UI Theatre celebrate LGBTQ+ identities with Queer Horror Festival

A University of Iowa theater festival dedicated specifically to the connection between LGBTQ+ experiences and the horror genre will open this weekend.


Gabby Drees

University of Iowa student Brian Niles practices during a Queer Horror Festival rehearsal at the MacVey Theatre at the University of Iowa on Wednesday Oct. 13, 2021.

Parker Jones, Arts Reporter

The University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts will present its first Queer Horror Festival this weekend — a production showcasing five short theatrical pieces written and directed entirely by LGBTQ+ undergraduate students.

Each play will tell an original story exploring how queer identities and experiences interact with the horror genre on stage. The plays include The Binding of Citrus written by Cheyenne Mann, Moth by Wren Stone, The Sashaying Dead by Cael Negen, Dear John by Meg Mechelke, and The archivist by Arlo Schneider.

The UI Theatre Department has featured several student-written productions that center on LGBTQ+ experiences. The department’s most recent mainstage production to do so was Hit the Wall in 2020, which told the story of the 1969 Stonewall Riots as a celebration of LGBTQ+ progress. The play focused on the history of the riots, particularly on the violence that went largely unspoken about outside of the LGBTQ+ community.

Additionally, in April this year, the department presented I’m Writing to You Today, an environmental audio experience centered around queer love letters written from 816 A.C. to 1994, written by Ann Kreitman.

Some of the plays within the Queer Horror Festival will explore similar elements through the lens of the horror genre, including undead imagery and ghost stories, as well as themes of gender, sexuality, family, and identity.

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Elizabeth Sarsfield, the stage manager for the Queer Horror Festival, said she is eager to see the response to the show. Although there are no current plans in place to put on another Queer Horror Festival in the future, she said she would love to be involved if there eventually are.

“Shows like this tend to be very well received,” Sarsfield said. “For Hit the Wall there was even an after-show department celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.”

On the UI Theatre Department’s webpage for the Queer Horror Festival, the history of horror as it relates to queer stories and themes is described as “inherently queer.” Several films, literary works, and other drama productions tying the two topics are also listed on the site.

Third-year student Demi Kendros Makeig plays the titular role of drag queen Sashayer in Negen’s The Sashaying Dead. They wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that they have written and produced work centered around LGBTQ+ characters and themes, but have not acted as an explicitly queer character before.

Makeig described the queer experience as being “rooted in horror,” both through the rejection of family and violence perpetrated by others.

“Queer people, historically, are the first to die in the horror movies and in real life,” they said. “But queer people have a beautiful talent to turn their horrific experiences into art and entertainment for others to relate to or to learn from.”

Queer Horror Festival will be performed in the Alan MacVey Theatre, in the UI Theatre Building at 8 p.m.