraiser that everyone could afford to support. With $5 admission and a sensational variety show, we knew we had the tools to spread word about our cause. Our strategy to double our funds was to have donated cocktails for purchase as well as donated items to auction. I booked the show with an eye for diversity from performance to performer. What the show ended up being was a collection of comedians, dancers, musicians and comments from youth representatives. Having performers donate their time and talent allowed me to book an amazing show that I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay. We had the right ingredients for a successful show and three weeks to tell people about it.
While promoting the show, I used myself as a means for relateability. I go out drinking in Boystown (a lot) and have been a public figure in the community for years so when I told stories about times that I was homeless, hopefully people would find the idea less foreign. What I didn’t realize was how shocking this statement was. Yes, I’ve been homeless twice. Once in Chicago when I was staying at a friend’s place and the landlord thought I had some unofficial sublease. My friend asked me to leave because she didn’t feel comfortable explaining to him that it was only for a few weeks until I moved into a new apartment. To avoid confrontation, she told a friend to sleep on the streets. (We’re no longer friends.) And once in Hawaii because at age 19 I thought it would be a brilliant idea to move to a tropical island with no job and live with a guy I knew from the internet for the first month, without paying rent, out of the goodness of his heart. This may shock you but he had other motives in mind and when I didn’t sleep with him, I was sleeping on the beach by night and job-searching during the day. I look back and realize it’s an extraordinary story (I’m writing a book about it, actually) but this last month I became more familiar with how uncomfortable people were with the idea of my homelessness.
As a storyteller, I pride myself on being introspective and candid but this was a bit more vulnerable than I was used to sharing. In most cases, people used the story as an excuse to talk about the show “Adam Guerino was homeless once and decided he should do a fundraiser for homeless youth” etc. Which, at least consciously, wasn’t the main reason I stared the show. But we didn’t want to say the show was in response to Chicago’s gay district being turned into a scene from West Side Story. In one instant, a media agency used my press release and website (without actually talking to me) to draw conclusions and gently insinuated that I was having sex with strangers for a place to sleep at night. For the record, I wanted to have sex with those strangers and a bed was just a bonus.
So… that was We Are Halsted.
I’m proud to report that we raised $2,000 with tickets, auction prizes and additional donations. With a little more than a month planning, I’d like to think this was a large sum. Considering the theater seats less than 200 people, we quintupled our admission price. I’ve hosted an event for Pakistani flood relief and organized benefits for Toys for Tots and the Anixter Center but I consider We Are Halsted my first fundraiser where I have taken the lead role. I’m told that I’m pretty hard on myself but I feel pretty good about what we raised.
But, like everyone who heard about the event knows, raising money was only half our goal. Our other goal, to raise awareness, is slightly harder to qualify. Our statistic we wanted everyone to know was that there are 15,000 homeless youth in Chicago and 20% of them identify as queer. Anyone who heard about the event saw those numbers. It’s a staggering statistic that demonstrates that homelessness had twice the normal queer to straight ratio. I was very careful not to draw conclusions from this statistic but I have no doubt that this means kids are coming out or being outed and are met with violence that makes them run away or being thrown out of the house.
So how many people saw or heard these numbers? I can say that 96 people on facebook shared the event page and that we had over a hundred re-tweets on Twitter. I can also say that we were featured on the cover of Windy City Times, listed on The Agenda for The Reader, got a shout out from The Huffington Post, Nightspots magazine, Chicago Public Radio and mentioned on numerous other publications, web-sites, radio shows and podcasts.
Can I assign a number to how many people heard about this issue? Probably not, I’m really horrible at math. Can we agree that Chicago heard and learned that there is a lot of work to be done? I think so too.
First, I want to thank Sitraka and Patrick who helped me plan the event as well as my assistants Kathryn and Zack who are also awesome at helping me keep my mind on the big picture. Next I’d like to thank the amazing performers who donated their time and talent to the event, Manny Capozzi, Ever Mainard, Gwen La Roka, Betty Betty Nice, Nyle Fisher, Paul Clegg, Meredith Barry and Dizzy Lizzy Delicious. And, of course, the crew that made the show run flawlessly, Matt Johnston, Micah Fortenberry, Maura Ross, Hope Barret and a mass of Center on Halsted volunteers. Last, our sponsors who gave us the items to quintuple our admission, Templeton Rye whiskey, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Pastoral Artisan Wine and Cheese, Myoho pottery vases and Chicago Speedboat tours.
And, most importantly, thanks to all of you for supporting the event, with admission cocktails and auction purchases and getting word out about the show and the cause. You are the heroes of We Are Halsted and even though it goes without saying, it needs to be said, we couldn’t have done it without you.
I’ve been asked constantly since even before the fundraiser was over, What fundraiser will you do next? Well, I’m always open to great causes and great organizations to work with. I’ve already had a great meeting about working with an organization that is supplying Chicago Public Schools with anti-bullying GSA’s and queer empowering programming. And I’ve had the ear of some incredible talent that have offered to donate their time and talent for the next variety show benefit. Maybe this time I’ll give myself more than a month to put it on? We’ll see.