Tag: 2017 Midsumma Festival

Midsumma Festival 2017: BABY GOT BACK

It’s all about the bass

By Myron My

It’s time to honour the ass with this year’s Midsumma Festival show Baby Got Back. This one-hour burlesque-circus-performance art all-female homage to the derrière is an uninhibited celebration of woman. Slut-shaming or any degradation of women – whether by males or females – is not permitted here, where women are able to take pride in and control of their own bodies. Burlesque performers and producers of Baby Got Back, Vesper White and Frankie Valentine, ensure their show empowers women while entertaining the audience with some creative and ingenious performances.

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The show begins strongly with a montage of scenes from various cartoons, movies and social media clips of bums, which is a great reminder of how the human posterior has been used and perceived by society. The opening performance has three artists appear wearing elaborate monstrous “pussy” cat costumes, wearing large heart-shaped collars branded with “dyke” on one, “slut” on another and “whore” on the third. By the end of the performance, these collars are ripped of and from there, it’s a no-holds-barred booty-focused revelry.

Joining Vesper and Frankie on the stage are fellow burlesque performers Miss Jane Doe and 2016 Miss Burlesque Australia Bella de Jac. Rolling out the cast is our mischievous MC, Sydney’s Queen of Crude Memphis Mae, who ensures that the performers and the audience behave themselves – to an extent. Through her hilarious powers of persuasion she is even able to work up the entire crowd to get them to participate in “The Great Mooning”.

While all the acts have a strong push for body positivity, there are some that succeed in doing this better than other acts. The skipping-rope performance involving Doe, de Jac and White has a simultaneous air of childhood innocence – before women are bombarded with societal expectations on how they should look or present themselves – with a sense of liberation and rebelliousness in having these naked bodies be embraced and admired. The cheeky re-imagining of Celine Dion’s chart topping ballad “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” is another highlight of the show, with its rich mix of humour and feminism.

Reminiscent of a Finucane and Smith show, Baby Got Back is also savvy enough to find the right balance of entertainment while pushing its message. Through its burlesque, comedy, circus, puppetry and dance, it encourages women to love their bodies and seeks to create an environment where women from all backgrounds can be accepted and free to be themselves.

Baby Got Back was performed at The Melba Spiegeltent between 2 – 4 February 2017.

Midsumma Festival 2017: HIGH HEELS IN LOW PLACES

In praise of the ‘Queen of Ireland’

By Myron My

Drag artist Panti Bliss rose to prominence in 2014 after her speech about homophobia went viral, where even the Pet Shop Boy remixed her impassioned words into a song. As part of this year’s Midsumma Festival, Panti’s High Heels in Low Places is the opportunity for Melbourne audiences to be personally regaled by The Queen of Ireland’s stories, experiences and thoughts.

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Panti has an innate ability in creating a welcoming, open and safe atmosphere in the room as she walks into the audience, introducing herself to various people, and on the evening I attended, actually meeting one of her cousins for the first time!

Her memorable social commentary covers many important issues, including HIV stigma, notions of masculinity and femininity, homophobia (including within the gay community) and sexuality and gender. While not much time is spent on each due to time constraints, Panti is so clear and succinct in her storytelling that it leaves its marks on the audience; we are entertained and engaged the entire time as she pithily questions attitudes on HIV and why a person’s sexuality is determined by if they choose to cross their legs or not when sitting down.

It’s testament to the consummate skill of a performer if they need nothing but a glass of gin and a single lighting cue (and what a cue it is) to captivate an entire room of people. Panti’s personal stories involving her childhood growing up in a small Irish town are heartfelt and touching, while the anecdote of her appearance on the Maury Povich Show episode “Please Turn My Daughter Back Into My Hunky Son!” had the audience in pure hysterics.

Being a National F*cking Treasure is not an easy feat, even when you have great hair and can hold your own in any lip-syncing arena, but Panti Bliss most certainly is one, and High Heels in Low Places makes this very clear in sharing her activism and support of equality in all its forms. If only there was a little bit of Panti in everyone, there would be a whole lot more embracing of each other’s – and our own – differences, and I am sure Panti would love that.

