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From Space Camp to Safe Space

Theatre is for the people, and it plays a critical role in lifting up our voices; I know because it’s lifted mine.

This spot is where you usually see a letter from our executive director, Teresa Eyring. So who am I, and what am I doing here? Let me tell you about myself, and why I’m writing should become clear.

Adrian Budhu.

I came to TCG in September 2016 to assume the post of deputy director and chief operating officer. In recent months, I’ve had the chance to meet some of you and share the journey that led me to TCG. To those I haven’t met, this column is for you.

I am an immigrant from Guyana, in South America. I attended high school in Oxon Hill, Md., where I excelled in science and technology. I was not a theatre kid. I went to space camp. I even led our Space Club to victory at the International Space Settlement Design Competition in Orlando, Fla. I was—still am—a nerd.

At 18, as a business student at Boston University, I secretly frequented gay bars. I found strength in myself and decided to come out to my parents. But with their contradictory Christian beliefs, they couldn’t accept me. They gave me an ultimatum: Come home to Maryland and seek “reformation,” and they would keep paying for my college education; or leave. I left. For six years I was completely cut off from family. Fortunately for me, I had unyielding support from friends. The gay bars were, and still are, my refuge.

Without my parents’ financial support, I waited tables, worked in retail, and landed a job at a large financial institution. These jobs gave me the resources to go back to school and graduate.

I was still a long way from the theatre, but getting closer. I started working as an analyst at a large financial firm, then moved into more creative roles in communications and marketing. Soon I was volunteering hundreds of hours at local nonprofits: serving food to the homeless, rebuilding homes in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, running marathons, and fundraising to provide resources for LGBTQ youth.

At these nonprofits, I witnessed their leadership’s attention to building comprehensive programming, but did not observe the same level of rigor on the business side—there was a lack of forward-thinking financial planning, fundraising, development, strategic visioning and planning, and communications. So after a decade in the private sector, I shifted to the nonprofit sector, where I could merge my passion for helping people with my strategic business management background. My search included nonprofits that prioritized strategic visioning and a relevant mission, and companies that needed help running a successful business operation.

One place this search led me was the job of managing director at the Theater Offensive, an LGBTQ arts organization in Boston—it was my entry to the not-for-profit thea­tre. From day one I experienced the impact of theatre like never before. At a rehearsal I saw how theatre created a safer space for young people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to build trust, to share, connect, and inspire each other. It was my aha! moment of grasping the unique power of theatre to bring communities together, create rich stories from our varied experiences, and perform them onstage. This moment, and many others like it, were the fuel I used to help transform the way the organization communicates by building bridges cross-sector about the impact of the arts.

Last summer, 19 years after stepping off the train at Boston University’s West Campus, I packed my bags and moved to New York City with my fiancé, Chris, and the cutest Boston terrier, Jack. My work at the Theater Offensive had led me to meet Teresa Eyring in 2011 at the National Performance Network conference, and before long I was serving on TCG’s board. In my time at the Thea­ter Offensive, I experienced firsthand how TCG’s supportive network and field-wide learning can have immediate and valuable impact.

My advocacy for equality and equity, my passion for helping others, is deeply connected to my experience and growth as an out gay man. I have admired and continue to admire TCG’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. TCG not only embraces these values, but has made them core components of its commitment to the field.

Theatre is for the people, and it plays a critical role in lifting up our voices. TCG is nurturing meaningful and authentic conversations about how we as a field can better serve and represent our communities. As a result, more young people and audiences are seeing their stories represented on stages across the country, and more leaders of color are seeing the theatre sector as a place for them.

So, while I may not have been a theatre kid, what I am is a person whose life has been impacted by theatre. It has done nothing less than help shape my identity and my place in the world. Theatre has heightened my awareness of my privileges—as an able-bodied, college-educated cisgender man, a leader for the American theatre, with access to resources—and recognize my responsibility to use these privileges to advocate for a better world and highlight the diverse voices and stories that shape our humanity.

While my journey to this work may be different from yours, I believe that by working together we are building a Thea­tre Nation, a place of vibrant interconnectedness and authentic meaning. My life so far has been a testament that it’s possible to create a better world for theatre, and have a better world because of theatre.

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