It takes a village, people: How pride came to western Kansas

August 4, 2021 3:33 am

Brett Crandall organized Playchella, an all-ages pride arts festival July 10 in Deerfield. The festival, which included a “March Down Main,” intends to bring awareness and a sense of belonging to LGBTQIA+ folks in western Kansas. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Brett Crandall is an actor, writer, producer, puppeteer, and LGBTQIA+ activist based in Deerfield, Kansas, and New York City.

Imagine, if you can, your average small town: one gas station, one restaurant, one home team to root for, and one annual pride festival. Typical, right?

For my hometown of Deerfield, Kansas (population approximately 700), a wholesome arts festival celebrating pride is the beginning of what I hope to be a charming, small-town tradition, highlighting how a thriving queer community can enhance any city’s quality of living through art, commerce and activism. Though pride month is typically celebrated in June, on Saturday, July 10, I’m happy to say Deerfield continued the conversation on all things LGBTQIA+ with Playchella, an all-ages pride arts festival meant to bring awareness and a sense of belonging to LGBTQIA+ folks in western Kansas.

As positive as it was, the road to Playchella was a minefield of old wounds. Having lived 10 years in New York City, a queer haven, I’d tucked away any dreams of a “normal” life in Kansas. But in 2019, I relocated back to Kansas to start my own touring puppetry practice, and as time went on, it was clear that this is what I am supposed to bring to the table in my rural community — a role which I, to my knowledge growing up closeted, had no real, strong example of. And with a family as involved in the community as mine, I felt emboldened and supported enough to produce an event in our city park that would allow folks the comfort of knowing such a queer event was not only possible but could, one day, actually, be normal.

“I felt emboldened and supported enough to produce an event in our city park that would allow folks the comfort of knowing such a queer event was not only possible but could, one day, actually, be normal,” writes Brett Crandall. (Submitted)

And a family affair it was, both the day of and in all its planning. My brother, Brooks, helped print the march’s float banner to put on his truck. His wife, Ciara, ever the planner, aided in managing the event. Their daughters, Bralyn (11) and Lauryn (10), tasked with decorating all the protest signs (Lauryn’s favorite read “Harry Potter taught us that no one should live in a closet”), and their son, Trasyn (16) manning the cornhole tournament. My boyfriend, Marc, was the unofficial secretary extraordinaire. My sister, Bailey, would bring her kids, Brody (2) and Bexley (4 months), preciously adorned in rainbows, while Mom would run the kids’ crafts, and Dad would secure the stage.

Truly, we only had to channel our parents, the ultimate examples of small-town community enrichment, to execute such an event. Our father, Doug Crandall, is a retired teacher and coach who has taught generations of families, and a proud city council member. My mother, Cindy, an artist herself, is the director at Deerfield Recreation and runs everything from art classes to water aerobics to the annual Deerfield Summer Celebration, the town’s biggest summer event. And with this being her last year before retirement, I feared this would be my last summer to attempt to bring pride to Deerfield.

When Playchella finally came to Deerfield, an estimated 75-100 people attended. The festival kicked off with the Kearny County Farmers Market, the Art Show, and my touring puppet-adaptation of “TARZAN”, giving audiences a lesson in celebrating being different than those around you. “The March Down Main” was then escorted by the Kearny County Sheriff’s Department with rainbow-clad folks holding signs my nieces painted and drew, dancing and waving at onlookers, encouraging young queer folks watching to join in the fray. It was a sight I didn’t know I had always longed for.

An estimated 75-100 people attended Playchella in the small town of Deerfield, which gave way to “radical normalcy.” (Submitted)

A sense of radical normalcy settled in as vendors opened. The small-town charm of Deerfield mixed with the openness and welcoming nature of those attending made for a joyful event filled with art, music and new connections. From local food vendors to LGBTQIA+ health and community organizations, queer people and their families found out about where to find queer-friendly spaces without having to travel hours to a larger city.

The event also managed to bring some well-earned business to local food vendors, most completely selling out; the 1979 American Food Fare Truck had a line in front of it the entire day. It was important that this event benefit all those that live there. I wanted Playchella to showcase, even commercially, what an undoubtable asset a celebrated and respected queer community can be to any city, big or small. We’re here, we’re queer, we’re your family, and it’s normal.

The more we can encourage queer family and friends, and especially young people, to accept and celebrate themselves, the less fear and shame they will eventually have to shed away. That challenge is best met, I believe, by presenting positive examples of successful and happy, well-adjusted, queer adults, not only in popular media, but right in average, everyday spaces, like family events, schools, churches and, it turns out, puppet shows.

For information on how to get involved in Playchella 2022, please visit BrettCrandallStudios.com/.

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Brett Crandall
Brett Crandall

Brett Crandall is an actor, writer, producer, puppeteer and LGBTQIA+ activist based in Garden City. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts-NY, he tours regularly with his puppetry practice, Brett Crandall Studios, with a focus on all-ages, queer-inclusive stories. He is a proud member of the Reflector's arts writing cohort.