Cathy Plourde is the founder of Add Verb, an organization in Portland, Maine that uses theatre and arts to help communities address challenging issues like eating disorders, sexual assault, and domestic violence.
Her list of work is extensive and impressive, but she stays most heavily involved with her education-based plays, You the Man and The Thin Line, as well as manuscript production of Out & Allied Anthologies, Volumes 1 & 2.
Cathy is a tireless social innovator and her mission is to strengthen communities. She’s presented workshops around the world on script development for cultivating allies for LGBTQ youth. She’s currently a consultant and freelancer living in England.
Joyce Brown: I was surprised to learn that you’re now living in England. What are you doing there?
Cathy Plourde: My wife accepted a position as marketing director with the Birmingham Royal Ballet. We moved about a year ago now. I've sort of stepped off the world for a little while. We got lucky enough to get an allotment — about 6 times the size of our community garden plot in Portland, Maine. I grow vegetables and fruits and herbs, and I’m really enjoying digging.
Joyce: You've been presenting theatre for social justice for over 20 years; are you still actively involved?
Cathy: After being passionately involved for 20 years, I actually decided it was time for a break. I still have a big mouth. I still want art, writing, and the theatre to change the world. Most of my active work with theatre and social change is around Out & Allied projects. I’m still spreading the word through social media campaigns and try to get the two books to as many people as I can. I get lovely stories through email, a little less frequently now because I'm not engaged every day, but I get lovely stories of how the youth work has affected families and communities.
For example, I left my father-in-law some books last spring when I was helping him out after knee surgery. He brought Out & Allied, Volume 2 to his priest. This volume is focused on having a conversation around acceptance of LGBTQ individuals within religious and faith-based communities. The monologues, songs, and plays shed light on what it means to be a true ally and aligning spiritual values, and what it means to honor, respect, love, cherish, and support your community members … who may, or may not, be straight. His priest seemed to have a bit of a hard time with it, particularly around marriage, but he's opened the door. There are parishioners who go to my father-in-law — who is in his mid 80s — because they have children who are gay and know he’s been open about his family.
Whether it's a book, or a play, or music, I love that arts-in-action can start a conversation, an opening of a heart, and the beginning of a shift.
Joyce: Where do the stories in the Out & Allied Anthologies come from?
Cathy: They were assembled from several years' worth of work, and a lot of it was youth led and youth written. Some came from queer youth theatre projects around the U.S. (check out the Pride Youth Theater Alliance) and some came out of theatre workshops, writing workshops. To make the anthologies happen, lots of partnering happened and student and youth interns really hustled. They organized, edited, did the research and indexing, and wrote new pieces.
Joyce: Can you talk a little bit about You the Man and The Thin Line, and how are they used in education?
You the Man is meant to empower students — both male and female — to step out of the bystander role and practice safe peer intervention when it comes to dating violence. None of the characters are perpetrators, but bystanders who are trying to figure out how to deal with what they see happening.
The Thin Line helps break the silence on eating disorders. It illustrates the pain of one girl’s struggle, and how her loved ones are determined to understand and to help. Both of these issues only get solved and resolved when there is a community response — caring, compassionate and coordinated.
Young adults in high school are under intense social pressure. I wrote these plays as a way for students to initiate conversations on these topics with each other and their communities. Each play has a corresponding program for educators so they have the tools they need to introduce and discuss these subjects in a forum that is engaging, open, and healthy.
Both plays now have cultural adaptations and are being performed in Australia. I've also licensed both of them to agents in the U.S., and I provide guidance and support whenever necessary.
Joyce: What advice can you give about conquering fear?
Cathy: I think we have what others perceive as courage, when, in fact, we are actually doing what feels like the only choice. People often are afraid of being vulnerable and appearing foolish, but it can help when you put the larger good in front of your own worries. Courage comes more easily when you can identify that there’s something bigger than you going on. For example, Out & Allied is not about me. It is not about the actor who's performing the monologue. It's not about the person who wrote the script. It's about the communication and the message within a community.
When you have a little bit of success, it gets easier. When some University of Southern Maine and Maine College of Art students performed some pieces from Out & Allied, Volume 2 in churches last spring, some cool things happened. Some of the actors were afraid because they had been given pretty ugly messages from churches and religious people in the past. Some of the parishioners were afraid of being told what to think, or were afraid of being exposed. But the performers went in and did their thing and had a moving experience. The conversations after were open and honest. People were willing to watch and listen and try to figure out how they might make things better.
I think part of conquering fear is also managing your expectations.
Joyce: What projects are you working on now?
Cathy: I've been finishing up some of the research around You the Man and getting articles published on the efficacy of the program. For a new endeavor, I've got a business partner in New York who's in the audiobook industry, and we are beginning a publishing company. We’re going to start publishing books that tell the stories that aren’t being told around sex and sexuality. We think it's okay to be sexy, and these books will discuss finding strength through laughter, absurdity, and joy. Specifically the joy of one's own being and sexuality. We’ll be looking for fiction writers, as well as personal narrative contributions.
Update: Since this interview, Cathy has released submission guidelines and details about the book premise and mission.
Joyce: What’s one thing you know for sure?
Cathy: What I know for sure is that I'm at my best when I stay curious ... and when I don't think I have all the answers.
To learn more about the Add Verb, You the Man, The Thin Line, and Out & Allied projects please visit this link.