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NEWS: 20% Theatre Company to Sunset After 15 Glorious Years

A word cloud created from the titles of 20% Theatre Company’s past works.

20% Theatre Company, an important voice in the area theatre scene, will close in late 2021. This will conclude fifteen years of critically acclaimed programming highlighting the voices of women, transgender persons, and nonbinary artists.

20% Theatre Company was founded in January 2006 by Claire Avitabile, a transplant from California and New England who had settled in Minneapolis the previous year. Avitabile has continued to serve as the company’s Executive Director ever since, leading it through a series of ambitious and trailblazing seasons beloved by critics and audiences. Lavender Magazine honored Avitabile twice for her work, naming her a Top LGBTQ+ Leader in the Twin Cities (2012) and as Artistic Director of the Year (2014). Century College awarded her its Women of Distinction prize in 2012.

In an announcement, the organization emphasized that its sunsetting plans were linked to in part to avoiding taking on debt in this difficult fiscal climate. “As a lean organization with a small staff,” it noted in a statement. “The company has cut all possible expenses and is making the decision to gracefully sunset the organization rather than take on any debt. While sunsetting is emotional and difficult, 20% is making the decision based on its values, including equitably paying and supporting artists — which would not be viable if the company were to continue operating.”

“The departure of the 20% Theatre Company from the Twin Cities will leave large shoes to fill,” said Basil Considine, the editor of this publication and artistic director of Really Spicy Opera. “Claire’s broad and respected body of work has changed the lives of many performers, creators, and audience members. Their daring and boundary-busting output, especially the Q-STAGE: New Works Series, will be a particularly hard act to follow.”

Avitabile and current Artistic Director Marcela Michelle are going out with a substantial season of programming and several hand-offs. Coming this fall is a video series looking back at its noted theatrical series The Naked I, which presents transgender stories on stage. Archival videos of the five existing installments will be combined with a sixth installment, The Naked I: Revitalize/d, which was originally planned for in-person performances.

“When I decided to start 20% Theatre Company back in 2005,” said Claire Avitabile, “I had no idea what this organization would become, nor how it would impact so many people. Our work has not just changed lives, but it has also saved lives.” The Naked I is arguably even more important in retrospective than was realized at the time, now that the relationship between representation and quality of life is better illuminated by science.

Early 2021 will see the return of the company’s annual Q-STAGE: New Works Series for a seventh and final installment. Artists Commarrah Bashar, Nakita Kircher, Kat Purcell, and Yoni Tamang will contribute original works.

A final production, planned for Spring 2021 and hopefully delivered in a live theatre format, will be Brujería For Beginners, described as “es una obra/ofrenda de parte de Keila Anali Saucedo Martinez Corona”. A family drama mixing Catholicism, witchcraft, and indigenous spirituality, this work premiered as a 1-act play in Q-STAGE 2019, and has been expanded and refined. 

Notably, 20% Theater Company also plans to continue its efforts after the company closes:

  • The Q-STAGE: New Works Series will move to Lightning Rod, where it will remain under the curation of current 20% Theatre Company Artistic Director Marcela Michelle.
  • Naked I scripts are available through sale from the company, and from
  • The company archives will be donated to the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota. 


Hanne Appelbaum