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

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Image: Alex Billingham

Curious Festival is an award-winning annual celebration of LGBTQIA+ culture across the North East. Founded in 2016, the festival explores and celebrates Queer culture through the arts. Working in partnership with arts and community organisations throughout the region, the festival aims to provide a safe space for Queer communities by creating platforms for artists, creatives and young people to be visible, represented and celebrated.

Curious Festival founder Phil Douglas comments:Now more so than ever, visibility for trans, non-binary and Queer artists is important. We’re delighted that Curious Festival is back to create Queer positive spaces, platform exciting new work and enable us to be with communities across the North East again. The world is changing.”

Cat Hurst-McGahey, chair of LGBT+ Northern Social Group agreed. “It is a breath of fresh air to work with an organisation who understand the importance of equity and who provide representation for many parts of our communities who are often overlooked or ignored.”

This year’s festival includes events at venues as far and wide as ARC Stockton, Gateshead’s BALTIC, Queen’s Hall in Hexham, Dance City and Northern Stage in Newcastle. There will also be Mini Pride and Wildflower events at various venues across Newcastle. The three weeks of events culminates with the Curious Stage at Northern Pride on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th July. Mini Pride will also be present at Summer Streets festival in Sunderland on Saturday 9th July as well as Billingham Library and Darlington Pride Weekender on dates in August.

However, kicking things off on Friday 1st July at BALTIC will be The Noir Narrative, a platform for Black LGBTQIA+ creatives. The following day the same venue sees the Curious Families Day, a day of colourful workshops, a zine making session and sculpture workshop followed by an evening exploring gender and non-binary narratives in film with screenings of Queers Shorts and Anders Duckworth’s Mapping Gender. Over at ARC in Stockton on the same day there is a protest poster making workshop, with the posters created being displayed at the venue throughout July as part of the festival.

Now more so than ever, visibility for trans, non-binary and Queer artists is important

Taking place at Live Theatre on Sunday 3rd July is The Future is Queer, a mix of performances and presentations by young creatives from across the region. Elsewhere, the first of three weekly evening sessions hosted by Queer Youth Music at Dance City takes place on Tuesday 5th July. On Thursday 7th July ARC hosts Curious Cabaret, an evening of live performance, film and exhibition celebrating LGBTQIA+ culture which is also available to livestream at home, while the whole show decants to Queen’s Hall in Hexham the following evening with both nights hosted by performance legend David Hoyle.

Back at Dance City the fifth Annual Curious Vogue Ball will take place on Saturday 8th July followed by more cabaret at Sage Gateshead on Wednesday 13th July, this time with Gladys Duffy on DJ duties while songwriter Beccy Owen and cabaret performer Fatt Butcher will also be performing. The Northern Stage Queer Change Showcase takes place on Thursday 14thFriday 15th July, with a number of events across two days at the venue including a reading of I’m A Cliché from artists Jade Sweeting and Jenni Mac, which investigates stereotypes within Queer culture; Joy Cruickshank’s How To Be A Hot Mess challenges traditional storytelling and gender norms in a fast-paced show of stand-up, spoken word, drag artistry and theatre; Farrell Cox’s Ambivalence uses aerial acrobatics and movement to depict an emotional journey; Alex Billingham’s Milk And Honey celebrates “misshaped misfits”; Mo Svendson’s Tits To Tats is a one-person show which focuses on the trans-masculine experience; and FLOOD Theatre’s verbatim spoken word piece Nite Life looks at bisexuality and the Queer club scene. Rounding things off at the same venue on Saturday 16th July will be Sound Cistem, a two-person ‘up yours’ to the gender binary with a radical dance party.

Disabled trans fem artist Alex Billingham is grateful for the opportunity to be included on the line-up. “Curious Festival have been amazingly supportive of me, giving me space to leap from live art to theatre. Making space for othered communities is vitally important. Being able to support audience members to not feel as alone with this as I once did.”

Away from the official Curious programme, plenty of events are going on as a wider celebration of Pride. Of particular note at The Old Coal Yard in Newcastle on Saturday 23rd July, Sister Shack’s Bend & Shake is a Queer party run by women and non-binary people where the ethos is everyone is welcome, but the event aims to provide a welcoming space for women, non-binary people, trans women, trans men, asylum seekers and Queer international people of colour (QIPOC). Built on what the group perceive to be the absence of a truly inclusive Pride in the North East, the event will offer an alternative to the Newcastle scene by representing other marginalised communities through music that doesn’t just stick to the idea of what ‘Queer culture’ is and will include two floors of multi-genre dance music.

DJs include musical polymath Ivory Thing; Mzansi-influenced DJ Azula Bandit, who will bring women and non-binary heavy hip-hop and R&B sounds to the party, while Samara Laboriel is a creative and DJ born and bred in Newcastle, Ffog, Kitty and dyspraxic Queer DJ Awkward Black Girl completes the extensive line-up.

Curious Festival takes place from Friday 1st July-Sunday 24th July at various venues throughout the North East.

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