For a queer person, the chance to attend a queer performance is sometimes as exciting as it is nerve-wracking, even when you’re not the one in the spotlight. You just want to see it done right. And sometimes, in those rare moments when you catch an artist’s expression, and it’s inspiring or blows your mind, you get lit up. Your mind finds new ways of working; your perspective is inexorably changed. But then there’s the flip side. From time to time, it’s even your friends. They’re so eager and excited to perform; then they get the mic, and you’re frozen in place. Oh, this isn’t good, you think. Boy, I wish this was a lot better. Could be lack of rehearsal, an awkward stage presence or just an altogether bomb on execution or delivery.
Next weekend, over the course of four days and nights, Kate Gormley and seven other volunteers have packed in about as many of these opportunities one can possibly imagine at the third annual Phreak N Queer Arts and Music Festival. Gormley and her team have so much in store that there are sure to be standouts in both categories: moments where stars are born, and crashes where artists will be pulled back up and encouraged by fellow queers to go back to their craft with new determination.
The mix of programming they’ve put together is really quite a feat. And this year, more so than in the previous two years, the PNQ team wanted queers young and old to be able to attend, adding in more all-ages opportunities and scaling down ticket prices (plus a few “no one will be turned away” events). But what made Kate and Co. want to throw the first festival a few years ago, PW asked?
“We wanted a little bit more out of the Philly scene,” Gormley explains. “Things were getting very pop-y and mainstream, and we wanted to go back to some of our roots of hearing very exciting and interesting young artists. A lot of us remember the days of West Philly basement parties, where you’d hear someone’s mixtape or EP and not Ke$ha on the dance floor.”
There’s no question that there’s not so much as a clash as a disparity between pop and punk gay cultures. They don’t really coexist. To that end, queer punks could understandably feel like their pop queer counterparts not only dominate everything in American culture’s perception of queerness, but even go so far as to quell the wealth of opportunities in the city of Philadelphia to catch things like queer poetry readings, genderqueer art walks, lo-fi bizarro queer rock shows and trans-friendly dance parties.
“We wanted to push the envelope of what was happening or what could happen in queer culture in Philly,” Gormley continues, “so a bunch of us got together and said, ‘What the hell.’ We sold out shows and saw a bunch of people you don’t typically see on the rounds. So, we just kept it going, and this is our third year now.”
She elaborated, too, on what kinds of performances she hopes will transpire within spaces that nourish, encourage and support artists looking to take a chance or push themselves in directions they never thought they’d be able to go. And that’s part of the whole purpose of Phreak ‘N Queer: It serves to create spaces where queers can congregate, form an audience and take in queer performance, but also to help performers come out of their shells, experiment with audiences and jump forward as artists.
“Try new things, experiment, go out on a limb—because we’ve got an audience that will support you in taking those risks,” says Gormley. “At least that’s what we’re trying to do. We tell folks from the jump, ‘Here’s what we’re about—we have to be a little more careful at all-ages shows, and we don’t censor people. Know your audience.’ But for the adult shows, we really encourage folks to try new things and push the boundary a little. If there’s always something you’ve wanted to do, go for it. Why not try it?”
Why not, indeed. Hopefully this philosophy will yield some truly breakthrough and jaw-dropping moments of creative expression at Phreak N Queer from a whole range of folks, both queer and queer-friendly.
Thurs., Aug. 1 to Sun., Aug. 4. Various times, admission prices and locations. phreaknqueerfestival.wordpress.com
At Songbird, will a star be born?