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Clothes come to life to explore gender in children's play

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 20, 2013 - Once upon a time, there was a world where the color pink peacefully coexisted with the ability to fix toys with motors.

In Wesley Middleton’s play in progress called “Unsorted,” characters Sweater, Slacks and Swimsuit dance happily together. But when Jacket demands the “clothings” be divided into Zums and Zing Zings, they become confused, and worry about which pieces of themselves they’ll have to cut off.

Metro Theater Company invited educators, parents, child development experts and others interested in the concept of exploring gender through children’s theater, to enjoy a staged reading of “Unsorted” at Clayton High School Monday night.

Gender non-conforming young people experience 26 anti-gay slurs every single day at school, according to the American Psychoanalytic Association. The impact of bullying based on gender perception includes suicide.

“What role are we going to play to put an end to such tragedies?” asked Metro artistic director Carol North, in her program message.

North acknowledged the difficulty some parents might have with approaching the topic of gender with young children. Addressing the audience, North pointed to a Metro Theater precedent, a 1991 play, “The Yellow Boat,” about the death of a child from AIDS.

“One St. Louis maven said, ‘This will put you out of business,’” North remembered. “But we’re still here.”

Metro plans to present “Unsorted” next year. In an interview with the Beacon, New York playwright Middleton described some of the research that went into the play, including important input from local preschoolers.

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.