GET THE ALBUM + SUPPORT AN END TO BULLYING: Lynne Shankel is sharing the proceeds of her album with the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Your support not only leads to great tunes, but also bullying prevention programming across the country! The album is now available for pre-order on iTunes, Amazon and at yellowsoundlabel.com.
I guess I was pretty lucky growing up. I was a Midwestern white person in a sea of other Midwestern white people. My family was pretty straight-up middle class, so we didn’t really stand out one way or another. I made friends. I blended in. I think the “blending in” part is key—because if you can be just enough like everyone else, maybe nothing bad will happen and no one will make fun of you. I remember being hyper-aware of this by 7th grade. I was in junior high and the cliques were forming. I was watching what the “cool kids” were wearing, making mental notes of brands and colors. I was listening to what they were talking about and the words they were using. I just wanted to be like them. I wanted to be above the fray. I didn’t want to end up like Ben, the kid who was stuffed in a locker on almost a daily basis. I didn’t really know him and I don’t think I ever spoke more than two words to him. No one did. He was just too weird. And no one wanted to be thought of as weird. I was already very involved in music and I was in the “gifted” program, so things could go either way for me on the social ladder of junior high. I was smart, so I could be perceived as a dork. I also played music, which would either make me a Super Dork or it could give me a pass. I studied classical music, but I also made sure I knew some Billy Joel songs. That helped. 🙂 When I got into high school, the arts were clearly what I was all about. I was involved in everything—choir, band, theatre. Those programs loomed large at my school, so everything was copacetic. I got into community theatre, which was big as well. We were a bunch of white people doing shows like The King and I, but whatever! I was totally fitting in! YAY!
I went to the University of Michigan to study piano performance. U of M is a highly diversified community. For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by lots of people who were NOT Midwestern white people. I was amazed. There were black people. And Indian people. And Jews from New York. And gay people who were actually “out.” THAT was new, for sure. Back in high school, my friend Chris asked our group of friends if we thought he was gay. I think our response was something like “Well, yeah. DUH.” I mean, there was NO WAY he liked girls, so we were just being honest in our idiotic, blunt, teenager-y way… But he seemed pretty upset about it at the time. He didn’t know what to do about the fact that at this point in his life, people could actually TELL he was different. Clearly, no one could know. That would be against all Blending Rules. But in college, people didn’t really seem to care. There were SO many different kinds of people, and that’s what the whole experience was about: diversity. When I went home for the summer after my freshman year, for the first time I became aware of the lack of diversity in my hometown. EVERYONE was white. EVERYONE had the same hair. EVERYONE wore Abercrombie & Fitch. If you were truly included, you were all of these things. I was shocked that I hadn’t ever realized it before.
Fast forward to now. I have lived and worked in the New York theatre community for twenty years. Diversity is what we do. It’s who we are. If you are nutty enough to be in this business, you probably made lots of left turns when everyone else was turning right. You have probably left the Blending Rules far behind. But getting to that place of feeling free to be who you are can be a major struggle.
In 2012, I was lucky enough to write some new songs for bare: The Musical. bare is a story about two teenage boys in a Catholic boarding school who fall in love. In their environment, those who do not follow the Blending Rules are bullied and tortured. In the eyes of our leads, Peter and Jason, being outed as gay would be the worst thing that could happen. And for one of them, the struggle is just too much to survive. For the creative team of bare, it became our mission to try to help people who felt trapped like Peter and Jason did. If we could help even ONE person to realize that things WILL get better, then all of our work would be worthwhile. During the run of the show, our producers hosted post-show anti-bullying forums with their non-profit partners and I was lucky enough to get to know the Tyler Clementi Foundation. Tyler’s story closely mirrored ours, so the connection between us was very natural. We held post-show talkbacks where we heard from so many young people who were struggling with their sexuality. Really, really struggling. They talked about how they weren’t sure they wanted to go on with their lives when they came in the door that day. Then they saw the show, and they felt a glimmer of hope. That’s all you really need sometimes. You just need one glimmer of hope.
I think now about Ben from junior high. If I knew then what I know now, maybe things would have been different for him. Maybe all he needed was for someone to ask him how his day was going. Or just say hi. It would have been so simple to show him a moment of kindness. But in the social war of teenager-dom, I chose not to.
I spent 2016 working on my double album, Bare Naked. The album includes the songs lyricist Jon Hartmere and I wrote for bare as well as a dozen of my most recent songs. Bare Naked is about me seeing you and you seeing me just as we are. No filters, no games, no apologies. Here we all are, with our arms wide open saying, “This is me. This is who I am.”
In honor of bare and Tyler’s story, I am giving 50% of album proceeds to the Tyler Clementi Foundation. In this era where it feels like the Blending Rules are trying to make a vicious comeback, nothing could be more important than continuing TCF’s mission. I hope you’ll take a listen.
Bare Naked will be released on Jan. 24. The album is now available for pre-order on iTunes, Amazon and at yellowsoundlabel.com.