In the space of 14 years, Queer Contact has become a landmark occasion on Manchester’s arts and entertainment calendar – and this year’s line-up promises to be bigger than ever.
Making its return to Contact Theater for the first time in five years due to the pandemic and extensive renovation works, Queer Contact will feature a host of performances, events, talks and parties over the course of eight days this February (11-19).
Featuring the likes of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK star Divina de Campo, performer Emma Frankland and cabaret collective The Bitten Peach, it’s a bustling line-up that’s been curated specifically thanks to Manchester’s young LGBT+ community.
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Ric Watts, formerly of Royal Exchange and now creative producer of Queer Contact, tells the MEN: “Contact has always been a theater for young people of the city but we’re increasingly putting them at the center of everything we do.
“As we were looking at this Queer Contact festival, it felt really important that we were essentially being led by young people in what they wanted.
“We’ve asked the young queer people of Manchester what they wanted from a festival and the line-up is a culmination of that.
“It’s based around who they want to see, what stories they want to hear, and what underrepresented voices aren’t getting enough attention in the spotlight.”
The result comes an engaging and diverse range of acts and performers – from drag kings, a cabaret featuring entirely non-binary performers and another featuring exclusively Pan-Asian talent, and shows addressing identity and sexuality.
There’s also events aimed specifically at younger audiences and those hoping to draw in families – including the festival’s first ever family-friendly vogue ball.
The vogue ball has fast become a staple part of the Queer Contact line-up and this year’s family event will ensure younger performers and crowds can enjoy the catwalk too.
For many of the LGBTQ+ community, this year’s festival is set to be more vital than ever.
“Live performance is really essential right now,” Ric explains.
“We’re desperate for that shared experience you can only get from a theater show.
“We’ve become so divided over the last few years – there’s so many examples of rising racism, transphobia, homophobia and sexism.
“To me, a festival championing a really brilliant diverse range of voices from the wider spectrum of communities can be so essential in getting people back together again.
“I think it’s something we all need right now.”
It’s also something that Ric hopes will appeal to the masses who are keen to have a good night out at the theatre, or celebrate Manchester’s thriving arts scene.
“However you identify, there’s plenty for you to enjoy,” Ric explains.
“I think we all can – whether you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community or not – benefit from that opportunity of walking in other people’s shoes and experiencing that broader range of life experiences and cultures.
“There’s so much about Queer Contact that’s universal while still focusing on and celebrating the queer community.”
We’ve rounded up some of the top Queer Contact events below with all the details you’ll need
Pecs: King of the North
Friday 11 February, 7.30pm (ages 16+)
London-based The Kings of Pecs are making their Manchester debut with a cabaret extravaganza full of ‘slick dance routines, sexy lip-syncs and raucous comedy’.
Pecs Drag Kings, an all-women and non-binary theater and cabaret company, will be joined by local drag kings in what is set to be a celebration of inclusivity, queerness and community.
The Enby Show with Divina de Campo
Friday 11 February, 7.30pm (ages 16+)
Featuring the creme-de-la-thems of non-binary performers, The Enby Show is a gender-bending variety show that ‘bins the binary and crashes the cis-tem’.
Super special guest Divina de Campo will appear alongside enbies-in-residence Flick and Cyro and ‘ginger fever dream’ performer Carrot.
Sunday 13 February, 11am (ages 3-8)
Palaver Party is a space where everyone is free to be whoever they want to be.
Hosted by the amazingly-named Fatt Butcher, the party will feature a spectacular line-up of drag and cabaret performers in what is set to be the most exciting family disco Manchester has ever seen.
Family Vogue Ball
Sunday 13 February, 2pm (ages 4+)
Part theater show, part vogue ball: glamour, glitz and grace come together in a fabulous celebration of self-expression.
Four vogue houses will go head-to-head in an epic showdown for all the family. A performer from each house will catwalk, dance and lip-sync in a bid to be crowned the ultimate house by the audience.
“A family vogue ball is a vital space for gay, trans, non-conforming and questioning young people to see positive, celebratory representations of themselves,” Darren Pritchard, House Mother at the House of Ghetto, explains.
“Nothing else comes close to its outright celebration of fashion, music, dance, individuality, aspiration and creativity. But it is also an eye-opening and magical experience for all families to explore different identities and ways of being outside of the mainstream, through movement, dance and costume.”
Emma Frankland: Hearty
Thursday 17 February, 7.30pm (ages 14+)
Brighton-based Emma Frankland tackles the current fascination with trans lives in her latest show.
Based on conversations with trans people in Brazil, Sulawesi and Turtle Island, Emma says she wants Hearty to be about what we can take from our ancestors while also preparing the way for those who will come after us.
Vogue Ball, Manchester Academy
Friday 18 February, 7pm (ages 18+)
House of Suarez’s legendary annual Vogue Ball returns with a Night at the Poseum theme at Manchester Academy.
With performances inspired by treasures from around the globe currently on display in museums throughout the North West, the ball will be steered by Captain Rikki Beadle-Blair as Master of Ceremonies.
Expect an extravaganza of costume, dance, and high drama as houses from across the UK come together to compete for catwalk supremacy in categories such as Fantasy, Solo, Lip Sync, Sex Siren and Choreography.
Saturday 19 February, 2pm (ages 14+)
An afternoon of performances comes courtesy of curator and host Kenya Sterling.
As well as being a poet and podcaster, Kenya’s work spans across various forms of writing, visual art and performance.
The Bitten Peach
Saturday 19 February, 4pm and 9pm (ages 18+)
The UK’s only Pan-Asian cabaret collective comes to Contact!
Founded at the start of 2019, The Bitten Peach has been dedicated to increasing and diversifying Asian representation on the drag and cabaret scene.
Made up of performers of Asian descent working in a variety of nightlife performance genres, it’s set to be a “sparkling” night of drag, burlesque, dance, comedy, music, and circus.
The Untold Orchestra: Queer Icons
Saturday 19 February, 7.30pm (ages 14+)
The Untold Orchestra is a Manchester-based collaborative orchestra aiming to redefine the role of an orchestra in the 21st century.
The collective will host a modern orchestral take on the work of queer icons, featuring a wide array of musicians and artists.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.