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By Rita Bratovich

Mardi Gras celebrated a milestone birthday last year and the party was huge. For this year’s festival Creative Director, Greg Clarke, wanted a theme that would propel the organisation into its fifth decade with gusto, hence, “Fearless”. 

“We really wanted a theme this year to come off the back of the 40th. To kind of look still back at our history but be really forward thinking too,” says Clarke. “We wanted to acknowledge all those fearless trailblazers that had come before us, but also ask ‘who are the new trailblazers – who are the young, fearless trailblazers?’”

This year’s program will reflect the theme in a variety of ways: through debate and questioning in Queer Thinking forums; by sharing emotional journeys in My Trans Story; by presenting subversive art and ideas; by being fully exposed in performance. Being visible as an LGBTQI person requires fearlessness, but Mardi Gras provides a safe and supportive environment to allow queer people to be seen and heard. 

And for those who fear exposing too much skin in public, Mardi Gras is offering the security of a kaftan. The Strictly Kaftan Party is being held at Ivy Pool Club and will feature entertainment from The Topp Twins, DJs, prizes for best outfits, and optional dining. 

“For all those people who maybe don’t want to get out there in their swimmers the kaftan is the perfect garment,” says Clarke. 

One of the highlights this year is Mardi Gras Central and Festival Club. 

“We’re transforming the entire Seymour Centre into the Mardi Gras Central hub, so it’ll be the place to meet friends, to go and see shows and then to go to the Festival Club late at night,” explains Clarke, who is clearly excited about the return of this feature. 

“It’s so important for a festival to have a central meeting place – we haven’t had that for a while.”

The Mardi Gras Central program includes Shaun Parker’s thrilling new dance piece, King; the hilarious, gothic, Bronte inspired The Moors; the circus/disco/cabaret, Club Briefs; a grand array of performers in Bent Burlesque, and plenty more. 

The outrageously fearless Yana Alana (aka Sarah Ward) is hosting Bent Burlesque. 

“For me creating this sort of superhero character enables me a freedom that I probably wouldn’t have in my life if I didn’t have performance and drag and my community,” she says. Alana will be sharing the stage with international and local artists who are at the zenith of burlesque. 

“I’m gonna bring all of my most naughty material,” she says, because  “fearless means to be unapologetic!” 

For those who’d prefer a more poignant experience, Requiem Mass: A Queer Divine Rite, is an original choral work by American singer and composer, Holcombe Waller, being performed at City Recital Hall. It pays homage to those who have suffered hateful intolerance because of how they identify. 

Koori Gras at Carriageworks is a program of events aimed at the First Nations queer community (though it’s by no means exclusive). It features workshops, talks, culture and arts, drag, and a club night. 

Bringing it out west is Q Indie Mini Gras at Q Theatre in the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, Penrith, a program that provides independent LGBTQI theatre-makers with the opportunity to produce and showcase their work. It has allowed three theatre makers – Charles O’Grady, Ang Collins, and Eliza Oliver to write and stage their “campy, silly story” about three playwrights named Charles, Ang, and Eliza. 

“[They] aren’t exactly us, but are kind of versions of us”, explains O’Grady. 

Project Bestfriendship is a self-aware, low budget, slightly cynical, mostly funny look at a theatre industry sullied by greed, commercialism and repressed creativity. It’s informed by the experiences of the three creators and by queer culture, especially The Wizard Of Oz. The three protagonists embark on an optimistic quest to create a wholesome, worthy work, only to be rudely disillusioned by the real world. Without giving away spoilers, O’Grady assures us that audience members will not leave the theatre dejected: 

“We couldn’t really consider it a homage to Wizard Of Oz if it didn’t have a bit of a happy ending…they get back to Kansas City is what I’m saying.”

Apart from the Parade, one of the biggest open Mardi Gras events is Fair Day. Virtually every queer organisation in Sydney has a stall in Victoria Park – from sports clubs and leisure groups to community services and activism to special interest and business and so much more. It’s an all age, all persuasion event, with rides for children, dog activities – including the ever-popular Doggywood,  food, bar, retail stalls and loads of entertainment throughout the day. Electro-soul/pop duo, Electric Fields are one of the headline acts for Fair Day. The ethereal vocal tones of  Zaachariaha Fielding combined with the high energy melodies of keyboardist, Michael Ross have made Electric Fields popular not just in the queer community but in the mainstream. Separately and together they have faced challenges because of their queer identity. 

Ross grew up in homophobic suburbia, afraid to be his authentic self until his gradual immersion into the queer scene led him to realise that “gay is good.” It was a revelation that gave him strength: 

“Being fearless is not about not having any fear, it’s about living freely in the face of fear.”

Fielding had a similar experience growing up. His solution was to take those negative triggers and unresolved issues “then to share that in a story or in a lyric of in a line or melody or feeling…go back to the archives of our lives and bring that forward.”

Watching Electric Fields perform live is itself uplifting and joyous – true to their stated agenda: 

“Our main intention is to create great music with a beautiful message.” 

The Mardi Gras Festival program is very extensive. For a full listing, pick up a guide or browse and download it at www.mardigras.org.au 

 

Queer Contemporary

The National Art School (NAS) opens its Queer Contemporary exhibition on February 15 as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival. With several art exhibits, a pop-up bar, live music and performances, talks, tours, and the launch of a photographic publication, the historic grounds of NAS will be a buzzing Mardi Gras hub. 

