QueertopIA, a cabaret of queer love, sweeps over the Mill

QueertopIA, a showcase of queer performers, made its inaugural appearance in Iowa City at The Mill on Friday night.

Deb+Tiemens+performs+an+acoustic+set+during+QueertopIA+on+June+21%2C+2019+at+The+Mill.+The+event+was+held+for+the+first+time+in+Iowa+City.+
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QueertopIA, a cabaret of queer love, sweeps over the Mill

Deb Tiemens performs an acoustic set during QueertopIA on June 21, 2019 at The Mill. The event was held for the first time in Iowa City.

Deb Tiemens performs an acoustic set during QueertopIA on June 21, 2019 at The Mill. The event was held for the first time in Iowa City.

Emily Wangen

Deb Tiemens performs an acoustic set during QueertopIA on June 21, 2019 at The Mill. The event was held for the first time in Iowa City.

Emily Wangen

Emily Wangen

Deb Tiemens performs an acoustic set during QueertopIA on June 21, 2019 at The Mill. The event was held for the first time in Iowa City.

Lauren Arzbaecher, Arts Reporter

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A stage manager adorned in fairy wings buzzed through the crowd to set up for the next performer, adding to the magic and love that filled the back room of the Mill during QueertopIA on the evening of June 21.

The inaugural QueertopIA featured eight performers: Lou Barker, Joe Cool, Grant Freeman, Cody Howell, Jeffrey Mead, Nat Mullins, Izzy Neuhaus, and Debora Tiemens. Various styles of art flowed together in a collaboration of creativity. Spoken word, staged readings, short monologues, and musical acts all lit up the stage.

Queertopia, “a cabaret celebration of queer love,” according to its Facebook account, started in Minneapolis as the brainchild of artist Jeffry Lusiak and has been going strong for more than 10 years.

The power and longevity of the event partly inspired Madonna Smith, the president of the Dreamwell Theater board, to bring it to Iowa City. Smith was a friend of Lusiak and worked at the event in Minneapolis for several years in its early iterations.

“Jeffry asked me to help him out with a skit, and I kind of just agreed to do it because it’s Jeffry, and I trust him,” Smith said. “When I got to the event, I was just in love with it. I helped him stage-manage every other year after that until I came back to Iowa City, and when I did, I really wanted to do it here.”

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To fit the cabaret style of the show, Smith wanted a more social environment than a straightforward theater and found a good fit at the Mill. Jeremiah Shobe, the events and production manager for the Mill, said QueertopIA fit right in with the arts events showcased at the venue.

“Since I have been managing the venue, I really made it a priority to have more of an eclectic mix of what we offer as arts entertainment,” Shobe said. “Not just having touring bands and local bands but hosting a lot of fundraising events for a variety of different things.”

The event also gave back to the community, with 50 percent of the net profits donated to Iowa City Pride. Christine Hawes, the community outreach and publicity chair for the IC Pride Board, said the group was quite glad when Smith reached out with the idea.

“We love when people come forth with ideas,” Hawes said. “Those are often the best collaborations, when someone comes up from the public and says, we would like to do this. Iowa City Pride is always excited about … events that help extend the recognition of Pride Month all through June, and … the hope that something could be part of our year-round events.”

Though QueertopIA’s main focus is on celebrating queer performers, Smith said, she felt a responsibility to provide resources to the LGBTQ community as well. Alongside IC Pride, the Johnson County Public Health Department was also present at the event, with staffers providing health resources and information for anyone seeking it.

“Something that is really important to me is providing a safe space for people to have a voice and to feel like they can have a voice,” Smith said. “Even though the event is for queer performers, the performances don’t have to be about being queer. It’s about however they want to express themselves.”