Warm ideas collide during the cold months of the year
2023 marks the ninth year of Victoria’s OUTstages, a theatre festival with a focus on Queer Art by Queer Artists.
OUTstages began in 2015 as a 4–5 day festival that originally ran around the same time as Pride, during the summer. It was moved to a time slot around the beginning of the year in 2019, as a way to spread out Intrepid Theatre’s festival programming. And because, as the artistic director of Intrepid Theatre, Sean Guist, puts it, “ Winter is grey and cold so let’s heat it up with some queer art!”
OUTstages 2023 included four main-stage shows: OverChering, Passenger Seat, Lesbihonest, and GLOOP, all put on by touring queer artists. Balancing this out was the Late Night Pop-up Cabaret and Queer Youth Cabaret series, all sporting new material from local queer artists.
Each of the shows is a different genre. OverChering is a drag show which deals with Thank Jem’s personal queer experience as a cool, Two-Spirit auntie. Passenger Seat is a concept album all about a woman’s high school crush. While seemingly different at first glance, these shows share themes that unite them, according to Guist.
“The struggles are the same,” said Guist. “This idea [of] fitting in and trying to subvert the norm in a way, and getting loud and proud about things.”
While the shared suffering is broadly the same, the shows and individual experiences they portray are distinct. And the joy of being queer and celebrating who you are can be felt in all of the performances and is shared between the audience and performers. Each show shines with that love.
As part of the festival I also attended an artist’s talk, which included a conversation between Guist and the band, Passenger Seat. The band discussed how queer people want to see shows that aren’t just coming-out stories and queer trauma, but rather queer celebration.
“I think we can use a little bit of joy, a little bit of celebration,” added Guist. “Art can do that so well.”
GLOOP, which stands for Glamorous Ladies of Opulent Persuasion, also made its Canadian and international premier at OUTstages this year. Gloop is performed by Anthony Hudson, Portland’s premier drag clown Clara Rossi, and Portland’s premier art auntie Pepper Pepper. The show is “psychedelic-assisted satire that takes you on an evening-length, somewhat-improvised drag explosion, while [critiquing] whiteness and wellness culture,” as described by Pepper.
The show encapsulates the appeal of drag. “Drag became a real way to metabolize [my] grief and pain into something powerful that I owned,” said Pepper. “It allowed me to work between the constructs of man and woman, so that betweenness is a magical space.”
On top of the usual shows, OUTstages 2023 also included the brand new Late Night Cabaret series. Each performance was by a different local queer artist who brought their own genre to the show. One night had opera, and another was described as “anything goes.”
This new feature was inspired by the Edinburgh Fringe’s late night programming, explained Guist. It was a way to further build the festival feeling for audiences wanting to catch another show or people who are simply passing by.
Overall, each show hosted by OUTstages had its own appeal. Some performances were rougher around the edges, as are many touring shows that are continuously rewritten and edited (even between performances), but that’s the appeal of a festival. No two shows were exactly the same, each speaking to individual experiences and perspectives. It’s queer art at its finest: raw, moving, and joyful. OUTstages is a supportive, creative festival you won’t want to miss in 2024!