Glasgay! Festival gets bigger and better every year. David Pollock traces its history from political origins to the party it has become today
There aren’t many arts festivals that could celebrate Maw Broon (one of the most traditional of Scots comic strip characters in Dundee’s DC Thomson stable, which also produces The Beano, The Dandy and Oor Wullie), take on board a diverse programme of stand-up comedy and also offer mature and heartfelt theatre works on subjects like gay fatherhood and coming out into a working class Glaswegian family. But then that’s the whole point of Glasgow’s annual celebration of queer arts and culture Glasgay! It’s not just a minority event for a small group of people, but an open-minded festival aimed at anyone with an interest in cutting-edge arts and entertainment.
Established in 1993 by a group of artists whose number included Sir Ian McKellen and Rhona Cameron, Glasgay! was originally a direct response to the Section 28 legislation, a controversial amendment to the Local Government Act which forbade the promotion of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle in schools. ‘It was a direct message to the government of the time,’ says Steven Thomson, the festival’s producer since 2004, ‘that the gay community would band together and promote our lifestyle despite being told not to.’
Now, given the success of the equalities movement throughout this decade in particular, Glasgay! has just about joined the mainstream – and it’s about time, given that the festival offers one of the most interesting programmes of arts entertainment. ‘I think the real success of Glasgay! is based on its diversity within its own programme,’ says Thomson. ‘It’s always been our mission to represent as broad an audience and as broad a number of lifestyles as possible. The gay community isn’t one community, we’re multiple voices within multiple communities and each of these needs to find its own way into the festival. So our programme is a balancing act between popular comedy, queer visual art, mainstream theatre and edgy, cutting edge visual artists.’ Basically, it’s a real hotch-potch of events with something to please even the fussiest of audiences.
In the last two years the Scottish Arts Council has provided funding for Glasgay!, meaning that the festival now produces and presents its own shows rather than just booking touring acts, which allows it to focus in greater detail on developing a themed strand throughout each festival. Last year, points out Thomson, the emphasis was on dysfunctional families in a historical context through a revisiting of Tennessee Williams’ plays. This year, the theme is once again family – except this time through a contemporary mirror which allows the average member of the public to come along and say, ‘I recognise that – my family’s as fucked up as your family!’.
So has the political edge to Glasgay! disappeared completely? Thomson doesn’t think so. ‘Too often the focus is still on seeing LGBT people only by their sexual practise and not by their broader roles in society. So no, the political agenda hasn’t gone away, it just shifts and changes,’ he explains. ‘We want to be seen as more than just a bunch of travelling drag queens and comedy acts, so it’s important that we respond to things like family, dysfunction, prejudice and tolerance in subtler ways which anyone will recognise when they come to the festival.’
Glasgay! 2009 runs from Thu 8 Oct-Tue 8 Nov. Full details of venues and event dates will be released on www.glasgay.com nearer to the festival.
Glasgay! Film Festival
From Thu 3 Sep until Tue 6 Oct, the Glasgay! Film Fest serves up such queer-themed cinematic ventures as the UK premier of teen gang drama Shank, Czech runaway drama Dolls, and gay parenting films Baby Love and Patrik 1.5, from France and Sweden respectively.
The Maw Broon Monologues
Poet and novelist Jackie Kay explores the various aspects of womanhood embodied by Maw Broon, iconic matriarch of the Broons, the comic strip nuclear family from Dundee’s DC Thomson.
A new play from novelist Louise Welsh, who wrote The Cutting Room, Memory Cells is a two-hander involving characters who are engaged in a passionate affair with each other.
Martin O’Connor’s coming-out drama promises a ‘biting look at the typical Scottish family from hell’, involving teenage dads, absent fathers and the futility of family communication.
Child Made of Love
A theatrical look at expectant gay fatherhood from Matthew McVarish, a playwright whose debut To Kill a Kelpie at last year’s Glasgay! earned him much praise. This is definitely one to seek out.