Beau-Azra Scott could not be more suited to their current role. A freelance events producer who has long-since established a reputation for delivering shows that let performers fully express themselves, the approach is a response to that fact that behind the scenes the same voices often dictate events, so no matter the on-stage diversity, artists regularly find themselves navigating hidden restrictions.
Scott’s undertakings have ranged from work with Manchester International Festival and LGBTQIA+ institution Bollox, to an ongoing monthly cabaret at Albert’s Schloss and collaborations with Mayfield Depot, where programmer Sophie Bee is cited as both ally and sometime mentor.
Right now, though, ideas and energy are focused on Superbia. Manchester Pride festival’s year-round offering runs everything from film screenings at Ducie Street to grants systems for theatre productions, art exhibitions, and more, and on August Bank Holiday the platform presents a culturally rich and diverse programme open to all ages, running Wednesday to Sunday, curated by Scott.
“I’ve been producing Queer events going on five years now. Some were linked to Pride, some were very focused on the Queer scene. I got onto Cloé Gregson’s radar, who works for Manchester Pride and has been to quite a few of my events before. She brought me in to produce for the weekend festival, and it’s a really nice thing, because she’s tapped into what I’ve been doing for a few years and really given me creative autonomy,” Scott says, explaining previous experience has built an enviable network of talent to call on.
“We’ve got Feel Good Fest at Feel Good Club, an amazing Queer-run venue in town, that’s become a meeting ground for the community. Like Central Perk for Queer people in Manchester, and it’s happened really organically. So that’s the setting for a full day all age event. We’ve panel discussions, an art market, the LGBT Foundation are coming down to offer a kind of check-in point,” they continue. “We’ve also got the Ableton LGBTQ+ Kids Music Workshop, which I’m super-proud of. Ableton is one of the biggest music DAWs [digital audio workstations] in the world. We’ve actually got a Queer-identifying Ableton certified trainer based in Manchester, and this will give young people the opportunity to work with them, and get creative with each other.”
Another highlight is destined to be a performance by the critically acclaimed Untold Orchestra — whose Blues Kitchen residency should already be on your radar — alongside drag performer, visual artist and academic Cheddar Gorgeous, and classical composer-cum-alternative and electronic soul explorer Lavender Rodriguez. Inspired by Queer history, and Pride as a form of protest, the show at Contact Theatre asks questions about where LGBTQIA+ culture and communities have been, where they are now, and what comes next. As Scott makes clear, these are incredibly pertinent points.
“Politically, it’s a bit of a scary time. There’s this double-edged sword, you know, we are getting these amazing moments of representation, but then you’ve got that age-old phrase of ‘shoving it down our throats’. People are more likely to react, people are more likely to be angry, because they feel it’s very present to them. So that’s something that hopefully comes into the conversation — what do we need to do now as a community?” they ask, rhetorically. “I think one thing I’ve really tried to focus on is all-age social spaces that help with community building, and in a way where it’s community building for performers, too. They get to show who they are when not on stage.
“I think so many Queer people’s formative experiences aren’t as positive as they could be, because of a lack of representation outside nightlife, club spaces, club culture,” Scott continues, pointing to shows like ‘Heart Stopper’ as major turning points in terms of on-screen representation removed from ageing stereotypes. “There was this whole thing of finding your people, your tribe, that was rooted in going to a club. That’s amazing — you think about 1980s New York club culture, you think about vogue balls, all that kind of stuff. Club culture, expression in that kind of way — escapism — it’s hugely important as a way of recharging your batteries to be able to go out into the world. But I think it’s really important to also create spaces where you get that sense of recharge, but not so focused on places where there’s alcohol, or drugs,”says Scott.
The point is easy to understand. As Scott expounds, one of the reasons the Queer community is synonymous with after dark activities is because darkness offers safety from prejudice and violence. And the spaces that facilitate this must be celebrated. Nevertheless, there are risks that come with this. “That heightened, intense sense of escapism, I think, is something directly caused by the way society is, and what it feels like to be a Queer person. Especially when you consider trans-ness and gender nonconformity. We’ve all pretty much been the underage person who hunted out the community from ‘Queer as Folk’, and ended up in a situation where you’re out every night of the week,’ says Scott.
“That feels amazing because you’re around people you want to be around, because that feeling is electric. But we need to remember the kind of cycles that can create,” they continue. “Queer family exists, it’s amazing. I was 18 when I was taken in by members of The Family Gorgeous. That’s why I’m in The Family Gorgeous, who are amazing people and have absolutely nurtured me. But nurturing new young things coming up means also having these alternative spaces where you can feel that connection, and feel being around all that energy, in a way that isn’t always tied to intense escapism.”
Manchester Pride Festival runs Thursday 25th – Sunday 29th August 2022. Advance tickets are available.
Superbia runs a free programme of events during the festival. Listings below, full details at ManchesterPride.com.
Manchester Is Queer Exhibition @ Hilton House 11.30am – 3pm (runs daily until Thursday 25th August)
Superbia Cinema Pride Special (18+) @ Ducie Street Warehouse, 6PM – 11PM
LGBTQ+ Kids Music Workshop (ages 13-18) @ SEM, 2pM – 4PM
NoirTones present ASMR; Arts Social Music Rally & Rise-Up (supported by Rainbow Noir & LGBT Foundation) @ Whitworth Locke, 7.30PM – 12AM
Wowgals presents a Feminising Make-Up Masterclass & Mixer (18+) @ Ducie Street Warehouse, 3PM – 9PM
The Untold Orchestra present ACT UP @ Contact Theatre, 7PM – 11PM
Feel Good Fest with Charlie Craggs, Darren Pritchard presents Black Queer Joy, In Conversation with DJ Paulette and Pops Roberts, Queer Live with Zha Olu and Tyron Webster, Queers In Business, Queer Flash, Miss Chief Cabaret @ Feel Good Club, 12PM – 11PM
Disabled, Queer & Hear Drop-In Social & Show @ Feel Good Club, 2PM – 7PM
Fatty Acid and The Niallist present QUEERCORE Workshop-Jam @ Islington Mill, 1.30PM – 10PM