LGBTI people to watch in 2014
From advocacy and media to arts and entertainment, here is our annual list of talented, promising and intriguing people to watch from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities in 2014.
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BELLE BROCKHOFF: The snowboarder who is not afraid to show her true colours at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
For LGBTI Olympians the conditions in Russia for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are less than ideal. While it’s said the Olympics are not about politics there have been some Games for which that adage has been redundant and Sochi 2014 is definitely one of them.
While some athletes have said they will keep their opinions about Russia’s anti-gays laws to themselves there are those such as twenty year old Australian snowboarder, Belle Brockhoff, who have already taken a stance.
Aware of Russia’s stance on ‘promoting homosexuality’, Brockhoff said on the ABC’s Lateline earlier this year that she may still wear a badge to show her support of the LGBTI community. Since then she has gone further and is now an Ambassador for Equality and part of Athlete Ally, an organization focused on ending homophobia and transphobia in sports, and has also declared she will be wearing Principle Six clothing at the games - the Principle Six group uses the International Olympic Committee’s own charter language to push for LGBT non-discrimination.
However, as one of our most promising Olympians, Brockhoff is well aware of the need to stay focused on her goal which is to win a gold medal in her event snowboard cross. She said in a story for gaynewsnetwork:
“I definitely want to podium at the Olympic Games. I know it’s my first Games and it’s going to be really, really, hard to podium. So I’m giving it 110 per cent.”
Skiing since she was three, Belle Brockhoff took up snowboarding at the age of 10 and three weeks after first trying the sport, won her first interschool nationals title. She then went on to compete in her first full World Cup last year and became the first Australian woman to win a snowboard cross World Cup medal when she finished third in Montafon, Austria.
As Australia’s only openly gay athlete competing at the Winter Olympics our LGBTI community will be right behind her and we can’t wait to see what she achieves in Sochi and beyond in 2014.
By Rachel Cook
Photos: Getty Images (top); Courtesy Principle Six
ADRIAN RUSSELL WILLS: Telling the stories of gay and lesbian Aboriginal people to mainstream Australia.
Adrian Russell Wills is one of those overnight successes who has actually been plugging away at it for years. However, 2013 has proved something of a turning point for this writer/director. His season opener for acclaimed ABC drama, Redfern Now, shot him into the spotlight thanks to its superbly handled storyline on a custody tussle between a grieving mother and the partner of her now late gay son.
While the LGBTI community was praising Wills for his sensitive writing, directing and casting of the episode, former heavyweight champ Anthony Mundine took to Facebook to criticise the show’s gay storyline, saying homosexuality was not OK in Aboriginal culture and that ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’.
“I thought his comments were really irresponsible,” says Wills, “but not surprising”.
“For me it was an indication I had done my job. I want to agitate. I want to challenge, physically, verbally, creatively and it was a validation I had done my job right.”
For the most part Wills seems nonplussed with all the fuss the episode created. He continues to write and direct and is currently working on the script for his first feature. According to Wills, he just wants to tell stories that are
important to him and his people.
As an out gay man of the Wonnarua nation, Wills is in the unique position to do just that.
“It’s every part of me – being Aboriginal and a part of the LGBTI community. But it’s not represented well on screen – and that’s why I think I’m here – so we do get visibility. Like any other person, I want to see my life represented on screen. There are a lot or LGBTI people that have changed the world dramatically and I want those stories heard. And why not? That’s how I live and that’s how I love.”
By Cec Busby
ANDREW ‘FUZZ’ PURCHAS: Showcasing gay rugby to the world and tackling homophobia in sport at the same time.
In August 2014, all eyes will be in Sydney because of the Bingham Cup. And it’s all thanks to the local gay rugby club – and current reigning Bingham Cup champions – the Sydney Convicts, led by founder Andrew ‘Fuzz’ Purchas. After more than seven years and three failed bids, the club finally won the hosting rights to the biennial event in 2012.
