The Mission:

Our mission is to create possibility models for transgender youth and make sure that every youth has a supportive adult in their life. Using theatre to compel change and create empathy in cisgender adults, Uprising Theatre Company connects art to action. Through our work we increase access in theatre for transgender and nonbinary playwrights and artists. 

The Why:

Nicole Martins, a researcher from Indiana University says, “There’s this body of research… a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’…if you don’t see people like you in the media… you must somehow be unimportant.”

This lack of media representation of transgender lives and experiences compounds the already dire circumstances that transgender people (especially youth) find themselves in. 

The statistics for transgender and gender nonconforming youth are dire: 75% of trans youth feeling unsafe at school, 62% of trans people reporting depression, 15% of trans people living in poverty, trans people postponing necessary medical treatment because of prior mistreatment, and the astronomical rates of suicide attempts in trans youth, which include 50% of transgender men making attempts. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. These devastating circumstances as children and teens overflow into adult life. 

And media doesn’t help: from tragic stories in films and television, to all of the transgender characters being played by non-transgender people, to the overwhelming lack of trans representation, particularly of transgender men in all types of media.

This doesn’t only affect transgender people: GLAAD media says that only 16% of people actually know someone who is transgender. Which means that non-transgender people are getting the majority of their education about transgender lives from media as well. 

But what if it were different? What if, instead of endless stories of tragedy for transgender people…instead of transgender people being portrayed as liars or hard to love…instead of death we provided stories of transgender people that were filled with hope, possibilities, and most of all, a future? 

Why aren’t we seeing more transgender people, particularly in theatre? Lots of reasons from gendered training programs that don’t make space for transgender people, to lack of opportunity to gain experience, to the very small number of theatres run by transgender people. By my best count there are less than five theater companies in the United States run by transgender people, and less than three who focus exclusively on transgender work. 

Uprising Theatre Company is stepping into this gap. Uprising is piloting a new model for theatre. We feature plays written and acted by people from marginalized communities. That creates a sense of hope for them and develops empathy in people outside those communities. A study found that simply showing people images of trans people reduced transphobia. That drop elevated support for trans equality. I’ll never forget the young trans person who came up to me after one of our first productions in grateful tears because no trans person died in the play.

Uprising does four things: high quality theatre by transgender and nonbinary playwrights featuring transgender actors in many roles. We use that theatre to inspire conversations. Those conversations move to action by our partnerships with community organizations who make a direct ask of the audience so they can get involved on site. Finally we do education that equips and empowers people from marginalized communities to better tell their own stories. That education includes playwright develop, commissioning new work, and intensive training for both transgender actors and technical staff.

Our belief is that more stories told by transgender people about their own lives will change not just the sense of possibility for trans people and give them a sense of hope but will also educate a non-transgender audience which will influence policy, education, and more. 

Uprising Theatre channels art to action and writes new futures for us all. 

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Uprising Theatre Company is located in Minneapolis, MN. 

The Team:

Shannon TL Kearns is a transgender man who’s playwriting is obsessed with big questions told through small stories. He is committed to work by and for marginalized communities, using writing to create a new future for all of us. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Uprising Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow and a Finnovation Fellow for 2019. He was awarded a spot in the HBMG Foundations’ Winter Playwright Retreat in 2018 and 2019. He was a finalist for the Equity Library Theatre of Chicago’s Reading Series, the 2019 TransLab, and the American Stages 2019 New Play Festival. He was a semi-finalist for SPACE on Ryder farm in 2020. He also teaches storytelling and playwriting for youth and adults. Shannon’s plays include in a stand of dying trees, Line of Sight, Twisted Deaths, The Resistance of My Skin, and Who Has Eyes To See.