FEATURE: Curious Festival | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: Curious Vogue Ball , Grace Oni Smith by Michael McGuire

“We hope there is no need for a festival in the future, but that is dreaming big – of a utopian world where everyone is equal, safe and valid to be themselves.” Curious Festival director Phil Douglas has lofty aims for the legacy of his event. “We are encouraging venues and partners to offer LGBTQ activity and programmes all year round, and are already witnessing the beginnings of this happening. We are really pleased that so many people and organisations are supportive of our mission to queer the region.”

This year’s programme, taking place from Sunday 30th June-Tuesday 9th July, is the festival’s most ambitious yet. As well as the shows from Melody Sproates and dandysocpic mentioned here, there’s an eclectic blend of bold work on offer. Phil’s personal highlights include Scratch And Lemon, which provides a platform for queer regional artists to show their work, with the irrepressible Ginny Lemon taking centre stage; and Harry Clayton Wright’s Sex Education, which puts the discussion around young people’s access to LGBTQ education at the forefront of the story with a blend of performance, storytelling and a bit of gay porn thrown in for good measure (both Alphabetti Theatre, Friday 5th). The previous night at Stockton’s ARC a screening of STEALTH, a short film by Saffron Mee, explores the diversity of gender non-conformity, followed by comedy, live performance and cabaret from the likes of Melody Sproates, Lucy McCormick and JG Tansley.

We are hopeful our activity enables young people to see themselves in the programme and have opportunities to share their voice, ideas and identity

Elsewhere, visual arts come to the fore in Queercastle – Nocturnal Novocastrians (Praxis Gallery, Monday 1st-Thursday 11th), which displays images from the trashy and trailblazing club nights held by Urban & Eastern, Sounds of Seductions and Divine Trash; there’s a celebration of black gay culture in House of Ghetto’s Black Pride exhibition at Northern Stage (until Sunday 21st) and compelling short films delve into the experiences of gender, sexuality and survival at Tyneside Cinema (Monday 1st) and ARC (Monday 8th).

Other notable performances include Lucy McCormick’s concoction of dance, song and absurdist art in Post Popular (Alphabetti Theatre); Mark Farrelly reprises his Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope show at Middlesbrough Theatre (both Wednesday 3rd); Northern Stage’s Rent Party paints a colourful picture of what it’s like to be young, gifted, black, poor and gay; while the Curious Vogue Ball is the ultimate celebration of LGBTQ and Vogue culture at Dance City (both Saturday 6th). Gender performance is explored through three stimulating shows at BALTIC Is Curious, including the world’s first drag troupe featuring queens and kings with Down’s Syndrome, and conversations around gender, language and the transgender body (Sunday 7th). Add to all this Royal Northern Sinfonia’s celebration of classical chamber music by LGBTQ composers (Sage Gateshead, Tuesday 9th) and Bird La Bird’s DIY punk approach to history in the Travelling Queer People’s History Show (Alphabetti Theatre, Saturday 13th).

What’s also striking about this year’s programme is the wealth of activity for young people, with venues like Seven Stories welcoming children and families to explore LGBTQ arts. The imaginative Drag Storytime – “where everyone is welcome and every story is fabulous” – is aimed at those aged 3-7 and their families, and will take place across the region; while a showcase evening of work by 14-25 year olds at Live Theatre (Sunday 30th June) will provide a platform exploring LGBTQ themes. “We are hopeful our activity enables young people to see themselves in the programme and have opportunities to share their voice, ideas and identity.” Phil says. “With the current debate on LGBTQ education, it felt particularly important that Curious Festival offered this narrative to the young people who get involved.”

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