JUNE 22-26 2021

The Criminal Queerness Festival presents innovative new plays by LGBTQ artists from countries that criminalize queer and trans people and aims to uplift the careers of these artists and raise awareness about criminalization around the world.

The 2021 Criminal Queerness Festival will be staged outside and socially distanced. The festival will take place on the streets of New York City near the United Nations in Manhattan (the exact address will be shared with ticket holders to prevent crowding).

National Queer Theater is thrilled to present three incredible plays: This Is Not A Memorized Script, This Is a Well-Rehearsed Story by Dima Mikhayel Matta of Lebanon; «when we write with ashes», by Victor I. Cazares of Mexico; and a staged reading of Layalina, by Iraqi playwright Martin Yousif Zebari.

Learn more about our festival plays and playwrights below!

CQF V5.2.png

Poster by Uno Servida



The 2021 Criminal Queerness Festival will be held outdoors and will be executed with COVID-19 safety precautions in line with recommendations from the CDC and New York State for the safety of audiences and artists alike. As of right now, audience members can expect to wear masks and maintain a physical distance of at least 6ft from people outside of their household. As the COVID-19 pandemic is a constantly changing situation, specific procedures will continue to be outlined as the event approaches.


Two festival performances will occur on Hearst Stage at Lincoln Center, as part of their Restart Stages initiative Pride Celebration! Tickets for these performances are free but are only obtainable via lottery through Lincoln Center and TodayTix. The Lincoln Center performance of «when we write with ashes» by Victor I. Cazares is on June 24th at 7pm. The TodayTix lottery for this performance opened on June 10th and closes on June 21st. The Lincoln Center performance of This is not a memorized script, this is a well-rehearsed story by Dima Mikhayel Matta is on June 25th at 7pm. The TodayTix lottery for this performance opened on June 11th and closes on June 22nd. Learn more and enter the lottery for our performances at Lincoln Center here.


The outdoor venue near the United Nations is wheelchair accessible. For any questions or requests regarding accessibility at the United Nations performances, please contact NQT Managing Director Douglas Sebamala at douglas@nationalqueertheater.org. Hearst Stage at Lincoln Center is also wheelchair accessible. Live audio description is available for both Lincoln Center performances and ASL interpretation is available for the Lincoln Center performance of This is Not a Memorized Script, This is a Well-Rehearsed Story . For accessibility concerns regarding the Lincoln Center peformances, please see their website. For specific information about accessability for the LCPA performance of «when we write with ashes», click here.


GENERAL TICKETS - $30 There will be reserved seating for each party in order to ensure social distancing. The number of tickets purchased will be the number of seats reserved for your party. Therefore, please only purchase tickets for those in your household and/or please complete one ticket order for everyone that you plan on attending with. FESTIVAL PASSES - $50 This will allow you to see all three festival plays. To obtain, select the $50 "Festival Pass" option for the first performance you would like to see. Your confirmation email for that ticket will contain a promo code that you will enter on the ticket selection page of the other two performances you would like to see. This promo code will reveal a free "FESTIVAL PASS" free ticket option for those two performances, select that and check out as normal.


The festival will take place on the streets of New York City near the United Nations in Manhattan. The exact address will be shared with ticket holders to prevent crowding. Two festival performances will take place on Hearst Stage at Lincoln Center as part of their Restart Stages initiative, see below for more information on the Lincoln Center performances. Note that tickets for the Lincoln Center performances are only available via TodayTix Lottery.


The staged reading of Layalina by Martin Yousif Zebari will be approximately 90 minutes long. Performances of < > by Victor I. Cazares will run approximately 60 minutes. Performances of This is Not a Memorized Script, This is a Well-Rehearsed Story by Dima Mikhayel Matta will run approximately 60 minutes.


