With over 250 events in over 150 venues across Melbourne, showcasing queer culture that features local, interstate, and international artists in spectacular performances, talks and social events, Australian Arts Review takes a look at twenty events worth checking out:
a love is a love is a love
Melbourne Recital Centre: 3 February
Divisi Chamber Singers, in collaboration with Melbourne Recital Centre for Midsumma 2024, present a vibrant program of works by three major, award-winning Australian queer composers – Meta Cohen, Sally Whitwell and Connor D’Netto. Meta Cohen’s cycle of queer love songs, a love is a love is a love, is one of the 2021 winners of an ABC Composer Commissioning Award. Based upon poetry by Australian queer writers, this has been recorded and released by the ABC and covers a diverse array of perspectives. Sally Whitwell’s Spectrum is a multi-movement work that represents different colours of the rainbow and varying shades of queer experience. Connor d’Netto’s new work, a world premiere in this performance, takes for its basis Bastian Fox Phelan’s story Stove Photography documented in the award-winning podcast Queerstories by Maeve Marsden. Three major new works celebrating the queer community, brought to life by the remarkable Divisi Chamber Singers. Divisi Chamber Singers will be joined by pianist Coady Green for this performance.
The Butterfly Club: 29 January – 3 February
Tear open a packet of trauma, add it to a litre of denial, then boil until repressed sexuality bubbles just below the surface. Let it set and what do you get? The chilled, translucent truth: life is a lot like jelly – sweet, colourful and easy to make, but without a mould, a little bit messy. Part musical theatre, part comedy show, Aeroplane Jelly is a colourful cabaret that explores what it means to be different, and the search for identity when all the identities around you just don’t fit. Aeroplane Jelly stars Stephen Zappia and features both original music and more Moulin Rouge covers than you can poke a Baz at, the show will take you through the soaring take-offs and plummeting landings of growing up queer, including, like your auntie’s birthday trifle, a few cheeky little surprises sprinkled throughout. Starting as a little show in the basement of a gay bar at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aeroplane Jelly became a runway success, sold out Melbourne’s first helping and now has everyone begging for seconds at Midsumma!
Abbotsford Convent: 7 – 10 February
Sutton’s life, meticulously chosen, is a testament to her aspirations. The white picket fence, a husband, three children; these were the chapters she wrote for herself. But amidst her well-thought-out life plan was something Sutton could never have accounted for… Dana. Today is Sutton’s wedding day. Dana has been invited but Dan will be in attendance. Dan who was once Dana. The collision of Sutton’s present and Dan’s past self sets the stage for a compelling exploration of closeted relationships, self-discovery, and the intricacies of human connection. ALTAR was inspired by Em Tambree’s lived experience of falling in love for the very first time inside the confines and constraints of an Evangelical Congregation in Regional Queensland.
Flinders Lane Gallery: 23 January – 10 February
Janne Kearney’s broad spectrum colourful images offer a message of personal empowerment and sexual autonomy. In her current series, Eye Candy, the artist often positions her subjects against a background of shapes that densely interlock and overlap in a spectrum of bold colour. The people in Eye Candy display an overt and playful sexuality as they suggestively lick lollipops and return the viewers’ gaze unabashedly. It’s not so common to see women depicted in fine art or in popular culture as not just owning, but openly enjoying their sexual selves. By portraying her subjects as anything but passive, Kearney subverts the patriarchal male gaze by returning it assuredly back at the viewer. In doing so she creates a space in her art where all forms of sexual and gender orientation are not just accepted but celebrated. Free entry!
Bluestone Church Arts Space: 7 – 10 February
Take a trip with the gods into outer space in this hilariously camp sci-fi adventure. Buckle in as your supreme deities defy gender and gravity to fulfil their mission and blow your mind! Warning: spontaneous enlightenment may occur and results could include unintended chakra luminescence.
Cracked Actors Theatre: 31 January – 4 February
Kiss or kill. IAGO is a modern re-visioning of William Shakespeare’s Othello, through the lens of its central relationship. Through contemporary voice, Elizabethan language, dance, stage combat and scenes of physical intimacy, IAGO is a 70-minute investigation of male sexuality that asks the audience to confront their own ideas of masculinity. Douglas Hackett’s debut play with dramaturgy by acclaimed Australian playwright Stephen Sewell, IAGO is bolstered by the brilliant performances of Gideon Mzembe and Willem Whitfield, and features dazzling choreography from Annalee Beckman.
