Pittsburgh theater artists aim to put queer community in the “Spotlight”

Pittsburgh is no stranger to queer presence in performance art. This year alone, we witnessed Billy Porter in Heinz Hall paying a visit to hometown fans on his Black Mona Lisa Tour: Volume 1, Katie Mack bringing her one-woman show #UglyCry to Carnegie Stage, and the world premiere of Billy Strayhorn: Something to Live For at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, to name a few. However, theater artists who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community are still feeling isolated while honing their craft.

One such theater artist, Matt Henderson, was not satisfied with this isolation and decided to do something about it. He reached out to friends and colleagues who also identify as queer theater artists and intentionally built a space to grow in community. In early 2022, Henderson began organizing Zoom meetings for LGBTQ+ theater artists and dubbed the movement “Spotlight.”

Two actors pose joyfully while wearing eccentric colorful tropical shirts. The actor on the left is wearing a curly blonde wig and the actor on the right is wearing a straw hat
Spotlight founder Matt Henderson (left) in Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Park’s “Twelfth Night”

Starting in September 2023, Spotlight has hosted “LGTBQ+ theatre jam sessions” in a conference room at the Benedum Center on the last weekend of every month. The meetings are open to any and all people who are involved in theater and identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Attendees are invited to bring anything they are working on, such as monologues to practice, a few pages of a play in progress, stage design ideas, or anything else they would like to either share or workshop with the group.

A smiling headshot of a person with short curly brown hair wearing a white t-shirt underneath a bright blue polo shirt
Spotlight founder Matt Henderson

I was able to attend the Spotlight meeting in September and it was so refreshing and exciting to share the space with people who can relate to and understand my perspective as a queer artist. It was also great to hear what theater projects people are working on. As any creative knows, the best way to grow as an artist is to have regular opportunities to practice your craft and have a community in which to collaborate.

“It's always nice to have work that really centers queer perspectives, to have people programming plays where the queer characters are taking center stage,” says Henderson. He also adds how important it is for theater artists to relate to the works being performed in their communities, and how the queer perspective is not showcased as often.

“There's not as much of a sense of a larger community of queer theater artists,” says Henderson. This, he adds, is the main reason he initiated Spotlight as a meeting place for queer theater artists to share their work with other like-minded creatives.

“A great part of doing theater that I really enjoy is just getting to know people and getting to know different people's creative expressions, and getting to know about themselves as artists,” Henderson says.

The collaborative and community-driven nature of Spotlight is what makes it such a unique and necessary space for Pittsburgh’s theater community.

“I'm just really, really interested in everybody who's got a queer perspective on things and how that informs their art,” Henderson says, and I agree. A supportive community is essential to all creatives, and hopefully, as Spotlight continues, more opportunities can open up to queer theater artists in Pittsburgh.

Spotlight: Monthly LGBTQ+ Theatre Jam Session. Benedum Center, Seventh Floor Conference Room. 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 7-9 p.m. Sign up by sending your name and pronouns to or find the next event by searching "Spotlight: Monthly LGBTQ+ Theatre Jam Session" on Facebook.