Such an achievement is not to be underestimated. The Bingham Cup, otherwise known as the Gay Rugby World Cup, is one of the biggest non-professional rugby tournaments in the world. There are now more than 60 gay rugby teams worldwide and a large number of them will be vying for the coveted trophy in Sydney. Add to this hundreds of support staff, family and friends, plus international and interstate visitors, and you have an event to rival any global professional sporting competition. The economic benefits to Sydney, the state of New South Wales and greater Australia will, without a doubt, be in the millions.
But it is the societal changes that the Sydney Convicts will herald by hosting the tournament which will make the most impact.
“The Bingham Cup has become bigger than anyone has ever anticipated,” Purchas says. “Rugby is a very tough and physical game, and I think [the Bingham Cup] has given people the opportunity to be who they are and also to enjoy rugby and be able to dispel those stereotypes about gay men.”
Building on this philosophy, the Sydney Convicts are utilising the Bingham Cup not just as a way to showcase gay rugby, but also as a platform to instigate cultural change – namely, to tackle homophobia in sport. And to this regard, they are already kicking significant goals.
The Convicts’ efforts have drawn widespread support from the ground up. The LGBTI community in Sydney and Australia is behind the tournament, along with the corporate and business community. All levels of government – local, state and federal – are on board, as well as politicians of various swathes. Sydney Bingham Cup 2014 has even received the vice-regal stamp of approval, with the appointment of the Governor of NSW Marie Bashir as its patron.
More telling, however, is the enormous support from the sporting community such as current and former football greats like David Pocock, Adam Ashley-Cooper, John Eales and Nick Farr-Jones – to name just a few – and organisations such as the Australian Rugby Union, the National Rugby League and the A-League. Thanks to the work of the Sydney Convicts, these national sporting bodies have committed to developing and implementing anti-homophobia and inclusion policies before the games – an outstanding development by any standard.
“We’re really thrilled at how many people are getting behind it,” Purchas says. “It makes us more determined to make sure that one, it’s a great tournament; two, that it’s a fantastic and fun week at the end of August; and three, hopefully we can make some societal changes at the same time.”
By Reg Domingo
Photo: Cec Busby
CRUSADER HILLIS & ROWLAND THOMSON: The dynamic duo at the centre of the queer literary world continue to forge new paths for writers and artists.
Far from being new kids on the block Crusader Hillis and Rowland Thomson have been an integral part of Australia’s queer literary scene for over two decades. They opened their iconic bookshop Hares and Hyenas in 1991 in Commercial Road, South Yarra (it now resides in Johnston Street, Fitzroy) and the shop went on to become a sanctuary for queer readers and a beacon of inspiration for queer writers.
Crusader and Rowland have championed emerging writers who went on to become some of our most celebrated authors and the list of those who have passed through Hares and Hyenas doors reads like a who’s who of Australia’s writing world.
The poet Dorothy Porter launched every single one of her books at Hares and Hyenas, and luminaries such as Christos Tsiolkas, Noel Tovey and Dennis Altman have regularly been a part of their events programs.
However, it is what the boys have done in the recent passed that sees them as a duo to watch in 2014. In 2013 they launched their Rent Parties. These events have not only invigorated Melbourne’s literary and performance scene, but they have provided a space for up and coming and established writers and performers to converge and flourish.
Crusader says: “I think we both get as much excitement and a great deal of energy from watching younger and emerging writers hone their craft and develop confidence in their writing and reading as they continue to perform their work with us at spoken word events and festival seasons.
“We are presenting the 30th Rapid Fire, an event where 12 writers get six minutes only to present new work, at this year's Midsumma, which means we've heard about 360 different stories with more than 250 writers taking part in the past two decades.
“Just in the past three years we've presented over 300 different writers just at the events we produce ourselves. It's very satisfying to be able to say you've given a voice to hundreds of writers and performers over the past 22 years, and something we take great pride in.”
The queer hub that is Hares and Hyenas continues to evolve and it is with much anticipation that we look forward to what (and who) will emerge within those doors in 2014.
By Rachel Cook
Daniel Clarke: This impresario of independent theatre is shaking up Melbourne’s theatre scene.
You would be hard pressed to find a man more passionate about independent theatre than Daniel Clarke. Having made his way over to Melbourne from Adelaide where he was the Artistic Director of the Feast Festival, he is now the CEO /Creative Producer of Theatre Works and neither Clarke nor Theatre Works has looked back.