Panti: High Heels in Low Places was performed at Arts Centre Melbourne between 2 – 4 February 2017 for Midsumma Festival 2017.

Midsumma Festival 2017: FREE ADMISSION

Wise, witty, and built to break down boundaries

By Myron My

It’s been eight years since I first saw Ursula Martinez performing in London and was introduced to her hilarious tongue-in-cheek humour. Presented as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival, Martinez returns to the stage with Free Admission, a show full of her unique comedy stylings which has us questioning how our thoughts and choices can easily prevent us from leading the life we desire, while also wittily providing a literal lesson in construction for us.

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Martinez’s delivery is well-paced. with an intentional air of awkwardness as she initially explains in a slow speech, as if what she is sharing about life is taboo and shouldn’t be spoken about. As the show progresses the confidence in her voice begins to pick up and find her a new rhythm. While a small portion of the dialogue is quite jarring (and perhaps that is her intention), the majority gives Martinez the opportunity to open up amusingly but affectingly about her insecurities, hopes, fears and disappointments.

As she shares these with us, Martinez begins to build an actual wall between herself and her audience, further emphasising this idea of being caged in or locked up with your own thoughts and shutting out the world and other people. With America’s current attempts to build a wall along the border of Mexico, this is quite a powerful topical element of the show, and while Free Admission does not explicitly reference this, it is still poignantly political with reference to gender and sexuality, refugees, feminism and equality.

The last two concerns are further addressed with Martinez’s outfit; wearing a black top with a crisp white pant-suit and her hair tied up in a bun, she dons a pair of dirty work-gloves and begins constructing her wall. Appearances can be deceiving and Martinez is all about breaking preconceived notions and ideas.

By the end, Martinez shows the freedom and joy of breaking through the walls in our lives in a finale that is uplifting and positive. Free Admission is a well-crafted and intelligent comedy show that is busy building up big ideas and deconstructing important issues: it has a lot to say, and a whole lot more to love and think about.

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Southbank
Season: Until 5 February | Fri 9:15pm, Sat 3pm and 6:30pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: $35 – $45
Bookings:
Midsumma Festival

Midsumma Festival 2017: THE HELENDALE NUDE FOOTY CALENDAR

Laying truths bare

By Myron My

A local football club has run out of funds and is at a loss at what to do. “What is it that we have that people want?”, laments one footballer shortly before taking off his top and showing off his toned body. And so The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar adventure begins. However, there are two parallel stories occurring in two other country towns: at Karandah Heads, two locals encounter a celebrity staying at their caravan park, and at Galshank, a gay high school student tries to figure out what he wants. Presented as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival, the three stories in The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar explore sexuality, relationships and love, and the different ways these issues can present themselves.

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Helendale – the most fleshed out of the three stories (pun intended) – focuses on Angus (Chris Edwards) who secretly (or maybe not so secretly) swoons over footballer Mason (Guy Talon). Edwards is well cast as the shy, nervous and incredibly sarcastic Angus, with his body language and mannerisms bringing to the surface his anxieties and desires. The support cast members do well with their characters and are given the opportunity to show multiple sides of their personalities. They’re not just footballers but also friends, brothers and boyfriends and Sam Nix as Angus’ brother Tom is a great example of embracing this chance for strong character development. There are scenes of bravado when Tom is with “the boys” talking football but there are sincere moments when speaking to his brother about life and reaching for the opportunities it has to offer.

Over in Karandah Heads, Reef (James Hardy) helps run his mum’s caravan park when a highly awkward and not-out teen Curtis (Linus Tolliday) arrives with his family. The two form a friendly bond until a world-famous celebrity (Wil King) arrives to stay and subsequently throws their lives into chaos. Tolliday is perfect as Curtis with his awkwardness and stammered speech and Hardy puts in a great performance of someone who has put walls up so high that he has completely closed himself off from meeting anyone.

