Out of the Wings: Intrepid Theatre’s new OUTstages Theatre Festival intentionally keeps it gay

Catherine Hernandez in The Femme Playlist, submitted
Catherine Hernandez in The Femme Playlist, submitted

Newsflash: Queer people love theatre. You’ll find them on the stage, in the audience, working in the wings, and writing the scripts. Of course, straight people love theatre too — as well they should, since it has historically reflected their concerns. That’s an inequity OUTstages is hoping to change.

The latest fest to emerge from Intrepid Theatre — local producers of the Fringe, Uno, and Winterlab festivals — OUTstages promises Victoria’s first dedicated queer theatre showcase. Not that you have to open many closets to find queer content  locally: the Belfry just presented three queer-charactered shows (The Best Brothers, Spring Awakening, and Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike), Theatre Inconnu dipped their toe into sexual politics with Cock, and even Langham Court has been camping it up with the likes of Cabaret and The Drowsy Chaperone. But while “queer-friendly” is often the watchword, OUTstages is loudly and proudly proclaiming itself as queer first … and “straight friendly.”

“There’s an audience for it and programming out there,” says Intrepid’s OUTtstages curator Sean Guist. “Every time we’ve done a show that has a queer slant, we get new people in … there’s clearly an under-served but eager audience out there.” And it’s no surprise OUTstages is running right on the (high) heels of Pride Week. “Pride has such a great reach and they’ve built a huge audience,” he says. “We’ll just keep the party going for another week.”

The inaugural OUTstages offers a queer quartet: the electro-pop Let’s Not Beat Each Other to Death, the gay/straight A Quiet Sip of Coffee, the rap-based horror Revenge of the Popinjay and the lesbian burlesque of The Femme Playlist — as well as a new play reading (The Bad Touch by local Kathryn Taddei), late night cabaret, and some ab-fab parties. Not that curating such a festival is an easy task. “It’s tricky to try to represent a diverse community with only four shows,” Guist admits.

With OUTstages joining Canada’s three other annual queer theatre festivals (Halifax’s Queer Acts, Toronto’s Rhubarb, and Vancouver’s Queer Arts), Belfry artistic director Michael Shamata sees it as a sign of the changing times. That’s why he’s programmed Toronto’s acclaimed The Gay Heritage Project into the Belfry’s upcoming 40th anniversary season. The theatrical answer to an apparently simple question (“Is there such a thing as gay heritage?”), Shamata says it’s proof that “queer lives are no longer closeted.”

“It chronicles some of the major steps that have been taken in this country’s past that allow gay men and women to live the lives they have now,” he says. While queer actors have always taken straight roles (and vice-versa), Shamata sees the Gay Heritage concept as an indicator of where the real change is happening in live theatre. “More than anything, it’s the writers who are addressing issues that are important to them — and that’s often directly gay-related issues.”

Ultimately, says Guist, it all comes down to the shows themselves. “Yes, it’s queer theatre by queer artists, but it’s really just great theatre. For us, we’re presenting the same kind of innovative, multidisciplinary artists as the rest of the year — we’re just putting a queer wrapper on them.”

OUTstages runs July 5-12 at Metro Studio, Intrepid Club, and a site-specific venue. $20-$25 tickets and discount passes at intrepidtheatre.com, Ticket Rocket (#2 -1609 Blanshard), or 250-590-6291.

Words: John Threlfall

originally published in analogue magazine’s June/July 2015 issue