The St Kilda theatre was in danger of slipping into oblivion like so many other smaller theatres in Australia but Clarke had a vision and that vision is serving our queer theatre practitioners well.
In the last two years Clarke has programmed and championed independent theatre companies such as Sisters Grimm, The Rabble and Stuck Pigs Productions. Prior to this Clarke was responsible for bringing international acts, Topping & Butch, Taylor Mac, The Wau Wau Sisters and Le Delaria to our shores.
As part of Midsumma 2013, Clarke directed the acclaimed Gaybies. The show was a collation of interviews conducted by writer Dean Bryant of toddlers, teenagers and adults all raised by gay parents. The production which wowed audiences and critics alike featured an impressive cast including Magda Szubanski. The line-up for his Midsumma 2014 season at Theatre Works has once again created a buzz among Melbourne’s theatre community and it is without doubt that Clarke is one of the strongest voices behind Melbourne’s current theatre revolution.
Clarke says: “I believe in the artists and their vision –the stories they want to tell and the different ways they want to tell them. I want to do as much as I can to connect audiences to their works but also to do what I can to make it easier for the artists to make work. It is respect really. I respect and value what they do - they are the risk takers, thinkers, innovators and visionaries.”
The Australian theatre world is a much better place for the likes of Clarke and if what he achieved in the last 12 months is any indication, we can’t wait to see what he does in 2014.
By Rachel Cook
Photo: Eugyeene Teh
DANIEL JABER: This acclaimed dancer is beginning to grab attention as a very talented choreographer.
From the moment Daniel Jaber appeared above the radar as a dance student at the former Adelaide Centre for the Arts, he’s been turning heads. Lithe of frame, dark-haired and dark-eyed, perhaps slightly dangerous, and (over time) a canvas for some striking body art, it all adds to the air of intrigue.
Australian Dance Theatre director Garry Stewart saw something in Daniel Jaber that was quite out of the ordinary, so much so that he engaged him at the age of just 18, when he was still studying. Since 2006 he’s been choreographing his own work, beginning with shorts in emerging artist showcases, leading to an impressive full-length solo in 2010, Too Far Again, Not Far Enough … which he freely admits arises out of his own experience of BDSM! Needless to say, he’s not shy.
Ten years on from joining ADT – with occasional pauses to hone his skills overseas – in 2013 Daniel has taken the next step, and a big one, with Nought, his first full-length ensemble piece. Nought is remarkable in many ways, being a very rare commission by a dance company from a serving member of the company, and furthermore to be created on the company.
The distance between the smaller works Daniel has created over the years and Nought has been surprisingly short. “I don’t think anyone can say for sure if they’re ready to create longer pieces,” Daniel admitted in an interview in blaze earlier this year, “but I have to say, in all honesty, that the developments over the past couple of years leading up to this have flowed very freely. It’s been a learning experience, for sure, because as a dancer you naturally focus on your own performance. But as a choreographer, you have to start with a level playing field where you can make a really strong statement with a basic movement vocabulary and then give yourself and the dancers the freedom to push it.”
Nought was praised on its premiere as “an amazing feat” and “a quite astonishing achievement”. At 28, Daniel is superbly equipped as a dancer, and now shows himself a choreographer to be reckoned with. The smart money will be on him in the coming years.
By Peter Burdon
DAVID BERTHOLD: La Boite Theatre Company’s artistic director looks forward to a year of drama and surprises – in a good way.
It’s strange that a troupe founded in 1925 still receives funding from the Australia Council as an ‘Emerging Key Organisation’, but Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre Company is still ‘emerging’ in the sense that it has never rested on its laurels. Take its twisted production of The Wizard of Oz last year, or this year’s line-up that includes the queer-themed Cock and a play about alien abduction, Pale Blue Dot.
CEO and artistic director David Berthold took over in 2008, at a time when La Boite had just lost its funding from the Australia Council. The council claimed it wanted to fund work by less established companies. “The central challenge was to find a performance style for the company that suited the distinctive space and to find a fresh audience that appreciated it,” Berthold says of that time. “The major change I made was to expand the repertoire to include work from across history and around the globe. That's been fun.”
