Tuesday, July 16, 2024
EntertainmentNew YorkTheatre

New season from TOSOS, the historic LGBTQIA+ theatre company

The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS), New York City’s oldest and longest-producing LGBTQIA+ theatre company, announces two upcoming shows for 2022. Here is the scoop from Chris Andersson.

This summer will bring GRINDR: The Opera (2014), Erik Johannes von Ransom’s original operatic parody of the hook-up app that changed gay life as we know it and House of Chavis (2017) by Robert Mackie, wherein a father discovers that his estranged son is competing on a reality TV show for drag queens.

TOSOS opened its doors in 1974 as New York City’s first gay professional theatre company, founded by a trio of artists: Off-Off-Broadway veteran playwright Doric Wilson, cabaret star Billy Blackwell and writer-actor-director Peter del Valle. They defined their venture as “a non profit workshop of the Performing and Visual Arts committed to an open and honest exploration of the many expressions of the gay life style; the purpose of TOSOS is a pursuit of self-identity and respect, and a broadening of gay and straight attitudes through the creative process.” The company’s first production was del Valle’s Lovers (1974), “the musical that proves it’s no longer sad to be gay,” which moved from the company’s home in a basement performance space on Church Street in Tribeca to an Off-Broadway run of 118 performances. After just three years and 21 productions of work by notable playwrights like Noël Coward, Lanford Wilson, Robert Patrick and Terrence McNally,

TOSOS closed its doors — artistic director Doric Wilson’s bartending tips no longer able to cover expenses. Wilson, himself a noteworthy playwright who was present at the birth of Off-Off-Broadway at the Caffe Cino in the 1960s, continued writing — his most renowned pieces being A Perfect Relationship (1979) and his seminal work, Street Theater (1982), which brings to life the day of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969, allowing audiences to meet the denizens of Christopher Street, just before the riots begin later that night. Street queens and leather daddies, flower children and closet cases, with the Mafia owner of Stonewall and a couple of undercover cops as constant thorns, are among the creatures that inhabit the world that became Wilson’s most-produced play, which has been staged around the country and internationally.

Mark Finley, Michael Michelle Lynch, Rollerena, Chris Andersson, Doric Wilson at a performance of Street Theater, 2002

All along, however, Wilson kept the concept of TOSOS in the back of his mind and, 25 years after its closing, he decided to resurrect it, feeling strongly that the world still needed a company like The Other Side of Silence. Along with artistic director Mark Finley and managing director Barry Childs, this new artistic trio began producing under the

TOSOS name in 2002 with a series of readings of pre-AIDS gay-themed plays — like Jane Chambers’ Last Summer at Bluefish Cove (1980) and Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy (1953) — at NYC’s LGBT Community Center and a 20th anniversary revival of Doric Wilson’s Street Theater at The Eagle NYC. The award-winning company has been presenting plays ever since and is now considered NYC’s oldest and longest-producing LGBTQIA+ theatre company.

Bar Dykes by Meryl Mushroom | Photo: Mikiodo

In 2017, the company entered a period of transformation from its modest beginnings on the fringes of NYC theatre to a pedigreed arts organization with a consistent production season, an artistic home and a diverse and ever-expanding audience. Now known again by its original moniker, The Other Side of Silence formed a board (led by current president Chris Andersson), expanded the staff (led by executive director Michael Zegarski), and, together with artistic director Mark Finley, continued its legacy of celebrating writers and serving as a curator of the LGBTQIA+ theatrical timeline by keeping our theatrical heritage alive and in conversation with the playwrights of today. Meryl Mushroom’s Bar Dykes (1982), set in a lesbian bar in the 1950s, shared a recent mainstage season with Chris Weikel’s Secret Identity (2012), about a bullied gay teen escaping into the world of superheroes. TOSOS produced the New York premieres of two plays by Jewelle Gomez: Waiting for Giovanni (2018), an exploration of writer James Baldwin, and Leaving the Blues (2017), about lesbian jazz legend Alberta Hunter. TOSOS brings the community together regularly by presenting a free monthly play reading series, which recently included Ayla Xuan Chi Sullivan’s Last Stop (2019), Pomo Afro Homos’ Dark Fruit (1991), and Robert Heide’s The Bed (1965).

The Board members of TOSOS, 2018 | Photo: Mikiodo

The company has been honored by the Audelco Awards with nominations and wins for both productions of Gomez’s plays (2018, 2020): four nods (Best Play, Costume Design) and two wins (Lead Actress, Featured Actor) for Leaving the Blues and a win for Featured Actor for Waiting for Giovanni. The New York Innovative Theatre (NYIT) Awards celebrated TOSOS for Outstanding Revival for its 2015 production of Street Theater and presented the company with the Caffe Cino Fellowship Award in 2019, in recognition of outstanding work Off-Off-Broadway and for demonstrating a commitment to continue to produce Off-Off-Broadway. These followed a 2007 NYIT Award for Artistic Achievement and a 2009 Career Achievement Award from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE), both for Doric Wilson, founder of TOSOS. After Wilson’s death in 2011, the NYIT Awards created the Doric Wilson Independent Playwright Award in his honor, which is given to “a playwright whose writing and work ethic honors the innovation, uncompromising vision, heart, and spirit that was Doric Wilson and his work” (NYIT Awards blog post, September 27, 2012).

Through TOSOS, audiences — especially LGBTQIA+ youth — can hear the voices of both the past and the present to learn how far we’ve come (or not) as a community. They are given the opportunity to understand the generations who came before us, what life was like for them, and how they fought for the rights and freedoms we have today. At the same time, the company gives the stage to the writers of the present day who help us understand the continued struggles and incremental triumphs of our community and give us perspective on our collective progress.

“TOSOS is a community, a safe space, where all are welcomed and uplifted. We are strongly committed to an equitable and fair playing field. We must give voice to all, especially our BIPOC and GNC folx,” says Zegarski.

TOSOS looks forward to the 50th anniversary of its founding in 2024 and will celebrate with shows, events and parties—all with an eye toward the next 50 years. Join us! www.tososnyc.org.

About the Author

Chris Andersson is the Founder and CEO of Nothing But Drama. He helps theatre, film and dramatic writing students navigate the college application and artistic review processes. www.nothingbutdrama.com

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