The 10 best gay theatre festivals around the world

Stefan Arestis

‘The theatre's so obsessed
With dramas so depressed
It's hard to sell a ticket on Broadway
Shows should be more pretty
Shows should be more witty
Shows should be more…
What's the word?
Gay…?'

These words were sung by the character of Roger in the Broadway show, ‘The Producers', and we couldn't agree more. When it comes to seeing a show, it needs a dash of campy flair that only gay people can bring.

What is it about the theatre that gay people love? Is it the costumes? The actors? The stories?

With both of us being big drama fanatics (both inside and outside the theatre house), we've particularly found theatre to be a much more inclusive and open-minded mode of entertainment than film or TV.

“Gay stories were allowed to be told on stage years before the ‘big dogs of Hollywood' would even hint at queer peoples' existence.”

With the pink wave riding across the world, and more countries polishing up their LGBTQ rights records, queer representation is at a crucial point to help push those lawmakers over the rainbow picket line.

This is why we feel that gay theatre festivals are super important for the cause. They help increase visibility for our community, not just for heterosexuals, but for ourselves as well. There are many different kinds of people in the community that have different experiences or have varying privileges. Whilst we, as gay men, undergo certain challenges that our straight peers don't have to think about, our struggles differ from those who are trans, disabled or queer. Gay theatre festivals bring all of our stories into the light and can be quite a harrowing experience for all who attend.

We've put together a list of some of the best gay theatre festivals from across the world.

01

The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival

Dublin, The Republic of Ireland

The Dublin International Gay Theatre Festival is the biggest of it's kind in the world!

We're starting off our list with the mother of them all!

The International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival has grown massively over the last few years to become the biggest in the world – with drama companies from all over the globe travelling to the Irish city to take part.

Founded in 2004 to commemorate the 150th birthday of Oscar Wilde (a legendary queer playwright), this festival aims to shift a new focus onto plays with an LGBTQ theme.

In 2018, Dublin celebrated its 25th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the 35th anniversary since the first Pride march in Dublin city. A number of productions in the festival focused on these milestones and showed how far Ireland has come in its treatment towards its LGBTQ citizens.

Now Irish audiences can enjoy productions in the festival that both take a look back at the bleak days of their past, but also represent where they are now. Take a bow Ireland!

02

Queer Arts Festival

Vancouver, Canada

The Queer Arts Festival in Vancouver showcases some of the best stand-up comedy shows, operatic showcases, and performance art pieces representing LGBTQ+ people

Vancouver is a mecca for theatre! There are more than 30 theatre companies based in the city who perform in 20 different theatre houses. If that wasn't amazing enough, Vancouver is also home to some of the most liberal-minded people in the world. So is it any wonder that there is no shortage of good LGBTQ theatre going on there?

The Queer Arts Festival takes place at the beginning of summer every year, and is regarded as one of the ‘best exhibitions in Vancouver'. It showcases some of the finest artistic works that represent LGBTQ people. From stand-up comedy shows, operatic showcases, and performance art, the QAF aims to include a wide variety of nuggets from across the theatrical spectrum.

A great example of a show that we saw was a production called ‘Diaspora‘, a play that was created by an ensemble of gay refugees and immigrants. Combining elements of text, video and performance, it asks audiences to rethink their perception of the LGBTQ community. Often when being represented in media, queer people are presented as attractive, cisgendered, and white. Yet, through theatre, this production allows audiences to see past the Westernised idea of queerness, to acknowledge the members of our community who come from all over the world. Be sure to check out our gay guide to Vancouver for more LGBTQ tips when visiting.

03

Jerk Off

Paris, France

The JERK OFF festival offers to discover the richness of queer & alternative cultures.

Excusez-moi? Jerk off?

This festival name certainly jumped out at us. But hey, it's based in Paris, one of the most sexiest cities on the planet!

The Jerk Off Festival describes itself as representing artists “that do not fall under the dominant heteronormativity” – and our response to that is…‘YAAAS!'

Jerk Off turns the spotlight away from the generic boy-girl romantic storytelling we see in so many movies and television shows and shines the spotlight onto queer people. Through representing sexual minorities in a cultural setting, it creates a safe space for audiences to see into the lives of LGBTQ people.

A stereotype of the gay community has always been that we're obsessed with musicals, and love to dress up. While that can be true (it most certainly is for us!), there are plenty of straight plays that the queer community equally identify with.

Jerk Off is a fantastic example of a festival which rings the drama bells for all the right reasons and puts the LGBTQ community at centre stage.

04

Outburst Queer Arts Festival

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Belfast's Outburst Queer Arts Festival originally began as a grassroots movement to promote the LGBTQ+ cause

“It's affirming us in a place that doesn't affirm us”, Ruth McCarthy, Director of the Festival, once wrote.

We love the story of how this festival got started. A group of people got together in a room and brainstormed ideas for how to kickstart a grassroots movement to propel the LGBTQ cause.

One of the ideas? A space that would share queer ideas and creativity outlooks made by local artists. There is nothing like a community coming together to do their part against oppression.

Despite Northern Ireland being a late member to the same-sex marriage club, it's refreshing to see such a prominent queer event taking place here.

Well, the Outburst Queer Arts Festival is saying ‘exit, stage left' to these restrictive laws and encouraging the entire Northern Irish community to lobby for equal rights. To help with that, people need to be convinced it is a cause worth fighting for. With the increased visibility of LGBTQ people in the media, it can help convince more people to jump on board and fight the cause.

