The Theater Offensive
The Theater Offensive (TTO) has been presenting liberating art by, for, and about queer and trans people of color for the past 30 years. The organization’s two main programs are True Colors: Out Youth Theater, an out-of-school program that trains and activates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and allied youth leaders ages 12-25, and Queer (Re)public, a program that honors, uplifts, and builds on emergent themes inherent to and in QTPOC art through workshops, residency programs, and commissioning art by, for, and including queer and trans artists of color. In addition to these and other programs, TTO is currently raising funds to build a black box theater that will enable the organization to continue to celebrate bold and vibrant queer theater from Boston, New England, and around the US.
TTO began in 1989 as The United Fruit Company when Abe Rybeck and a group of artist-activists responded to growing demand for the guerilla street theater they used as an organizing tool for the radical transformation of politics and culture.
Throughout its history, TTO has honored queer art’s emergence from clubs and homes by operating on a neighborhood-based model. TTO’s performances have been held at numerous venues throughout the Boston area, including at Arts Emerson, the Boston Center for the Arts, Oberon, Hibernian Hall, other spaces in the South End, Roxbury, Dorchester, and Jamaica Plain. As these neighborhoods have changed, TTO continues to show up where relevant.
Starting in 2017, TTO began a strategic planning process that resulted in ten goals. One was increasing TTO’s role in local, national and international alliances; another was developing and executing a comprehensive facilities plan.
In line with these aims, January 16, 2019, TTO announced the signing of a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Scape North America. Scape will build a performing arts black box theater as part of its Boylston Place development at 1252-1270 Street – where Machine, a former LGBTQ club and performance space once stood. The new theater will be the largest in the world owned and operated by LGBT POC for LGBT people, allies, and friends.
For each of its program areas, TTO has built a large family of partners:
- Youth programs – Department of Public Health (DPH), Boston Public Library (BPL), the Boston Alliance of Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Youth (BAGLY), other youth arts organizations.
- Programs centered on identity – GLAAD, other LGBT organizations.
- Community programs – Hibernian Hall, Villa Victoria, Boston Center for the Arts (BCA), The Dance Complex and Peter DiMuro’s Public Displays of Motion, the Milky Way, Machine, Jaques, Club Café, Black Indian Inn (Roxbury), and more.
- Funding and other forms of arts advocacy – the National Performance Network (NPN), New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), Theater Communications Group, MassCreative, US Dept of Arts & Culture, Company One, and more.
As part of its commitment economic justice, TTO offers its programming for free or on a “pay what makes you happy” basis. Most of the organization’s funding comes from foundations and individual gifts, and especially from their two annual fundraisers, Beyond Stage (for youth programming), and Climax (their annual gala).
In order to continue to offer its programs at no set charge, TTO will need to develop more earned-income opportunities as it moves to its permanent home. The organization is currently in negotiations with the developer over a lease that will have implications for the pro forma. The organization is exploring different strategies to drive income, ticket sales, and space rentals.
Funding to cover the feasibility study for the new space came from the Barr Foundation, the State of Massachusetts, and NPN. For the design phase, TTO intends to rely on gifts from individual donors. It looks forward to a projected start to construction in June 2021, and an opening in the fall of 2022.
After 30 years of running the organization on a neighborhood-based model, TTO is currently in the process of building out a black box theater which would enable the organization to become the largest creator and presenter of original work by and for LGBTQ people in New England.
The developer is providing the new building’s core and shell as a gift. TTO will be solely responsible for building out the space on their property, which will necessitate raising of $15 million. TTO is currently in lease negotiations with the developer, and it’s building out business models based on the different conditions that may result.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, TTO had to cancel its two annual fundraisers, place a ten-month hold on its feasibility study, and pause programming – programming of particular relevance given the current calls for social justice – as it prepared to go virtual. TTO is currently in the quiet phase of securing commitments and support for the design and construction phases of the project.
TTO has been on the front lines of the fight for LGBTQ liberation and racial equality since 1989. Its work transcends artistic boundaries, celebrates cultural abundance, and dismantles oppression.