Theatre Communications Group Announces Funds for the Dolls: Elevating Trans Women of Color in the Performing Arts and Theatre

New York, NYTheatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre, is proud to announce the launch of the Funds for the Dolls: Elevating Trans Women of Color in the Performing Arts and Theatre. In its pilot round, Funds for the Dolls will award grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 to at least 5 trans women of color (TWOC) in the performing arts and theatre and uplift their joy, artistry, audacity, and tenacity. Funds for the Dolls will invest in TWOC looking to develop their artistry further and who have a commitment to their craft. The Fund is being led internally by TCG trustee Merrique Jenson with support from trustee Qween Jean, with activist, model, and All Star from RuPaul’s Drag Race Monica Beverly Hillz serving as the program’s ambassador. The unrestricted funds can be used for anything, including a performing arts project, essential needs such as shelter, or the recipient’s gender-affirming care. Learn more here:

“The Funds for Dolls will support and uplift our sisters, especially those who have used survival sex work and other forms of hustle, to invest in their performance art or break into the theatre world,” said Merrique Jenson, vice chair of TCG’s board, founder and executive director of Transformations, and director of SocialScope Productions. “The Fund For Dolls knows that a community showcase is theatre, a communal ritual is theatre, performance art is theatre, a drag show is theatre, and sex work is theatre. Trans women of color have been leading the way with their artistry for generations, and this is just the beginning of TCG honoring and supporting that work.”

“I was honored to be asked by Merrique and Qween Jean to serve as an ambassador for Funds for the Dolls,” said Monica Bevery Hillz. “Merrique and Qween Jean have been creating spaces of belonging for trans women of color, places where we can love ourselves and reach our full potential. I know the Funds for the Dolls will have a similar impact, because when the girls get the support we deserve, there’s nothing we can’t do.”

“TCG’s mission is to lead for a just and thriving theatre ecology, and that means centering those most impacted by systemic oppression,” said Karena Fiorenza, interim chief executive officer, TCG. “But while Funds for the Dolls acknowledges the reality of that oppression, we’re focused on uplifting trans joy, abundance, and artistry, and backing that commitment with financial resources. That means putting money in the pockets of TWOC and trusting they know best how to use it. We’re deeply grateful for the leadership of and partnership with Merrique and Qween Jean in building this program, and honored to have Monica serving as the program’s ambassador.”

This program aims to uplift BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) trans women in the U.S. theatre and recognize their WERK in creating a better, more equitable theatrical landscape. In addition to the unrestricted funds, TCG will provide national visibility across their communications channels including, but not limited to, an article in American Theatre magazine and on the Funds for the Dolls webpage.

The application process for Funds for the Dolls will unfold over the following timeline:

  • Thursday, June 6: Application launch

  • Friday, June 14, 4 - 5pm ET: Info session (register here)

  • Tuesday, Jun 25 - Friday, Jun 28, 3 - 6pm ET: Ask the Dolls (one-on-one office hours) (register here)

  • Friday, July 5, 11:59pm ET: Application deadline

  • Monday, August 5: Applicant notification

  • Monday, August 12 - Tuesday, August 13, 2024: Final interviews

Funds for the Dolls is intended to honor the many cultural contributions of trans women of color and to support them in whatever they need to thrive while also pushing back against the record levels of hostile legislation and systemic violence they face. While there are some funding sources for trans artists, there are very few grants specific for trans women, let alone trans women of color, in U.S. theatre. Funders and donors interested in supporting the growth of Funds for the Dolls should contact Danika Tablante, TCG’s Institutional Philanthropy Manager, at [email protected].

In alignment with their mission to support the leadership development and capacity building for trans women of color, Transformations — a trans led midwest & ozark based organization — is a proud strategic partner in this new initiative. Many of the women leading Transformations have deep connections to performing arts, storytelling, media & entertainment, and sex worker rights advocacy. Learn more here:

Funds for the Dolls is part of TCG’s commitment, made in their 2020 strategic plan, to center BIPOC theatre artists, organizations, and communities, with specific attention to LGBTQI+ and disability identities within these communities. Over the past few years, that commitment has been operationalized across TCG’s programs and services, including: “Trans Voices Lead the Way,” a dedicated issue of American Theatre; roundtables with transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) theatre workers; advocacy to end anti-trans legislation; and convening sessions created with and for TGNC people. This commitment will continue to expand programmatically going forward. 

