BY RITA BRATOVICH
Summer in Sydney may be drawing to a close, but not without one last celebration of life and love (and one last communal baring of skin). Mardi Gras is the queer community’s festive season. In a cultural program spanning just over two weeks, members of the LGBTIQ community participate in theatre, visual art, comedy, film, music, discussions, workshops, parties, sports… and end it all with what could be the biggest, sparkliest conga line anywhere in the world.
Evolving from a political protest, the Mardi Gras Festival continues to reflect current social issues while maintaining a mood of joy and revelry. The theme for this year, “Creating Equality” was predetermined by the mixed, sometimes hostile political climate of the last year or so. Yet it’s not about agenda thrashing. Creative Director of Mardi Gras, Greg Clarke explains:
“We look for ways we can weave that theme throughout all our events…it is a community organisation and it is a platform for the LGBTIQ community to do what they want to do.”
Mardi Gras is ultimately about freedom of expression and creativity.
“There’s always a new generation and new people in the community coming up with these great new ideas, ” said Clarke.
Josh Feeney, who worked with the team at Milestone Creative to design the look for this year’s festival said:
“There’s no right way to be an LGBT person and there’s no one way to seek equality.”
Feeney’s photographic project, Bare Naked Truth (a response to the Orlando shooting) was the foundation for the portraits used on the letters of the “EQUALITY” logo.
The uniqueness and diversity in the community is reflected in its art. The festival program is a melange of styles and subject matter, from tender and poignant, to audacious and sexy, to stark and confronting. And it is fearless.
Theatre group, The Sibils Collective, recently successful with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Abridged, has revisited the Bard, freely adapting Twelfth Night into a bawdy, twisted, irreverent comic play set in a pornography studio: 12 Inch Night.
“Shakespeare lends itself very well to gender bending and queer interpretations,” remarked publicist Bina Bhattacharya. “He made stuff that was political and topical but also very silly and funny and appealed to a lot of audiences.”
12 Inch Night is cheeky and risqué. Its ironic humour (the porn studio makes erotic adaptations of Shakespeare works) is in the spirit of Shakespeare’s own comedies. Those unfamiliar with Shakespeare won’t feel left out, though – there are plenty of other pop culture references including Game Of Thrones and Grindr.
The play ignores boundaries of conservatism and cultural etiquette. As Bhattacharya explained:
“The whole purpose of Mardi Gras is to create a celebration of people who often politically feel like they’re on the back foot or they have to apologise for who they are – and this is the least apologetic thing you’ll ever see!”
In the same vein, Body Map, a cabaret-style, adults-only show written and performed by Glitta Supernova, is impervious to constraint. With unabashed candour, Glitta reveals her charm, her wit and most of her body in this unconventional and enthralling piece of theatre.
She describes her show as “a challenge to the external life we are consuming and the internal life we are silencing. Biographic warts and all storytelling in a cabaret hybrid format of performance art and queer theatre.”
Glitta’s work is edgy and perhaps a little esoteric, so something like the Mardi Gras Festival offers rare and valuable stage space that might not be as easy to get in the mainstream arena. That said, Glitta believes things may be changing:
“I have found that there is a place for queers, freaks and ‘difference’ outside our culture, the world has caught up and is open, hungry for absurd, colourful and camp performance.”
The Festival also features more traditional theatre as well as independent and community works. Live performance highlights include Trevor Ashley’s acclaimed tribute to Shirley Bassey, Diamonds Are For Trevor; and Melinda Schneider’s Doris Day tribute Melinda Does Doris.
The Art Gallery of NSW has some Mardi Gras events including Adman: Warhol Before Pop and the Queer Thinking talks series.
There are also various photography exhibitions in smaller galleries around Sydney. Tourists can enjoy walking tours, bus tours and cruises.
Main events include the indigenous Koori Gras, the ever popular Pool Party at Ivy, Laneway, the Mardi Gras Comedy Festival, the Mardi Gras Party – and of course, the world famous Parade.
This year more than 12,000 people will participate in the Mardi Gras Parade, walking/dancing/riding/shimmying up Oxford Street and along Flinders Street to finish at Moore Park.
If it follows tradition, Dykes On Bikes will precede the parade to warm up the crowd.
First Nations people together with the original 1978 Mardi Gras marchers will then lead the parade. The signature float will be comprised of oversized letters on wheels, spelling out EQUALITY. It will be accompanied by 60 participants from LGBTIQ communities that were part of the My People My Tribe project.
Community themed floats include Australian Marriage Equality, Farmers Coming Out for the Environment, Keep Sydney Open, Socialist Alliance and the Uniting Church LGBTIQ Network – who are marching to draw attention to the plight of LGBTIQ refugees.
There will of course be plenty of sequins, glitter and colour – and undoubtedly some surprises. (RB)
MARDI GRAS FESTIVAL
Feb 17–Mar 5. Info: www.mardigras.org.au
CITY HUB’S TOP PICKS:
12 Inch Night
Feb 28–Mar 2, 7pm. E3 Theatre, 107 Projects, 107 Redfern St, Redfern. $15-$20. Tickets & info: www.mardigras.org.au
Feb 24 & 25, 8:30pm. Giant Dwarf Theatre, 199 Cleveland St, Redfern. $30-$35. Tickets & info: www.giantdwarf.com.au
Mardi Gras Parade
Mar 4, 7pm. Oxford St and Flinders St, Sydney. Free. Info: www.mardigras.org.au