05

Fresh Fruit Festival

New York City, USA

If you're in New York don't miss out on the Fresh Fruit Theatre Festival which celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Art and Culture

An article about gay people and theatre? Well, of course, New York City would have to make an appearance at some point!

New York has a fascinating history of LGBTQ theatre. In 1927, twelve actors were arrested after appearing in a production of ‘God of Vengeance‘ – the first commercial Broadway show with a lesbian theme. Since then, the city has been the home for a variety of plays that tell the stories of diverse gay characters. From ‘Angels in America' in the 80s, which focused on the AIDs crisis, to today, where we have ‘Prom: The Musical', a love story between two schoolgirls about to attend their high school prom.

The Fresh Fruit Festival creates a space where exclusively queer stories can be told. It has taken place in February for the last five years. Festival week is often jam-packed with all things drag, burlesque, and theatre! For more, check out our detailed gay guide to New York Pride.

06

Tarang Delhi International Queer Theatre and Film Festival

New Delhi, India

India might not be known as a haven for gay people but the Tarang Delhi International Queer Theatre and Film Festival is working to change that

Despite India not having the greatest track records when it comes to LGBTQ rights, its generation of Millennials have a much more open-minded outlook to make it one of the most gay-friendly countries in Asia. While this festival is mainly for film, it also places great emphasis on theatre as well.

The Tarang Delhi Festival was created by one of India's leading LGBTQ support groups, the Harmless Hugs, to help the movement for full equal rights.

Organisers make it super accessible for everyone to attend, with live streams of discussion panels and performances being published across their social media. We can't imagine what it must be like growing up in a country that is so limited in its LGBTQ representation, so we think it is absolutely beautiful that any closeted kids across the Asian continent can see their stories told on stage from the safety of their bedrooms.

After all, this is what theatre is all about – reaching out to people who have been disenfranchised and allowing them to see themselves reflected on stage. Find out more about gay life in India in our interview with local boy Raj from Delhi.

07

Dixon Place Hot! Festival

New York City, USA

Queer identifying folkx in New York will not want to miss out on the Hot! Festival at Palace Dixon

If you haven't heard of Dixon Place then you're missing out!

It's a wonderful organisation that helps LGBTQ people produce a range of entertainment media throughout the year.

The idea for the company originated inside a Parisian salon in the mid-80s. Ellie Covan ran with the concept the minute she touched down in New York. Working away from her Manhattan apartment for a total of 23 years, Covan then expanded the organisation into an arts facility for queer people to express their voices in art.

It holds numerous festivals throughout the year, and the theatre version has been crowned the best LBGTQ Theater Festival in New Yorkby The Village Voice.

It welcomes over 100 artists through a collection of performances ranging from dance to puppetry, visual arts to stand up comedy, and so much more.

08

Toronto Queer Theatre Festival

Toronto, Canada

Toronto is a gay friendly city as evidenced by the excellent Toronto Queer Theatre Festival

The Toronto Queer Theatre Festival is a festival of short plays written by LGBTQ writers about what it's like being gay. It not only looks at the issues faced between our community and the government but the issues we face within the community itself.

A production we were lucky enough to see last year, ‘I've Just Seen a Face‘, tells the story of a queer non-binary blind person who wants to attend a Queer Date Night. The show holds up an ugly mirror to our society as a whole, as it shows how shallow some people in the LGBTQ community can be.

This is just one example of the kinds of stories this festival tells, but we think it's a fantastic representation of how beneficial gay theatre festivals can be. People in the community need to be held accountable for their beauty standards, and we need to stop judging each other and fighting amongst ourselves. After all, don't we have enough fighting to do already…like fighting for our rights?

09

Antwerp Queer Arts Festival

Antwerp, Belgium

The Antwerp Queer Arts Festival welcomes both academics and artists to come together and comment on the gay rights movement across the world

The Antwerp Queer Arts Festival is truly something to feel inspired by.

Having started off as a grassroots movement by the Antwerp Pink House, this festival welcomes both academics and artists to come together and lay down commentary on the gay rights movement across the world.

With Belgium being one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to LGBTQ rights, it can often feel like some sort of gay utopia when walking around the city.

But we need to remember how many people still assume a person is straight until told otherwise, and that gay people are often left feeling underrepresented, regardless of how accomplished their country's political landscape is.

This is why we loved this festival. It reminds its audience that LGBTQ people still struggle with their identities, wrestle with body image, battle anxiety, navigate the dating world, and experience internalised homophobia. Seeing something on stage that you can identify in your own life is such a therapeutic experience. And even if you see something you personally can't relate to, then it helps broaden your views, keeping you open-minded.

10

DC Queer Festival

Washington DC, USA

See wonderful films and plays at the DC Queer Theatre Festival in Washington DC

The DC LGBT Centre is truly incredible.

It was founded with the mission to not just celebrate the LGBTQ community in DC but to educate and empower youth to be more aware of issues faced by the queer community.

Each year they hold a theatre festival where all of the cities queer voices are unleashed!

Those who don't fit inside the confines of heteronormativity are championed and encouraged to share their experiences through storytelling.

The plays are quite short since creators are challenged to tell their stories in the space of 10 minutes.

Being honest, we felt rather jealous at the writers' abilities to tell such compelling stories in such a short timeframe, when it takes us at least an hour to decide where we are eating out that night. But hey, that is why we aren't writing for theatre – but simply enjoying it!


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10 gay theatre festivals from around the world that you need to see
Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author the gay travel blog nomadicboys.com. As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

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