Image from last year’s Controlled Burn by Ari Newman

A three night festival of queer artists centered on anger, sadness, and imperfection already sounds like exactly what I want to see as the world around me continues it’s quick pace towards sure destruction. What Patrick’s Cabaret has created with Controlled Burn: queer performance for a world on fire is truly innovative beyond that. Performances range from music to movement to performance art to new and thrilling pieces from mediums we haven’t even put words to yet. Controlled Burn is a place for queer artists to be as furious or experimental as they want to be, and the community created as the smoke dies down is like none other.

Patrick’s Cabaret Artistic Director Scott Artley saw a need for this kind of space, and decided to use his role at Patrick’s to fill it.

“In the queer art that I was seeing produced around town, so much of it was about queer people being campy, exuberantly happy, colorful in a cotton candy kind of way,” says Artley. “That’s wonderful. That’s powerful, but I also wanted to cultivate a space for us to be rageful, and messy, and moody.”

Controlled Burn premiered late last year, and Artley curated along with Rosa Garcia and Nicole M. Smith. The three created a true wildfire that last year’s attendees still talk about. We really don’t have an outlet for what we’re feeling right now when we look at the world around us. Everyone I talk to senses a burning deep in their gut trying to escape or maybe tell them something, and with no other way to explain it, most of us turn to art. Until Controlled Burn: queer performance for a world on fire, that art often had nowhere to go.

“The name invokes the imagery of a prairie fire, this wonderfully wicked force of natural violence that is also an essential part of the cycle of rebirth,” Artley explains. “In the first year, the Curators and I started putting together this event as the clouds started gathering around the 2016 presidential election, and when we finally staged the event in December 2016 we all felt the need was perhaps not any more greater than before, but definitely more pointed. We needed an event that would generate some real heat.”

The long-term plan for the Curation team of Controlled Burn is for one person to step down a year, making way for a new or emerging Curator to join the team and bring a fresh perspective. This year Artley is moving away from curating at Patrick’s entirely. Dua Saleh, a multidisciplinary performance artist who has won a VERVE grant, been featured at Button Poetry, and even heard on The Current, has joined this year’s Curation team. The knockout trio of Garcia, Smith, and Saleh has chosen eighteen breathtaking acts, including poet Kyra Crawford Calvert, emerging actor Khadija Siddiqui, and dancer Reneé Copeland. Six acts will perform each night, with each show being comprised of selections from all three curators. This adds to the frenetic feel of the night and allows audiences to experience a variety of performance and curation styles no matter when they come.

Image from last year’s Controlled Burn by Ari Newman

Among those featured at Controlled Burn is rising music star Joey Schad. Says Schad of the event and his act, “In this political climate, the queer/minority struggle has intensified. The roadblocks we face multiply every day and it becomes more and more dangerous to be us. In our activism and our art, its more important than ever to stay focused on protecting and advocating for our own. In nasty, convoluted times like this we can play an important role in our communities by amplifying our voices and solidifying our presence in the creative world. Controlled Burn is a chance for us to do so together, driven by the fire in ourselves that gives us the strength to eliminate the obstacles that try to defeat us.”

In spite of the very high stakes being played out throughout Controlled Burn though, Schad’s act won’t be all doom and gloom. “I reject the notion of us minorities being solely defined by our struggles. When media isn’t erasing us they predominantly parade to the world how we get screwed over, suffer and die. Controlled Burn is us taking the stage and show the world that we exist for more than just to suffer.”

Controlled Burn happens the same weekend as Patrick’s Cabaret’s Ignite! program. Ignite! Is a storytelling summit for queer youth happening on Saturday, October 7th. Ignite! Is led by Nicole M. Smith from this team of Curators as well as Kat Purcell who led Lightning Rod. After the workshop on Saturday afternoon, Ignite! Attendees are invited to Controlled Burn for free.

Since rebranding as a queer-led performance art company, and since Artley’s decision to step away from curating cabarets himself, Patrick’s Cabaret has taken what was already good about the organization (like the opportunities for emerging artists and unique perspectives for audiences) and really elevated what cabaret is and can be. Their recent event Taboo Tongues, curated by Eric Tu, featured some of the most raw and real poetry and performance I have ever seen—and I’m a regular in their (and many other) audiences.

From Controlled Burn‘s press release, “Named for the practice of intentionally setting fire to a prairie to promote new growth, Controlled Burn is a cabaret mini-festival featuring ‘queer performance for a world on fire.’ An intersectional space for queer performers, especially artists of color and with disabilities.”

Last year’s event granted the catharsis our community needed to make room to prep for all of the fights that 2017 would end up holding. I can’t wait to see what this year’s Controlled Burn burns away and newly inspires for all of us.

Controlled Burn: queer performance for a world on fire runs October 5th-7th at Intermedia arts. Tickets are $10 a night either online or through an artist with tickets in advance or $12-15 at the door. However, if you don’t want to miss a single moment of this radical mini-festival, there’s a three night pass for just $20 online. You can grab those tickets and see the full line-up for Controlled Burn here.

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