Dance and debate, clubs and comedy, literature and live art, plays and puppetry – just some of the experiences on offer since 1992 at Manchester’s international festival of queer arts and culture, queerupnorth.

queerupnorth began life as ‘It’s Queer Up North’ in 1992, when it was founded by Tanja Farman and Gavin Barlow, two members of staff at Manchester venue greenroom. The idea was to provide a platform for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender art; while the name, a play on the well known phrase ‘it’s grim up north’, was borrowed from Flesh, the legendary gay club night held at Manchester’s famous Haçienda.
The diverse nature of the events presented is reflected in its archive, held at Manchester Archives and Local Studies. For more information on the archive please call 0161 234 1980 or email archiveslocalstudies@manchester.gov.uk
The full catalogue of the archive is searchable at the Archives For All website http://www.a2a.org.uk

The first UK event of its kind, featuring performance, clubs, theatre, discussion, film and exhibitions. The event brochure describes it ‘…as a celebration of lesbian and gay experience, helping to forge a Queer culture for the 90s’. Events include visits from Split Britches, Gay Sweatshop and an exhibition by Della Grace.

The autumn season is a partner to the ‘Boddington’s Manchester Festival of Arts and Television’ – included in the programme is one of Leigh Bowery’s last stage appearances in Copi’s play ‘The Homosexual’, plus performances by Penny Arcade, Kate Bornstein, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller.

The range of events grows, with films presented direct from festivals in San Francisco and Brazil, exhibitions at almost every major gallery in Manchester and a programme including The Fabulous Lypsinka, performance artist Karen Finlay, Chloe Poems, and an exhibition by painter Sadie Lee.

The season is smaller than in previous years, there being no festival as such, and consisting of just six shows. This was to be the beginning of a pattern that saw queerupnorth established as a biennial festival until 2002.

The biggest festival yet – ”..truly international with shows from four continents”, according to the festival brochure. The programme includes a collaboration with the Sydney Mardi Gras, twelve world premieres, Fluid (a series of art installations along the Rochdale Canal), and the first appearance of theatre innovators Starving Artists at queerupnorth.

Essentially a taster for the festival in 1998. The weekend of Saturday 10-Sunday 11 May coincides with ‘XTrax’, Britain’s first weekend long showcase of street theatre, music, drama, dance, poetry, pyrotechnics and live art.

Over 100 performances from more than 20 different companies, including the international hit ‘Shopping and F**king’. Two notable firsts for the festival are ‘The Grolsch Festival Tent’ in Sackville Gardens and Manchester’s biggest ever ‘drive in movie’, as part of a weekend-long tribute to John Waters. The autumn of 1998 also sees Ronnie Burkett’s first appearance at queerupnorth with ‘Tinka’s New Dress’.

The festival (whose artwork, featuring a naked Ursula Martinez, is adjusted somewhat to make it ‘suitable’ for display in the city centre) includes an appearance from legendary American singer and performer Diamanda Galas.

The festival format gives way to an ongoing programme of events and special commissions throughout the year, including a season as part of ‘Cultureshock’, the cultural programme of the XVII Commonwealth Games, which took place in Manchester that year.

queerupnorth co-productions tour in the UK, Canada, Australia, Europe and the USA, while in Manchester the company hosts a ‘Three Day Bender’…

The programme includes Ronnie Burkett’s’ Provenance, the world premiere of Carnesky’s ‘Ghost Train’, and an appearance by Penny Arcade as part of queerupnorth’s last year without a festival.

queerupnorth returns to the format of an annual festival in May 2005, with over 100 performances and screenings, including the biggest film programme yet under the banner of ‘Three Weeks At The Flicks’. August 2005 sees the launch of The Big Gay Read campaign to find the nation’s favourite lesbian or gay novel.

Productions from New York, Sydney and Manchester, contemporary dance from Paris and Budapest, and The Big Gay Read Literature Festival. The vote is won by Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, and the author flies in to receive his award from Sir Ian McKellen.

queerupnorth’s new artistic director, Jonathan Best, programmes his first festival. Taylor Mac makes his Manchester debut, and there’s an appearance from the great American author Edmund White. The festival reveals its activist streak with a special focus on Queer Life in Poland, and Ronnie Burkett plays to a succession of full houses at the Library Theatre with 10 Days On Earth.
In autumn 2007 the first queerupnorth schools tour, ‘FIT’, is a roaring success and plays to over 9,000 young people across the UK as part of a campaign tackling homophobic bullying in UK schools.
2008 and beyond…

queerupnorth will continue to promote the development of queer arts and culture in the UK. Whether presenting international work or commissioning and producing UK artists, whether at home in Manchester or on tour throughout the UK, whether presenting the annual international festival or working with school children in Greater Manchester, queerupnorth will continue to be creatively ambitious, culturally aware, and intellectually curious.