La Boite receives funding from Arts Queensland and is “back on the books” with the Australia Council, even though its funding status as an Emerging Key Organisation is puzzling, Berthold says. “But I'm confident there will be changes relatively soon.” This year’s program consists of Cosi, Cock, Pale Blue Dot and A Doll’s House, in a new version by Lally Katz – an eclectic mix. “They all have surprises,” Berthold says. “They all involve great writing. They all involve fascinating artists eager to make the most of them.”
Cock will be of particular interest to theatre-goers interested in LGBTIQ stories. “The queer community is used to plays about straight men who leave their girlfriends after coming to terms with a new sexuality,” Berthold says. “This is about a gay guy who leaves his boyfriend for a woman. I think a lot of people will have their prejudices and assumptions tested.”
In 2014 Berthold will continue his association with the Brisbane Festival, curating a stream of independent theatre work, and direct Much Ado About Nothing for NIDA in May. And of course, there’s La Boite to run. When asked what qualities a person needs to manage a theatre company, he replies: “Curiosity. Generosity. Guts. Persuasiveness. I don't know if I have all those qualities in equal measure, but I hope they're all there.”
By Andrew Shaw
GAI LEMON: LGBTI aged care is a priority for the Queensland AIDS Council’s new director of its Healthy Communities Program.
Gai Lemon began her association with the LGBTI community at uni, where she was Women’s Officer and unofficial queer student rep. “I went to a protest rally that was calling for decriminalisation of homosexuality and met some folk from GLWA – then the Homosexual Community Welfare Service,” she says. “Within five months I was trained as an online counsellor and was elected president, a role I held for three-and-a-half years.”
Lemon is drawn to add her voice to society’s less empowered: “I’ve worked in women’s health, disability, alcohol and other drugs, blood borne viruses and now, within my own communities,” she says. So it seemed a natural progression when in mid-December last year she was appointed director of the Healthy Communities Program, Qld, with the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC). She is now responsible for coordinating QuAC’s health work, except sexual health.
Of special interest to Lemon in 2014 will be QuAC’s Ageing in Diversity Project, which aims to start a conversation between older LGBTI people and aged care providers through Ageing in Diversity Action Groups in Cairns, Townsville, Brisbane, and on the Gold and Sunshine coasts. “The core of these groups is the development of connections between the LGBTIQ communities and aged care service providers,” Lemon says.
“It’s about providing an environment of mutual enquiry where sharing of ideas can create positive change in service provision. The intention is for this knowledge to be dispersed through other agencies via networking, collaboration and access to QuAC’s Inclusivity Training Consultancy to bring about policy and procedural enhancement in aged care services.”
Lemons says queer community elders have ageing issues similar to straight contemporaries: physical and mental health concerns, planning retirement, continuing engagement with work, the community and recreation, managing finances and constraints if living on a pension, preparing for end of life and dealing with the loss of a partner or peers. She says the differences are “subtle, but vital”.
“This group of seniors will have endured discrimination, persecution and stigma. They may have been forced to undergo psychiatric interventions to ‘cure’ them. They may have chosen to assimilate and constrain their lives into what was considered ‘normal’, denying their essential selves and living in fear of being discovered. Their lives may well have depended on this. These situations mean that – despite legislation changing and public attitudes becoming more tolerant – there is residual fear with engaging with a monolithic aged care system that has yet to completely appreciate these particular needs.”
By Andrew Shaw
Photo: Anthony Smith
JOHN MIKELSONS: Ending HIV is the 2014 priority for the head of Queensland’s peak LGBTI health and well-being organisation.
If there’s one gay man in Brisbane who can guide an organisation safely through the year ahead, it’s John Mikelsons: as an ex-Navy aircraft controller, he can operate a radar. “I also learnt how to bring a helicopter in to land in low visibility, how to fire a torpedo and how to march and salute,” he says.
