Paul Canada and Nikolas Martell - Hosts of OutSpoken. Photo by Kate Kunkel Bailey
Paul Canada and Nikolas Martell – Hosts of OutSpoken. Photo by Kate Kunkel Bailey

As a queer person, I am all too familiar with the pressure to find your queer family, your queer space, and your queer voice after you “come out”. I’m also all too familiar with how hard that search actually is and how it can affect you when you don’t find those things. I’ve heard people lamenting the lack of community, openness, and acceptance as seemingly everything becomes (necessarily, albeit) political in the “queer community” today. I hear nostalgia for days where we had far less rights but knew there were places where we could go as we were and find people like us to celebrate our identity and revel in community. I understand this need and this craving fully; it’s why I picked up and moved halfway across the country eight years ago. It’s why I run a queer theatre company. It’s why I live in an nontraditional, chosen family setting. It’s why sometimes all of that still doesn’t feel like enough in my heart.

Unbeknownst to many, there is a space right here in Minneapolis where all identities are lifted up and celebrated, where everyone is family even if we just met, and where the political takes a backseat to the personal. It’s called OUTspoken and it takes place the second Wednesday of every month at the Fox Egg Gallery on Chicago Avenue. It’s billed as a queer open mic, which is true but doesn’t tell the whole story. OUTspoken is a community event for all art forms and platforms, and a transformative experience everyone should have at least once. Host and founder Paul Canada refers to it as a safer space, as opposed to safe. You may be challenged and you will feel things, but your identity is absolutely to respected and honored. YOU are absolutely respected and honored.

OUTspoken is about community, but it’s scope of artistic talent is stunning. There’s a featured artist every month, and the hosts do an amazing job making it a totally different person and art form from the month before. The impressive previous feature list boasts everyone from burlesque superstar Sweet Pea or internationally known musician Venus DeMars to new and emerging artists. Before the feature takes the stage, there are several open mic performances, and the show varies drastically each time. There’s usually poetry and there’s usually music, and there might be burlesque. Or comedy. Or short plays. Or parodies of music and poetry. Or games. Or drag. Or storytelling. Or dance. Anything goes as long as you can fit it into seven minutes. In between performer sets, the hosts come on to play games, tell jokes, and otherwise entertain the audience and make them feel at home. The hosts are storyteller and poet Paul Canada, poet and singer-songwriter Oliver Schminkey, and poet, storyteller, and actor Nikolas Martell.

OUTSpoken hosts Paul Canada and Nikolas Martell. Photo by Kate Kunkel Bailey
OUTSpoken hosts Paul Canada and Nikolas Martell. Photo by Kate Kunkel Bailey

One of my favorite things about OUTspoken is that when the hosts promise that all are embraced, they mean it. This is perhaps meant to refer to identity, but absolutely leaks over to performer skill and level. OUTspoken is a stage where you can perform for the first time and receive a huge round of applause. It’s a stage where if you’re a seasoned professional looking for a confidence boost or to try new material — or even a whole new art form, the audience becomes electric for you. Most open mic participants fall somewhere in the middle, and after the show mingle effortlessly with other performers and audience. The hosts don’t censor, but encourage the audience to react authentically if material is oppressive, and will likely speak to you themselves if this is true so the space stays safe for those who are queer. This sense of true inclusion is by design, not accident. Host and Founder Paul Canada told me “I love OUTspoken because it’s so much more than just a cabaret style open mic. It’s a community that accepts all people regardless of identity. It is a supportive place to share your story, even if you are a new performer. I love the diversity in experience. Every show we have a person who is performing for the first time and a person who has been performing for a very long time. We welcome you no matter your identity or artistic experience.”

If you’re not a performer, getting to OUTspoken will still be a treat and a revelation. OUTspoken’s hosts work hard every month to fill the Fox Egg Gallery with enough humor and charm between sets that you don’t realize you’re learning about things like safer sex, identities that fall outside of the most commonly used acronyms, or other pressing issues in our community — but you are. Somewhere between the hosts leading you in games and sing-a-longs, the features bringing their a-game, and the richly diverse open mic, you’ll notice how inspired and how validated you feel. That is truly what the OUTspoken experience is about. It’s about glitter, art, laughter, yes — but it’s really about you. It’s about your need for a space where you are validated and loved. It’s about your need for a space where you can really, truly be who you are. It’s about you walking away feeling inspired and hopeful. I am one of many who have never performed at OUTspoken, yet it’s where I found my voice.

That inspiration and finding of your voice is critical as the queer community does move forward towards (mostly) progress and acceptance. Canada noticed the gaps in political movement and how some people were affected disproportionately by the changes still not accomplished. “I helped create OUTspoken because I wanted to create a safer space for queer artists to share their work. After gay marriage passed, I noticed that a lot of activism in the LGBT community went down. I was hoping that by different queer voices sharing their voices and creating a community, it would help the LGBT community in Minneapolis become more engaged,” he says. I can assure you this motive in no way isolates those who may not agree with everything currently going on in queer politics. This night is about helping you find your voice so that you can fight better as a queer person, regardless of what that looks like to you.

Being at OUTspoken is ultimately like coming home, and for some of us it’s even more than that. It has been about finding a home and a family, except this home and family showers me with literal confetti and stokes the fires that art itself starts in me.

OUTspoken is held on the second Wednesday of each month at 7:30pm (doors open at 6:30pm) at the Fox Egg Gallery, 3730 Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. The event generally has a $5-10 sliding scale fee. To keep up with OUTspoken, be sure to “like” their Facebook page.

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