It’s almost that time of year.
I was in rehearsal throughout Christmas so Queer Christmas is my time to unwind, see some great shows, and party. Plus it’s the 40th anniversary of Mardi Gras this year and the line-up is already looking special.
The Mardi Gras arts festival is not curated by the organisation. Apart from the handful of arts events Mardi Gras curates and self-produces (Queer Art After Hours, for example), the festival espouses an open-access model and encourages individual producers and organisations to banner events as part of the celebration.
Highlights? Well, it’s always great to see more Queer work developed and performed. I’d like to see to more Queer programming in Sydney outside of February and March, but the festival nonetheless shines a light on some extraordinary artists.
It’s also great to see broader representation, with an increase in work centring on Non-Binary, Trans, gender-fluid and sexually diverse identities. And it’s no surprise perhaps that the 40th anniversary edition was bound to get political with some strong social justice and advocacy themes emerging across the program.
Check out the Queer Thinking program for a sense of some of the hot topics.
Room to move? The festival arts program tends to be a little gay-male-heavy, but the imbalance is slowly improving. Our arts spaces around town are becoming more progressive in their understanding of wider queer identities. That’s evident in their programming choices and this will trickle down and be increasingly reflected in the Mardi Gras arts festival. Under its new CEO and Creative Producer [Terese Casu and Greg Clarke, respectively], I think Mardi Gras is becoming more nuanced in its advocacy of not just the L and the G, but the BTQIA+ as well. This inclusive and far-reaching advocacy will, in my opinion, have an effect on the type of artistic work we’ll see in the program in coming years.
So, here’s my list of some of the shows I won’t be missing.
Mama Alto: Queerly Beloved
Gender transcendent diva, jazz singer, community activist and cabaret artiste Mama Alto is a true one-of-a-kind and one of my favourite Australian performers. Her performances are a life-affirming tour-de-fierce and her voice is other-worldly.
Mama wowed audiences at Midsumma and now she’s headed to Sydney as part of her national tour of fierce queer affirmation. Identifying as non-binary trans femme, Mama believes in the radical potential of storytelling, strength in softness & power in vulnerability. She’s been described as a “a knockout” (The Herald Sun) and I couldn’t agree more. Book a ticket, cause Mama knows best.
Are We Awake?
I saw this special little show when Red Line Productions took a punt and programmed it as part of the Old Fitz’s New Fitz program in 2017. It lifted my soul and broke my heart in equal measure.
The next iteration of the work plays at Kings Cross Theatre as part of Mardi Gras. Written by queer theatre-maker Charles O’Grady (Kaleidoscope, Telescope) and featuring the brilliant Daniel Monks, Are We Awake? breaks open the complex and very rarely discussed relationship between queerness and disability. It’s quirky, funny and at times deeply moving. Charles is one of our most interesting emerging new voices and his point of view is electrifying.
While you’re at it, check out Being Dead (Don Quixote) by Kerith Manderson-Galvin, also playing as part of KXT’s Mardi Gras season. This is from the company behind Puntilla/Matti. You won’t be having a dull night in the theatre.
Queerstories: Western Sydney
I love Queerstories and I love Maeve Marsden. In February, this highly anticipated LGBTQI storytelling night temporarily moves from its home in Redfern and heads to Riverside Theatre for a special Mardi Gras event.
Hosted by Maeve, Queerstories at Riverside will feature an electric line-up of special guests including theatre-maker Karen Therese, author Peter Polites, activist Mel Gardiner, filmmaker Vonne Patiag and Amar and Muhammad Ali from 2 Boys in Saris.
I’ve attended Queerstories in Redfern and I can’t wait to see the special Western Sydney Edition. This is always a fab night of community, sharing and inspiring conversation.
Oyster Club: Glamdrogynous Freakshow – Wom*ns Day Special
This monthly event is always locked into my calendar. Oyster Club is all wild in an intimate cocktail setting, a non-genre-specific cabaret celebrating diversity and identity. The March edition sits outside of Mardi Gras’ official dates. But don’t miss it. The Wom*ns Day special is scheduled to coincide with international women’s day and it promises a fab line-up of artists. Seriously, it’s one of the best nights of the month and its total safe-space vibe results in some truly amazing performances. All events are on their Facebook page: Oyster Club: Glamdrogynous Freakshow
Black Nulla Cabaret
Enjoy the rich diversity of queer performances by leading local, national and international guests, plus some pretty incredible drag artists and DJs. Black Nulla Cabaret is part of Koori Gras, a vibrant showcase of unique First Peoples culture and community, produced by Moogahlin Performing Arts in association with Mardi Gras and Carriageworks.
Drag Kings. Yes! Esteemed UK Theatre Company Milk Presents bring their award-winning Joan to Sydney. It’s Joan of Arc like you’ve never seen it before.
Performed by drag king champion Lucy Jane Parkinson, history’s greatest gender-warrior takes to the stage, dragging up as the men she defies. I haven’t seen this show, but it’s one of those shows you hear about on the festivals circuit. I reckon it’s going to be a pretty powerful and irreverent fusion of cabaret and spoken word, packed with guts.
And while you’re planning your trip to the Seymour Centre, don’t miss the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it PLAYLIST. Curated by powerhouse Kate Gaul for Siren Theatre, Playlist is a peek, a taste, and a celebration of new works by LGBQTIA+ writers. There are some great new voices included in these public readings of works in development. This is a showcase of some of the next generation of queer writers in this country.
This list is a drop in the ocean. Book these shows then check out the full program here.