Mikelsons took over as executive officer of the Queensland AIDS Council (then Healthy Communities) on September 3, his CV including time as deputy CEO of the Queensland Council of Social Service, which advocates on behalf of Queenslanders experiencing poverty and inequality.
“The job seemed like a fantastic challenge in such an important service delivery area, with a community that I am a part of and love,” Mikelsons says. “I’m still pinching myself that I’m here!”
Mikelsons takes the helm of QuAC at a time when not only has it undergone a name change, but it is looking for funding to replace Health Department support withdrawn in May 2012. Mikelsons says building a new relationship with Queensland Health is important. “We won’t get the health outcomes our community expects if we don’t work in partnership with the government, particularly Queensland Health,” he says. “We stand ready to do just that. Our relationship with Queensland Health and the Minister hasn’t been great in the past, but as we move forward and build trust in each other it should become easier to get on the same page.”
Four months into the job, Mikelsons says the opening of the Gender Clinic at QuAC and the rollout of the national Ending HIV campaign in Queensland are highlights so far. “The task of Ending HIV lies with our community. That means ensuring that gay men, particularly the young guys, are testing more; that PLHIV have good information to support their decisions about treatment, and most importantly, that gay men are staying safe. Despite recent commentary, the fact remains that condoms and safe sex are still vital to the fight and we cannot give up on them.
“We are going to grow our services over the next couple of years, including in mental health services for LGBTI Queensland, services for older LGBTI people and a range of other areas. I am excited about what the future holds for the health of our community and our organisation. And celebrating our 30 year anniversary this year – it’s going to be huge!”
By Andrew Shaw
Photo: Anthony Smith
MOJO JUJU: This snappy, jazz-fusion merchant is going from strength to strength, all the while challenging notions of gender stereotypes
Founder of the now-defunct Snake Oil Merchants ("my first serious effort at getting a group of people to follow me fearlessly and blindly around the country,") Mojo Juju has since forged a unique and distinctive career. With her music influenced by the 20s, 30s and 40s by way of Tom Waits, and her "look" - baggy zoot-suits, wide braces, wide brimmed hats - Mojo Juju is instantly recognisable.
Growing up in a musical family, Mojo Juju was weaned on jazz and swing and in the last year or so has scored support slots for the likes of Tony Joe White, Kitty, Daisy & Lewis, and rockabilly veterans The Reverend Horton Heat. In June this year she was a smash at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival where she not only launched the opening night party but seemed to be everywhere during the festival.
Although her defiantly masculine dress style has led her to be labelled a gender warrior, her mode of dress is actually based on the “Pachuco” culture of Latino gangs which flourished in the USA in the 1940s, some 70 years ago. It was flashy and subversive: the long jackets and baggy trousers were a way of showing off wealth at a time when cloth was scarce and expensive due to the war. More importantly, the women were dressing the same as the men.
“The women were wearing really high-waisted baggy trousers and long jackets and big high hair. I was particularly interested how the women were challenging gender stereotypes at that time,” Mojo Juju says.
In her philosophy notions of masculinity and femininity are just social constructs that we follow “like sheep”.
“I’m cool with masculinity and femininity, but someone’s gender isn’t necessarily someone’s sex,” she says.
“I think female masculinity can be really hot and I think male femininity can be hot too.”
Even today when you think people wouldn’t look twice at a girl in a suit, people can still find her ‘masculine’ look confronting. But that suits Mojo Juju fine.
“I think if people aren’t comfortable with it, then I need to keep doing it.”
With her unique style, growing reputation and defiant flouting of convention, Mojo Juju definitely ranks as one to watch in the year to come.
By Ron Hughes
MORGAN CARPENTER: Advancing the rights of intersex people informs the agenda of this Sydney advocate.
Those in the know may be familiar with Morgan Carpenter for his photography, others for his role as one of the founders of arts and culture magazine, Dirty Queer. But Carpenter’s recent position as the new president of Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia has thrust this social activist into the spotlight as the go-to guy for all things intersex in a year that has seen some landmark legislation for intersex people in Australia.
Carpenter say he’s always tried to “live my politics” so social activism has always played a big role in his life. Before coming to Australia, Carpenter worked as a social and economic policy researcher in Dublin. No doubt his skills learned dealing with government red-tape will come in handy for his new role at OII.
