With a New Year just days away, SHOUT Festival Producer, Adam Carver reflects on SHOUT Festival 2017 and the cultural phenomenon of RuPauls' Drag Race.
November in Birmingham saw the return of SHOUT Festival. If you haven’t heard of SHOUT, we’re the city’s Festival of Queer Arts and Culture bringing the best in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) theatre, film, visual arts, performance, music, comedy (and whatever else we can find) to the city’s arts venues each year.
SHOUT 2017 was our 8th year in Birmingham, and this year has been a significant year for LGBTQ people in the UK, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised male homosexuality in England and Wales. Part of my role at SHOUT is to work with artists, and venues, and build the festival’s programme each year, this year’s festival was an opportunity for us to reflect on this anniversary, to see how far our communities have come and how far there is still to go: to celebrate, to reflect, to remember, to learn, to think, to protest, and to platform.
Over the course of 10 days we brought 36 events, performances, and exhibitions to 13 venues across the city welcoming audiences of all ages, from little ones at Drag Queen Story Time to people of all ages exploring the history of Birmingham’s Gay Liberation Front. SHOUT 17 saw thousands of people from across the midlands and beyond come together for eat-along cult film screenings of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, drag-king punk gigs in factories, stunning new dance work exploring what it means to be LGBTQ and Jamaican … oh and a winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race! We discussed, we challenged, we laughed, we were moved, and – of course – we partied.
But don’t worry if you missed it you can still catch the phenomenal exhibition ‘Coming Out’ at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (featuring work by Grayson Perry, Tracy Emin & Derek Jarman to name but a few) until April 15th, and our exhibition ‘We Often Find it Necessary To Keep Our Homosexuality Quiet’ exploring documentary photography of Birmingham’s Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s, which is on at MAC Birmingham until Jan 2nd.
This year we were particularly excited to bring Jinkx Monsoon (***spoiler alert***) the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 5 to Birmingham for the first time with her smash-hit off Broadway show The Vaudevillians. Jinkx was a firm favourite on Drag Race, but it’s only when you see them on stage that you really get a sense of just how incredible Jinkx is. I caught the show back in 2013 in a tiny dinner-theatre in New York City, and since then have been doing everything I can to get it over here for audiences in Birmingham – it’s theatrical magic, and pure star talent. I wanted to end this year’s festival with something that demonstrated how far the LGBTQ community has come, that celebrated queer identities and didn’t hide away from fully embracing our cultures, Jinkx was the perfect fit!
Drag Race has become such a cultural phenomenon in the last few years, particularly since it became widely available on Netflix (before that you’d be reliant on online streaming, or watching it in bars, or for those who were really dedicated staying up until 2am to watch seasons one and two air on E4 back in the late 00s). As a programme, its broken a lot of new ground in terms of showcasing so much of what drag has to offer, but also in platforming issues that affect LGBTQ people, and in humanising drag queens and starting to demonstrate what incredible artists they are (most of them anyway!).
Drag has for a long time been an integral part of queer culture, it’s about subverting expectations, challenging the way we think and, celebrating the things we are often shamed for. Drag Race has been a vehicle to bring a little part of that to a much larger audience, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg – there’s so much more to drag performance and gender expression to be discovered.
One of the greatest benefits that Drag Race has offered us, I think, is that it’s bringing people back to the bars and back out into LGBTQ specific social spaces. Audiences are much more interested in seeing drag performance than they were even 5 years ago, and that’s important. It’s amazing that we’re able to bring so many of our Drag Race favourites to the city but it’s equally important, if not more so, that people come out and support their local queens – remember that all those Drag Race Queens were performing back at home in their local bars before Drag Race put them in your living rooms. There’s so much talent on offer in Birmingham’s drag scene, so I hope people who love Jinkx, Alaska, and Bianca Del Rio also head out to see their home grown queens and support local queer artists (who knows if RPDR finally does a much rumoured UK version, you could be seeing a future winner).
For more information on SHOUT Festival please visit www.shoutfestival.co.uk or follow us on Twitter @SHOUTFestival, facebook @SHOUTFestival, and Instagram @SHOUT_Festival. SHOUT is a project of Birmingham LGBT and a member of Birmingham Festivals Group.
Symphony Hall is delighted to host a GAG-gle of Queens through 2018.
On Sunday 27 May, your favourite drag stars bring to Birmingham a fierce new show. The Official RuPaul’s Drag Race World Tour will be hosted by celebrity judge Michelle Visage with sickening performances by Kim Chi, Latrice Royale, Shangela, Sharon Needles, Violet Chachki, Valentina and a surprise guest from the all new 10th season!
On Monday 30 July, the ‘Joan Rivers of the drag world’ (New York Times) returns to Birmingham with her fiercely funny new show. The self-proclaimed “clown in a gown” and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner, Bianca Del Rio is back and Blame It On Bianca Del Rio promises to be more tongue-lashingly hilarious than ever!
I hope you're ready for some filthy, nasty, hateful humour because I'm coming to Birmingham with a brand-new comedy show.Bianca Del Rio