The Criminal Queerness Festival (CQF) is an annual international theater festival created in partnership with NYC Pride and the Stonewall Community Foundation, and IRT. The festival presents innovative new plays by LGBTQ artists from countries that criminalize queer and trans people. Presenting the work of international queer artists alongside activist talks and workshops, CQF aims to uplift the careers of these artists and raise awareness about criminalization around the world. The Criminal Queerness Festival provides a stage for artists facing censorship, shining a light on critical stories from across the globe. In order to build a truly global queer community, these writers are inspiring activism and shaping our culture towards the equitable treatment of LGBTQ people in every nation.


There will be talkbacks immediately following the performances listed below:

  • After the 3pm performance of This Is Not a Memorized Script, This Is a Well-Rehearsed Story on Wednesday the 23rd.
  • After the 3pm performance of «when we write with ashes» on Saturday the 26th.

CQF V5.png

Queerness is a construct. So is language, and so is this play. Nothing about this performance is reliable, the performer questions gender, memory, sex, identity, and her relationship with Beirut but gives no answers to comfort you or herself. A refusal to romanticize, a resistance against orientalization, she is left with deconstructions that she cannot put back together. This is the story of a failed relationship, with a partner, with a city, and an attempt to carry this knowledge without breaking.

Dima Mikhayel Matta (she/they) is a Beirut-based writer and actress. Matta, a Fulbright scholar, holds an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University in 2013. They have been acting for the stage since 2006. In 2014, they founded Cliffhangers, the first bilingual storytelling platform in Lebanon, and host monthly storytelling events along with parallel events such as storytelling workshops and performances. Their first play, “This is not a memorized script, this is a well-rehearsed story,” directed by Yara Bou Nassar, an autobiographical play on queerness and their relationship with the city toured in London, New York, and Belfast, and premiered in Beirut in February 2020. They are currently working on their second play.


This is not a memorized script, this is a well-rehearsed story 

By Dima Mikhayel Matta
Directed by Em Weinstein

(First directed by Yara Bou Nassar)

Starring Dima Mikhayel Matta

CQF V5.png

«when we write with ashes»


By Victor I. Cazares
Directed By Borna Barzin

Starring: Jose Useche and Noor Hamdi

One night you race across the Chihuahuan Desert to introduce your Muslim boyfriend to your dying grandfather—funerals are perfect opportunities to introduce a new character. Years pass and you’re on the bed of a pickup truck trying to avoid going to rehab—meth, it’s always meth these days. Your partner looks at you and tells you you’re his addiction, his self-harm. A fascist gets elected and together you wonder if you should leave the country; flee while you still can. You watch the country you fled to become the country you fled from. One of you dies and the other one remembers. You stand in the middle of the desert and look up; there are no signals. Only light pulses of transmission: one zero one zero zero one one. 

«when we write with ashes» is a burial rite—like all my plays—and the title is a reference to the final death fiesta the Raramurí perform. You write with ashes to protect yourself from the dead. You write with ashes to help them start their journey into the next world.

Victor I. Cazares (they/them) is a non-binary Poz Queer Indigenous Mexican Artist (enby PQIMA for short) who has had stints at Yale, Brown, and other less prestigious centers of rehabilitation. Like any border child, they were born twice: once in El Paso, Texas and another in San Lorenzo, Chihuahua. During the pandemic, Victor debuted virtually at Carnegie Hall as part of the Voices of Hope Festival in partnership with National Queer Theater and The LGBT Center. They also taught a tuition-free class for emerging immigrant playwrights as part of PEN America's DREAMing Out Loud program with NQT and NYTW. Plays include: american (tele)visions and Pinching Pennies with Penny Marshall (NYTW); Ramses contra los monstruos; We Were Eights Years in Powder; and «when we write with ashes» (NQT and Lincoln Center Restart Stages). Victor is currently the Tow Playwright-in-Residence at New York Theatre Workshop.