In 2014, Carpenter says OII will have a few key focus areas. Following the Senate Committee report on the sterilisation and normalisation of intersex people, Carpenter says OII is keen to see the recommendations implemented.
“It expressed huge concern about the preconceptions underlying normalising surgeries, and the stigmatisation of intersex people,” comments Carpenter. And he is keen to see these concerns addressed.
“[But] given that we’re volunteers with no staff, and the recommendations involve multiple federal departments plus states and territories, that’s going to be challenging. We’re starting to pursue funding opportunities as a matter of urgency – and if any readers can help out there, that’d be awesome.”
Carpenter is also hoping for progress on sex markers on birth certificates.
“It’s important to recognise that intersex is not synonymous with gender diversity,” Carpenter explains. “Many intersex people are men or women and it’s crucial not to coerce them into a third option. It’s also important to avoid using infants and children as the means to pursue rights and liberties for adults. So, we oppose a third ‘intersex’ category on the birth certificates of minors, but some intersex and gender diverse adults need the freedom to choose an X or M+F.”
For the most part Carpenter is hoping to increase the LGBT community’s understanding of intersex people.
“We share a lot in common, but including intersex is about biological diversity, not sexual orientation or gender identity. Like LGB and T people, intersex people need to live in a society where it’s ok to be different, and where we’re not reconstructed or obliged to conform to rigid sex and gender norms.”
By Cec Busby
PATRICK KAY: Working together within the community is important for this coordinator of a new Queensland transmen site
Patrick Kay is one of the people behind FTM Brisbane, a new web resource for transmen, along with Jaxxon Chilli and Ben Doepel-Stevens.
FTM Brisbane brings together services that already exist to support trans* people in Brisbane and other parts of the state. It complements QTs, which is a social support group for transmen run by Jaxxon Chilli.
Kay says he’s lived in Brisbane all his life – “I love it here,” he says. “I felt incredibly fortunate to have such a strong support network of friends and peers during my transition, especially in the early days of realising I was trans*. I have always had my family’s support in anything I have set out to do in life and my transition was no exception.”
Kay, who works at Bunnings (where he says he was “supported in every way” when he transitioned on the job), says the question of affordable health care for transmen is an issue for 2014. “We are lucky here, as the Brisbane Gender Clinic has recently reopened [at QAC]. I know that it has been very busy from the moment it opened, as it is only open half a day, once a week. It would be really great to see it open more hours and even to start to have more of a bulk-billed trans* health hub available.”
Kay says issues important to him include the sexual health of transmen, especially those who sleep with non transmen. “Another one close to my heart is bringing awareness to the way that some trans guys behave, in particular trans guys in their early stages of transition. I think it’s really important to send a clear message about what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour.”
Looking at the year ahead, Kay reminds us that pornstar/icon Buck Angel tours mid-February, QTs holds events the third Sunday of the month and January 23 sees the second Transendence event.
“I would encourage people to get to know other parts of the community,” Kay says when asked what he’d like to see change in 2014. “Find out what each other’s strengths and struggles are and work together, instead of against each other.”
By Andrew Shaw
Photo: Anthony Smith
RAMI MANDOW: The community advocate is empowering others to put an end to LGBTIQ bullying
Rami Mandow, 33, is the founder and chairman of Community Brave. Established in 2011, its aim, Mandow says, is to “put an end to bullying that young LGBTIQ people go through”.
“Of course this sounds like a rather huge task, and we are absolutely realistic about what we can and cannot achieve. That’s why our goals and objectives are spread out over larger time frames.”
In the short term, the organisation has been developing strategies in utilising digital platforms as a way of connecting with LGBTIQ teens.
“Here, we hope to refer youth on to the right services, a referral that may just save their life,” Mandow says.“This helps us combat the issues LGBTIQ youth face today.”
But it is in the longer term where Community Brave hopes to make a lasting difference.
“We need to hit the cause of the issue. That’s why our long term goal is to cause a shift in society, by using education to teach young people, adults, teachers, counsellors, doctors and parents about the dangers of bullying, how to empower victims and educate bystanders, how to see suicide risk factors and how to address them.
