BRIEFS: The Second Coming is described as a “heart-stopping blend of cabaret burlesque, Australian machismo and punkish swagger”.
This all-male burlesque began in the back warehouse space of a Brisbane bookshop in 2008. Performances at the Brisbane Festival led to a run at the Adelaide Fringe, then onto cities including London, Berlin, Edinburgh, Paris and Glastonbury. It’s finally Melbourne’s turn with a season at the Athenaeum Theatre from 11 November to 5 December. Jack Beeby spoke to the Creative Director and performer Fez Faanana.
What are you most excited about in this upcoming season?
We have been touring the glittery guts out of this show since making it in May 2013 but predominantly overseas. In Oz we have only had the pleasure of doing Perth, Adelaide, Darwin and Brisbane and we are most excited about finally bringing the show to Melbourne!
BRIEFS was formed in 2008 as a sort of testing ground for new work, and reincarnated into its current form as a touring performance ensemble in 2010. After so many years, what keeps the work so fresh and titillating?
BRIEFS began as a bit of a performance, speakeasy, club night that gave professional and idiotic performers the chance to test-drive late night risqué acts from a mixed bag of backgrounds. From this string of club nights we built a mongrel reputation and a solid repertoire of acts, which could be slapped together to make a rough and tumble variety show. This show made the first incarnation as a touring production. In 2013 we made The Second Coming that we are currently touring and it just keeps giving! 2014 saw the formation of production company Briefs Factory, which presents a string of productions and employs up to 20 artists and technicians at any given time.
How long have you been performing and where was that passion born?
I began performing as a little immigrant islander with a dance group made up of the few fellow Samoans found on the outskirts of Brisbane, and by outskirts of Brisbane I mean Ipswich. We Samoans can be very robust and proud of our culture, and this was also true of my family. My parents were very insistent on keeping our culture alive through creativity of dance and music. I am tone deaf, so dance was naturally my forte. I was lucky enough to go to a high school that had some great teachers who were very supportive of my creative work both in and out of school.
Who or what inspires you creatively?
I am of an era of short attention spans and multiple fast-paced stimulus. As a kid I was inspired by the epic music videos of the 80s and 90s; iconic female figures like Grace Jones, Tina Turner and Dolly Parton; and the irreverence of comedians like Benny Hill, Kenny Everett, Kevin Bloody Wilson and Agro. I was also inspired by Samoan culture, which has strong elements of clowning and is energetic and boisterous. As a company, we are inspired by pop culture, the artistry of drag, the guts of circus, the showmanship of burlesque, and the traditions of theatre.
Performers often feel just as strongly about trends and features of their art form that they dislike and strive to avoid. Is there anything that you particularly rage against in the world of burlesque?
I don’t really rage against anything in burlesque. I just think that every art form has the opportunity to have substance. In terms of burlesque that is being presented on a professional platform, I think it is important to present highly skilled, clever, original, artistic work that engages with the principles of theatre. Too often circus, burlesque and drag are not considered as reputable art forms and I feel like BRIEFS sets out to counteract this notion.
Polytoxic Dance Theatre is your other baby. How does your work with Polytoxic differ from your work with BRIEFS?
Polytoxic is my foundation in performance. I was lucky enough to develop as a performer with co-founding members of Polytoxic Lisa Fa’alafi and Leah Shelton. Polytoxic is still rocking out with some really exciting projects, although I am jealously less involved as BRIEFS has engulfed my brain and time for the past few years. While the works differ, I think the companies have more similarities than differences. Polytoxic has always prided itself with poignant and political performance that entertains and engages on many levels, in a similar way to BRIEFS.
What has been your favourite place to tour and why?
Last year BRIEFS toured for 36 weeks and this year we are topping that. We have clocked some serious frequent flyer points, having presented the work in London, Berlin, Glastonbury Festival, Edinburgh, Hamburg, Brighton, Paris, Wales, Latitude Festival, Dublin, Manchester and the Seychelles. With Polytoxic, and as an independent artist, there are a few to add to the list. I think creatively my favourite place to perform is London. Londoners seem to really get my idiotic behaviour. Perth and Brisbane, too. Berlin as well. I don’t know. I just know that I am tickled pink that I get to travel as a performer and I get to develop as the creative director of Briefs Factory.
With Australia smack in the middle of a prominent resurgence in both cabaret and burlesque, where do you think the art forms are headed, moving forward?
I think we can expect to see cabaret and burlesque feature more and more in the Rock Eisteddfod!
The lines between these art forms are very defined and they have a solid history and ethos, which is important for performers who are working in these fields to understand in order to move forward and to blur these lines with sophistication. I am personally enjoying the blurring of lines and the cross over between performance art, cabaret, theatre, burlesque, circus, physical theatre etc.
A lot of your performance in drag and burlesque celebrates the power of gender fluidity. With female and male burlesque already being comfortably seated in the cultural canon, do you think we will see a natural development towards a new iteration of the art form that celebrates more gender diverse bodies?
The celebration of gender fluidity in our work is not something that is contrived or conceived out of a list of points to execute, it is something that has happened innately. I think the key to the success of this work has be the idea of accessibility, to avoid alienating individuals and to celebrate human nature and I think we will see more of this in the future not just in our work but in new work as it is created.
What’s the most outrageous or impractical costume you’ve ever performed in?
Most of my costumes are pretty impractical, especially the ones that I put together myself. I did do a corporate gig once where I had to just sit at a dinning room table with a squid on my head. Totes arty!
Have you ever had one of those embarrassing performances that you look back on and just cringe? Do you ever find moments like that to be a positive learning experience in disguise, or do you prefer to just keep moving forward and never look back?
Of course I’ve done that embarrassing performance. Multiple times. They are part of growing as an artist and a good point of reference.
Having already achieved so much, what’s your next big goal?
My aim to make a foot print with the Briefs Factory as a production company and to cultivate enough funds to facilitate this without relying on funding or sponsorship, to keep making work, to keep employing, to tour as much as possible, to get better at performing, to get better at making work and to get better at presenting it.
What advice would you give to any aspiring young performers wishing to pursue a career in drag, cabaret or burlesque?
Be clear about where you stand with your peers, be humble about developing and growing as an artist, ask for help, do your research, and get friendly with your hot glue gun.