Nova Scotia

Queer theatre festival a safe space to share lived experiences, says founder

OutFest was started by Isaac Mulè in Kitchener, Ont., seven years ago. But this year, the festival has relocated to Halifax, where it plans to stay.

Launched 7 years ago in Ontario, OutFest celebrates its first week in its new Halifax home

Geneviève Steele, left, and Mallory Amirault rehearse in the Bus Stop Theatre for their play, A Beginner's Guide to the Night Sky, at OutFest. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

The Bus Stop Theatre is under construction. Its small lobby is covered with orange tarps and bright green painters' tape.

Despite the mess, the cosy space on Gottingen Street is providing a safe and welcoming home for Halifax's new theatre festival: OutFest.

OutFest, organized by Page1 Theatre and hosted at the Bus Stop, is focused on bringing 2SLGBTQ+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) voices to centre stage. It runs until Sunday.

The festival started seven years ago in Kitchener, Ont., but moved East and is enjoying its first run in Halifax. It bills itself as the largest queer theatre festival in Atlantic Canada.

"This is really an opportunity for folks to share their stories and to work with other queer people," said Isaac Mulè, the festival's founder and artistic director.

"It's extremely rare for an entire room to be full of queer artists, to develop work, and to share those lived experiences." 

Isaac Mulè standing in the Bus Stop Theatre. Mulè began OutFest 7 years ago in Ontario, but this year, the week-long festival has relocated to Halifax. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

Mulè brought the festival to Halifax on a whim. He moved to Nova Scotia early in the COVID-19 pandemic, looking for a change. He said he found the Halifax LGBTQ community very welcoming, but wanted to see more opportunities for creative expression, specifically in theatre.

"I noticed that a lot of bars were closing, a lot of queer bars. And queer bars have always been a multipurpose space in the community," he said. "There's more than drinking and partying and things like that. So it's really important as queer people, that we have those spaces together."

Halifax's only LGBTQ-dedicated bar closed in 2020 — part of an overall decline in spaces serving the LGBTQ community in Canada and the U.S.

Since OutFest launched on Tuesday, Mulè and the artists say they've seen a very positive reaction.

"You can really get that feeling of community and everybody coming together to support the festival, to support each other's work. It's just a great feeling," said Mulè.

Programs for OutFest, a new theatre festival in Nova Scotia focused on 2SLGBTQ+ artists. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

OutFest selected plays through a blind submission process back in August. 

Playwright Colleen MacIsaac — whose play, A Beginner's Guide To The Night Sky, was among those chosen — said they became emotional watching the first show at OutFest.

"It brought me to tears and it just made me so excited that these things are happening," said MacIsaac.

"Another audience member sitting behind me, we were chatting a bit and they said, 'You know, it's so wonderful that this is a queer-focused space and that this [festival] is a thing that's happening.' And I couldn't agree more."

Two other plays are being staged daily until Sunday: Can You Remember How We Got Here? by Katie Clarke and Skylark Song by McKenna James Boeckner. The festival lineup also includes a staged reading of Robyn Vivan's Deeper planned for Saturday and Sunday. 

The Two-Spirit Stage, which featured local two-spirit artist Eleanor Michael, kicked off the festival earlier in the week with music and shadow puppetry. The event was organized with the support of the Wabanaki Two-Spirit Alliance and included a screening of the short film, Stories From Land Back Camp.

From left to right: Colleen MacIsaac, Mallory Amirault, Rooks Feild-Green and Geneviève Steele of A Beginner's Guide to the Night Sky take a selfie on stage at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

MacIsaac said it's great to see so much LGTBQ-centred theatre in the city, saying it has been difficult to get funding for smaller arts groups in the province over the last decade.

Actor Geneviève Steele is in A Beginner's Guide to the Night Sky. Steele has been working in theatre for over 30 years and said she's impressed by the atmosphere at OutFest.

"It's been incredibly supportive and positive and nurturing from Day 1," said Steele.

Mulè said this won't be the only OutFest for Halifax — he hopes to make the festival a yearly event in the city.