Abbotsford Convent: 6 – 10 February
In the haunting corridors beneath Abbotsford Convent, Forest Collective presents a new dance-opera and piano concerto. Through this immersive theatrical experience, you will descend into the labyrinth of Greek myth, witnessing first-hand the ordeal of Theseus, Ariadne and her half-brother, the Minotaur. Evan J Lawson’s music and Daniel Szesiong Todd’s libretto confront themes of shame, isolation and redemption, while maverick Melbourne pianist Danaë Killian gives powerful voice to the work’s dramatically-embedded piano concerto. Ashley Dougan’s visceral, yet lyrical choreography brings a desperate humanity to this epic tale. Enter the Labyrinth in 2024.
Long Drive Together
The Butterfly Club: 5 – 10 February
In their debut two-hand play, critically acclaimed writer/director Neptune Henriksen delivers a frank and heartfelt hour exploring the beauty of intersectional friendship, second coming-of-age and moving through grief. Long Drive Together is the story of two high school friends, Solar and Dylan, who reunite after years apart, now thirty years old, to road trip from Adelaide to country NSW. The pair’s destination is their home town and the grave of their mutual friend, Charlie. An attempt to honour her on the fifteen year anniversary of her death by suicide. Along the way the pair joyfully reminisce, discuss tough realities and wonder if they’re still as close as they once were. Told through snappy banter, modern dance and real-talk duologue in a 55 minute one-act, Long Drive Together is an original work not to be missed.
Love, War and Theatre
Meat Market Cobblestone Pavilion: 2 – 3 February
A fantastical festival of queer sex worker artistry! Some offer it, some buy it, some condemn it, some romanticise it. No matter the opinions of an ever-changing society, one thing has always been here as one of humanity’s most primal celebrations and desired transactions: sex. Txnth Muse brings you a weekend wonderland for the history books, Love, War and Theatre: showcasing the artistry, storytelling and emotional tides of your local queer sex workers. Ally’s and workers come one come all to support humans who are truly forging their own worlds as artists and trailblazers. Experience a bustling gallery and marketplace adorned with the visual expressions of sex worker artisans. Engage with dazzling roving performers, historical insights and a delicious line-up of performances each night gracing the big stage, and don’t forget your tipping dollars!
The MC Showroom: 8 – 11 February
Immerse yourself in the spellbinding world of Mechorstra – a ground-breaking contemporary dance performance choreographed by Artistic Directors Scott Pokorny and Tim Barnes in collaboration with the dancers. Mechorstra is an exploration of the intricate relationship between movement and music. Dancers skilfully emulate an orchestra striving for perfection yet they descend into chaos. This audacious performance pushes the boundaries of contemporary dance, blending elements of ballet, circus and physical theatre to create a unique and unforgettable cultural experience. Beyond its stunning choreography and artistic execution, Mechorstra holds a deeper resonance. The performance is also crafted around the personal queer stories of Scimm. Dance Company’s queer-identifying performers. It delves into themes of identity, love, relationships and the stigmas faced both within and outside the LGBTQIA+ community. Each dance sequence is a narrative, celebrating the diversity and richness of queer experiences.
One Of Them Ones
Meat Market Stables: 31 January – 10 February
Frankie is desperate to be understood, accepted, loved. But the LGBTQ alphabet soup has got Michael’s head spinning. Why’s it gotta be so complicated? Why can’t they understand? Why can’t things go back to the way they always were? Jahla Black (They/Them/He) and Asher Griffith-Jones (He/Him) bring this uplifting Australian premiere about two siblings living in a rural community to the stage. One Of Them Ones by Charlie Josephine explores gender, unpicking the complexities of identity and the fierce family love that hopefully holds us together.
The Motley Bauhaus: 23 January – 10 February
A randy romp and a brand-spanking new dark comedy from Steven Dawson. Two Elizabethan sex workers find themselves in over their heads, mired in revenge, murderous intrigue, romance and their imagined part in the untimely death of famous playwright Christopher Marlowe. But not all is as it seems. Ribald, raunchy, bloody and definitely not historically accurate. Australia’s longest running LGBTI+ theatre company Out Cast Theatre finally returns to the Melbourne stage, fresh from record-breaking sell-out seasons in Edinburgh, Brighton UK Fringe and the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival.
The Motley Bauhaus: 29 January – 3 February
From multi-award winning writer/performer, Dan Ireland-Reeves, comes a semi-autobiographical look behind the curtain of one of the world’s most secretive and seductive industries. ?Dan works at one of the UK’s most successful and infamous gay saunas. ?Join Dan as he navigates a hidden world of lust, friendship and unorthodox working relationships. Pulsing with frenetic energy and laced with sexual tension; Sauna Boy is guaranteed to touch you in more ways than one. ?
Meat Market Stables: 31 January – 10 February
Kikki Temple stars alongside Gabriel Cali in this new work that will see two people forced to inhabit space with someone they never thought they’d ever have to. Face to face with someone they fear, that they loathe, that they even lust for – confronted with these feelings without being able to escape. What conversations are they forced to have? What concessions will they be forced to make and when the hell will someone fix this damn elevator? With direction from Margot Fenley, STUCK takes a dive deep into the very different worlds of two richly delicious, complex characters who find strength from differing sources. Kikki Temple and Gabriel Cali bravery stand within this scary space and it is their privilege to take the audience on one hell of a ride. Even if the elevator is not moving at all.
