Now in it’s 30th year, the Midsumma Festival is Melbourne’s largest celebration of queer culture. With over 130 events held over a 3 week period – 2017 is ramping up to be one of the biggest yet! Australian Arts Review takes a look at some events worth checking out:
A Night at the Musicals
Fairfax Studio – Arts Centre Melbourne: 17 – 22 January
A tortured love letter to the glorious genre of musical theatre, spend a raucous Midsumma night out with Jonny Woo and Le Gateau Chocolat as they drag you through the back catalogue of musical theatre with ballsy ballads, delightful duets and slaughtered show tunes. From Les Mis to The Lion King, Cabaret to Annie… no musical is safe! High glamah, intense assholism, divine costumes and raggedy choreography are guaranteed in a night you’ll never forget!
The Melba Spiegeltent: 19 January – 4 February
A performance from which layered vocabularies of movement emerge, underpinning a rich visual narrative that will transform the Melba Spiegeltent like never before. Be it power dressing, cross dressing, wanting to stand out from the crowd or desperate to disappear into anonymity.Performed by Bryan Smith, Lily Fish, Miss Fit, Joshua Coles-Braun, Jessaeme St James, Jessi Lewis, Timothy Treasure and Kiki Targe – who are also joined each week by some of Melbourne’s most subversive performers including Kindred Suprise, Frankie Valentine, Bobby Dear and Richard Behayve.
Dolly Diamond’s Piano Barre
The Barre – Arts Centre Melbourne: 23 & 30 January
Monday nights during Midsumma are getting a musical lease of life: Dolly Diamond is taking over The Barre at Arts Centre Melbourne. A sing-along in a bar full of strangers is a much loved tradition in cities such as London, New York and Adelaide, and this year it’s Melbourne’s turn. There will be VIP guest performers each week – but everyone will have a chance to sing, if they wish. And needless to say, Dolly will be trawling through her own songbook of life!
Chapel Off Chapel: 20 January – 5 February
A striking and fresh photographic exhibition by Photographer Aaron Walker, #Dragformation features his images of the diverse drag spectrum are captured with great sensitivity, offering a rare insight into these leading performance artists. This is a study of the many facets of drag – from it’s subversive and deconstructionist applications, to it’s cultural value within and beyond communities, to it’s meaning and value to the individual and their constructions of self and identity.
Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
Brunswick Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre: 1 – 5 February
A joyous celebration of life, this unique piece of theatre will leave you cherishing the simple moments in life and the connections we make along the way. This high-energy show blends humour, sadness and excitement to create a truly exceptional piece of musical theatre. Let these elegies, commemorating lives which have been affected by AIDS, spill over you to fill the theatre with feel-good exhilaration.
I Am My Own Wife
fortyfivedownstairs: 19 January – 5 February
Not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, playwright Doug Wright (Quills, Grey Gardens) began a conversation with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, an elegant and eccentric 65-year-old German transvestite who, against all odds, survived two of the most oppressive regimes of the 20th century, the Nazis and the Communists. After hundreds of hours of interviews Wright emerged with this fascinating and breathtaking story of survival and identity. In this one-man tour de force, Wright uses more than 30 characters – all played here by Ben Gerrard (Molly, Open Slather) – to piece together Charlotte’s controversial life. Winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play, I Am My Own Wife is a profound and mesmerizing piece of theatre that should not be missed!
Queer Art Prize Australia
Chapel Off Chapel: continues to 5 February
A new non-acquisitive art prize to celebrate LGBTIQ art achievements in Australia, Queer Art Prize Australia (QAPA) is a non-discriminatory art prize that celebrates works relating to the LGBTIQ community or themes by any artist who resides in Australia or works with those identifying as LGBTIQ.
Testing Grounds: Saturday 4 February
Responding to the growing international inquiry into practices of #queertech in digital art circles, the QueerTech.io artist collective (Alison Bennett, Travis Cox, Xanthe Dobbie & Mark Payne) have invited artists from around the world to come together digitally, physically and oh so queerly to contribute internet artworks, projects and provocations to the ongoing #queertech conversation. The project will be embedded at Midsumma Horizon at Testing Grounds for a night of spectacular outdoor data-projections which complement the QueerTech.io online exhibition.