Merrique Jenson (she/her) is a transgender, queer, second-generation multiracial woman of color of White and Mexican heritage. She is the Founder and currently serves as the President and Executive Director for Transformations, a trans and gender-expansive youth organization based in Kansas City. Merrique has been working in the fields of harm reduction and anti-violence advocacy for over 20 years and has helped create multiple startup LGBTQ programs in the Midwest for young people and trans people of color experiencing trauma and living on the streets. She is a respected community advisor and racial equity consultant. She was a critical voice in helping pass the "Safe Haven" resolution to protect trans folks and gender-affirming care in 2023 for the City of Kansas City, MO, and has been serving as a coach and advisor to the City of Kansas City, MO, on trans issues for the past year. She was honored and named in the first Trans Day of Visibility Proclamation on March 30, 2022, for Kansas City, Missouri, for her activism and acknowledged by a group of activists in the LGBTQ Commission of Special Action Recognition by Kansas City for June 2021 Pride Month.Merrique is the owner/principal of SocialScope Productions, which focuses on multimedia artistic programs, equity development, and intersectional professional development coaching. Her multimedia projects, including the popular #GetWoke event series, have been nationally recognized. She has performed as a DJ, is a published author, is a contributing blogger for The Advocate, Out Magazine & HuffPost, and is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. She is a respected content expert, artistic advisor, and racial equity consultant. Merrique also serves a two-year term on the Board of Directors for Theatre Communications Group and has been recognized by the Association for Queer Anthropology for her artistic work. Additionally, Merrique is a Kansas City, two-time Rocket Grants full-project award winner, has delivered keynotes for Yale University, Southern Oregon University, and Northwestern University, has headlined Seattle Pride and Houston Pride, and has been featured as a guest on The Oprah Show. She currently lives and travels in both Seattle and Kansas City, MO.

Qween Jean is a New York City based Costume Designer who has designed over 50 shows and counting. She has fully committed her voice to the advocacy of marginalized communities, emphasizing Black Trans people. She is currently among few costuming professionals in the NYC theatre who live their trans identities out loud- while making an effort to ensure she is not the last. Qween founded the Black Trans Liberation in 2020. The organization aims to provide access and employment resources for the GNC community. Through this work, she has organized community events, protests, and mutual aid drives to denounce the actions of a disenfranchised system and call for an end to racism and white supremacy. She is a firm believer in the preservation and support of Black Trans people and a testament to how one can thrive when adequately paid, supported, and loved. "Hire the girls" is her motto. In 2021 Qween was MOMA PS1's artist in residency and co-curated Memoriam and Deliverance. This installation called awareness of the last five years of transphobic and fatal violence while celebrating Black Trans leaders in the community. Revolution Is Love is a new book about her Leading the TGNC Community for over a year in the BLM Movement. She was also the opening speaker for the March on Washington March on for Voting Rights. Qween has an MFA in Design from NYU Tisch.

Monica Beverly Hillz is a trans activist and entertainment personality. As an iconic pioneer, she is the first trans woman to come out as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5. She has performed in the art of drag for nearly two decades, getting her start in the Chicago LGBTQ House, Latinx salsa, and bachata clubs. Monica is known for her feminine, sensual, and fiery spirit - and for simply keeping it real. She is an established activist committed to supporting queer and transgender youth, working with survivors of sexual exploitation and homelessness, and is a community advisory board member for Transformations, a trans woman of color-led nonprofit serving trans communities of color.

Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for theatre, leads for a just and thriving theatre ecology. Since its founding in 1961, TCG’s constituency has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres to over 700 Member Theatres and affiliate organizations and over 7,000 Individual Members. Through its programs and services, TCG reaches over one million students, audience members, and theatre professionals each year. TCG offers networking and knowledge-building opportunities through research, communications, and events, including the biennial TCG National Conference, one of the largest nationwide gatherings of theatre people; awards grants and scholarships to theatre companies and individual artists; advocates on the federal level; and through the Global Theater Initiative, TCG's partnership with the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, serves as the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute. TCG is North America’s largest independent trade publisher of dramatic literature, with 20 Pulitzer Prizes for Drama on the TCG booklist. It also publishes the award-winning American Theatre magazine and ARTSEARCH®, the essential source for a career in the arts. TCG believes its vision of “a better world for theatre, and a better world because of theatre” can be achieved through individual and collective action, adaptive and responsive leadership, and equitable representation in all areas of practice. TCG is led by Interim Chief Growth Officer LaTeshia Ellerson and Interim Chief Executive Officer Karena Fiorenza.

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