Outburst Queer Arts Festival returns with exciting new live events

Outburst, Belfast’s queer arts festival, will take place from November 12 to 20, with a jam-packed programme of live events to suit all queer culture vultures.

A man in makeup and sunglasses and combat gear with a stormy sky behind

Now in its 15th year, Outburst, Queer Arts Festival, returns to a predominantly in-person programme, sporting a huge array of events including; storytelling, opera, poetry, live podcasts, exhibitions, film screenings, talks, zines and more.   

Outburst Festival Artistic Director, Ruth McCarthy explains to GCN, “it’s really about bringing art and activism together but not with a capital A activism. It’s not about having to do stuff. It’s about, ‘Let’s get together and think and look what’s happening right now’”.

Black and white photograph of two kittens wearing pink balaclavas on a turquoise background.

That spirit of activism without a ‘capital A’, which Ruth refers to, is rooted in the festival’s ethos of intersectionality and community support, and this year sees Outburst Festival host a strong selection of diverse works from both home-grown and international queer artists. 

Mindful of the hardships experienced by artists during the pandemic, this year’s selection sees the festival coordinators place a strong emphasis on showcasing newly commissioned works as well as that of emerging artists.  


Following the smash-hit success of the 2019 show, Abomination: A DUP Opera, Conor Mitchell returns with one of this year’s most anticipated shows, MASS. Billed as “an epic performance of queer ritual and connection”, the work sees Mitchell’s mesmerising composition performed by the 64-piece Ulster Orchestra, accompanied by instillations from six international queer filmmakers.   

The performance takes place in Belfast’s iconic Telegraph Building (the former site of the newspaper) and “takes the time-honoured ceremonies of Christian faith” and “creates a new place of connection and celebration where all are welcome.”

Black and white image of a man from the chest up. He is topless with his arms outstretched and his eyes closed.

Throughout the show, audiences are invited to walk freely around the space to view the six films by Madonna Adib (Syria), Paulo Mendel and Vi Grunvald (Brazil), Mariah Garnett (USA), Simone Harris (Jamaica), Mohammad Shawky Hassan (Egypt), and Debalina Majumder (India). Each film “visually responds to the movements of a mass through different queer lenses from around the globe.”


You don’t get to the ripe old age of 15 without establishing some well-loved favourites and this year serves up a real treat. 

In his cabaret finery, the legendary David Hoyle emerges from lockdown with his new show, Rebellion. The show is one of the festival’s only touring productions and is described as “creating an opportunity for healing, a coming together in mutual love and support and an opportunity to create rebellion.” This is one for the lover of all things avant-garde from what the festival hails as, “our greatest living avant guardian.” 

This year’s Outburst Festival also sees the return of one of the most influential writers, thinkers and activists of her generation, Sarah Schulman. Co-founder of the Lesbian Avengers and former ACT UP member, Schulman will participate in two fantastic talks. The first, Let the Record Show will see her in conversation with fellow ACT UP veteran Monica Pearl as they discuss Schulman’s latest publication, Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP, New York 1987-1993. 

The second event will see Schulman in conversation with Ghadir al Shafie, co-founder of Aswat – Palestinian Feminist Centre for Sexual and Gender Freedoms. The event will be held in collaboration with Queer Cinema Palestine and will follow the screening of Roy Dib’s 2010, Mondial; a short film about a Lebanese gay couple who decide to take a road trip to Ramallah.

Old black and white photograph of a boy learning over a barrel in a derelict street. The barrel is painted pink and the boy has a mask and fairy wings drawn on in pink. The text reads Border Fairies in bold pink.

Fast becoming an Outburst Festival stalwart with his shows, There’s a Bishop in my Bedroom (2017) and Looking for Love During Lockdown (2020), storyteller Richard O’Leary returns for his third instalment with Border Fairies. Always thought-provoking, O’Leary draws on personal recollections using old love letters, personal photos and other insightful ephemera to create an intimate and funny show that casts a queer eye on Ireland’s border.

As he told GCN, “I myself am a southern gay fairy, who in the 1980’s escaped Cork for Belfast, that well-known destination for gay liberation. I’ve had a life of crossing borders of sexuality, religion and national identity. We fairies are like elephants on the savanna, borders were never designed for us”

Mixed Bag

This year also sees the birth of the newest addition to the Outburst family, its brand new in-house magazine, Catflap. The print-only publication combines essays, reviews and musings to bring together “queer notions, bold thinking, big-dreaming and utopian queer visions”. The magazine launch will coincide with the festival’s opening, Look What the Cat Dragged In – a night of performance, words and dancing under the supervision of DJ, Kate Brennan Harding. The magazine will be available to purchase throughout the festival and on Outburst’s website for £10.

Kate will also take to the stage earlier that evening to host the first live instalment of her music podcast with live music performances, great chats and a fabulous playlist of new music from both north and south of the border. 

The show kicks off just one of the festivals five podcast shows. Other live shows include; First City Live, turning a queer eye on country music; and GCN favourite, Poz Vibe with the fabulous duo, Robbie and Veda. There will also be two more shows launching online at the end of the festival; Poems Over Scrolling with the Fourteen Poems publication; and The State of Us – a festival special featuring conversations exploring the role of queer art with some of the festival artists. The podcast will consider ideas around power, control, censorship and social change. 

The packed programme also features six different film screenings. The selection caters for all interests, including; the critically acclaimed Cured;  the Gaze Festival hit, Rebel Dykes, which will be accompanied by a special exhibition;  and a free screening of the Northern Irish queer short, Homebird by trans director Caleb J Roberts.

Black and white image of a kitten wearing a pearl necklace and earrings with a Margaret Tatcher hair do and a pink balaklava

Eclectic Gems

The festival wraps up with the Q@Q programme – a bumper showcase of works that are still in development.

As Ruth puts it, “We love open process stuff because it’s trying to queer how we do things. So, it’s not like artists go into a room and make something and nobody sees it until it’s perfect. And the idea of perfect anyway, in a queer context, that’s illegal.”

Okay, so nobody is going to be standing backstage with a pair of handcuffs when the work does prove to be a sensation but the programme gives artists a chance to engage with audiences to bring the work off the pages and into the spotlight. 

The jam-packed afternoon includes New Queer Works, where seven performers will present short pieces selected through an open call. The second presentation comes from Transforming Stages: The New Trans Playbook, platforming the work of four trans and non-binary artists with an aim to expand trans voices on stage. 

The programme wraps up with The Gospel of National Virility by the amazing Stefan Fae. Hot off the back of his film debut Shame//Less, Stephen Quinn (aka Stefan Fae) presents what he describes as “part TED talk, part cabaret”. The work-in-progress show reflects on the life of ‘Bad Gay’, General Eoin O’Duffy, founder of the Irish Blue Shirts party and later Fine Gael. Stephen asks, “what can we learn from ‘bad’ historical figures who also happen to experience same-sex desire? What happens when nuanced and complicated queer narratives are side-lined by moves to the centre – or even the right – through assimilation or political conservatism?” 

For more details on these and the other shows as well as booking, check out the full Outburst programme here.

© 2021 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

Support GCN

GCN has been a vital, free-of-charge information service for Ireland’s LGBTQ+ community since 1988.

During this global COVID pandemic, we like many other organisations have been impacted greatly in the way we can do business and produce. This means a temporary pause to our print publication and live events and so now more than ever we need your help to continue providing this community resource digitally.

GCN is a registered charity with a not-for-profit business model and we need your support. If you value having an independent LGBTQ+ media in Ireland, you can help from as little as €1.99 per month. Support Ireland’s free, independent LGBTQ+ media.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.