Where: The Metro Studio (1411 Quadra St.) and Intrepid Studio (2-1609 Blanshard St.)
When: Through Sunday, Feb. 5
The long-awaited return to full capacity has created a lot of excitement surrounding Intrepid Theatre’s OutStages Festival, the ninth edition of which comes to a close this week.
“Audiences are having a great time, which is great to see,” said artistic director Sean Guist. “There has been lots of positive feedback. It has been great being able to bring touring artists back.”
The festival was kept to 50 per cent capacity last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, after being a digital-only presentation in 2021. The back-and-forth has made life difficult for Guist.
“We’re still feeling the effects of it. Theatre audiences are not coming back at the same rate, but we’re doing everything we can to not have to cancel shows from someone getting sick. We’re still masking at rehearsals, and masking when our staff is working at the venues, because I just don’t want to cancel a show.”
Laura Puccini, Anthony Hudson and Kaj-anne Pepper are among those who ventured to Victoria from elsewhere for this year’s OutStages, which broke ground as the first dedicated queer theatre festival in B.C. nearly a decade ago. The Toronto-based Puccini will be familiar to fans of the Victoria Fringe, which Intrepid Theatre also produces annually, as she was one of the hits at the alternative theatre festival this summer. Her Fringe run was cut short due to scheduling commitments, so a return engagement of Lesbihonest, her one-woman play, was warranted, Guist said.
Hudson (who performs as Carla Rossi) and Pepper (who performs as Pepper Pepper) bring their drag clown show, Gloop, to OutStages from Portland, Oregon, where the duo enjoys a fanatical following.
Both were important bookings, Guist said. “I wanted to book a festival that was a celebration and full of joy. As queer people, there’s a lot of trauma around identity or coming out or dealing with family and society, which is an important part of the queer experience. But coming back after the pandemic, I really wanted us to have a festival that was full of queer celebration and queer joy. And that’s what audiences want, too.”
For the first time ever this week, OutStages will feature late-night cabaret performances by local solo artists at Intrepid Studio. Performances last week included opera singer Joey Bulman and drag queen Sheila Vitoff. The program this weekend will showcase singer-actor J Mclaughlin (Friday) and drag queen Eddi Licious (Saturday).
It’s all part of the ongoing evolution of OutStages, according to Guist.
“I went [to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival] last summer, and I was really inspired by how they made their late-night programming kind of a festival hub. I’m trying to do that here. Victoria deserves something cool at night on weekends, and we’re doing it in a way that also features local artists. That feels really good.”