story & photo by Robin Beaudoin
The Weaver family sits down for breakfast at Edge Alley. Mom, Terri, and dad, Harold, tease their millennial daughter Jessica, who gazes over her avocado toast, “I just really love avocados.” The theatrical, spirited clan is so at ease, it is easy to see how much they enjoy each other’s company. Is it any wonder that they work better together, even when giving of their time and services to the LGBTQA and theatre communities?
Jessica, 20, a product of diligent home schooling and exposure to multiple extracurricular activities, started shooting a bow and arrow at age 9, and by age 11, she won her division of the National Archery Association awards, one of only three women in the country competing on a bare bow.
Terri and Harold, both active in the theatre scene, decided to involve Jessica as part of a public speaking curriculum. Terri recalls Jessica’s vote on the matter, “Mom said, ‘You’re going to a Shakespeare class. You can either do 5 weeks of Shakespeare or I can sign you up for a Junior Toastmasters class which you can do for a year.’”
The five-week commitment spanned a five-year relationship with Tennessee Shakespeare Company, ushering the teen out of her shell. Jessica admits, “I didn’t used to speak. Growing up, I deferred all questions to my mom. Going on stage was my idea of hell. Now I like to say that I am an actor by art and stage manager by trade. The proudest work I’ve done as an actor are the past 2 shows with Q&A Queer and Ally Youth Theatre. We write our own shows, through a workshop process.” She starred in a short called Pass the Peas, her first lead role. “Prior to that, I was usually a moving prop.” Now, Jessica, who identifies as asexual and pan-romantic, says most of her friends identify somewhere with theatre or the LGBTQA spectrum.
Jessica’s theatre experience is a natural bridge into the LGBT community, but mom Terri has a personal story, initiating from her youth. “My first boyfriend ever died of AIDS in 1995. I’d always had friends in the community, but when Jeff died, I became an activist.” His small Georgia hometown couldn’t accept his status, and rejected him after his death. “People wouldn’t stop talking about him. I was passionate about HIV/AIDS at that point, and a fundamentalist Christian at that, so I was a dichotomy. Over the next 10 or 12 years, God kept sending me people. I was doing youth work at a very fundamentalist church in Memphis, and these self- proclaimed ‘freaks and geeks’ kept coming to me. It tended to be a lot of theatre kids, and the skater crowd – the ones that didn’t fit the Vera Bradley/ UGG boots world of East Memphis. Several were LGBT kids, and none of my ministry work taught me to deal with this.” Terri became a safe adult in a judgmental space for a large group of youth, but the church did not share her acceptance of the LGBTQA culture.
She shares, “When marriage equality became an issue, I made the eye-opening mistake of posting a pro- marriage equality post to my Facebook page, and I was invited to leave my church by the administration and other members. Fortunately, we’ve landed at a really good place – First Baptist is an open and affirming church, and they support all the activism that I do. We did our first March, organized by Michael Hildebrand (formerly of Memphis, currently an artist in New York City), in 2013.
The Weaver family collectively works in almost every theatre locally. Terri sees herself as a “tech that acts, rather than an actor”, though her costuming experience has translated to Condomonium designer, where in 2017 she was named first runner up and awarded “Best Use of Condoms”. Model Slade Kyle was also Jessica’s theatre mentor, and Terri says of Kyle, “You put Slade in anything, boy or girl mode, he’s going to sell anything.” Jessica acts and helps on sets. Harold, a certified lighting and sound engineer” is the first one to jump in and run lights and sound anywhere, from theatre to church.
The family volunteers for the Focus Awards, and Terri was actively involved with Friends for Life during the AIDS Marker Project. “When Bob calls, who says no?”
Mom plans to take a break soon after nine months of nonstop productions, but not before one last trip to run lights for Miss Gay America. “It’s five days in New Orleans with some of the most fabulous drag queens in the country, so we’re totally going.” Harold’s Point of pride came during a production of Frankenstein, where he charged the effects with pyrotechnics, “The playwright actually attended the play, and said it was the best lab design he’d seen.” Harold is happy to jump in and take the emergency calls to run tech for performances, and Terri appreciates his support: “He has supported the family while I’ve spent 13 years home schooling. He supported every march we went to, and every organization we’ve volunteered with.” Harold, in the family theme, remarks, “I don’t need to be in the limelight. I’m just so much happier to be behind the scenes running the show. You go march, and call if you need me to do something technical, but I’m not going to march in the hot sun. (Harold did attend Pride this year, riding the Focus float.) Jessica says college is likely in her future, though her goal, she supposes, is to be a successful human. It would seem she is learning from the best.