Queering the Collection brings untold LGBTQIA+ stories to centre stage

ACM Tristan Meecham Ben Graetz as Miss Ellaneous Maude Davey OAM Uncle Noel Tovey AMAustralia’s first male Aboriginal ballet dancer Noel Tovey AM and beloved national treasure Robyn Archer AO are among nine LGBTQIA+ Australian artists and performers featured in a new Arts Centre Melbourne audio series highlighting the significant (and often untold) contributions of Queer artists to Australia’s performing arts history.

The eight-episode audio series named Queering the Collection features artists and performers in conversation with Queer artist and performer Tristan Meecham. As the guests speak to their remarkable lived experiences, the series also examines the interplay between LGBTQIA+ visibility and the crucial role archival practices play in knowledge sharing and storytelling.

Notable items from the Australian Performing Arts Collection and the Australian Queer Archives including the revolutionary and raunchy Wicked Women zine and Kylie Minogue’s famed hot pants are referenced throughout the series and inform the recorded conversations.

Alongside the audio series, photographic portraits of the featured artists by photographer Mia Mala McDonald will be part of a digital exhibition available online.  McDonald is a Melbourne-based photographer known for her dynamic advertising and editorial work, which often features portraits of many LGBTQIA+ Australians including Magda Szubanski, Troye Sivan and Hannah Gadsby.

An accompanying essay by Arts Centre Melbourne’s Australian Performing Arts Collection’s Curator, Dance and Opera, Ian Jackson will be available online and will explore LGBTQIA+ contributions to the Australian performing arts through the lens of curatorial practices and the vital role of collecting institutions.

“As a young kid growing up in conservative Queensland, it was only in the theatre that I got a glimpse of queerness. As the lights dimmed, these rare moments became a lifeline. Queer Artists have always existed, but our stories are often hidden in plain sight,” said Tristan Meecham.

“This short form series uses objects and images to rekindle histories, memories and queer experiences. It questions what is collected and why? Whose lens is prioritised? And reinforces the fact that Queers make the best art, theatre, performance and parties,” said Meecham.

“Our collection, as in all historic collections, LGBTQIA+ people have been ever-present, but not ever-visible. Projects like Queering the Collection provide a vital step towards ensuring that queer people’s stories are preserved, told and valued,” said Arts Centre Melbourne’s Curator, Dance and Opera, Ian Jackson.

“For many years AQuA’s collection has been one of the only places that the records of Australian queer and trans lives have been actively collected and preserved – providing LGBTIQA+ people in the present with a sense of historical connection and belonging. We’re thrilled that APAC is joining us in openly celebrating LGBTIQA+ lives and making our histories visible,” said Australian Queer Archives President, Tim Jones.

For more information about Arts Centre Melbourne’s Queering the Collection Episodes, visit: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au for details.

Image: Tristan Meecham, Ben Graetz as Miss Ellaneous, Maude Davey OAM and Uncle Noel Tovey AM – all photos by Mia Mala McDonald

Queering the Collection Episodes:

Episode 1: Resilient, oh I’ve had to be. From high kicks at Her Majesty’s to impersonating Shirley Bassey in the UK, Uncle Noel Tovey’s theatrical career has spanned over 60 years. He overcame racism, adversity and homophobia, to become a leading First Nation voice within the LGBTIQ+ community. This episode honours his life story, concluding with a moment he never thought would happen – witnessing the Victorian Government expunge and apologise, for historical convictions against gay men in 2016.

Episode 2: And then I pulled a strawberry out. Contributing to the rise of women’s theatre in the late 80’s and building Australia’s Burlesque scene in the 00’s, Maude Davey always ensured the voices of Women, Trans, Gender-Diverse and Queer Artists were prioritised in the theatre. This episode spans Melbourne’s Docklands parties, Miss Wicked Competition, the emergence of Burlesque, sexual fantasies and mentoring young artists. It showcases Davey’s impact and status as a Queer theatrical Shero.

Episode 3: You couldn’t see that play without being profoundly moved. The cultural significance of Tony Kushner’s Angel’s in America for the LGBTIQ+ community cannot be overstated; a play that spoke to the horror of the times as it was unfolding. Colin Batrouney starred in the Australian (MTC) premiere production when the AIDS epidemic was at its deadly height. This episode reminds us how HIV / AIDS decimated a generation of queer creatives, bringing with it profound grief and loss. As an actor, Angels in America was unlike anything Batrouney had experienced and led him to become a health advocate in the aftermath of the epidemic.

Episode 4: As a black drag queen, you’re born political. Ben Graetz came out as drag queen Miss Ellaneous on his 25th birthday. Since then, he has expanded as a beloved First Nation artiste and ‘Drag Mother’ to many. In this episode, we journey through Sydney in the 90’s as Ben established his drag persona, thriving in Darwin in the 00’s as he nurtured his First Nation drag community, and nowadays, building creative pathways nationally for Queer and First Nation artists to tell their story, on their own terms.

Episode 5: The art of subversion; reel them in, keep their ears open, and hit them hard. Celebrated for her one-woman shows throughout the 70s, 80s and today, Robyn Archer is a Cabaret Icon. Her committed multi-discipline artistic practice has expanded across form and content, to communicate political and social messages to the widest possible audiences. From Brecht to Piaf, her varied work forms her identities; from Queer musical artist to the first woman to direct a major Australian state festival of the arts.

Episode 6: The act of transition itself, is an act of creation. Janet Anderson recently starred in Overflow, a play written by non-binary artist Travis Alabanza. Her solo performance was a tour de force and aligned her personal with her political. The play was presented when trans people dominated headlines, during a time of debate about bathroom usage. Overflow was a creative haven; the entire Trans and Gender Diverse creative team allowed Anderson to bring her whole self to the rehearsal room, something rarely afforded to Trans creatives.

Episode 7: I don’t want a label. I don’t want an identity. Christos Tsiolkas and Stephen Nicolazzo have collaborated on two productions that have shifted their creative practices. Together working on Merciless Gods and Loaded, these artists have formed an intergenerational partnership buoyed by their shared experience of being outsiders and migrants while negotiating class, anger, shame and politics.

Episode 8: I’m spinning around, get out of my way! Caroline Bowditch is a performance maker whose lived experience has framed the way she has made change within our industry. This episode details access and inclusion, love and passion, visibility and aspiration. Disabled is often labelled as ‘taken out of commission’ and Bowditch provokes us all to reframe the way we see, include and celebrate, everybody.