No matter how you decide to celebrate Pride this year, there’s no escaping the cloud of sorrow from the recent massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where 49 victims, including many queer people of color, were murdered. That recent event shines a light on the dangerous reality that continues for the LGBTQ community, but also reflects its resilience. For the 11th annual Queertopia festival, produced by Bedlam Theatre at Intermedia Arts, the recent loss, as well as losses in the local community, will be reflected on.
Eric Highers — who is co-curating with Natalie Bogira, Lisa Brimmer, and Chandler Daily — says that the team looked for a “unicorn quotient” when they were putting together the lineup. They hope to honor Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, and Marsha P. Johnson, three trans women of color who were instrumental forces in the Stonewall riots. “How can we stand on their shoulders?” says Highers.
In addition to creating a visible space for transgender and queer artists of color, this year’s festival reflects on those the community has lost. While the event doesn’t specifically reference Orlando, or others in the community such as Jesus Estrada-Perez, a University of Minnesota graduate student and activist who committed suicide while in police custody in Nebraska, the sense of loss for those who have passed will be evoked.
Queertopia artist Julian Hines will be exploring the memory of his cousin, who recently passed away. “They say he killed himself, but really they killed him,” Hines says.
Born in Jamaica, Hines says that that country is very conservative, and many hate crimes against the LGBTQ community continue to happen. “People are still fighting that,” he says. “At least in the U.S. we have police officers trying to help. In different countries, they look the other way.”
Queertopia will feature Hines' first solo piece, though he’s used to performing in the hip-hop scene as a dancer and choreographer. “This is the first time it’s Julian by himself,” he says.
The experience of being part of Queertopia has been revelatory. “I feel more 'woke' to the queer side of me,” Hines says.
Chitra Vairavan's original concept for her dance piece was about healing, but the incident in Orlando influenced her as well. “It’s a little more meditative than I had originally planned,” she says. “That’s what was coming out of me.”
Titled “Jannal/Window Into Healing,” the work reflects Vairavan’s own healing practice, which she does through dance. The audience will be invited to participate, and instructions will be included in the program.
When she heard the news about the Orlando shootings, Vairavan felt an urgency about what to do next. “I do my healing work through my dancing,” she says. “I have a lot of queer friends, a lot of Muslim friends. It gets complicated. We need to all be talking about each other in our communities, intentionally, and complicating what seems to be essentialism.”
Other performers at Queertopia include Liv Hnilicka, Anthony Michael (Marcel Michelle), MikeQueenz, and Nico Swenson. In addition, there’s a visual arts component, with works by Olivia Levins Holden, Owen Marciano, Billy Navarro Jr., Sarah Valli, and Kayva Yang.
IF YOU GO:
7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday