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    Celebrating 20 Years of Trans Artistry and Community: Fresh Meat Productions and the Trans Arts Revolution

    It is a tremendous accomplishment for any nonprofit arts group to make it to the 20-year mark. But when the group is a transgender arts organization whose dual mandate is to lift up the extraordinary artistry of trans communities while simultaneously battling discrimination, censorship, and exclusion … now that is really something to celebrate!

    This year, San Francisco’s beloved trans arts champion Fresh Meat Productions celebrates its 20th Anniversary Season. Since its founding in 2002, Fresh Meat has been a trailblazer, and instrumental in transforming the national landscape for trans artists.

    “It’s hard for people to imagine today,” explains Founding Artistic Director and trans choreographer Sean Dorsey to the San Francisco Bay Times. “But in 2002, almost no one was putting transgender and gender-non-conforming artists onstage. It was almost impossible for us to get high-production-value, well-paying gigs in mainstage theaters.”

    This led Dorsey to bring together a group of local queer and trans artist-activists to put on what they thought would be a one-time event, calling it the FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL.

    Dorsey continues, “At that time, there was this amazing groundswell of all this brilliant trans and gender-non-conforming artistry in the Bay Area—but no one would touch us. So, we decided to get ourselves on stage: we wanted to create an event that centered trans voices, BIPOC voices, gender-non-conforming voices.”

    Trans singer-songwriter Shawna Virago performed at that first FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL. “That first festival was like three-and-a-half hours long!” laughs Virago. “I mean, we were all starved for that kind of artistry, that kind of gathering. The audience didn’t mind that it was a bit of a marathon.”

    The community’s response to that first standing-room-only festival was so overwhelming that the organizers immediately understood that there was a larger calling and mission for their work to continue.

    “We also knew that our work had to always be intersectional: you can’t separate fighting white supremacy from trans liberation or from disability justice,” says Dorsey of the organization’s founding principles.

    Fresh Meat Productions soon grew to host year-round programs including the centerpiece annual FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL; trans-supportive dance workshops and classes; FRESH WORKS! creation grants to BIPOC trans/queer artists; a national education program; free intergenerational community engagement programs; and advocacy for trans, racial, and disability justice in the arts. Past programs have also included trans visual arts exhibitions and commissions to BIPOC trans/queer folkloric and traditional dance artists.

    And at the heart of Fresh Meat Productions’ programs is resident company Sean Dorsey Dance (SDD); SDD performs, tours, and teaches Artistic Director Dorsey’s original dance-theater. To date, the company has toured and taught in more than 30 cities across the U.S. and abroad.

    Dorsey himself is a pioneer: he is celebrated as the U.S.’s first acclaimed transgender modern dance choreographer, and has created new space in modern dance for trans and queer bodies and stories with his award-winning dance-theater.

    Dorsey is positively effervescent with enthusiasm and excitement as he reflects upon this 20-year milestone—and speaking with him provides a window into Fresh Meat Productions’ famous (and infectious) energy.

    If you’ve ever been to the FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL, then you know the spectacular, vibrating, loving, and over-the-top celebratory energy of this beloved annual event.

    That same energy imbues everything that Fresh Meat Productions does. The key? “Everything starts from the heart,” explains Dorsey. “As a longtime activist, I’ve found that the most powerful change comes from a heart-centered place—a place of invitation and chosen-family connection.”

    Fresh Meat’s Digital and Social Media Manager StormMiguel Florez adds, “It’s a term you hear a lot from the artists, staff, volunteers, and crew involved in Fresh Meat—we all call it the ‘Fresh Meat Family.’ Because it truly is a family.”

    “It’s the glue that keeps us together and working so hard, for this common cause,” explains Production Manager Eric Garcia, who has been with Fresh Meat for over 11 years, “We come together with love, to uplift exquisite artistry, and to host the most incredible audiences. It’s a privilege and a blessing to do this work.”

    When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, that love prompted Fresh Meat Productions to respond swiftly and powerfully—paying all their staff, artists, and workers in full for the entire year, despite event cancellations or postponements, and then launching all-new programs to support communities during this challenging time.

    “No one was laid off; no one’s hours were furloughed or reduced,” says Dorsey proudly. “And, in fact, we actually increased artist fees and created new paid opportunities for artists to create, teach, and work during the pandemic.”

    Early in the pandemic, Fresh Meat launched #stayFRESHatHOME—a free, online, closed-captioned video series supporting trans, gender-non-conforming, and queer creativity and wellness. Fresh Meat commissioned local and national trans, gender-non-conforming, and queer artists to self-film short videos inviting the viewer into everything from guided meditation, to Jazz Dance taught in ASL (American Sign Language), to beginner Bachata dance, to seated movement, to singing. The series is a joyous, accessible way to stay creative and connected during the pandemic.

    In fact, Fresh Meat has made all of their programs and events free of charge during and through the pandemic. “We know that our communities are under intense stress, hardship, and isolation,” says Dorsey. “So, making all our programs free is an act of love.”

    In celebration of its 20th Anniversary Season, Fresh Meat Productions and its resident company Sean Dorsey Dance have launched an exciting multi-year project: THE LOST ART OF DREAMING imagines and creates expansive Futures for our communities.

    The project kicks off April 16–18 with Sean Dorsey Dance’s online AT-HOME Season, when the company will premiere all-new dance films and more.

    This Summer, THE LOST ART OF DREAMING project continues with a cornucopia of free events and activities including: a Futurist Pledge you can download and sign; a Dictionary Of Joy And Pleasure to scroll through; new dance films; and the release of a special full-color art postcard series “Postcards From The Future”—mailed to you by request, with a special handwritten message from SDD.

    And don’t miss the celebration of where it all began: this June 17–19, the 20th Anniversary FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL of trans and queer performance will be streamed online, closed-captioned and free of charge.

    Astoundingly, even after two decades, everything that Fresh Meat Productions creates, produces, and presents is still, well … fresh!  The arts and artistry they create, commission, and present are always of the highest artistic caliber—innovative, moving, relevant, and powerful, and shared with the accessibility and care we have come to expect from the Fresh Meat Family.

    What are Dorsey’s proudest achievements of the past 20 years? “The artistry—the artists we’ve been blessed to work with and support. Being here to celebrate our 20th Anniversary Season! Continuing to pay all our staff, artists, and workers in full, with love, during the pandemic. Being a force for change, and finally seeing change start to happen.”

    Learn more about Fresh Meat Productions’ upcoming programs and events:

    Save the Date!
    Fresh Meat Productions – 20th Anniversary Events

    Fresh Meat Productions is celebrating its 20th Anniversary with a year brimming with free events, programs, videos, interactive online activities, and more. Here are a few highlights:

    20 Commissions for 20 Years
    This year, Fresh Meat Productions awarded commissions to 20 artists to create new works and contribute to the 20th Anniversary Season—watch for these new works, which will premiere throughout the year.

    April 16–18 (online)
    Sean Dorsey Dance’s AT-HOME Season
    World premiere of all-new dance films created by SDD during the pandemic, plus a special message from Dorsey. Free (donations welcome), online, and closed-captioned.  

    June 17–19 (online)
    20th Anniversary FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL of trans & queer performance
    Premiere of new works commissioned especially for the Anniversary, audience favorites, plus archival footage from the past 20 years! Free (donations welcome), online, and closed-captioned.

    Summer–Fall 2021
    The launch of Season Two of #stayFRESHatHOME, The Futurist Pledge, The Dictionary of Joy and Pleasure, Postcards from the Future, online performance events, and more!

    Published on March 25, 2021