Galshank introduces a group of schoolboys all dealing with their impending adulthood and attempting to figure out who they are. Conor (Patrick Cook) is in love with his gay best friend Heath (Dean Robinson) who is more interested in experiencing life, which includes an interest in his English teacher, Jack (Jack Matthews), who also happens to be Conor’s stepfather. While Helendale and Karandah Heads have a clear focus in their stories, Galshank falters a little, stretching itself thin in sharing too many stories and perspectives.

At the root of all these stories are loneliness and the fear of being alone. All the characters are searching for a connection with someone in a way that befits him, and writer Jake Stewart explores this truthfully and honestly. Stewart also has a great eye for comedy and while there are many laughs to be had, he ensures the heart of each story is not lost. A scene in Karandah Heads for example surprisingly transforms into initially jarring farce that actually works in further revealing the states of mind of its characters. It is refreshing to see that in no story is there a character struggling to come out or to accept his homosexuality. Furthermore, no characters in any story have issues with being gay, most notably in Helendale with hetero footballers treating Angus the same way they treat each other – and even openly talking about Angus’ sexuality in a positive way.

Stewart also directs the show and he manages to create some evocative moments on stage. There are instances where characters from one town seemingly acknowledge the presence of those from another, building on the shared experience of loneliness and love. Stewart’s use of the space to tell these three stories while having eleven performers coming on and off stage is executed smoothly and the transitions between the stories never distract or remove you from the moment. 

The Helendale Nude Footy Calendar is a moving yet entertaining exploration of what people will do – or not willing to do – in order to connect with people, to love someone and to be loved in return; intelligently wrought, and performed with warmth and appeal.

Venue: Bluestone Church Arts Space, 8A Hyde St, Footscray
Season: until 4 February | Tues – Sat 7pm
Tickets: $24 Full | $19 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

Midsumma Festival 2016: ANIMAL

Unleashing the beasts

By Myron My

Performed as part of this year’s Midsumma Festival, Animal explores what it means to be ‘human’ in relation to sexuality, relationships and society through the duality of man and beast. Created and performed by Mikey J. White, this is a multidisciplinary piece that incorporates theatre, music, burlesque, multimedia and spoken word, and has us questioning how superior we actually are to animals.

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White personifies a variety of animals throughout the show and there is an almost ritualistic process in becoming each animal through the wearing of a near-abstract, skeleton head-piece of the animal being portrayed. This results in a cleverly nuanced performance by White whereupon his physicality and mannerisms begin to be an extension of each animal. The hessian bag that is worn around his waist further highlights this duality that White is keen to explore. On the one hand, the bag is coarse and has a primal feeling to it and on the other, the makeshift trousers are a sign of respectability and civility.

While White’s intent is thus to unravel the complex connections of man and beast, the execution is not always fully successful. Where it does work best is with his more adult adaptation of children’s story book “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt”. The narrative is used to demonstrate how we have become so accustomed to the superficiality of life and only caring about ourselves. Similarly, his effective reading of Andrea Gibson’s poem “A Letter to My Dog, Exploring the Human Condition” also highlights how we need to start caring for one another and stop criticising and hurting each other.

Animal is an attempt to bring into question whether man is as different to the beasts of the world and he likes to believe. The performance raises this concern successfully and evocatively with some of the acts, but on the whole, I felt there needs to be stronger ties between the animals used and the way in which the issues White wants us to consider are presented for this promising work to reach its potential.

Animal was performed at Hares & Hyenas between 19 – 21 January 2017.

Midsumma Festival 2017: ON A NIGHT LIKE THIS

Good celebrity siblings come in threes…

By Myron My

There are not too many people in the world who do not know who Kylie Minogue is. And the same could be said for her sister Dannii Minogue. But what about Erin Minogue? That’s right, the other, other Minogue sister who has also seeking her own piece of the fame pie. Presented as part of this year’s Midsumma FestivalOn A Night Like This: The Erin Minogue Experience focuses on the youngest Minogue sibling who is given her moment to shine in this well-crafted and stylish comedy cabaret about the true story of a fictitious person.

