'That Brings Us Closer Together': OUTsider Fest Goes Virtual For 2021
OUTsider Fest – the Austin-based transmedia LGBTQ+ arts festival – was one of the last major in-person gatherings to go on as planned before the pandemic shut everything down almost a year ago. But now, with large gatherings still a dangerous proposition, the 2021 iteration of the festival is going virtual.
Founder and producer Curran Nault says, when it came to converting the festival into a virtual event, the long lead time was both a blessing and a curse. “We have had essentially since last year [to plan],” he says. “It’s also made it really hard, because it wasn’t really until maybe October or November… or maybe even really December that we really knew for sure that things would not be open again in February. We’ve kind of had to wait until later than usual to figure out what the format’s going to look like.”
This year, for the first time, the festival’s going to be entirely online, with one sort-of exception. “Our main space is the Vortex,” Nault says. “And folks will still have the opportunity to go outdoors at the Vortex and watch our online stream on a big screen outside.”
OUTsider has always prided itself on staying small and intimate, and this year has forced its organizers to make it even smaller than in years past – it’ll be three nights instead of five full days, Nault says. Keeping the fest’s trademark intimacy intact was a bigger challenge. “So much of the OUTsider ethos and aesthetic is about intimacy, is about the feelings and connections and togetherness that emerges from being in kind of a small space together and crowded around an arts performance or crowded around my couch and talking about the concepts and the issues that the art raises,” Nault says. “So yeah, the biggest challenge has been how do you recreate that in an online space, which is already, you know, alienating in certain ways, right? Having a screen between us all, being in our Zoom boxes. There’s already a distance between us, so how do you maintain that sense of intimacy?”
Nault acknowledges that this year’s fest won’t be the same, but adds that they’ve come up with some innovative ways to try and introduce more personal connections during the virtual meetup. “One of the things we’re doing is a series of one-on-one activities, where you can sign up for an artistic meditation with an artist, you can sign up for a card reading with an artist, that’s just you and the artist,” he says. “To try to maintain that smallness and that one-to-one contact that I think we’re craving.
“And there’s a certain pretense that also goes away,” Nault says. “We all know that we’re in the middle of this crazy pandemic [and] we’re just kind of making it through. And I think in a certain sense that brings us closer together, right? That we’re all in this together and it’s imperfect and we’re just gonna make it work. I think that that does create a sense of closeness.”
There are also some silver linings to going virtual. “We can reach audiences that have never been able to participate before and bring them into the fold, so that’s a benefit," Nault says.
It’s also made it easier to bring in artists who might not have been able to fly into Austin for an in-person festival. “It’s easier in a lot of ways to do that virtually,” Nault says. “To be able to pick and choose all these amazing people from all over the world and bring them into this online space. I think our lineup this year in terms of the artists that we are including is pretty huge and phenomenal.”
OUTsider Fest was originally scheduled for February 19-21 but has now been rescheduled for March 5-7 at outsiderfest.org