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Talking With Flaming River Con Folks

The Flaming River Arts Organization and its upcoming Flaming River Con are relatively new to the Cleveland and northeast Ohio scene. so I wanted to learn about the debut event and the people involved in the effort. Brittney Orcutt and Logan Dorado did not fail to impress me and after reading this interview I hope you will be too!

Gay League: Hello, Brittney! Thanks for taking time out of your busy lie to talk. Tell me how the Flaming River Arts organization came about, its purpose and its newest project, Flaming River Con.

Brittney Orcutt: Thank you for wanting to listen to our story. Flaming River Arts came about in a less than Lord of the Rings style adventure. Basically, I saw our community was lacking, and I wanted to change it. The spaces available to us are often “rented”–they’re straight spaces taken over for a night– or they’re so firmly rooted in cis gay male hook up and party culture that it leaves little for the rest of the letters. I think it’s important to note that some Cleveland institutions, such as Uniquely Queer Tailoring and Now That’s Class, have provided radically inclusive spaces for queers and BIPOC, and that my commentary on our queer community is specifically regarding spaces that do not prioritize people who are disabled, trans, POC, intersex, asexual, non binary, bisexual, low income, and gender fluid, or children and families. I wanted a space that didn’t revolve around dating pressure, hooking up, or partying. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are fun, but at some point the disco ball loses its twinkle. I want queer bookstores, coffee shops, and comic book conventions. I had an idea to make a queer comic con, and like all things, posted about it on Facebook. Logan, the vice-president, immediately jumped at the chance to join. With community support and excitement, we started this thing. Originally, it was just going to be the con. I had no intention of forming a non-profit and a bunch of other events. You just have no idea how big a thing is when you first begin.

GL: My direct experience of Cleveland is sadly limited to a single day trip to downtown during a cold and bleak February circa 1992 and outside of that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Cavaliers. What’s queer life and nerd culture like in Cleveland and how is Flaming River Con fit into things?

Britt: Cleveland has definitely improved since 1992, but we still have a long way to go. Our food and beer is top notch these days! Cleveland has come a long way for the cis white gay man, but leaves much to be desired for literally everyone else. We have small pockets of very inclusive spaces, and going into this we wanted to create a space that focused on the more marginalized communities of LGBTQIA+ culture, and very few of the spaces are designed specifically for queer people. Nerd culture is really big here, we have nerd themed bars, tons of cosplay nights, several comic cons, which is to be expected since we’re the birthplace of Superman! Flaming River is for queers by queers, created to celebrate all things about our vast culture.

GL: Who is this con for?

Britt: This con is for the queer community and allies who want to support queer businesses and spaces. We purposefully planned this con to be inclusive for all, from low income persons to children to the trans community. We selected the venue with care to be accessible for the disabled community, we’re working on getting sign language interpreters for the panels, and all panels and workshops will be filmed and transcribed for people unable to attend. This con is for everyone.

Left to right: Donny, Alejandro, Hannah, Crystal. Photo taken by Brittney Orcutt

GL: To paraphrase an old saying, no person is an island. Who are the volunteers involved in working on creating the con? Would any of the volunteers like to introduce themselves and say a few words about their roles?

Logan Dorado, VP: “As a queer trans, Filipino-American, I jumped at the chance to start Flaming River Arts with Britt. She’s definitely the brains behind this whole operation and I’m honored to be her second-in-command, helping plan fundraisers, organize events, and provide whatever support it is she needs so that FRA can best represent and showcase and celebrate our community.”

Britt: “Oh my god stop you were supposed to talk about yourself! Logan is the VP and treasurer, and has been my co-pilot through this whole adventure. Endless meetings and paperwork with lawyers to create our non-profit, organizing and handling, and even helping with my actual 9-5 job when I was too overwhelmed and busy. FRA would not exist without Logan’s help and support and acceptance of my 3am stressed out text messages.”

We have a whole planning committee: Finn Simmons is our secretary, Santina Cirino runs our Facebook page, and our other board of directors are Vikash Goel and Cyrano Patton. We have many other volunteers as well: Charlie Flickinger handles a lot of our donations, Aidan McCormack, Alejandro Luna, and Crystal Corrigan do set ups and tear downs and logistics for our events. Kelly Quest and Kayla Jett have done all of our graphic designs and promotional materials. And of course, we couldn’t function without Donald Sweeney, our executive assistant of sorts, who is there 24/7, offers endless support and is our calming force when things get heavy, and does every small task we possibly need for an event to function. So much love and appreciation for our whole crew, nothing would get done without our solid workforce.

GL: Tell us what things you’re planning to have for the con’s debut?

Britt: The night before the con we have a couple kick off events. Our headliner, Sina Grace, who writes Marvel’s Iceman comics, will be doing a meet and greet and book signing at a local comic book store, Carol and John’s Comic Books, on September 21st. Afterwards, we’re having a pre-con launch party at a local nerd and board game themed bar called Side Quest. The main event will take place September 22nd from 10am-6pm, and will feature over 40 tables, a full schedule of panels and workshops, cosplay contest, and an open gaming room. Our panel topics include the history of queer comics, mental health and comics, Dungeons and Dragons 101, queer representation in horror and paranormal media, among several others. We’re also doing a workshop on cosplaying on a budget and drag queen story time!

GL: How can creators and vendors interested in tabling get in touch?

Britt: Applications for vendors and panels close August 3rd, and information can be found on our Facebook page and on our website

GL: Are there ways for people living outside of Cleveland and the surrounding area who probably won’t have the opportunity to attend can support Flaming River Con?

Britt: Absolutely, this is a huge undertaking and we need as many resources as we can get. We always take donation (which are tax deductible) and sponsorships, donations of goods, social media support and shares, and if someone wants to gift something physical we have an Amazon wishlist (we need walkie talkies ya’ll!). We also have a Patreon @FlamingRiverCon, where people can subscribe to support for as little as $1 a month.

Brittney Orcutt enjoying herself at the Flaming River queer prom night event. Photo by Lumos Photography.

GL: What are your hopes for the con and how do you keep your focus on the positive and not become overwhelmed?

Britt: Our goal is to honor our mission to be as inclusive as possible, to take feedback and grow to better ourselves for next year, and to give the community something they’ve never had before. Given the current political climate, we find ourselves constantly wondering what’s the point? Every single day there’s some new disastrous blow. I’ll be honest, it’s hard. Every day is hard. Our motto has been “there is defiance in joy” and that’s what’s kept us going. We will not be buried, we will not go quietly. Maybe the worst time for this is actually the best time, and we will stand together in joy and defiance.

GL: Brittney, I’d hoped you’d touch on the political climate at some point. We agree that every day is hard. I think that their hopes with these shock level tactics is that enough  people (queer and everyone who isn’t part of the rabid base, will simply give in and be rolled over. You’ve adopted a great attitude to stay motivated!

Any plans for the day after the con?

Britt: We’re going to sleep! Roll out of bed for brunch, then go back to sleep!

Thank you, Brittney and Logan! Wishing that all the hard work you and all your organizers and volunteers will be wildly successful!

Please check out Flaming River at its website, on Facebook, and Patreon!

Photos and images provided by Brittney Orcutt.

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