Even in a Pandemic, Queer Art Thrives

Written on 03/01/2021
Matt Stern

A perfect illustration of this is Intrepid Theatre's OUTstages, BC's first dedicated queer theatre festival, which has been a fixture of the Victoria queer arts scene ever since its inception in the summer of 2015.

Known for amplifying the voices of local queer artists as well as hosting celebrated artists from across Canada, the festival has been home to performers such as spoken word author Ivan Coyote, two-spirit drag artist Eddi Wilson, and singer-songwriter Matt Stern. The multidisciplinary nature of the festival has made it especially accessible to creatives who are pushing the boundaries of the familiar, queering cultural mores and adopting exploratory approaches to their art.

Every year, the festival includes a cabaret night where various performers produce short, highly charged performances back-to-back. The result of this creative cross-pollination is a raucous, vibrant, and provocative evening that leaves audiences inspired and bemused, as though caught in a spell that has transported them to one of the very queerest nights Victoria has to offer.

In recent years, OUTstages has included a queer youth showcase as a keystone event of the festival, welcoming new, up-and-coming talent into the fold by offering them a platform to express their creative works.

Of course, the context of the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted Intrepid Theatre to reorient their approach for this year's rendition of OUTstages. While the festival usually takes place over 10 days, it has been adapted into a series of performances, workshops, and additional offerings that will take place throughout the year.

The recently unveiled winter series culminated this week and included performances by Vancouver's The Darlings Uncensored, a drag makeup workshop with Rose Butch – a featured guest on CBC's docu-series Canada's a Drag – and several Artist Talks.

True to the times, in lieu of the annual live cabaret event, a virtual livestream series was created for this year's festival. This series, entitled OUTstages After Dark, spanned four evenings and featured four Victoria-based queer artists, each working in a different medium, offering performances that were broadcast on Facebook and Instagram Live. The event was kicked off by James Summer, Victoria's 2021 Youth Poet Laureate. The following night, Eddi Wilson appeared as alter ego Eddi Licious with a performance blending storytelling, music, and movement. Matt Stern, a multilingual performer whose music videos have garnered acclaim from Queerty.com, CBC, and Victoria Buzz, offered an all-request set in which fans from anywhere in the world were invited to dedicate songs to loved ones they have been unable to see due to the pandemic. The final showcase, offered in collaboration with Pacific Opera Victoria, saw tenor Joey Bulman accompanied by pianist Robert Holliston in a salute to opera's more irreverent side. All of these performances have since been posted to Intrepid Theatre's Facebook page, where they remain freely accessible for public enjoyment.

Next on the docket for the winter season of OUTstages is a collaborative residency hosted by Intrepid Theatre, with a local artist soon to be announced. In the meantime, a special queer reading list has been compiled by the Greater Victoria Public Library. These books have been selected by librarian Caitlin Ottenbreit to connect directly with the themes presented at the OUTstages winter series.

In anticipation of the spring series being unveiled, up-to-date information about OUTstages is available on the Intrepid Theatre website, https://intrepidtheatre.com/festivals/outstages/ as well as on social media.

MATT STERN is an award-winning songwriter, recording artist, writer and performer from Montreal, currently based on Vancouver Island. His work has been featured on CBC, Radio-Canada, Queerty.com, OUTtv, Mtl Blog and Victoria Buzz. He is known for his uplifting energy, warm, welcoming presence, and a rare ability to inspire a sense of community in a diverse crowd. He writes and sings in English, French, Spanish and Japanese. For more info, visit www.mattstern.com or @mattsternmusic on social media.

(Image Credit: OUTstages)