The National Queer Theater (NQT) has announced the 2023 Criminal Queerness Festival (CQF), an annual international theater festival created in partnership with NYC Pride, will take place from June 21-23 at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center (61 W 62nd St, New York, NY). CQF develops and produces new plays by international LGBTQ+ artists from countries that criminalize or censor LGBTQ+ communities.
2023 marks the fifth year NQT has produced CQF, and it will be the third year in a row this event returns to Lincoln Center during NYC Pride in June. The Criminal Queerness Festival is one of the hundreds of free events in the second annual Summer for the City at Lincoln Center. NQT serves as the official theater partner of NYC Pride.
This year’s festival will showcase curated works by artists Danielle Levsky, Wojtek Rodak, and Andrew Kushnir. Check out a list of plays below!
War and Play: A Clown Odyssey of Survival by and starring Danielle Levsky
Wednesday, June 21, at 7:30 pm EST at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center
Synopsis: Witness the power of humor, imagination, and wonder in the face of adversity in War and Play: A Clown Odyssey of Survival directed by SMJ, which follows two young clowns, Vira and Nadiya, as they navigate the horrors of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The audience is taken on a journey of joy, fear, hope, and survival throughout the show. The clowns find lightness and spread happiness in the midst of chaos, creating shadow puppets, mocking soldiers, playing with found objects to make toys and dolls, and more. As they leave Ukraine and seek safety, the clowns discover the steadfast resilience of their spirits. Even in the darkest times, there is always room for joy and light.
Playwright Bio: Danielle Levsky (she/her) is a Post-Soviet, Jewish, and Queer performer, writer, and educator who has a deep passion for bringing joy and wonder into the world through storytelling. Her specialty lies in clowning, physical theater, and interactive performance. She infuses her Jewish heritage into her work, most notably through her beloved persona Baba Yana, a Soviet Jewish Grandma Clown. She recently co-produced, co-devised, wrote, and performed in The Crone Chronicles, a physical theatre play that immerses the audience in the world of Baba Yaga’s story through minimal set design and dynamic physicality. Danielle’s experience as a performer and creator in clowning and mask work has also helped her challenge stereotypes and transport audiences to other worlds. Danielle has collaborated with institutions like Diversionary Theatre (San Diego), The Conspirators (Chicago), Silent Theatre Company (Chicago), Prop Thtr (Chicago), and more. She is also a certified clown teacher, with training from instructors at The Clown School, Cirque de Soleil, Theater Unspeakable, and has developed unique courses like Clown Yoga and Clown and Traditions in Judaism, which explore humor, spirituality, and ritualism in clowning. Danielle’s work as a journalist also informs her creative pursuits, and she has served as the Theater Editor for Scapi Magazine and a contributor for various publications.
the cHIMera a staged reading by Wojtek Rodak
Thursday, June 22, at 7:30 pm EST at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center
Synopsis: In this new play from Poland directed by Dmitri Barcomi, Laura returns to her family home after years spent in a convent school. Despite the passage of time, she has to face an invariably oppressive reality maintained by the family and church hierarchy. The only solace Laura can find is love from years ago, love that, for many reasons, is forbidden in that reality. However, the apparent peace of that world is suddenly destroyed when a secret Laura has been carrying for years comes to light. Playing with the convention of melodrama, the author tells a story freely inspired by the memoir of Herculine Barbin, an intersex person living in 19th-century France. By placing the plot of the drama in a distant reality, he describes the reality of today’s Poland through metaphor. He asks: is it possible nowadays to go beyond the old conventions and write a believably happy ending?
Playwright Bio: Wojtek Rodak (he/him) is a Polish Queer artist, performer, and theater director living in Warsaw. He is a National Academy of Theatre Arts student in Krakow and a film production graduate at the National Film School in Lodz. He’s mainly interested in queer and socially engaged projects, especially as an artist working with groups at risk of exclusion. In his video titled “Interview with the Vampire,” which was shown as part of the POLSKIE EIDS residency at Biennale Warszawa, he talked about the experiences of people living with HIV. He also collaborated with people with visual impairment in his “The Practice of Seeing” project and with Queer youth in the performance of “Colorful Dreams.” In 2021, he was awarded the TR Debut prize at the 10th Young Directors Forum in Krakow and staged the play Tom at the Farm by Michel Marc Bouchard at TR Warszawa. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he was responsible for the concept and coordination of the online art and social project “The Year I Stopped Making Art.” His debut dramatic text, the cHIMera, was distinguished in the 2nd edition of AURORA: The Dramatic Award of the City of Bydgoszcz.
The Division by Andrew Kushnir
Friday, June 23, at 7:30 pm EST at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center
Synopsis: Andrew, the gay eldest grandson of a famous Ukrainian watchmaker, feels an urgent need to pay his patriotism forward to his nephew in the face of Russia’s ongoing invasion. But contentions about their family’s history call Andrew back to Ukraine with big questions – for the dead most of all. Encounters with a shrinking village, war historians, and a ghost holding a grenade stretch a writer across one of the great divides: between what is remembered and what is forgotten. Canadian-Ukrainian playwright and activist Andrew Kushnir takes audiences on a journey through Ukraine’s past, present and a version of its future in this thrilling new play. The Division is directed by SRĐA.
