For the second year running, I’ve been in rehearsal throughout January directing a show. And it’s not a little play so my days off or days seeing other shows have been numbered.
So Queer Christmas – more formally known as Mardi Gras festival – is my time to hit the town and binge queer work. I love cheerleading the many queer artists who use the festival as an opportunity to voice, express, provoke and entertain. It’s a time of celebration, an explosion of imagination and originality, with a bit of much needed fuck-you, and a bigger dose of welcome.
The Mardi Gras arts festival is not curated by the organisation. While Mardi Gras is increasingly curating its own program of visual and live art, the festival operates on an open-access model and encourages individual teams and companies to banner their events as part of the annual celebration. The artistic program has certainly grown over recent years and now spans a number of genres and ranges from one-day extravaganzas to month-long performance seasons.
Under an open access model, the variety and scope of the work is dependent on participating artists. I like to look at the Mardi Gras arts program as a snapshot of current conversations in queer communities and also as a way to explore what frontiers we haven’t yet crossed.
Highlights? A month of queer work is always a good thing. I’m passionate about advocating for the programming of queer work outside of February and March but I do believe that the Mardi Gras arts program is slowly encouraging producers and curators to be bolder in their year-round programming. A queer show only programmed during Mardi Gras is a little unimaginative but the festival collectively demonstrates an audience, demand and hunger for these stories. And I think we’re starting to see that spill into year-wide programming choices thanks to the independent venue operators who are leading the charge.
I’m also thrilled to see broader representation of sexual and gender diversities, with an increase in work centred on gender non-conforming, gender-fluid, non-binary, Trans and sexually diverse identities. This is the next very overdue frontier of story-telling in live performance and it’s heartening to see artists with these identities at the core of the work, driving the work, rather than having versions of their stories told by others.
Room for improvement?
Last year I critiqued the program for being a little gay-male heavy. But this is slowly changing. Venues and curators understanding the breadth of sexual and gender identities is integral to that change. Reality for many in our communities sits in between and outside the letters of LGBTQIA. Under CEO Terese Casu and Creative Producer Greg Clarke, Mardi Gras is playing its part in cheerleading for more inclusive and far-reaching advocacy and story-sharing. Marriage equality is not the only issue of our time, and with that out of the way, advocacy for all in our communities needs to be centre on the agenda.
So, here’s my list of the shows I’ll be sure to catch. The list isn’t exhaustive and I haven’t covered the bigger end of town or companies with huge marketing budgets. This is the blink-and-you-might-miss-it work that’s new, defiant, subversive or a bit of cheeky fun and respite.
Performed by Ross Anderson-Doherty and co-written by Anderson-Doherty and Australian playwright Lachlan Philpott, Cake Daddy has been on my ‘can’t wait’ list since it was announced. Described as an interactive cabaret banquet, the show is an unapologetic, fabulous and unflinching look at a queer man’s experience of fat/ness. The celebration and exploration of the diversity of body and bodies is not something we see enough on our stages. These works are overdue. And the cabaret form is the perfect vehicle.
Cake Daddy is presented in partnership with Theatre Works who also present The Butch Monologues as part of the Seymour Centre Mardi Gras program. A collection of secret stories exploring sexuality, vulnerability and desire taken from interviews with butches, masculine women, gender rebels and transmen living world-wide, The Butch Monologues is work that we don’t often get to see at all in this country.
Kate Gaul directs bold and unapologetic playwright Jen Silverman’s daring look at love and power. It’s described as a “play of subversive edginess toppling the male-oppressed milieus of the Brontës and taking strong, passionate female characters to new heights”. A dynamic cast, Kate’s flair for the theatrical and a killer piece of new writing position this to be one of the exhilarating theatre rides of the season.
And while you’re thinking about the Seymour Centre, don’t miss the second PLAYLIST one-day festival of new queer writing. Playlist is a taste and celebration of new works by LGBQTIA+ writers. I’m excited by some of the voices programmed and while the festival showcases some of the next generation of queer writers in this country, the program this year also features some established and mid-career playwriting powerhouses including the brilliant Lachlan Philpott and Noëlle Janaczewska.
Queerstories: Western Sydney
I love Maeve Marsden. And Queerstories is one of our community’s most anticipated events. Queerstories returns to Riverside for a second year running following a smash-hit 2018 Mardi Gras special Western Sydney edition. Maeve hosts an electric line-up of special guests including theatre-maker Charles O’Grady. Charles’ play Are We Awake was part of the 2018 Mardi Gras festival and his voice is an urgent one. There will be a lot more from Charles in the future. For now, head to Queestories for a fab night of community and inspiring conversation.
Warwick Doddrell directs Eddie Orton and Elijah Williams in the Sydney premiere of Irish writer John O’Donovan’s story of a pair of would-be burglars and could-be lovers trapped on a rooftop while the police investigate below. I don’t know much about the play. But I do know this. Class is in my opinion one of the most underrepresented issues on Australian stages. And class is at the centre of everything. Class and queerness have a very complex relationship that we don’t often get to explore. This work promises to offer us a look with a different lens.
Four of Australia’s most positive and exciting voices in the LGBTQI+ community in a three-day comedy festival at Darlinghurst Theatre Company. Featuring Rhys Nicholson, Jordan Raskopoulos, Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood, come for the comedy and stay for the kiki.
Two actors taking on two larger than life personalities. Peter Wyngarde was an accomplished actor until his fall from grace and was best known for playing the character Jason King, the inspiration for Austin Powers. Bette Davis was Hollywood personified – a true movie legend. I’m looking forward to seeing Wyngarde for the first time and revisiting Queen Bette for the second. I saw the first season of Queen Bette when it premiered a few years ago, and it’s a knockout performance from Jeanette Cronin. She doesn’t merely perform Davis, she channels her.
For those looking for more of a casual hang and DJ vibe, this is an underwear party at my favourite inclusive queer venue – The Bearded Tit. Welcoming of all bodies and a total safe-space, it’s a night of dance, DJs and brilliant community. From jockstraps to lingerie to boxers to longjohns, wear what you’re comfortable with and enjoy a great evening of queer community. This great monthly event offers a special Mardi Gras edition.
A comment on toxic masculinity, KING is a new music-dance collaboration between award-winning director/choreographer Shaun Parker and internationally renowned Bulgarian-born songwriter/vocalist Ivo Dimchev. I’m intrigued by this work’s fusion of performance and sound and excited by the work’s claim to tease out patterns of behaviour of the cis-hetero-alpha-male against homosexual, bisexual and pansexual perspectives.
If we want to see more and more Queer programming, we need to support queer work when it is programmed. So book some tickets, check out the full Mardi Gras program, and go on a joyride.
Dino Dimitriadis is the director of Apocalypse Theatre Company’s production of Angels in America, Old Fitzroy Theatre, February 15-March 16