Richmond Triangle Players

Theater, Community Hub, Thought Provoker

Richmond Triangle Players exists to change the community’s conversation about diversity and inclusion through the production of LGBTQ-themed works.

A nonprofit, professional theatre company organized in 1993, it delivers adventurous and entertaining theater as the leading voice in the community’s explorations of equality, identity, affection, and family, across sexual orientation and gender spectrums.  Today, at its Scott’s Addition home, Richmond Triangle Players offers over 160 events each year to almost 10,000 enthusiastic patrons.

Since its inception, Richmond Triangle Players has filled a significant void in Richmond’s cultural life. While other local theatres occasionally produce plays with LGBTQ subject matter, only Triangle Players has made an ongoing commitment to LGBTQ artists, issues, audiences and community support. It is the only professional theatre company in the entire Mid-Atlantic region that expressly and regularly serves the LGBTQ community.

One might assume that because Richmond Triangle Players has been a mainstay institution of the LGBTQ community for a quarter century that it must have found a formula for success and stuck with it all these years.  Not so, says Executive Director Philip Crosby, who has been involved with the company for almost 20 years: “We’ve always aimed to tell our stories in an authentic voice, but our community is changing and the stories must be retold in different ways.”

Philip provides some historical context. “The company started out as gay people telling gay stories to gay people,” he explains. That was brave and fitting during the desperate early years of the AIDS epidemic. However, the LGBTQ community has evolved into such a multifaceted constituency that Richmond Triangle Players now offers a “more diverse, inclusive array of works,” including works coming from the trans community and communities of color and, as Philip puts it, “a whole new generation of folks who don’t want to be pigeonholed.”

At the same time, with a direct link to past struggles, the company tries to stay true to its edgy, gritty, sometimes campy roots. “I like to think that as we progress, we’ll stay connected to our history and use it to keep moving forward,” says Phil.

The company’s brand illustrates how it manages this intergenerational self-propulsion.  The eponymous triangle had its origin in the pink patches used to identify homosexual prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. In the 1970’s, gay liberation groups reclaimed the pink triangle as a symbol of the gay rights movement to draw attention to oppression and persecution. In the 1980’s, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle for their cause. The triangle was inverted so it pointed up, to signify an active fight rather than passive resignation to fate. In the newest version of Richmond Triangle Players’ logo, the modern-day rainbow motif runs through the triangle, forming a suggestion of a prism―a device for viewing the world so each color of the spectrum gets seen.

Another way Richmond Triangle Players manages to be at once contemporary and true to its roots is in its complex way with humor. Each season offers seemingly “frothy, silly” entertainments, many involving drag.  Yet, like the triangle, these shows remind audiences that the laughter was sometimes hard won. In Philip’s words, “We want to expr

ess a sense of joy and positivity about what we do, but you can’t have true joy without acknowledging sorrow, so our humor sometimes carries a sense of singing in the cemetery, of laughing at the specters.”

The company’s serious shows are typically thought-provoking, with complex themes and without easy answers. For instance, a recent production of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi reimagined Jesus as a modern-day gay man.  As after-show audience talkbacks revealed, some people saw it as atheistic and some as profoundly reverent. “The audience was all along the spectrum,” says Phil.

It is hard to imagine any other theater in Richmond has made a greater positive, transformational change than Richmond Triangle Players has made in the last decade.  In 2010, after vacating the crumbling downtown building in which its theater had been housed, the company transformed an old radiator shop into a vibrant new venue. The new playhouse was designed to be welcoming with a lounge in front and cabaret seating in the theater. “I’m fascinated by how it has taken on a life of its own as a total experience,” says Philip.  Since the move, Richmond Triangle Players has won acclaim from its growing and diverse audiences, as well as from the Richmond Theatre Critics Circle, with over 90 “Best” nominations, the inaugural People’s Choice Award, and awards for Best Play and Best Musical twice each. Last season, the readers of STYLE Weekly voted Richmond Triangle Players as Richmond’s Best Local Theatre Company, for the second time.

Additional plaudits have come from the national publication Playbill.com, which named RTP as one of the 15 most important theaters of its kind in the nation, as well as in an editorial from the famously conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch which said, in part: “RTP has been consistently willing to explore tough issues involving people who are gay in America and the challenges—and triumphs—they experience … Their dramatic success here has opened doors and opened minds the old-fashioned way — through laughter, tears, and telling the truth.”