CLEVELAND — People young and old sit in the seats of the Near West Theatre and every performance and performer is different, but some of the stories told on this stage often share a similar message.
“Acceptance, love, understanding that we all have differences and that it’s okay that we can learn from and embrace those differences,” said Near West Theatre Executive Director Mike Obertacz.
For three years the theater has partnered with drag entertainer, Veranda L’Ni, teaching stories about differences and equality, so L’Ni hosts the theater’s Drag Queen Story Hour.
Obertacz said parents can bring their children and families to help teach them the importance of inclusivity.
The Executive Director told News 5 that the story hour comes from a national push; kids are taught formal curriculum and then sent home with a book about diversity and acceptance.
“It’s also for those kids and parents that are learning more, and they want to teach their children that the world is very broad and we all have a lot of differences and the more we can maybe normalize this we can make for a more safer and lovable community,” said Obertacz.
But not everyone is happy about this effort, Obertacz shared a photo with News 5 of a group protesting outside of the theater over the weekend while drag story time was happening
Obertacz said protesters told him kids shouldn’t be exposed to drag.
“It’s unfortunate to say I wasn’t surprised. I watch the news. I’m aware where we are as a society right now and the division that we see. I guess I’m surprised that it took this long for it to be on people’s radar,” said Obertacz.
News 5 reached out to the reported organization that the protesters represented for comment and haven’t heard back.
Obertacz said he remains motivated. He went on to say that attendees have more than tripled since he started the story hour more than three years ago.
“It’s about understanding that a lot of these families and children may feel all alone in understanding their own differences and how they're feeling. It was important to bring everyone together in a safe environment," said Obertacz.
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