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Written by Chris Gist and Paul Kooperman with Lizzie Moore (who also performs as Erin), we are taken through the decades of the Minogue sisters’ lives and it is revealed what Erin’s role in each significant moment was or what the reason was for her absence. When it comes to the case of Young Talent Time for example, while all three were originally booked to audition, Erin had a doctor’s appointment she had to go to due to her mother’s concern of her unusual growth spurt…

The stories within each period are entertaining funny with a great mix of songs from the Minogue sisters, including “This Is It” by Dannii and “I Believe In You” by Kylie. Accompanying Erin on stage is her sassy and talented pianist, D’Arren (like L’Oreal – aka Brad Rush), who also joins in for a few notable songs. Erin’s recollections are sharp and witty with some brilliant one-liners and apart from a slight drop during the 00’s period, the story is tight and told with a purpose.

Moore is engaging on stage and her animated re-telling of these natty narratives feels genuine and convincing, as if Erin actually was indeed there. And if her words are not believable enough, there is a slideshow throughout the show with clever photographic ‘evidence’. Just like the Minogues, Moore also has an impressive voice, whereupon she is able to take the sisters’ hits and – with some pleasing musical arrangements by Anthony Costanzo – make the songs her own.

So while Erin may not be as famous as her sisters or have their international success, she still has things to be proud of, such as getting to run her very own dance school, the Erin Minogue Fame School in Frankston… On A Night Like This is a fresh, fun and enjoyable cabaret show about reaching for the stars, even if they seem too far away.

On A Night Like This: The Erin Minogue Experience was performed at Chapel Off Chapel between 20 – 21 January 2017.

Image by Joel Devereux

Midsumma Festival 2017: THE HAPPY PRINCE

Wilde’s famous fairytale beautifully reinvented

By Myron My

Oscar Wilde‘s short story, The Happy Prince, tells the tale of a golden statue of a prince that overlooks a city. Along with a flying swallow that he encounters, the Happy Prince sacrifices itself in vain in order to help the people who are suffering from poverty. As part of Midsumma Festival, queer theatre company Little Ones Theatre have taken Wilde’s tale and adapted it through a queer lens. The contemporary homo-erotic story now explores the desperation and futility that two women experience in order to remain with the one they love.

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Dressed in a gold-sequinned dress with gold nail-polish and a smear of gold face-paint, Janine Watson wondrously captures the innocence (and ignorance) of the Happy Prince. As the sacrifices become bigger, her determination becomes more evident in bringing happiness and good to the people, regardless of how fleeting or thankful the act might be.

Catherine Davies brings a poignant level of cynicism to the Swallow but also a passion and yearning for a connection. With her hair quiffed up, wearing rollerskates and chewing gum, she is reminiscent of a defiant and impatient youth constantly on the go. The passion between the two performers is palpable from the very first moment they share the stage together and neither Watson or Davies let go of that for the entire show.

This short story doesn’t offer much in terms of length and plot development, whereupon director Stephen Nicolazzo has created erotically charged and deeply tender moments of no dialogue between the Happy Prince and the swallow, exploring their emotional state of mind on a deeper level. There is a sense of time standing still during the show and we are given the opportunity to take in everything that is being said and everything that is being performed without being rushed.

Katie Sfetkidis‘ intelligent combination of cold and warm lighting design throughout the show highlights the moments of passion and love and the ultimate demise of said love as does the sleek clean set design by Eugyeene Teh. The grey material that runs along the wall and floor of the stage allows the gold and sparkle of the Happy Prince’s costume to constantly attract our attention and admiration.

The Happy Prince is the poetically tragic tale of a love that cannot be. Through its queer retelling, Little Ones Theatre have expertly crafted a powerfully affecting and layered story of deep affection and sacrifice that will linger in your mind long after the final scene.

Venue: La Mama Theatre, 205 Faraday St, Carlton
Season: until 29 January | Wed 6.30pm, Thu – Sat 7.30pm, Sun 4pm
Tickets: $25 Full | $15 Conc
Bookings: Midsumma Festival

Image by Pia Johnson