If ever you’re seeking a zap of blazing trans art energy—and who doesn’t, especially now—speak with dancer-choreographer-activist Sean Dorsey. Dorsey founded the incredible free annual Fresh Meat Festival (Thu/16-June 26) of queer and transgender art a whopping 21 years ago, and, along with partner and General Manager Shawna Virago, Managing Director Eric Garcia, and a fabulously diverse crew, he has kept marginalized performers in the spotlight.
And even in adulthood, the festival remains remarkably fresh. This year’s festival is all online, with different programs of unique performances debuting each day, and then available for streaming on-demand June 20-26. You get vogueing, you get drag, you get queer country music, you get movement, you get a lot more! There are programs highlighting disabled artists and dancers. There are more than 40 artists. It all shows off our community wonder and light.
I spoke with Sean about this year’s festival, and why it’s so important.
48 HILLS Congrats on launching another Fresh Meat Festival! I think showing how vibrant and expressive the trans and queer community is so needed right now, in the face of all the terrifying attacks on our community that are happening. How are you feeling about putting on the festival at this moment in time?
SEAN DORSEY I LOVE trans and gender-nonconforming people, and I believe in the power of trans and gender-nonconforming artistry to CHANGE THE WORLD! Haters and bigots can’t erase the truth that we’re powerful, beautiful, wise, sexy and talented.
I am proud of what our tiny team has accomplished: presenting more than 40 artists online this year! Our communities need this festival more than ever – it’s heart balm, soul fuel, brain food and spirit soothing.
This year, we’re presenting Folklórico, hip-hop, modern dance, vogue, contemporary R&B, tap dance, Son Jarocho, comedy, storytelling, disabled dance pioneers, Americana music, solo performance, award-winning ballroom and so much more!
And did I mention that the artistry this year is OFF THE HOOK? We need this artistry, this community, this culture-transforming work now, more than ever.
48 HILLS 21 years is an incredible accomplishment. What are one or two standout memories you have of Fresh Meats past that still make you laugh, or cry, or feel inspired?
SEAN DORSEY Oh my gosh – I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve cried, I’ve had goose bumps, and that I’ve been profoundly changed by the artists we commission and present.
Standout memories? The first festival in 2002. The festival where we had over 70 artists backstage (70!)! So, so many happy memories in the lobby at our famous photo booth. Also backstage at the festival is basically a big love fest.
48 HILLS I know that COVID brought up a lot of issues around access, and that the pandemic is still with us. It’s interesting (and great!) that you’re still streaming the festival online rather than in person—can you tell me how you came to that decision?
SEAN DORSEY We LOVE our audiences and we LOVE our artists … which is why we LOVE supporting their safety and well-being!
Unlike profit-driven enterprises, our organization is navigating our arts programming with the understanding that THE PANDEMIC IS NOT OVER! In fact, it’s more dangerous than ever for many of our communities. With mask mandates dropping away, indoor venues are even more dangerous now for many disabled folks, folks who are chronically ill, sick, undergoing chemo, have and immune compromised.
We prioritize community safety, well-being and joy FIRST! So this is why our entire festival is FREE, closed-captioned for Deaf and Hard-of-hearing audiences, and online. Online is not only safer, it’s also more accessible in so many ways!
48 HILLS I love that there is so much going on in the festival, so many fascinating performers! Can you walk us through how you put the programs together and some of the things you’re particularly excited about this year that may be new or different?
SEAN DORSEY We receive a ton of submissions from across the Bay and across the country, and we have a team of folks who review submissions and help curate. We also directly invite amazing artists who inspire us.
Our brilliant Managing Director Eric Garcia led the curation of our commissioned FRESH WORKS! artists, and is managing the production of all of their new works. What a lineup!! This year, we will be premiering new work commissioned especially for the festival by: Alex “Glamputee” Locust, JanpiStar, Landa Lakes, and SirJoq (Jocquese Whitfield).
And later this year, we’ll premiere even more FRESH WORKS! commissions by: B Noel Thomas and Silk Worm!
Just a list of who we have on tap:
Alex “Glamputee” Locust, amara tabor-smith, Angelica & Jahaira, Angie & Audrey, B Noel Thomas, Ballet 22, Cindy Emch, Cuauhtémoc Peranda, DANDY, dani tirrell + J Mase III + Randy Ford, David Slaney, Dear Queer Dancer, Detour Dance, Felipe & Tiago, Folclórico Colibrí, JanpiStar, LAFEMMEBEAR, Landa Lakes, Lottie Riot, Luna Ninja, NAKA Dance Theater, Marcus Zebra Smith, NEVE, Omar and Milton, Pioneer Winter Collective, Sean Dorsey Dance, Shawna Virago, Shrouk El-Attar, Silk Worm, Sir JoQ, Tajah J, Tina Cavvichio, Tosha Jorden, Toby MacNutt, Truc Nguyen, UNA aka EXhotIC OTHER, and Vanessa Sanchez and La Mezcla, and many more.
48 HILLS How can we continue to support queer and trans arts—and artists—at this time beyond the fest?
SEAN DORSEY We’re so blessed in the Bay Area to have such a richness of trans and queer artistry. The FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL is a featured event of the National Queer Arts Festival (NQAF), which folks should definitely check out!
And folks should check out Sins Invalid, the San Francisco Transgender Film Festival, Queer Rebels, the Queer Afro Latin Dance Festival, Dear Queer Dancer, Peacock Rebellion, the Queer Women of Color Film Festival, The Trans March … just a few of the many amazing organizations and projects thriving here.
And folks should check out all we do at www.freshmeatproductions.org … we offer workshops and classes, performances and so much more!
FRESH MEAT FESTIVAL 2022 runs Thu/16-June 26 online. More info here.