February 21, 2018
four theater students smiling

Nick Bazo ’10MFA is becoming a main proprietor of the Theatre for Social Change movement. As Associate Director of Programs at The Theatre Offensive (TTO) & Director of True Colors, he has found a significant impact that community-based theater has been for young audiences and communities.

“It’s a very holistic approach,” Bazo comments. The Theatre Offensive (TTO) was founded in 1989 as a guerrilla street theatre program and a reaction to the AIDS epidemic – originally designed as a 15-minute skit performed in front of the federal building in Boston. True Colors, a youth theatre troupe, was created 4 years later as a program funded to prevent teen suicides and bullying of gay students. Over time, it has developed into an after-school program for students and adults in addition to LGBTQ and queer-themed plays. As audiences became less diverse, TTO went back to their roots to engage all audiences with personal stories based on the youth in the troupe. “When pieces are toured in schools, they see their peers on stage – it has more of an impact.”

Bazo grew up in a Cuban-American family in Florida, where he earned his BA in Theatre from Rollins College and an MFA in Theatre for Young Audiences from UCF. Bazo had the opportunity to start working with LGBTQ youth and the Orlando community while still in school. “UCF gave me a lot of freedom to design my own path,” he remembers. Faculty members Sybil St. Claire, Belinda Boyd, Jim Brown, and Julia Listengarten were instrumental to his success and in writing his thesis. He was tied to the Orlando Repertory Theatre, and tried to incorporate internships and opportunities into his training to give him real-world experience. “Round yourself out as much as possible,” he suggests for current Theatre UCF students. “Include other elements that may not necessarily tie to directing or acting.” He highly recommends taking other courses outside of a major’s course catalog in addition to experiential learning – “electives were a great way to learn more about areas that could apply towards a more interdisciplinary career.”

For his third year in the MFA program, Bazo decided to move to Boston with his husband and UCF alumnus, Stephen Flowers, who he met in 2004. While completing his thesis and working as an intern at True Colors, Bazo was also freelancing as a performer, teaching artist and manager at TTO. Shortly after graduating from UCF, Bazo was then approached in the summer of 2010 for the position of Associate Director of Programs to oversee programming for True Colors and other youth and adult programming.

Through his position with TTO, Bazo is able to collaborate directly with LGBTQ+ youth and the community through the Out in Your Neighborhood programs and True Colors. It is the troupe’s personal experiences that are told through creative original works of theatre, but also give youth a voice as artist and activist. Every year, the youth troupe creates the program and themes, which is developed from personal stories and relevant issues of the troupe members. Through the assistance of a peer leadership team, Bazo works with the youth troupe to improve their skills and teach them other theatre techniques that will then be used on stage.

In 2014, the film titled The Year We Thought About Love, directed by Ellen Brodsky, was produced. This film goes behind the scenes of True Colors and allows the viewer to experience firsthand what these youth live on a daily basis. In a twist on the common image of LGBTQ youth as victims, the film reveals intimate stories of the troupe members while, celebrating the fullness of their lives in both thoughtful and hilarious ways. The camera crew slips into rehearsal rooms, kitchens, classrooms, and subways capturing the wit, candor, and attitude of these young people. Together they explore love – romantic, familial, and religious – as they write scripts based on their lives. Revealing candid stories of both courage and strength, Bazo is able to highlight the unique and universal struggles of LGBTQ adolescence in a thoughtful way.

The Pulpit Rock
Nick Bazo, left, and Stephen Flowers, hold a photo of their friends Drew Leinonen and Juan Guerrero,
who were both killed in the Orlando night club attack,
during a vigil on City Hall Plaza in Boston.

A few years later, the lives of his friends, Drew Leinonen and Juan Guerrero, both UCF Knights, were cut short during the Pulse tragedy, which deeply affected Bazo both personally and professionally. Nightlife and clubs, like Pulse, were a way for Bazo to be himself and surround himself with others who understood and could relate to his own personal experiences. The tragedy fueled Bazo to take his work to the next level, and his programming at TTO became even more imperative. “The young people are our future and we need to find ways to invest in them in order for them to thrive and grow,” he says. “Outness can be whatever you want it to be and living your true self. The LGBTQ community is there for support, to learn from, and to pass down stories that can enable people to relate to each other – whether through racial and social justice issues or life experiences.” This drive leads to his Theatre for Social Change success, and for Bazo, it’s a reciprocal relationship – the kids push him to grow even more as a person while he provides them with an outlet through theatre.

“The community’s reaction to Pulse and UCF growing into this mature and welcoming school – UCF continues to make me proud in what it’s doing,” says Bazo. “The diversity of UCF’s theatre programs makes it unique.”

In a two-day visit to UCF, Theatre UCF faculty member Elizabeth Horn hosted a screening of The Year We Thought About Love and a Theatre for Social Change masterclass with Bazo. Bazo and two of the youth participants, Giftson and Chi, also participated in discussion following the film. Bazo facilitated an interactive Theatre for Social Change and Devising workshop open to all Theatre UCF students. In the workshop, he shared the community-based theater approach that True Colors uses to train and activate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied youth leaders ages 14-29. True Colors is a nationally recognized program, and was presented with the esteemed National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by former First Lady Michelle Obama in 2016.

For more information about the documentary The Year We Thought About Love, please go to: https://www.newday.com/film/year-we-thought-about-love