“We hope to educate the wider community on the issues that LGBTIQ people face on a daily basis.”
As such, in 2013, Community Brave launched its Champions Training Program, a project that aims to arm members of the community with skills in supporting at-risk young people online and on social media.
It’s yet another achievement for the organisation, which has already made significant steps in its fight to address bullying. These include active engagement in community events like Sydney Mardi Gras’ Fair Day and International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia to raise awareness; the collection of 3,000 signatures for a petition to bring in legislative bullying reform in New South Wales; and garnering the support of state and federal politicians for its campaigns.
2014 will see the organisation enter a new phase, with the launch of their digital platform, an expansion of the team and the opening of their office to be based in Sydney.
And for its founder, it means being one step closer to achieving its goal.
“Let’s stop thinking of these issues as taboo, and start addressing them. Suicide is complicated. Bullying is complicated. I refuse to put it into the ‘too-hard basket’. I cannot, knowing that potential Sir Isaac Newtowns, Picassos or Michael Jordans do not get a chance to follow their dreams, because someone, at some point in time, simply did not step in.”
By Reg Domingo
Photo: Cec Busby
SISTERS GRIMM: The enfants terrible of underground theatre are spreading their wings on the main stage
2013 saw a new peak for underground theatre group Sisters Grimm, the brainchild of Ash Flanders and Declan Greene. Their hit show Summertime in the Garden of Eden moved out of a friend’s garage (no, really) and into mainstream theatre including St Kilda's Theatre Works and Sydney's Griffin Theatre.
Featuring a madcap reimagining of Gone With the Wind and its ilk, the show parodies the notion of a "golden age" in the Southern States of America, subversively tackling issues as diverse as race, gender and sexuality. It also features a couple of red-hot drag queens.
The fact the show was conceived, written and performed in only three weeks is a testament to how switched on Flanders and Greene are, which is one of the reasons the big guys are sitting up and taking notice.
As 2013 drew to a close, Flanders was philosophical about their latest success, saying in an interview with MCV, “If I knew why they have embraced what we do, then I’d be creating the next big thing!”
“The establishment takes what it likes from the underground then that becomes the establishment for a while," he mused.
"I don’t have any illusion that we’ll be the big deal for any length of time, but this is our moment in the sun. Although drag queens in the sun is not always a good thing.”
He added that although they had enjoyed working on the big stage, they would be returning to work in sheds and garages again.
“That kind of freedom is really important to us,” he said.
Coming to a garden shed near you? Considering Summertime in the Garden of Eden followed hot on the heels of the successful Little Mercy, the sisters may not be confined to the backyard for very long: definitely ones to keep an eye on for 2014.
By Ron Hughes
TOM CONROY: The Sydney actor is making his mark in the world of theatre.
Tom Conroy is an actor who graduated in 2009 from the Victorian College of the Arts, where he was the recipient of the Richard Pratt Bursary for an Outstanding Acting in their Second Year of Training. Since graduating he has performed in a number of acclaimed shows around the country, including Declan Greene’s Moth at Malthouse, Bell Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for Brisbane Festival, Spring Awakening at Sydney Theatre Company, The Hayloft Project’s Delectable Shelter, and Something Natural, But Very Childish at La Mama, for which he won the 2010 Green Room Award for Best Male Performer.
Conroy recently starred in the celebrated production of Kit Brookman’s Small and Tired at Belvoir, alongside a stellar cast of performers including Luke Mullins, Sandy Gore and Susan Prior. The play springs from the legend of Orestes and the House of Atreus, but Brookman fully dissolves the myth into the contemporary world to explore the startling idea that love is an ancient thing we have to learn and re-learn from generation to generation.
“In my opinion Kit is one of Australia's best playwrights at the moment,” Conroy says. “Small and Tired is an incredibly dark, funny and twisted family drama, inspired by the Ancient Greeks but set in our contemporary Australian world. It was an absolute privilege to bring it to life each night alongside such fine actors.”
