Curating Cabaret, Curating Queerness

Curating Cabaret, Curating Queerness was the third in a series of conversations staged in spring and summer 2022 as part of the Live Art in Scotland project, each exploring different aspects of the Scottish ecology for new and experimental performance.

In this conversation, we focused on a corner of Scotland’s vibrant queer carabet and spoken word scene – and a specific collaboration in creating Eat the Rich – to explore how artists and organisations are working to create and sustain spaces for new work, beyond the central belt. This perspective was informed by knowledge of the significant (but perhaps underappreciated) role that spoken word has played in the history of experimental performance in Scotland, not least in platforming the work of artists from the rest of the UK and other international contexts.

Recorded on zoom then edited for sharing online, we were also interested in continuing the project’s exploration of how different formats might enable different kinds of public conversation, as well as how the pandemic has continued to impact the ways in which we work.

Our contributors

Annabel Cooper (she/they) is co-director (with Drew Taylor-Wilson and Fraser MacLeod) of Sanctuary Queer Arts, an arts organisation dedicated to amplifying the work of LGBTQIA+ performance makers in Scotland. They are co-director (with Jo Clifford and Susan Worsfold) of Queen Jesus Productions and, as a performer, one half of Oassisy, the world’s only and leading drag king rock-n-roll tribute to Oasis.

Myfanwy Morgan (they/them) is a freelance creative whose work encompasses practice as a performance maker, actor, singer-songwriter, storyteller and drag king in training as Richard Hascock. They are a member of Sanctuary Queer Arts’ Young Company, having also worked with Performance Collective Stranraer and the Scottish Youth Theatre.

Hanna Louise (she/her) is an associate producer at Aberdeen Performing Arts and co-founder (with Mae Diansangu) of Hysteria ABDN, an arts platform that showcases women, non-binary and gender marginalised creatives.

Our conversation
Emerging themes

On making spaces for performance outside the central belt:

I think there’s not a huge queer scene in Aberdeen: there’s little things that pop up from time to time and there’s a lovely grassroots art scene and there’s lots of queer artists doing awesome things, but there’s not..  We lack a kind of coherent queer art scene in the way that Edinburgh and Glasgow have. […] the audience reaction was [strong].. even people coming up afterwards saying that they really needed to see a show like this, and it meant a lot to them, and they wanted it to come back. (HL)

[At Eat the Rich] there was a lot of ‘just please make more of this happen’ (MM)

On working online during the pandemic:

If you don’t have a lot of money, I think it’s a massive privilege to be able to get to events, and I think especially if you don’t live in the central belt or in cities where these events are happening. If we can make a digital offering as well, the reach is potentially much bigger. And I guess that’s the point of live art, isn’t it? To reach people and connect with people, especially queer art. (HL)

When the pandemic hit, and there was this big rush, obviously, to keep creating, keep earning, keep making stuff, keep things seen, keep connecting, I think it was definitely the DIY kind of artists spaces [and] platforms that did it most successfully, that were able to pivot […] From what I saw, it was more grassroots platforms that did it much more successfully than the more established institutions with more money and resources behind them. (AC)

On drag and spoken word as accessible, grass-roots arts forms:

I agree with what Myfanwy and Hannah was saying about [drag and spoken word] being direct forms of self-expression and connection and cheap, easy to mount, easy to put up. You know, you don’t need much to create a drag performance or a spoken word performance. (AC)

What I’ve noticed is that when you host a spoken word event and curate one, it’s about holding space for people to share parts of themselves that they want to share publicly, but maybe they haven’t had the chance [or] the space to do so like before that. (HL)

I don’t think it’s from an organisational level that people go, ‘we need to have drag and spoken word together’, it just does tend to happen. Because spoken word is a fantastic way of putting out a platform and how you feel about it, or how you feel about something in your own life. And then drag also. (MM)

On queer spaces and support for risk:

Even though it’s possible for artists to identify their work as LGBT in the Fringe programme, there’s nothing ‘highlighted as queer shows you can go and see. And then I was a bit like, maybe that should be the case? But also, I guess it might feel weird to some queer people to highlight it as such, when a lot of queer people just want their performance to be what it is, as a performance standalone’ (MM)

I think what I realised pretty early on was that you do have to be explicit if you want something to be a safe space, and for people to know that they are welcome and that is for them. You have to say, I think, because there’s a real risk that people might think, well, I don’t know if it is for me, and the risk is maybe too high to go along and find out if you’re from a marginalised group. So I think there’s something nice about being explicit and saying this is a queer space. (HL)

Speaking as a co-director of Sanctuary, what we’re all about is creating a very queer-centric space. So what we do is we say what we do on the tin, it’s about amplifying LGBTQI plus voices, and our development opportunities, our events, our workshops, they’re all about doing that, and bringing LGBT people coming together. And we’ve had a brilliant, brilliant response to that since we launched and we also have a lot of people coming to us saying, ‘Can you help me to develop this thing, this idea, this film, this play, this event that I want to put on? Because I wouldn’t do it elsewhere, I wouldn’t feel that I could do it, I wouldn’t feel that it was the kind of space that I could take a risk’ (AC)

Performance nights and organisations
Other contexts and research