CQF V5.png



By Martin Yousif Zebari
Staged Reading Directed By Sivan Battat

Starring: Louis Sallan, Layan Elwazani, Waseem Alzer,

Gloria Imseih Petrelli, Samy Figaredo, and Mariam Bazeed

In 2003, newly wed Layal plans a future with her family as they make plans to immigrate to the U.S. from Baghdad. 18 years later, just outside of Chicago, Layal’s life and responsibilities look unimaginably different from what she had envisioned two decades before. Martin Yousif Zebari’s surprising new play examines how families maintain their love in the midst of turbulent global and social change.

Martin Yousif Zebari (he/they) is an Iraqi-born, Assyrian-American, actor and writer based in Chicago. Layalina, his first play, had its first developmental workshop at Goodman Theatre’s inaugural Future Labs, directed by Azar Kazemi. As an Actor, he has worked with National Queer Theatre, The Angle Project, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Court Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre Company, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Illinois Shakespeare Festival and has appeared in NBC’s Chicago Med. Martin holds a BFA in Acting from the Arts University of Bournemouth, England and is represented by Stewart Talent Chicago.

MartinZ Photo.JPG




Jules Peiperl (they/them) is a nonbinary costumer based in Brooklyn. Their studio work can be seen on Broadway in Mean Girls, To Kill a Mockingbird, and King Kong. Their design credits include Princeton Summer Theater, Grind Arts Company, and NYU/Tisch. They are grateful to be able to further LGBTQIA+ stories and voices with this incredible organization. www.juliapeiperl.com.


M. FLORIAN STAAB is a composer and sound designer based in Brooklyn, NY. Staab was born and raised in Germany and received his BA from Oberlin College and MFA from Krannert Center. He is an associate artist with Sinking Ship Productions and the resident sound designer at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. Over the past year, Staab has designed and mixed numerous pre-recorded virtual productions for multiple theaters, including a full scale musical for the Irish Repertory Theatre. He also directed Bill Irwin’s On Beckett / In Screen for the camera and most recently designed sound and video for an in-person (!) live-streamed production of The Earth Station at Playwrights Horizons / NYU Tisch. www.florianstaab.com


“Artists use lies to tell the truth.” -V, V for Vendetta. As an artist and designer, I am asking the audience to believe in the fantasy of the art to help them find its underlying truth. I find visual storytelling to be a deeply compelling medium whether that synthesis is between the artists, their paint, and canvas or a designer, their co-workers, and the stage. Regarding stage design, I am drawn to the collaboration it takes to draw out truth from the world we create on the stage. Taylor Lilly (LD), originally from Maryland, currently resides in Brooklyn. She has enjoyed helping to tell unique stories while designing and assisting around NYC. She also enjoys reading, painting, and talking about the complexity of time whenever possible. Check out her website at https://www.taylorlilly.com/.


Dan Daly is a Brooklyn based scenic designer who has held positions at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Hangar Theatre, and the Winnipesaukee Playhouse. New York design credits include Oasis (Third Rail Projects at Brookfield Place), The Space Between the Letters (Under the Radar at the Public), The Good Girl (59E59 Theaters), Toe Pick and Brideshead Obliterated (Dixon Place), Pie Shop Play and the 2019 Corkscrew Downstairs series (Corkscrew Festival), and Monét X Change’s booth at RuPaul’s Drag Con. Dan also builds portable theaters including The Theater in the Mail (The Peace Studio), Follies Folly ( Winterthur Museum), and The Inflatable Theater (Barn Arts Collective). MFA: Carnegie Mellon University. www.dandalydesign.com



Dmitri Barcomi is a multidisciplinary theater creator, director, designer, and musician from New York City. Dmitri's work has been seen throughout New York at Ars Nova, BRIC, La MaMa, New Ohio, and other hubs of experimental work, as well as internationally at the Edinburgh Fringe. Recent projects include Others (Exponential Festival), an avant-garde adaptation of a silent film from Weimar Berlin; and A Waste Land (Edinburgh Fringe, Cloud City), a queer EDM remix of the iconic T.S. Eliot poem. Dmitri is Artist-in-Residence at Playmachine Theater Lab, a member of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab, and an associate artist with Pioneers Go East Collective. BA, The New School.


