Spanning the course of more than four decades, the Dublin Fringe Festival is back this September with a plethora of amazing theatre, comedy, and cabaret, with many of the shows highlighting queer themes, characters and performers.
In preparation for the festival, I sat down with a handful of the writers, producers, and performers putting on LGBTQ+ shows this year.
Returning to the Fringe after a successful performance in last year’s lineup is Deborah Dickinson. The 24 yearold actress kickstarted a love for theatre in her youth, explaining, “I’ve been doing performance all my life. I’ve been in and out of stage schools and dance schools, singing and drama classes, up until my early twenties.”
Following a stint at the University of Wolverhampton, where Dickinson graduated with a degree in Drama, the actress auditioned for Hive City Legacy: Dublin Chapter, a “sensual and vibrant performance” that showcased “the experiences of women of colour living in Ireland.” It debuted at the 2022 Dublin Fringe Festival, where Dickinson was joined by other members of Dublin Fringe’s Weft programme “for emerging and early career artists of colour in Ireland”.
Dickinson is back to enjoy another year of antics as she stars in Once in a Lifetime. Written by Tracey Martin, Dickinson describes Once in A Lifetime as a show “about a young girl who gets pregnant and invites over her friend Sara to help her take an abortion tablet. Sara tries to convince Ciara to tell her parents (a lesbian couple, one of whom is nine months pregnant herself) or not to do it at all.
“When Ciara’s parents come home unexpectedly,” Dickinson continued, “the girls start working to ensure that her parents don’t find out. Sara ends up feeling too guilty. She wants to tell her friend’s parents.” Not wanting to give too much away, Dickinson then moved on to discuss the important topics involved in the play. “I think our show is important. Because, yes, it is a dark topic, but it’s not a dark show. I think it will be good for viewers to see that young people nowadays know and understand the responsibility of being educated and aware of their reproductive rights.”
Dickinson praised The Fringe for their continued support of creatives, sharing, “I must say, the support actors and artists receive from Fringe when you’re doing a show is insane. They’re constantly checking up, constantly just being there, even after the festival has ended, Fringe keeps in touch with artists to follow up on their work and gives them other opportunities to perform and produce.”
Also returning to the Dublin Fringe Festival for another year on the stage is Kelly Shatter. The actor previously debuted at the Fringe directing the show Big Bobby. Little Bobby, co-written with and starring Camille Lucy Ross. It won an award at First Fortnight, an arts-based mental health charity festival.
This year, Shatter debuts her one-woman show, The Scratcher, a dark comedy following a girl addicted to scratch cards.
“The addiction comes about when she enters her first relationship with a woman at the age of 35 and is kind of propelled back into puberty,” Shatter elaborated. “She doesn’t know anything about this new world, and her way of managing it is to find comfort in scratch cards.”
Shatter, who was described by her schoolmates as the ‘drama kid’, developed the script as part of axis Ballymun’s Assemble programme. “It was amazing to just very slowly develop the show over the course of a year. In fact, I think it took me the whole year to develop the first ten minutes of the show, but from there it was able to just take off.”
If you’re still looking to tickle your funny bone after catching Shatter’s dark comedy, be sure to catch Shane Daniel Byrne’s stand-up comedy show, But He’s Gay.
Byrne revealed the inspiration for the show’s title comes from an old viral video where a news reporter delivers a story about a man overcoming obstacles to climb Mount Everest. “But…he’s gay,” she exclaims before correcting that the climber is not, in fact, gay, but blind.
“It doesn’t matter if people get that joke or not,” Byrne continued. “The show is generally just about me, my life, and about being gay. Because comedy is such a straight man’s game. When I started comedy I wondered what it would be like to do a show that’s just fully gay, full of queer references that queer people recognise. And I think I’ve done that with But He’s Gay without being exclusionary, so that anybody of any age or anybody across the gender or sexuality spectrum can come and enjoy the show. The show focuses on my experiences of being gay, but it’s also mainly just for fun.”
Byrne further elaborated on the themes, saying “I think lots of queers are like survivors. We’ve made it this far, we’re still here, still going, still doing things, and I think sometimes it’s like, ‘but, he’s gay’. Like, in spite of that, in spite of the adversity of our diversity, we’ve still made it. So it’s kind of celebratory, it’s about enjoying the joy instead of focusing on the struggles of being queer.
“The Fringe is so full of exciting and rebellious art and always has been, but I think sometimes people forget that comedy is something that can be so transgressive, to just go and have fun and laugh for an hour, despite everything else that’s going on.
“My show won’t only be gag after gag, there is a bit of emotion too. I think queer people have always expressed their joy through transgressive acts. People talk about Pride being a protest and a party, and even before then, when queer people met in secret places, they danced and had fun. And I think that’s the real bedrock of queerness for me, even though there’s more challenges for me than there might be for other people, we still just focus on having a good time together and having fun and having craic.”
“There’s always been a special place in Dublin Fringe for queer craic, and long may it reign,” Byrne concluded.
Speaking of transgressive queer art, this year’s Dublin Fringe will play host to EGG: The Proclamation of the Irish Republegg. Co-producers Aoife O’Connor and Pea Dinneen described EGG as “queer theatre, by queer people, for queer people”.
O’Connor, a non-binary comedian based in stand-up, theatre, and cabaret, and Dinneen, a theatre-maker and playwright, cabaret artist, singer, and “an all-around chanteuse,” decided to develop EGG after meeting and working together on a project in Belfast last year.
“Generally, we play to an audience of about 150 people and I think they really respond to seeing work that is visibly and sometimes arrestingly queer on stage,” Dinneen described. “To the point that we’ve built a really strong and reliable audience who really care about what we do. The show has grown into a kind of community event where every couple of months the audience comes together, which is great. But I think it almost feels now like EGG has gotten a bit too big for that 150-seat room, so what we really wanted to do was make a show that allowed us to bring that energy and that sense of community into a bigger space, a space that felt thematically suitable, and what better space for that than the National Stadium!”
When describing the difference between cabaret and regular theatre, O’Connor told me, “I feel like there is a campness, an aliveness, and an unexpectedness to cabaret that is different to anything else that you’re going to see in theatre. There’s variety, there’s queerness woven through every single performance, and there’s a certain dazzle to everyone that brings an energy to cabaret that is just unlike anything else.”
Dinneen added: “For me with cabaret, the watch word is always ‘surprise’. Cabaret can be anything, it’s very much a variety form. It could be comedy, it could be music, it could be dance, but there’s always some element of a twist. It’s not just, ‘Oh, there’s a singer and they’re singing wonderfully,’ it’s ‘Oh, there’s a singer, and they’re singing wonderfully, and Oh! They’re dressed as a mermaid as well, and they’re spinning plates! What?!’”
These are just a handful of the LGBTQ+ shows featured in this year’s 2023 Dublin Fringe Festival. To learn more, head over to their website at www.fringefest.com.