Pride Spotlight: Queer Fest's celebration of New LGBTQIA+ Theatre

Welcome back to our Pride Spotlight series. Throughout June we'll be interviewing local businesses, charities and organisations that contribute meaningfully to Oxford's vibrant LGBTQIA+ community and scene.
Today we're highlighting Queer Fest, a brand-new festival of queer theatre, which aims to celebrate fresh queer writing in Oxford.
The festival will run at the Burton Taylor Studio in a collaboration between Oxford Playhouse and Pegasus Theatre. Audiences will get the chance to see queer theatre in varying stages of development, from polished plays to staged readings to works-in-progress at the Scratch Night event. We caught up with creators Leah and Lauren to find out what to expect, as well hear about the process and inspiration behind this venture.

Daily Information: What is Queer Fest?

Queer Fest: Queer Fest is a 3 day new writing festival at the BT Studio, 20-22nd June. We put out an open call for all the best and brightest pieces of new queer stories from queer artists, and we have not been disappointed. Our lineup of writers have taken inspiration from anyone from Kate Bush to Mary Shelley, and created an incredibly diverse range of pieces. We also have a couple of free events hosted at the Playhouse, which are open for any queer artists. Our launch event is on Thursday 20th at 5pm, in our Lucy Room. Our CEO, Mike Tweddle, is leading a free workshop on Friday at 1:30.

DI: What inspired you to create this festival?

QF: Lauren and I are holding a one year residency between the Playhouse and Magdalen College School. We were both excited by the prospect of creating something unique with our year, and as queer artists ourselves, we both have a history of making Queer Theatre.

Lauren had taken part in a similar festival at the King's Head in London. We connected with several local theatres and spoke to them about their offering for queer artists, and we figured the best way to contribute to the program across the city was with opportunities for producing work.

We were really keen to offer a framework for this, not just offering the space itself, but funding, rehearsal space, and crucially, a network of other queer artists within the city.

DI: Has the process of producing the festival surprised you?

QF: Building something from the ground up, without a precedent for how it's been done before, is equal parts exciting and challenging. We've had to make lots of decisions on what to prioritise, that shape what the festival stands for, which is something I don't think either of us have had to do before. I think we've also been surprised by the reach- we had a theatre company apply from Dublin, which was really exciting!

DI: What themes can viewers expect to find in the shows?

QF: Hope in the face of despair is a big one that pops out to me. Out of Bounds and Wisbech Meat Shower, which is part of our Scratch Night, are big ones for this. Both pieces surround regional experiences of queerness, which is something we as a regional festival have been really excited to explore.

DI:Do you have any favourite works of queer/LGBTQIA+ theatre?

QF: One of my all time favourite moments at the theatre was watching Charlie Josephine’s I, Joan (a queer adaptation of Joan of Arc) at The Globe. It was an incredibly powerful evening - a non-binary story taking centre stage at a historic venue. I would also have to mention Josephine’s latest play Cowbois - a playful exploration of gender roles, trans-ness and cowboys! Isley Lynn's The Swell, which debuted at The Orange Tree - was a mind-bending, lyrical and heart-wrenching story - so much so, I immediately bought the play text after watching.

I’m also a massive fan of Stef Smith’s work - I’d recommend anything written by Smith, but my personal favourites would have to be Swallow and her adaptation of A Doll’s House. Leah and I had the pleasure of putting on a production of Nora: A Doll’s House at the Oxford Playhouse earlier this year. I always prioritise seeing queer work because queer stories tend to be so playful in form and style.

DI: Finally, please describe Queer Fest in three words.

QF: I think it's put best by the artists themselves: The form software we used to process applications made a little word cloud of all the words the artists used to describe their shows. All it said was 'explores, queer, love'.

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