The National Queer Theater announced the 2022 Criminal Homosexuality Festivalan annual international theater festival created in partnership with NYC Pride, will take place June 21-24 at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, NY.
Founded in 2018 by NQT founding artistic director Adam Odsess-Rubin and Egyptian playwright Adam Ashraf Elsayigh, the Criminal Queerness Festival develops and produces new plays by international LGBTQ+ playwrights from countries that criminalize or censor LGBTQ+ communities. The initiative provides a platform for LGBTQ+ artists and audiences, local and overseas, to learn about the ongoing struggle for queer and trans liberation all over the world. In more than 70 countries around the world, being LGBTQ+ is criminalized and in 12 countries, queer and trans people could face the death penalty because of their sexuality.
NQT celebrates its fourth year by hosting the Criminal Queerness Festival at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts during NYC Pride in June for the second consecutive year. The Criminal Queerness Festival is one of more than 300 events featuring more than 1,000 artists included in Lincoln Center’s Summer for City initiative, presented as part of the New York Festival. NQT is the official theatrical partner of NYC Pride.
This year’s festival will feature works curated by playwrights Muleme Steven, Jonathan Opinya Wamukota and Achiro P. Olwoch, including:
Courage Rebirth (Staged Reading) – Tuesday, June 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Synopsis: When lesbian singer Fawzia is displaced by political unrest in her home country of Somalia, she finds asylum and an audience for her songs of hope in a refugee camp in Kenya. There, she garners the support and friendship of LGBT rights activist David Kato, who helps her travel to Uganda. She embarks on a career as a music teacher and begins to release music. When one of her songs goes viral, she is forced to direct her newfound attention into violent circumstances.
Playwright Bio: Muleme Steven is a Ugandan gay LGBTQ+ advocate, founder and director of a non-governmental organization called Visual Echoes for Human Rights Advocacy (VEHRA). He is a human rights defender and visual artist born and raised in Baikwe district. He holds a bachelor’s degree in commercial industrial art and design and is an illustrator for UHAI EASHRI. He is the head coach of the VEHRA netball teams and has certificates in HIV/AIDS prevention and training for the LGBTQ+ community. Muleme’s dream is to change mentalities through his art. After graduating from Nkumba in 2011, he enrolled as a fine arts teacher at a school in Kampala. During her teaching days, Muleme made contacts within the LGBTQ+ community and decided to join the Youth on Rock Foundation, a community organization that focuses on the rights of LGBTQ+ youth. Subsequently, he joined Rainbow Mirrors Uganda as a finance manager and became a peer community leader for Ice Breakers Uganda. Her dream is to tell stories that others have never told through the use of visual illustrations and writing. In 2017, Muleme started Visual Echoes to share their skills with other members of the community who are interested in various art forms where they portray the real experiences of LGBTI Ugandans.
Jonathan Opinya Wamukota
Stargazer, Beginner’s Luck and Waiting for Gordon (Staged Reading) – Wednesday, June 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Synopsis: A compassionate confrontation with death. A flourishing love crushed by hatred. A cursed romance torn by secrets. In three short plays, Stargazer, Beginner’s Luck and Waiting for Gordon, Kenya’s Jonathan Opinya Wamukota uses his poetic style to paint a picture of the realities of queer love in a society that punishes same-sex relationships.
Biography of the playwright: For the singer, writer, music lover and teacher Jonathan Opinya, the creative field was not only an outlet, but a space sheltered from the vagaries of life. The allure of the stage and the written word has always intrigued him as a form of escape. A strange magic that could allow you to get lost in fantastic worlds filled with intrigue, suspense, drama and characters so colorful and yet the safety of the office or the stage is never left. He earned his bachelor’s degree in vocal studies as a recipient of the Adler-Buchmann International Program for Outstanding Foreign Students at Tel Aviv University and is currently working toward a master’s degree in clinical psychology and music therapy. Jonathan’s interests range from music and literature, to design, culture and dance, all of which he sees as important tools that not only enable healing, but also understanding. Currently based in Nairobi, Kenya, Jonathan spends his days teaching while working as a freelance contractor for CloudFactory, performing and writing whenever the opportunity arises.
The Survival – Friday, June 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Synopsis: Achan, under pressure from his mother not to be married yet at 27, falls in love with Oyat after meeting him in a bar. Unbeknownst to Achan, Oyat hopes she will be a surrogate mother for him and her boyfriend’s child. When Achan learns the truth from Oyat’s boyfriend, John, she must confront her own traditional upbringing to find love and new notions of family in modern Uganda.
Playwright Bio: Achiro Patricia Olwoch hails from Gulu in northern Uganda and is a writer, playwright and filmmaker. She is currently a venture artist-in-residence at Westbeth in New York. Achiro lives to write, and she writes to live. She has a good sense of imagination, and although she bases her writing on real situations, she adds a touch of imagination to each story. She writes because she would like to make a difference in her community through the different stories she has to tell. Her stories spark conversations and give voice to the people she writes about who are unable to tell their own stories. His plays On Time, No Cause, The Child Bride, Esterina and The Surrogate have been read and performed around the world. His current play, The Survival, grew out of The Surrogate, and it took shape over the years from the changing laws against homosexuality in Uganda. She currently volunteers as the Africa representative on the Women Playwrights International Management Committee and is part of the arts collective with the National Queer Theatre.
“Being part of this festival affirms my work as an artist and my existence as a human being who happens to be queer,” Olwoch said. “I’m thrilled to see my work come to life on stage – this work carries a lot of my blood, sweat and tears. It’s a dream come true to be able to see it performed live on stage.”
This year’s event will feature live on-stage performances as well as virtual panels with the playwrights and other international artists and activists. Tickets for performances at Lincoln Center will be free as part of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City program.
“The Criminal Queerness Festival sends a strong signal around the world that LGBTQ+ people, and artists in particular, have the right to express themselves freely without censorship, violence or criminalization,” Odsess-Rubin said, “This year , the work of Achiro P. Olwoch, Jonathan Opinya and Muleme Steven showcases the fierce love and resistance of queer artists and activists in Uganda and Kenya, and their tremendous talent as playwrights.”
The Criminal Queerness Festival was the recipient of the New York City Mayor’s Cultural Impact Grant in 2020 alongside Dixon Place and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
For more information on the Criminal Queerness Festival, visit www.nationalqueertheater.org/criminal-queerness-festival.