First up next year for Conroy is the Australian premiere of Cock at Melbourne Theatre Company. Earning rave reviews from its New York and London seasons, Olivier Award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett’s razor-sharp comedy of manners dissects one man’s emotional indecision in our commitment-phobic age. Directed by MTC Associate Director Leticia Cáceres, Conroy will go head to head with Angus Grant as duelling boyfriends, and Missy Higgins has been locked in as composer.
“I play John, a twenty-something guy who finds himself caught between his lingering feelings for his long-term kind-of-ex-boyfriend and a young woman he meets – played by Sophie Ross – and unexpectedly has feelings for,” Conroy tells. “Ultimately, John has to make a choice about who he is, who he loves, and who he wants to be with. It’s a great play: funny, clever and sad, and really gets to the heart of the complexities of relationships and identity today.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say I’m a bit scared, or nervous at least! It’s rare to be given such a great role. After we finish at MTC we’re heading to La Boite in Brisbane too, which is brilliant.”
Conroy is hoping to land some TV and film work in 2014 and beyond, but he is also keen to keep working in theatre. “I feel so lucky to have worked with so many great theatre companies around Australia already, so hopefully there will be more of that.”
By Garrett Bithell
ZOË COOMBS MARR: From theatre and television to comedy and dance, this arts upstart is leaving no stone unturned.
Zoë Coombs Marr is a writer, performer and comedian who is one-third of Post, an acclaimed Sydney-based collaborative performance ensemble responsible for a number of irreverent and highly intelligent theatre pieces including Who’s The Best? and Everything I Know About The Global Financial Crisis In One Hour. Coombs Marr kicks off 2014 with Oedipus Schmoedipus, a co-production between Post and Belvoir presented in association with Sydney Festival. The show is a mad medley of the greatest deaths ever brought to life on stage: by poison, dagger, asp or broken heart.
“Our last work, Who's The Best?, was all about ourselves,” Coombs Marr says. “So for our next work we wanted to focus out. Something big. We always gravitate towards challenges and impossible tasks, so we knew our next work was going to be about death.”
Later in the year, also at Belvoir, Coombs-Marr will premiere her debut play, Is This Thing On?, a portrait of life in a comedy routine for which she won the Philip Parsons Fellowship for Emerging Playwrights. “It’s based on my tumultuous on-off relationship with stand-up since I first picked up a mic at 15,” she tells.“It’s somewhere between a play and a gig. It’s also a really great excuse to have five funny women up on stage. It’s also unapologetically, massively queer. I'm working with the delightful (and also massively queer) Kit Brookman to co-direct.”
Coombs Marr moved to Sydney from her home town of Grafton in 2003, and studied a fusion of theatre, performance studies, sculpture and installation at Sydney’s College of Fine Arts. She then met Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose, and they formed Post together in 2004. “We’ve always been concerned with making work that has artistic credibility, but that also communicates with our peers, parents and neighbours,” Coombs Marr says.“We like big challenges, bright colours, and we don't like getting stuck in the one place for too long. We're excited by changing contexts – genre queer. At the moment we're working a bit more in main stage theatre frames, but next year we might make a 3D movie. For real.”
Also on the cards for Coombs Marr in 2014 is a collaboration with Gideon Obarzanek on Interplay for Sydney Dance Company, a Post residency in the UK, and taking her solo show Dave to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and possibly also Edinburgh and Soho. She will also appear on the ABC comedy quiz show Dirty Laundry Live, and continue her voice-over work.
“I could be announcing a ‘M for mature audiences’ warning, a phone ad, or a train timetable near you soon.”
By Garrett Bithell
Photo: Gary Heery/Courtesy Belvoir St Theatre
- TOPICS: Adrian Russell Wills, Andrew Purchas, Ash Flanders, Belle Brockhoff, Crusader Hillis, Daniel Clarke, Daniel Jaber, David Berthold, Declan Greene, Gai Lemon, John Mikelsons, LGBTI people to watch, Mojo Juju, Morgan Carpenter, Patrick Kay, People to Watch 2014, Rami Mandow, Rowland Thomson, Sisters Grimm, Tom Conroy, Zoe Coombs Marr