BRISBANE is preparing for its first LGBTI cultural and arts festival at the end of this week when MELT takes to the Powerhouse, with an array of local, national and international performers that organisers hope puts the city on the queer arts map.
MELT’s inaugural year already boasts 24 productions featuring music, film, comedy and art, and festival director James Lees is happy with the finished product.
“The best part about putting it all together was the incredible amount of response we got from artists, both locally and nationally. For some of them this will be their first time performing in Brisbane.
“We’ve got a real range of performers, with some local acts doing their thing for the first time, and then we’ve got Paul Capsis and Jeff Duff; very established names and artists.”
One production making its Brisbane premier is Matthew Mitcham’s musical autobiographical journey, Twists and Turns — which recently featured in Adelaide’s Feast festival and Midsumma in Melbourne — complete with Spice Girls and Nick Cave numbers performed on his now-famous ukulele.
“Brisbane is my home and it will be the great that I can perform it for first time for my home town,” Mitcham told the Star Observer.
“There are many parts of my show that feature my time growing up there. I lived in Brisbane till I was 18 and as you can imagine, a lot of my personal and professional life formed there. It’s definitely plays an integral part of my show.”
Reflecting on how his home has changed over the years, Mitcham was impressed with how far the Queensland capital had progressed on LGBTI issues.
“It always will be hard thing growing up queer anywhere, but I remember as a kid watching and hearing about the Sydney Mardi Gras where LGBTI people who were just like me were so celebrated and embraced. It was such a foreign concept,” he said.
“But now right in my home city there are thousands of people who are just so comfortable and accepted for being who they are. Brisbane has matured.”
It may be a sign of that maturity that encouraged Lees to push the boundaries of what people might expect of both a queer arts festival and from Brisbane.
“I wanted there to be edgy stuff along with what people already know and love at queer festivals,” he said.
“This was actually a strategy I had in my mind from very early point. With not a lot of time to put this festival together and with it being brand new, of course the ideas are just going to sprout everywhere.
“It can be quite difficult to do a new thing for the first time but on the other hand, you’ve got festivals with 10 or 15 years of experience behind it. With something new, you can kind of do anything and it really frees you up.”
One production that may challenge boundaries is Voyeur, a sexually-charged all-male act featuring pole dancers that will offer audiences a “very different flavour” according to the show’s director James Taylor.
“It’s an all male burlesque show that definitely pushes boundaries further than they have been before,” Taylor told the Star Observer.
“I had the strange idea that featured several male pole dancers in Sydney that could take male cabaret to another level and a very different flavour. It’s not a specifically gay show at that; it has various elements that appeal to men and women, gay and straight. It’s crazy.
“The whole idea is that the audience are involved as voyeurs without realising it and joining in on the experience.”
Vulcana Women’s Circus will also dazzle audiences with Ladies Lounge Cabaret, a night of tumbling and contortion set to sultry music.
Along with a performance from Australian cabaret royalty Paul Capsis, Jeff Dunn will bring his interpretations of iconic numbers from David Bowie’s extensive catalogue in his show Bowie Unzipped.
“It is an homage of sorts and the people that I’ve got to work with me on the show are all passionate fans of his. We definitely want it to be a driven by people who love his music and want to present something amazing,” Dunn told the Star Observer.
“We want to entertain the audience with the songs they know and love, it’s definitely something for Bowie fans.
“I usually have about seven or eight costume changes during a show depending on the time between songs, and while they aren’t specific Bowie outfits, they do make references to the range of images and look s he’s had over the years.”
In addition to artistic works from Hillary Green, Dan Webb and Jennifer Leonforte, local talent will be on display when Brisbane photographer Joel Devereux puts on a solo exhibition of his “deeply atmospheric” collection of visual works.
Another major feature of MELT is the incorporation of the annual Brisbane Queer Film Festival (BQFF), now entering its 16th year.
Featuring 16 films to celebrate its “sweet 16”, BQFF will make another first as it moves to a new home in Fortitude Valley’s Palace Centro Cinemas.
“The festival opens with the remarkable award-winning feature The Way He Looks,” BQFF curator Shannon King said.
“The program continues on with a fabulous bunch of films including the love-ain’t-a-crime docudrama The Circle, Ester Martin Bergsmark’s boundary-less Something Must Break and the legendary Australian contingent Croc-a-Dyke Dundee and Limited Partnership.”
Anyone who made it to Brisbane Powerhouse’s Cabaret Festival last year probably noticed a transformation that left the premises unrecognisable. Lees said to expect the same of MELT.
“There will be mirror balls, mirror balls and more mirror balls. We put the word out and I think we may have exhausted Brisbane’s supply of mirror balls,” he said.
MELT Festival starts this Friday, February 5 and runs until February 15. For details and tickets, visit www.brisbanepowerhouse.org