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Andrew Kushnir, Danielle Levsky, and Wojtek Rodak.

NQT’s Criminal Queerness Festival to Focus on War in Ukraine

New work by Danielle Levsky, Wojtek Rodak, and Andrew Kushnir will tell LGBTQ+ stories against the backdrop of upheavals in post-Soviet Eastern Europe.

NEW YORK CITY: The National Queer Theater (NQT) has announced the lineup for the 2023 Criminal Queerness Festival, created in partnership with NYC Pride. The festival will be held June 21-23 at the David Rubinstein Atrium of part of Lincoln Center’s Summer for the City program. Tickets will be free and will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Criminal Queerness Festival develops and produces new plays by international LGBTQ+ artists from countries that criminalize or censor LGBTQ+ communities. This is the fifth year that NQT has produced the festival, and this year’s programming will focus on LGBTQ+ theatre in the face of the war in Ukraine.

“As a proud Ukrainian American, I feel a great responsibility to uplift the stories of our LGBTQ family in Ukraine and the diaspora in the face of war,” Adam Odsess-Rubin, founder and artistic director of NQT, said in a statement. “Creating visibility for these individuals and their stories is crucial during this time of terror and unrest.”

“Art is how we heal, how we grow, and how we begin to take the necessary steps towards a brighter future,” Aleksandr Krapivkin, a curator and cultural consultant for the festival who is also a queer actor and Ukrainian refugee, said in a statement. “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.”

The first piece in the festival will be War and Play: A Clown Odyssey of Survival (June 21), written by and starring Danielle Levsky. War and Play follows two young clowns, Vira and Nadiya, as they navigate the horrors of Russia’s war in Ukraine and seek safety, joy, and light. Levsky is a post-Soviet queer Jewish performer, writer, and educator whose specialties are clowning, physical theatre, and interactive performance. She recently co-produced, co-devised, wrote, and performed in The Crone Chronicles, which immerses audiences in the world of her persona Baba Yana, a Soviet Jewish grandmother clown. She has worked with Diversionary Theatre, the Conspirators, Silent Theatre Company, and Prop Thtr, among others. She is a certified clown teacher and has trained with Cirque du Soleil, and was previously the theatre editor at Scapi Magazine.

Following will be a staged reading of the cHIMera (June 22) by Wojtek Rodak, directed by Dmitri Barcomi. The play follows Laura as she returns to her family home after years in a convent school with a secret she has been carrying for years. the cHIMera is inspired by the memoir of Herculine Barbine, an intersex person who lived in France in the 19th century. Rodak is a queer Polish artist, performer, and theatre director living in Warsaw who studies at the National Academy of Theatre Arts and the National Film School. He is a former Polish AIDS resident at Biennale Warszawa, and was awarded the 2021 TR Debut Prize at the 10th Young Directors Forum. the cHIMera, his playwriting debut, was published in the second edition of AURORA: The Drama Award of the City of Bydgoszcz.

The final show will be Andrew Kushnir’s The Division, directed by SRĐA. The play follows Andrew, the gay eldest grandson of a famous Ukrainian watchmaker who feels an urgent call to patriotism during the Russian invasion, until family history calls him back to Ukraine with questions. Kushnir is a Canadian Ukrainian playwright, director, and activist who is the artistic director of Project: Humanity. He is the creator and host of This Is Something Else, an investigative podcast series with the Arts Club Theatre Company in Vancouver. In June, he will make his Stratford Festival directorial debut with Nick Green’s Casey and Diana. Kushnir founded the We Support LGBTQ Ukraine Fund last spring and has helped raise over $117,000 for activists and non-governmental organizations.

This year’s festival will feature virtual panels with the playwrights and other international artists and activists, in addition to live performances.

Founded in 2018, the Criminal Queerness Festival provides a platform for LGBTQ+ artists and audiences both local and abroad to learn about the continued fight for queer and trans liberation around the world.

The National Queer Theater is a New York-based theater company dedicate to celebrating the brilliance of generations of LGBTQ+ artists and to providing a home for unheard storytellers and activists. NQT creates a more just future through free community classes and radical and evocative theatre experiences. As of 2021, the theatre had a budget of approximately $185,000.

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