Hare Hole – Hares & Hyenas: Monday 30 January
Rapid Fire is the longest running spoken word event at the Hare Hole and one of its most popular. Join us as we present 12 writers with 6 minutes each to win the hearts and minds of the audience in one of the most engaging spoken word events on the cultural calendar. It has been the early proving ground for many of our best-known local writers and remains a great place for established writers to hone their skill and edit their work to the demanding 6-minute limit. Line-up to date includes: Shane McGrath, Jim Hillman, Emerald, Marlee Jane Ward, Kylie Supski, ReVerse Butcher, Sebastian Robinson with more announced soon.
Rhonda Butchmore’s Fabulous CouTours of Arts Centre Melbourne
Smorgon Family Plaza – Arts Centre Melbourne: 19 January – 5 February
Over the past two years, Melbourne drag icon Rhonda Butchmore (Thomas Jaspers) has taken people on behind-the-scenes tours of Arts Centre Melbourne with her co-host Kyle Minall. Colourful, funny and informative, this exclusive view of spaces usually off-limits to the general public, Rhonda’s Tours are back for a third and final year. Touted as “a thoroughly gratifying, tongue-in-cheek exploration of Arts Centre Melbourne’s secret back passageways and hidden queer culture” – the tour is set to both thrill and delight.
The Happy Prince
La Mama Theatre: 18 – 29 January
From the purveyors of high camp, Little Ones Theatre take on Oscar Wilde’s darkly romantic fairytale, The Happy Prince. Memorialised in living death as a golden statue, a happy prince convinces a swallow to deliver jewels to the poor – a gesture of kindness that eventually breaks both of their hearts. Little Ones Theatre transposes this moral and social allegory of Victorian oppression into the world of contemporary homosexual iconography. Inspired by Kenneth Anger’s films Scorpio Rising and Rabbit’s Moon, performers Catherine Davies and Janine Watson will explore the joy and complexities of sexuality and gender inherent in the children’s literature of Oscar Wilde.
The Merman Dan: Lover of Seamen
The Cellar – The Grace Darling: 19 January – 2 February
Throughout history we’ve heard tales of mysterious siren songs that called from fathoms below to the heart of many a sailor. Come drift away on a nautical journey through songs of love lost, love found and love that would drag you into the dark watery abyss. An evening of musical cabaret exploring life, love and acceptance as a Gay Merman through sea shanties and torch songs from such artists as Tori Amos, Cosmo Jarvis, Tim Buckley and maybe just a splash of Disney. Join the Merman Dan for an intimate evening of cabaret in his candle-lit grotto where he invites you to be… part of his world.
The Sparrow Men
L1 Studios: 27 January – 4 February
Marcus Willis and Andy Balloch (aka The Sparrow Men) explore the lives of real characters, in this hour-long, entirely improvised, two-man comedic play. Starting with only two chairs and two Sparrow Men onstage, this totally unique, never-to-be-repeated experience springs to life each night with a single suggestion from the audience. With no sets and no props, this style of contemporary theatre fluctuates between comedic, sentimental, light-hearted and dramatic. Debuting their first ever full-length performance in Midsumma Festival 2015, The Sparrow Men return as Melbourne’s favourite fast-paced comedy duo.
This Show is Gay
Speakeasy HQ: 19 January – 4 February
Just when you thought he couldn’t get any gayer – he’s back! Filled with homoharmonies, cabaret comedian Dean Arcuri is taking it to a whole nother level of gayety in a cabaret with exclusively queer tunes for his 10th Midsumma. He may not be the Arcuri that won that reality TV show but this IS one Arcuri who can belt out a tune! What will be the gayest song of all time? There’s only one way to find out. Presented as part of Dean Arcuri’s Midsummaversary, be warned, there will be sequins!
Ursula Martinez: Free Admission
Fairfax Studio – Arts Centre Melbourne: 31 January – 5 February
Ursula Martinez is many things: an Olivier Award winner, a cult cabaret diva, a star of stages across the world…but above-all-else she is a first-rate provocateur. Free Admission sees her building a real brick wall between herself and the audience, while revealing her hopes, fears, frustrations, delights and disappointments. Ursula celebrates the contradictions and inconsistencies that make us human — all with her tongue firmly planted in her cheek. An original cast member of circus-cabaret phenomena La Soirée, Ursula is most famous for subverting the striptease in her outrageous magic striptease act Hanky Panky – where she pulls a handkerchief out of just about everywhere.
The 2017 Midsumma Festival continues to Sunday 5 February. For more information and complete program, visit: www.midsumma.org.au for details.
Image: The Happy Prince – courtesy of Little Ones Theatre