After producing seven similar festivals in Kitchener, Ontario, a move to Halifax and a two-year pandemic delay, Page 1 Theatre’s artistic director, Isaac Mulè, is reviving OutFest here on the East Coast.
Billed as the largest festival of its kind in Atlantic Canada, the six-day curated festival of original works will feature emerging and established multidisciplinary queer artists.
“I’m extremely excited to re-launch the festival again,” says Mulè. “This festival was gaining a lot of momentum over the years, and then to have that momentum halted by the pandemic was very difficult. Combine that with moving the festival across the country, it was almost like starting over but this time we have seven years of experience to pull from.”
Mulè also sees parallels between Kitchener and Halifax and why he thinks OutFest will be a good fit for his new hometown.
“I lived in a quite large community, but we didn’t have a gay bar; we didn’t have places for people to gather, and I see those similarities here in Halifax,” he says. “If we look at what’s happening around the world and in our own communities, it’s critical that we have safe places to gather. Places where we can celebrate, connect, and socialize as a community.”
Featuring artists from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland, Mulè likens OutFest to a Fringe Festival but with some unique considerations for participating artists.
“We know that queer artists have historically faced more barriers when it comes to producing or creating work,” says Mulè. “This could be anything from accessing rehearsal space, connecting with other queer artists, development opportunities, etc. So we try and support the artists involved in a variety of ways to meet those needs, and eliminate those barriers.”
One way OutFest supported the artists came from a partnership with the Playwright Atlantic Resource Centre (PARC).
“PARC provides a workshop series or helps fund workshops, and so we applied as a company, and they provided some funding for us,” explains Mulè. “We were able to hire Annie Valentina, who served as a dramaturge and did two workshops last fall.”
The feedback from Valentina and the workshops spaced a month apart proved invaluable to the participating artists as they could hear their work read aloud, sometimes for the first time.
“They were able to ask questions, and seek feedback from other queer artists, something that is extremely important in the development process,” says Mulè.
Playwright Katie Clarke, who presents Can You Remember How We Got Here at the festival, found the process a “magnificent experience.”
“It’s so nice to work in a queer-led space, creating work about and around queer community, especially in a time where in-person gatherings with queer and trans kin are often few and far between,” says Clarke.
Alongside Clarke’s new play, OutFest will also feature an opening night performance of local Two-Spirit artists and the short film Land Back Camp.
This year’s mainstage production, Skylark Song, comes from New Brunswick-based playwright McKenna James Boeckner and Halifax theatre artist Colleen MacIsaac presents their new play, A Beginner’s Guide To The Night Sky. The festival will also include a staged reading of Deeper by Newfoundland playwright Robyn Vivian.
“It’s really going to be a great time with so many diverse voices and so many wonderful people involved,” concludes Mulè.
OutFest runs at The Bus Stop Theatre (2203 Gottingen St, Halifax) from April 26 through May 1. Visit pg1-theatre.com for tickets and information.