Tash York: Love That For You
Chapel Off Chapel: 9 – 10 February
Armed with her Big Aunt energy and a bottle of Red, Tash York has. She has taken out cabaret awards at every Aussie Fringe Festival with her chaotic energy, fabulous voice and dazzling drag looks. Think BenDeLa Creme crossed with Bette Midler … but on a budget! Now in her mid-30s Tash is discovering that maybe falling in love with yourself is more important than doing what you’re supposed to do… although she probably should have worked out how to spell glamorous without singing the Fergie song by now… Love That For You explores the crossroads moments in her life from nearly getting married at 19 to changing her job from Call Centre Manager to Cabaret Wineo and despite now being married to a man still remains a proud Bi-Sexual woman. She’s changing hair colours, buying cats, staying up till 5am and is pretty sure that if she can’t keep a houseplant alive, it’s probably not a good idea to have a baby… In this all original comedy cabaret backed by her singers and music makers The Red Red Wines (Peppy Smears and Vivian Fontey) find out why living life the hard way is always the most fun way. Live, Laugh, Love that for you!
fortyfivedownstairs: 21 January – 11 February
The Australian premiere of the epic Tony and Olivier Award winner for Best Play. Performed in two parts and inspired by E. M. Forster’s beloved novel Howards End, Matthew López’s landmark play The Inheritance spans generations in its exploration of love, legacy, and what we owe to those who came before us. Kitan Petkovski directs this bold, sexy, and deeply moving production, featuring a stellar ensemble cast. Petkovski will again collaborate with the creative team behind his Green Room Award winning production of The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven.
The Reclamation of Terra
Victorian Artists Society Gallery: 25 January – 5 February
In this exciting multimedia exhibition, queer disabled trans man, Teague Leigh, asks the LGBTQIA+SB community and our allies to rally together to reverse global warming and the current destruction of the planet. Through social championing, the rainbow community has historically proven that together it has the power to enact great change. Right now, there is no greater change required than saving the Earth. Nature has always been a great source of calmness for Teague and being diagnosed with autism in adulthood, it makes total sense that being in a void of constant assault is healing.
They Came From Uranus
The MC Showroom: 24 – 27 January
They Came From Uranus tells a story of lust, sex and perversion. Belonging to the oeuvre of the best B-grade trashy sci-fi movies, our tale follows a woman’s courage as she saves the world from an alien invasion and restores universal faith in the great responsibility of our most precious of assets… social influencers. This hilariously unique show is performed in its own stunningly ornate miniature burlesque theatre and features a dazzling array of shadow puppetry, multi-media projections and Humanettes – a rarely seen form of puppetry which comprises the puppeteers head with a puppet’s body. Director James Welsby (Yummy Productions) and his cast of 20 sexsational Humanettes (all played by Murray Raine) are lavishly costumed by Isaac Lummis and introduce us to a world of debauched aliens and glittering burlesque beauties. If you’re captivated by camp theatre, big hair-dos and retro music then this is an “adults only” puppet show you do not want to miss!
Chapel Off Chapel: 31 January – 10 February
Step into the vibrant world of Torch Song and follow the journey of Arnold Beckoff, a drag performer who fearlessly challenges societal norms in his quest for authentic love and understanding.. This Australian premiere production celebrates the resilience of the LGBTQIA+ community while exploring the intricacies of relationships without boundaries. Directors Cal Robinson-Taylor and Phoebe Taylor bring Torch Song to life, promising an immersive experience that marries striking visuals with deep emotional resonance. Prepare to be captivated by a narrative that pays homage to the strength of the LGBTQIA+ community and invites audiences to contemplate the remarkable power of love in overcoming adversity.
Meat Market Stables: 31 January – 10 February
Alan is on the hunt to find the last greater mouse-eared bat living in Britain, but a tender romance with Josh, the charming young runaway he meets in an abandoned railway tunnel, begins to divert him from his mission. As their relationship develops, these two damaged men might fix one another. If only a little. Alec Gilbert and Ozzy Breen-Carr bring this Australian premiere of love, loneliness and bats to the stage. Vespertilio by Barry McStay is a haunting exploration of the difference between merely surviving and truly living.
The 2024 Midsumma Festival takes place across Melbourne from Sunday 21 January to Sunday 11 February. For more information and full program, visit: www.midsumma.org.au for details.
Image: Janne Kearney, Art Simone Sugar and Spice, 2023 (detail), oil on linen, 100cm x 100cm