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Theater Companies  
 
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TOSOS and The Glines

New York has long been the heart of American theater and several gay theater companies formed there soon after Stonewall. Two of the most important of these were "The Other Side of Silence" (TOSOS) and The Glines.

Begun by Doric Wilson, Peter del Valle, and Bill Blackwell in 1973, "The Other Side of Silence" was the first theater company formed specifically to foster ideals of gay liberation. Although TOSOS was in existence for only four years, it had a number of successes, including Doric Wilson's "The West Street Gang," which was performed at the Spike Bar.

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John Glines, Barry Laine, and Jerry Tobin founded The Glines in 1976 as a theater devoted to gay art. It became more successful than the founders could have predicted. The great breakthrough for The Glines was Harvey Fierstein's Torch Song Trilogy, which became a surprise hit and moved to Broadway.

On June 5, 1983, John Glines made theatrical and television history by thanking his life-partner Lawrence Lane as he accepted a Tony Award for Torch Song Trilogy. Although Glines' simple recognition of his lover itself created a minor firestorm, the real significance of the evening was that a small theater devoted to gay art had suddenly achieved mainstream recognition.

Among the plays produced at The Glines include such staples of gay and lesbian theater as Jane Chambers' Last Summer at Bluefish Cove and My Blue Heaven; William M. Hoffman's As Is; Robert Patrick's T-Shirts and Untold Decades; and Doric Wilson's A Perfect Relationship.

Although The Glines continues in existence, it rarely produces plays these days. It may be that the success of gay plays on and off-Broadway has made the necessity of a gay theater company in New York less pressing. After all, the Broadway success of Kushner's Angels in America, McNally's Love! Valour! Compassion!, and a host of other gay-themed works means that, in New York at least, gay theater has become mainstream.

New York's Wings Theater Company, founded in 1986, however, maintains a commitment to gay work. Concentrating on original plays, the company attracts a small but diverse audience.

Women's Theater

Women's theater, an outgrowth of the feminist movement of the 1970s, has also had a great influence on gay theater. As in many women's organizations, many of the feminists who founded women's theater troupes were lesbians, who made sure that the content of their companies' performances challenged and gender roles as well as sexism.

At the Foot of the Mountain in Minneapolis, which is sometimes called the oldest continuous professional women's theater in the United States, has been performing women's theater since 1974, often confronting queer themes.

Another influential feminist theater company, Spiderwoman Theater, is also sometimes called the oldest continuous professional women's theater in the United States. Founded in the mid-1970s by three Native American sisters from New York, Lisa Mayo and Muriel and Gloria Miguel, Spiderwoman in true feminist fashion focuses on a broad range of issues of race, sex, and gender.

One of the most dynamic early queer theater companies was formed out of women's theater and drag show traditions. Peggy Shaw had been working with the Hot Peaches drag show and Lois Weaver and Deb Margolis had been part of Spiderwoman Theater when they joined forces in the late 1970s to form Split Britches, an influential lesbian troupe that toured the world with highly original productions. Their repertoire ranges from works of social commentary (Upwardly Mobile Home) to dyke classics (Patience and Sarah).

In an example of queer fusion, Split Britches linked with another seminal gay company, London's Bloolips, which had been formed by British drag performer Bette Bourne in the mid-1970s. Together, the companies called themselves Split Lips and created and toured with such gender-bending productions as Belle Reprieve, a drag update of the Tennessee Williams classic, A Streetcar Named Desire.

Queer Theater around the Country

Queer theater is active and vibrant and still raising controversial issues in innovative ways. Some early companies still survive, such as San Francisco's Theatre Rhinoceros, the nation's longest-running glbtq theater. Theater Rhinoceros began performing in 1977 and still presents queer-oriented productions in its home on Mission Street.

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