Queer As Folk Lore features diverse artistic expressions of the queer experience in a selection of works loaned from distinguished collector, Dr Dick Quan and Holdsworth House Medical Practice. The artists come from all parts of the globe and represent a variety of disciplines. 

Finalists from India’s first national competition for LGBTQI artists, the InsideOut Art Prize, will be showcased in the Refracted Lives Exhibition. The brief for the competition asked artists to interpret “refraction” as it applied to their lives as queer people; how they are bent and split and altered, like light passing through a prism.

 

Curated by two NAS students, Anoushka, and Fergus Berney-Gibson, Other(ed) Bodies features the works of another eight NAS students in an exploration of the queer body and its relationship to self, others, and society. The students all identify as queer but have their own unique take on “body” and how to express it in their art. 

Let’s Eat Cake is a social documentary photography publication by NAS alumna, Maylei Hunt depicting the protests and actions as part of the “Yes” campaign leading up to the Marriage Equality vote in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. The publication will be launched on opening night. 

Every good hub needs a bar and Queer Contemporary has a pop-up called Moonlite Bar, named after the notorious and openly gay bushranger, Captain Moonlite, who was a resident of the former Darlinghurst Gaol. DJ Sveta will be on deck(s) to fill the heritage sandstone halls with modern chill vibes. 

Anoush Jay Sansom will be performing on opening night, rounding out the variety of entertainment. The two week long Queer Contemporary will also include talks and tours. Most of the events are free, including Opening Night (you’ll need to register for this, though). 

Feb 15-Mar 2. National Art School, Forbes St & Burton St, Darlinghurst. Info: www.nas.edu.au

 

Wyngarde! A Celebration & Queen Bette: A Double Bill

By Jamie Apps

As part of the Mardi Gras Festival, G.bod Theatre have created a show which brings two of stage and screens biggest and most fearless icons together on one extraordinary bill.

The first half of this double bill, Wyngarde! A Celebration is a world premiere one-man show by Garth Holcombe which explores the amazing life and career of British icon Peter Wyngarde.

Wyngarde was an accomplished theatre, film and television actor who was the inspiration for Austin Powers until his fall from grace: 2 arrests and convictions for gross indecency in public toilets in 1975.

The second show on the bill is a highly acclaimed one-woman show retracing the remarkable steps of a true movie legend, from fledgling stage actress via an unrivalled glittering movie career.

Bette Davis fought hard all her life, had four husbands, two Oscars and a reputation as the biggest bitch in Hollywood. Queen Bette tells the whole story as Jeanette Cronin returns to the role she was born to play.

Feb 19-Mar 2. Old 505 Theatre, 5 Eliza St, Newtown. $25-$55+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.old505theatre.com

Sempre Libera

A new one-act New Australian Cabaret written in the Blue Mountains by International Composer and Lyricist Jye Bryant and Nicole Ananda asks the question, ‘What happens when feminism meets opera?’

Sempre Libera is the journey of Genevieve (the Race of Women) taking us through her story with original costume, lighting, visuals and voice.

Built around the La Traviata opera’s iconic aria Sempre Libera this show not only wants audiences to learn and understand but also feel the emotions and experiences of women.

This will be a special show on the Mardi Gras program, and one certainly worth writing into your plans.

Mar 1. Clare’s Kitchen at Le Salon, 35 Oxford St, Surry Hills. $99.99+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.moshtix.com.au

 

Jamie Cole – Booty

Jamie Cole’s says his latest exhibition Booty “draws on my sexual encounters and experiences; hot and heated encounters, ‘men I haven´t known’ and, …well, that would be telling… of course, with my husband.”

Based off of that simple description it’s clear why this exhibition has been chosen to be a part of this year’s Mardi Gras program.

The mixed medium artworks are designed by Cole to mimic the black light effect he explained, “I love the idea of black light showing up all the encounters that have taken place in a room or space, on a piece of furniture, or clothing, over time. So I´ve captured that by giving these mixed media paintings an ultra-violet or heat map quality that exposes the chemicals, sweat and body fluids rampant in the scene.”

Cole’s love affair with art began in the mid-80s when he first gazed upon the electric and vibrant pop world of Lichtenstein, Warhol, and the stained, saturated depths of Rothko canvas’. The passion developed with the influence of the political, abstract and revolutionary work of Basquiat and Keith Haring.

Until Feb 24. Artsite Galleries, 165 Salisbury Rd, Camperdown. Info: www.artsite.com.au

 

JEN DER Unpacks

Since her coming out performance Bio last year Melbourne drag queen JEN DER’s life has been rolling along a little too smoothly and mundanely for her liking. In order to shake things up and turn her life technicolour again JEN DER is bringing her brand new show JEN DER Unpacks to Sydney for this year’s Mardi Gras.

In order to get out, JEN DER needs to go within, unpack before she packs up – otherwise her emotional baggage is going to cost her a fortune at check-in. So she’s cranking up the salt lamps, cutting the energy cords, healing her chakras and syncing up with the moon cycles. JEN DER is ready to raise the vibration and raise the roof by wrapping her amazing warped lips around a killer pop, hip hop and rock soundtrack as she unpacks everything from gender norms, to female drag queen realness, to unrealistic expectations, to country blokes to how terrifying the world is and ultimately – how to truly step into your power, with arms open to the unknown.

JEN DER is one of Melbourne’s hottest drag prospects and her show is one you desperately need to see to believe.

Mar 1. Factory Theatre 105 Victoria Rd, Marrickville. $25+b.f Tickets & Info: www.factorytheatre.com.au