Playwright Bio: Andrew Kushnir (he/him) is an award-winning playwright, director, and activist who lives in Toronto. He is the artistic director of the socially engaged theatre company Project: Humanity, a leading developer of verbatim theatre in Canada. His published plays include The Middle Place, The Gay Heritage Project (with Paul Dunn and Damien Atkins), Towards Youth: a play on radical hope, Small Axe and Freedom Singer (in the recently released Moving the Centre co-written with Khari Wendell McClelland). Andrew is also the creator and host of This Is Something Else, an acclaimed investigative podcast series for the Arts Club in Vancouver. He will have his Stratford Festival directorial debut in June 2023 with Casey and Diana, a play about Princess Diana’s real-life visit to Canada’s first stand-alone AIDS hospice. A proud Queer Ukrainian-Canadian, he founded the We Support LGBTQ Ukraine Fund in April 2022, which, to date, has raised over $117,000 for NGOs and activists meeting the needs of LGBTQ+ Ukrainians trapped or internally displaced by war.
“Art is how we heal, how we grow, and how we begin to take the necessary steps towards a brighter future. The Ukrainian and Polish artists who are sharing their work through the Criminal Queerness Festival bring unique stories that allow for those important steps to take place,” said Aleksandr Krapivkin, Curator and Cultural Consultant for this year’s CQF. Krapivkin, a queer actor and refugee from Ukraine, has been instrumental in organizing anti-war protests in New York City.
This year’s event will feature live on-stage performances and virtual panels with the playwrights and other international artists and activists. Tickets for the performances at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center will be free as part of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City program and provided on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Founded in 2018, the Criminal Queerness Festival provides a platform for LGBTQ+ artists and audiences, local and abroad, to learn about the continued fight for queer and trans liberation all around the world. In more than 70 countries globally, being LGBTQ+ is criminalized. In 12 countries, queer and trans individuals could be given the death penalty based on their sexuality.
“As a proud queer Ukrainian-American living in the United States, I feel a great responsibility to uplift the stories of our LGBTQ family in Ukraine and the diaspora in the face of war. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has, and will continue to have, devastating consequences for the local LGBTQ+ community,” said Adam Odsess-Rubin, founder and artistic director of NQT. “Creating visibility for these individuals and their stories is crucial during this time of terror and unrest. We thank Lincoln Center and NYC Pride for giving us this platform to showcase artists from around the world in the heart of New York City, free from censorship.”
In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, weaponizing homophobia and scapegoating members of the LGBTQ community to justify its aggressive foreign military tactics. Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin was vocal about invading Ukraine in part to protect “traditional values” against the West’s “false values” that are “contrary to human nature,” referring to the extension of legal rights and cultural acceptance to LGBTQ+ people in Western countries according to reports from The New York Times. Over the last year, there have been dozens of reports of trans and homophobic attacks carried out by Russian troops in occupied territories.
In their home country, LGBTQ Ukrainians can fight and die in the war against Russia. Still, Ukraine does not allow for same-sex marriage and therefore, LGBTQ individuals do not have the right to see their loved ones in the hospital or to take care of personal affairs for their partners while they are away on active duty. According to Kharkiv Pride, LGBTQ Ukrainians are also being prevented from making decisions about an injured partner’s health, caring for the children of a partner who is away fighting, injured or killed in battle, and they don’t have the right to make funeral arrangements for a partner killed in action.
Yet, as the war rages on, the conflict seems to be yielding more acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in Ukraine. In March 2023, Ukrainian MP Inna Sovsun put forward a bill calling for same-sex partnerships to be legally recognized. Sharing the news that she had submitted the draft bill in a thread of tweets, the MP cited that “56 percent of Ukrainians” support same-sex partnerships.
The Criminal Queerness Festival was a 2020 NYC Mayor’s Grant for Cultural Impact awardee alongside Dixon Place and the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
For more information about the Criminal Queerness Festival, visit www.nationalqueertheater.org/criminal-queerness-festival.
For more information about National Queer Theater, visit www.nationalqueertheater.org.
About National Queer Theater
National Queer Theater (NQT) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit theater company based in New York City, dedicated to celebrating the brilliance of generations of LGBTQ+ artists and providing a home for unheard storytellers and activists. By serving elders, youth, and working professionals, NQT creates a more just future through radical and evocative theater experiences and free community classes. Believing in the power of theater to effect sweeping social change, NQT cultivates a more just, joyous, and empowered intersectional queer community that is celebrated in all corners of society. NQT was founded on the principle that through art and free community programs, we are able to create and organize together, working towards a more equitable vision of a world bursting with pride.
For more information about National Queer Theater, visit www.nationalqueertheater.org.