Theater Offensive -Qualia Folk

The Theater Offensive (T-OFF) is a Boston-based folk theater company that produces festivals and individual productions by national and local Queer performers. It also serves as a development environment for new theatrical work, promoting performance-based education and political activism., January 2013

Origin and Mission

In 1989, Abe Rybeck collaborated with other artists and activists to form The Theater Offensive, inspired by the Gay men’s guerrilla theater troupe, United Fruit Company. Several T-OFF productions have featured Rybeck’s original productions, such as Blame It On The Big Banana, Dirt, and Pure PolyESTHER. The Theater Offensive began with a strong activist and community-oriented agenda that goes back to the impromptu street theater of drag queens during the Stonewall Riots in New York City in June, 1969.

Abe Rybeck (, January 2013)

The mission of T-OFF is to educate people about diversity within the LGBTQ population. On the “About Us” page on their website ( is the following statement:

It is a commitment to debunking assumptions both from inside and outside the queer communities that directs all Theater Offensive work… Through social gatherings, soirees, workshops, and post-show discussions, the organization transcends traditional theater boundaries and opens new avenues of understanding, awareness and inclusion within queer communities as well as outside them.

Working with Queer Youth

The Theater Offensive works with LGBTQ young people aged fourteen to twenty-two. T-OFF’s True Colors: Out Youth Theater is dedicated to presenting performances based on the lives of LGBTQ youth. T-OFF also sponsors CampOut, a week-long intensive performing arts camp, free of charge, that includes playwriting, costuming, and acting workshops. The True Colors Alumni network allows former members to keep in touch, and provides internships and volunteer positions.

“The award winning Boston-based program called ‘True Colors: Out Youth Theater’ was founded by The Theater Offensive whose work is grounded in the belief that the power of OUTness — being real with yourself about who you are and choosing to share your true self with people you care about — may be the LGBT community’s greatest cultural contribution to the world. Of the last six troupes, members were 87% LGBT, 59% youth of color, 55% low-income, and 30% living with disabilities. Like many LGBT youth, they face more than their share of challenges: 56% reported having been victims of physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse; 33% reported that they had abused drugs and alcohol; and 35% reported having attempted suicide within the last five years. Even in Massachusetts, which is often perceived as an LGBT friendly state, the most recent Massachusetts Department of Education Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that, in comparison with their peers, lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) young people are: 4 times more likely to attempt suicide; over 3 times more likely to be threatened or injured with a weapon at school; and over 4 times more likely to skip school because they feel unsafe. That said, in the last two completed fiscal years, 100% of high school seniors who participated in the True Colors program have successfully graduated high school, and 100% have pursued higher education.” Photo: Dino Traite (, January 2013)

Festival and Awards

The Theater Offensive holds an annual Out on the Edge Festival of Queer Theater in autumn, that showcases established and new talent by ethnically diverse, differently-abled, and Trans artists. Quentin Crisp, Tim Miller, Five Lesbian Brothers, Luis Alfaro, Holly Hughes, Pomo Afro Homos, Alec Mapa, Split Britches, Jackie Hoffman, BLOOLIPS, Varla Jean Merman, and Marga Gomez have appeared at the Festival., January 2013

A Street Theater Named Desire

Partnering with public health agencies, T-OFF sponsors A Street Theater Named Desire, an AIDS activist theater troupe that goes to men’s same-sex cruising areas and presents performances promoting safer sex education. A Street Theater Named Desire tries to match its message to the people who are cruising in ways that do not condemn but rather inform the audience, and stimulate discussions about how to reduce HIV seroconversion. The troupe’s performers are male public health service providers, activists, and artists. Performers go to the chosen cruising ground, decorate a tree with lights, and set up blankets on the ground with condoms, lube, coffee, snacks, and mosquito repellant. The show begins at midnight with a ritual asking for the blessings of spirits in that area. The performance features popular songs and acts by brightly painted cast of scantily-dressed men who flow in and out of the space. The length of the performance is around three minutes.

– Carrie Kline and Mickey Weems
QEGF Authors and Articles
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Further reading:
Dolan, Jill. Utopia in Performance: Finding Hope at the Theater. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2005.

Hughes, Holly and David Román. O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance. New York: Grove, 1996.

Perotti, Jeff and Kim Westheimer. When the Drama Club Is Not Enough: Lessons from the Safe Schools Program for Gay and Lesbian Students. Boston: Beacon, 2001.

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