Kevin Jinghong Zhu’s (he/him) recent credits include PrEP Play, or Blue Parachute (National Queer Theater); A Raisin in the Sun, El Huracán (Yale Repertory Theatre); In Our America: A Concert for the Soul of the Nation (Broadway for Biden); CRAM (Radical Rhinoceros Pictures). He is also an M.F.A. candidate at Yale School of Drama, where select credits include Reykjavík, Pivot, Henry VI Part 3, Trouble in Mind, Rock Egg Spoon. Other select credits include Dwight/Edgewood Project (Yale Rep and Yale School of Drama); Dear 2020, With Love: An Euphoric Play, A Voice in the Dark, Burn Book (Yale Cabaret); Clybourne Park, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Glass Menagerie (Purdue University Theatre).


Melory Mirashrafi (she/they) is an Iranian-American dramaturg, director, and actor from Hillsboro, Oregon. Melory was the 2020 Literary Apprentice with the Huntington Theatre Company, and Young Conservatory Intern with American Conservatory Theater. Melory's writing can be found in The Methuen Drama Book of Trans Plays and Routledge's Troubling Traditions: Canonicity, Theatre, and Performance in the US.


Adam A. Elsayigh (he/him) is an Egyptian playwright, dramaturg, and producer. Through his writing and producing, Adam interrogates the intersections of queerness, immigration, and colonialism. Some of Adam's plays include Memorial, Jamestown/Williamsburg, and Drowning in Cairo. Adam is the Co-founder of The Criminal Queerness Festival. He is a fellow at Georgetown University's Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics and a co-host of The Queer Arab Podcast. Adam's work has been seen at IRT Theater, Dixon Place, Golden Thread Productions, and The NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center. Adam holds a BA in Theater with an emphasis in Playwriting and Dramaturgy from NYU Abu Dhabi.


Adam Odsess-Rubin (he/him) is a director, playwright, actor, and teaching artist. At NQT, Odsess-Rubin directed his play DREAMers (NYU), based on interviews with undocumented LGBTQ youth in Queens, NY, for which he received the title ‘Emerging Playwright’ from Theater for the New City and Pint-Sized Plays at The Eagle NYC. He also wrote and directed Speechless (Theaterlab), a play exploring HIV narratives in 2018, to sold out audiences. He produced the Queer Village Reading Series and Criminal Queerness Festival. Formerly the Education and Community Programs Fellow at the American Conservatory Theater, Odsess-Rubin is now Education Associate at New York Theatre Workshop. His work as an actor, director, and playwright has brought him to The Guthrie, BAM, The Civilians, Theater for the New City, A.C.T., New Conservatory Theater, Faultline Theater, and ArtsEmerson. He has also worked as a teaching artist with refugee youth, Israeli and Palestinian teenagers, and taught in juvenile halls. In 2016, Odsess-Rubin served as personal assistant to AIDS Memorial Quilt Founder Cleve Jones, a protégé of Harvey Milk.


Douglas Dubois-Card Sebamala (he/him) is an Advocacy Artist, Producer, Multimedia Journalist and Communications Manager who prides greatly in works that empower marginalized communities. His advocacy work challenge social inequalities, racial injustice, gender based violence and all forms of discrimination, oppression and suppression of free expression. Devoting to empowerment and communication for development, Douglas has over the decade served in Public Relations and Arts Management for non-profits in East Africa. He has a record of excellence at Silent Voices Uganda, Youth Arts Movement Uganda and the Nation Media’s Daily Monitor. He co-founded ELESmode Productions which offers digital training and employment to young and aspiring LGBTQ artists and youth from marginalized communities. He researched and edited a publication on Mental Health of Queer Communities, Invisible Scars, published in 2018, supported by Voice.Global. Offering creative support to Rainbow Riots Uganda, he developed Rainbow Riots Radio which serves as an international free expression podcast for LGBTQI+ People around the world.

Screen Shot 2021-03-16 at 4.22.45 PM.png
nyc mayor's office.png