SF International Arts Festival offers podium to LGBTQ performers: music and dance are on the menu

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday April 23, 2024
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The Soul Catcher, 'Unmasking the Modern Predator' (photo Anne Huebertz)
The Soul Catcher, 'Unmasking the Modern Predator' (photo Anne Huebertz)

Since 2003 the San Francisco International Arts Festival has celebrated the arts by bringing together a global community of performers and audiences, by focusing on increasing human awareness and understanding within and across cultures. The festival will run from May 1 until May 12 at various venues around the city's Mission District.

This year's festival theme is "In Diaspora: I.D. For the New Majority," and will include a variety of LGBT performers. According to Festival Executive Director Andrew Wood, the theme speaks to the shifting demographics in the United States.

"I think the LGBTQ+ community is part of that movement," Wood said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "I don't know that statistically there are any more LGBTQ+ people than there were in the past, but more people are coming out and identifying as such. I think that is very powerful and it adds a dimension and richness to the diversity of the country. An LGBTQ+ consciousness is part of this coalition majority."

Joe Landini dancers (photo: Kyle Adler)  

Wood feels that the backlash against LGBTQ+ people in some parts of the country is a reaction to this. He added that Republicans are realizing that the abortion issue is going to work against them in the upcoming elections, so they need to find other innocent communities to beat up on.

"Banning Critical Race Theory and creating legislation against trans youth is part of that," he said. "I think this is why it is important to build strong coalitions across cultures to combat these kinds of attacks. And that is what we try to emphasize with the festival."

Wood explained what he looks for when he books a performer to appear at the festival.

"For the international artists, we are looking for types of original works that aren't being presented by Bay Area artists," he said. "We identify local artists whose work speaks to the theme and who wants to share their message with our audience. A festival is an opportunity to see a kaleidoscope of performances across many genres and cultures and we try to provide that."

Shawna Virago (photo: Lindsay Gauthier), Ed Varga, and Cindy Emch (photo: David Le)  

Music acts
One of the featured LGBTQ+ performers at this year's festival is trans musician (and executive director of the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival) Shawna Virago, who is delighted to be bringing her unique talents to the festival stage.

"I'm thrilled to be part of the Arts Festival," she said. "They're one of the few San Francisco organizations with an international reach. I was so glad to be invited and be given free reign to do what I want."

Virago's performance will take place on May 2 at El Rio. The show is called "Blood in Her Dreams" and it's the record release party for Virago's new album of the same name.

"It's a night of trans and queer punky-tonk and alt-Americana music featuring myself, the Secret Emchy Society, and Ed Varga," Virago said. "Plus our event hostess is drag royalty Churro Nomi."

Virago noted that her show won't just appeal to trans people, but to all genders. This show is for lovers of punk-Americana and alt-country music. She added that it's important to be out and visible. She has been performing as her true self for three decades.

"We live in a time of contradictions," she said. "There are lots of people who want to erase the existence of trans people, while there are many more who are championing trans and gender non-conforming people. I have the privilege of being out and getting to raise my voice. And I have a really loud voice."

Here are all of the LGBT acts that will perform in the San Francisco International Arts Festival this year:

May 1 and 3, 8pm, May 4, 2pm, Mission Cultural Center, 2868 Mission Street
Kassandra Production, The Soul Catcher, "Unmasking the Modern Predator"
The Soul Catcher, "Unmasking the Modern Predator" is a seductive and disturbing performance about psychological abuse, manipulation and power, all told with a powerful mix of performance, dance, spoken word, and electronic music.

Kassandra Production is an artist driven platform for innovative contemporary performing arts, in the intersection of dance, theater, media, activism, and performance art.

May 2, 9pm, El Rio, 3158 Mission Street
Shawna Virago and friends, record release party for "Blood in Her Dreams" with Secrect Emchy Society and Ed Varga.

May 3, 7pm, Bissap Baobab, 2243 Mission Street
Agua Pura plays a mix of traditional Cuban music, Cumbia, Salsa, Timba, and R & B fusion. The band members are all femme/queer.

May 3, 8:30pm, May 4, 4pm, Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24 Street
Joe Landini Dance, "Freddie vs Elvis," World Premiere
Two abstract dances that use the music of Freddie Mercury and Elvis Presley as backdrops to create a series of dances that are influenced by iconic imagery, pop culture and collective memory.

May 9, 8pm, El Rio, 3158 Mission Street
Rachel Garlin Concert and DJ Rockaway Dance Party
Singer/songwriter Rachel Garlin teams up with DJ Rockaway for a night of LGBTQ+ original production, starting with a concert, and ending with a dance party.


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