Queer Up North 2009, in retrospect


It’s been nearly three weeks (how?!) since Queer Up North fin­ished for 2009, and this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down and organ­ise my thoughts on the fest­ival — what was great, what was good, and what could have been done bet­ter — down into my blog. Artist­ic­ally this was cer­tainly the best one I’ve ever been involved with, but still, there were a few things we could have done bet­ter.

Long piece this one, so it’s under the cut…

What Was Great

This is the first year (of the four at which I have volun­teered) of which I could say that the pro­gram­ming of the fest­ival as a whole was, to me, fault­less. We brought back per­formers with whom we’ve developed a close rela­tion­ship, we com­mis­sioned and show­cased new work, we brought over work nev­er before seen in the UK, and all of it was unashamedly of a Queer eth­os. No com­prom­ises, no token­ism, no pan­der­ing, just the right artists per­form­ing in a fest­ival that brought them togeth­er.

Per­son­ally, I have so many high­lights this year that I feel bad about pick­ing examples. Taylor Mac’s The Young Ladies Of… was a great piece, funny, enga­ging and still affect­ing. Steven Cohen’s 3 Pieces pro­voked thought and debate. Chris Goode’s The Adven­tures of Wound Man and Shir­ley invoked the power­less­ness of a teen­ager and replied with a wist­fully com­ic­al, yet potent, answer. Novice The­ory and Our Lady J ranged in song from gos­pel to lyr­ic­al storytelling. 

It seems wrong to pick out these few. There wasn’t a single thing I saw that I didn’t enjoy.

What was Good

The Spiegel­tent – I still smirk when I say its name was “La Gay­ola” – was a great ven­ue, but had a few lim­it­a­tions. It would have been great had it been in the gay vil­lage, but wheth­er the massively increased costs from loc­a­tion and secur­ity could have been recouped in tick­et sales? I don’t know. Would the audi­ences have been dif­fer­ent — less queer, more diverse, more dif­fi­cult? Almost cer­tainly. Would it have been harder to man­age and run? Cer­tainly. Over­all I think its loc­a­tion broke all of us in as gently as could have happened. I’d have been able to cope with lar­ger, more rowdy houses, but it wouldn’t have been fun for me or my volun­teers front of hourse.

Our intern­al organ­isa­tion was good — and that’s to say every single per­son involved worked above and bey­ond the call of duty. We were effect­ively two full-time people short this year, and there simply weren’t enough man-hours avail­able to get everything done that needed to be, as well as it needed to be. I could have been bet­ter in man­aging the volun­teers, who were the main­stay, as ever, of mak­ing sure audi­ences were happy. Richard Bliss ran the Spiegel­tent box office with skill and humour, a role he nev­er signed on for. Louise de Kon­ing took on every single job that over­flowed from any of us, man­aged to do them all, and still sing in a per­form­ance. Polly from Taur­us man­aged the bars with humour above and bey­ond the call of duty. Emma Ryan and Jonath­an Best man­aged to cram more work into each day than was pre­vi­ously believed to be pos­sible.

It shouldn’t hap­pen like this. But it does. We all kinda cope. We even made it out for drinks once or twice this year — that was a first.

What could have been done bet­ter?

There are always things that could have been improved. Many of them happened because of cir­cum­stance — we couldn’t con­firm as much as we’d like as soon as we’d have liked, which pushed so much so late.

In the future, I’d like to recruit volun­teers earli­er in the cycle and to treat them bet­ter. I need to make sure they’re auto­mat­ic­ally comped to the per­form­ance at which they’re volun­teer­ing, that exper­i­enced and inex­per­i­enced volun­teers are paired up, and that I meet and work with as many as pos­sible early on in the fest­ival. I know from per­son­al exper­i­ence that it’s easy to feel unval­ued as a volun­teer, yet there are cer­tain tasks that abso­lutely rely on them.

Get­ting volun­teers earli­er in the cycle means at the very least a little low-level mar­ket­ing early on in the cycle. While of course print, espe­cially the bro­chure, can only be done at the last minute, this is no longer strictly a print age. More gen­er­al­ised mar­ket­ing must be got out soon­er — a ban­ner in Canal Street (and why not in Leeds and Liv­er­pool too?) plus tar­geted web advert­ising, driv­ing people to a web­site that is updated early on in the cycle with as much inform­a­tion as can be given. Add to this email alerts and well-updated news feeds plus someone keep­ing an eye on Twit­ter and Face­book — little bits of inform­a­tion, early, and often. That’s how I’d do it. It’s another set of tasks that someone needs to pick up in Janu­ary how­ever.

We do need to find a way by which we stop killing people. We’ve ruth­lessly taken advant­age of any help that’s been offered to us over the years, and we don’t even say thank you often enough. I know that we value and are grate­ful to every single per­son who offers help. But piss­ing them off doesn’t help the next fest­ival out. The reas­on why this hap­pens is that we nev­er have enough core people. Either by lack of fund­ing or by attri­tion, I always think we’re try­ing to do this around 3 people short.

And what next?

Para­phrased from Pic­ture of a Man by Our Lady J, “this is what liv­ing feels like”. I’m run off my feet dur­ing the fest­ival — this year I lost nine pounds in weight. But I’m alive. It’s big, com­plex, and I can hold a little bit of it togeth­er and feel alive in doing so.

Now how do I get into doing this as a prop­er source of income? It doesn’t need to be much income — the feel­ing alive is the thing.

That’s my next chal­lenge.