Theater Offensive is here, queer, and creating activism through an art frontier. Just beyond Copley, on the 3rd floor of 565 Boylston Street, you’ll find the headquarters for this queer art collective, acronymed as TTO. Their website proudly boasts their mission: to transform lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lives into art that breaks personal isolation, challenges the status quo, and cultivates flourishing communities.
Founded in 1989, the TTO’s first purpose was to create edgy art and provide a space for queer theater artists to perform in Boston, a celebration of bold and daring theater that went on for 20 years. In 2010, Executive Artistic Director Abe Rybeck and a team of staff, board, and community members created a new approach that would reflect the voices of those in their neighborhood and allow their art to expand to areas outside their homebase.
Dubbed the OUT in Your Neighborhood (OUT’hood) approach, TTO now works to bring shows and events to local organizations, schools, and the streets. With a population as diverse as Boston’s, they also work to bring LGBTQIA+ artists of color to their space, emphasizing the importance of feeling at home and safe in their neighborhood.
At a school that prides itself on our LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, you wouldn’t be surprised to find an Emerson student or two interning at this art collective.
Nicole Cutinella, a junior visual and media arts major, currently interns for the company, finding comfort in the all-queer space.
“I’ve had a lot of great moments, but truly I have just really enjoyed getting to know my coworkers. We have important conversations around gender and sexuality and race, but we also like dancing in the office and talking about Orphan Black and venting about politics and swapping stories. What I’ve enjoyed most is the spirit and kindness of my coworkers.”
Cutinella works directly under Rybeck, assisting with a variety of administrative tasks and working at events that TTO puts on. She’s also working on a long-term project revolved around the intersection of queerness and disability, which involves both a historical review of past performances in this lens as well as work to be done going forward.
“It also includes a contact list of queer artists in Boston with a disability who we could possibly work with in the future,” Cutinella added, “a plan of small changes we can make to our office to make it more wheelchair accessible, and other suggestions for TTO.”
The effects and power of queer representation is highly relevant, and the power to create this representation and embody it is even more important and special.
Queer youth from Dorchester, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, the South End and the Greater Boston area come together to participate in another program sponsored by the collective, called True Colors.
True Colors, established in 1994, focuses on training these individuals to be leaders in their community. There are different sections, from the True Colors Troupe that puts on plays written by the youth, to the True Colors Leadership and Inclusion Council, who meet monthly to create opportunities for queer youth to impact and empower fellow LGBTQIA+ youth through advocacy and engagement.
True Colors doesn’t end there. They also have a touring ensemble called the True Colors Creative Action Crew, and a school year program called True Colors Studio that brings in Teaching Artists who cover topics like theater, visual art, dance, and activism.
Even Michelle Obama praised the TTO for their work with queer youth, awarding them the highest honor for a youth development program in the country in 2016.
The impact on these young artists is clear, too. One participant expressed that they “got a lot out of being in True Colors—a sense of belonging, a purpose, the chance to be myself. I came into my own as an actor, performer, woman and found a family that I will have forever.”
Art is such a valid outlet for human expression and emotion, and the art of theater has been home to queer individuals for decades. Think of who joins the theater world to begin with, of the individuals who make up casts and crews and production teams. They feel safe in theater because it is essentially a community of societal outcasts, and the collective home theater provides allows room for engagement, growth, and connection.
The Theater Offensive provides a queer-inclusive space for growth and change through art and theater. Support your local artists, support your local queers, and support this collective that is changing the Boston community and the world.
For more information on upcoming events at the Theater Offensive, check out their website at http://www.thetheateroffensive.org/.
Art By: Taylor Roberts