True Colors: Out Youth Theater
Expressing your true colors on stage can be both frightening and liberating. True Colors: Out Youth Theater employs theater as a vehicle to empower underserved lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth, plus their straight allies, as social activists. These young adults transform their personal experiences of isolation, fear, and discrimination into heartfelt and moving plays—all while developing their craft in a safe, supportive environment.
Seven youth of color did just that and brought the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of their True Colors Troupe project. In BlackOUT, these youth shared their encounters with police brutality, and the production had a profound impact on the community.
True Colors is the longest-running LGBTQ youth theater initiative in the country and recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. Primarily serving 14- to 22-year-olds of color from Boston’s underserved communities, the program provides workshops and intensive training in theater arts, artistic and professional skill building, and leadership development. Participants also engage in community collaborations, as well as in-depth research on social issues of particular relevance to LGBTQ youth, such as neighborhood violence and cultural identity. All of these activities nurture the young adults’ self-confidence and growth as artists, leaders, activists, and role models who create social change.
The Troupe accepts 90 youth annually for this year-round program. And, students actively participate in leadership roles at multiple stages. During the month-long summer intensive, youth develop basic writing and acting skills and receive an introduction to LGBTQ activism. The fall programming focuses on writing plays and forming an ensemble. In the spring session, the playwright-activists create and fine-tune their work, preparing it for presentation. These efforts culminate in a production that the youth perform for the community, before taking it on tour.
True Colors offers additional opportunities for youth who age out of the Troupe so that they can continue their development. They can audition for the Creative Action Crew, an ensemble of Troupe alumni and youth leaders; take free workshops in the True Colors Studio; and pursue a spot on the peer-led Leadership and Inclusion Council.
Changing the hearts and minds of people who might have little interaction with members of the LGBTQ community and either lack awareness of or misunderstand their issues is an ongoing challenge. True Colors youth rise to the occasion. Their belief that art is a tool for greater social change and their strength as role models guide these efforts.
In 2015, the number of people who attended a True Colors production in Massachusetts exceeded 6,000. More than half identified as non-LGBTQ, and most were teens. An impressive 86 percent gained a better understanding of LGBTQ issues and became more supportive.
I love knowing that when I perform, I am changing lives.Asher age 16, participant, Troupe, True Colors: Out Youth Theater, The Theater Offensive