Five months after all-male circus troupe Briefs turned South Yarra bar Red Bennies into their hilarious Fringe Festival sideshow, the Brisbane-based sextet is set to return to Melbourne for nearly a month of new shows at two different venues.
Their provocative performance style and self-deprecating carnie humour will be part of both the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Arts Centre’s Spiegeltent seasons. Ringmaster Fez Faanana will be back to usher along proceedings with his drag host persona.
“We had an awesome time as part of the Fringe Festival last year,” he told the Star Observer.
“It was nice to bring the show back to a club setting as opposed to bringing the club to the theatre.”
Since Fringe, Briefs pitched their tent, figuratively speaking, at the Sydney Opera House during January — not bad for a performance concept that started out the back of a bookshop in Brisbane’s West End.
Faanana, whose partner Mark Winmill and brother Natano are also in the show, said the absence of places for alternative communities, such as queer audiences and the circus crew, was behind the inspiration of the original club nights.
“It was something predominantly for our friends. We also were doing a bit of fundraising to help some young circus kids get to NICA [National Institute of Circus Arts] and it was a chance for us to try out some new material. It’s just evolved into this funny little beast,” he said.
Humble though its beginnings undoubtedly were, there’s a real sense of class and big tent tradition to Briefs. Even someone indifferent to the circus arts would have a hard time resisting the charm of their productions.
More a homage to the Australian variety and vaudeville scene of the ’60s and ’70s than simply circus, Faanana is quick to distance the show from the recent burlesque renaissance in Australia, saying they never considered themselves as part of that movement until people started to apply the label to them.
“Burlesque wasn’t just about the art of tease, it was really progressive work compared to what’s happening now. It’s not such a boundary-pushing style of performance because being titillating and getting cheeky and nude in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s was very risque — it’s not any more,” he said.
Having started out making work for a queer audience, then a straight one, Faanana said their challenge was making the one work that could speak to a variety of different audiences.
If the palpable sense of support that emanated from the crowd during Briefs in October was anything to go by, he and the team have certainly succeeded.
As Faanana cracks his whip of a tongue between acts in all sorts of gender-defying attire, you realise that even his unique interpretation of drag is something different from what we’re seeing in the rest of the country.
“Drag’s been a funny thing for me, coming from the Samoan and island culture. There’s obviously the fa’afafine, so I’ve had this notion of the transgender world growing up that, aside from being entertaining, has a practical, traditional and cultural sense to it as well,” he said.
“Having been a part of that movement in Samoa and then experiencing Western drag, I guess that’s why I’m such a fucked-up drag performer. I’m kind of juggling between these two worlds.
“I was cautious going into it, I’m not about trying to emulate what’s going on at the moment.
“Like burlesque I wanted to take things to a different place and I hope I have done that,” he said.
“I feel my drag is really from the heart and about being honest about my headspace. I’m not interested in re-creating a woman, I’m interested in fucking up genders and make people laugh, think and digest that notion.”
Where you can catch Briefs
Arts Centre’s Spiegeltent season from March 22-29 at 8.30pm. 10.30pm & midnight. Bookings: www.theartscentre.com.au
The (Very) Big Laugh Out season as part of Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s free shows at the Fed Square main stage from April 14 – 24: Thu & Fri at 5.30pm, Sat & Sun at 2pm. info: www.comedyfestival.com.au