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Move over Priscilla - drag show winning hearts and minds in Qld Outback

Culture

In towns full of ringers, where red dirt and cattle trucks are the norm, something queer is happening — a Mardi Gras and a drag show have been sell-out successes.

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Residents in the northwest Queensland towns of Cloncurry and Mount Isa were eager to join in the fun when performers arrived in a flurry of feathers and sequins.

Brisbane-based drag performance group Briefs Factory’s Mount Isa show late last month was a sell-out.

However, when initially seeking funding, the group’s founder and main performer, Fez Faanana, said he was told there wasn’t an audience in regional areas for such shows.

“This may be controversial, but [this stereotype] comes down from policy, from funding, through venues, it comes down from local councils,” Faanana said.

The show is reminiscent of the cult Australian film Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Producer Kate Malone said the scarcity of theatre in the outback was not from a lack of trying.

“So often we’re told by councils that their audience won’t like the theme, or that they’ve had their one circus show allocated for the year,”  Malone said.

“The audiences are there, we don’t need to find them. We just need more support.”

Change in attitude

The Briefs Factory’s performance follows the success of an LGBTIQ+ Mardi Gras at a hotel in Cloncurry in February.

It was a first for the town, which voted no in the 2017 same-sex marriage plebiscite.

“I still think there’s a definite divide,” Faanana said.

“I think the more noise, like Cloncurry and Mount Isa this year, is a sign that this should be a touring circuit for performers.”

He said after the COVID-19 impact on metropolitan theatres, regional tours would be an ideal option for performers.

“We don’t have a solution, but we definitely have a way of getting through this with a smile,” he said.

Brisbane performer Mark “Captain Kidd” Winmill said as a performer recovering from the pandemic’s fallout, he was facing an uphill battle.

“The fact that everything stopped — and the lack of support for the arts — was devastating,” he said.

“I think if the money that’s been injected into sports funding was shared amongst arts, that would help a lot.”

Winmill said that outback festivals, such as Broken Heel in Broken Hill, showed that regional areas had become more accepting of queer theatre.

“It’s part of Australian history,” he said.

Further support for outback performance

Faanana said he believed the term “regional tour” should be more accountable in the arts industry.

“If these companies are claiming that they’re doing regional tours, then that’s the box ticked and no-one looks at where they’re actually going,” he said.

“It really should be areas like [Mount Isa] that we should be travelling to. Not just your regular holiday spots.”

Since the onset of pandemic, the Queensland Government has implemented more than $42.5 million worth of measures to support the arts and culture sector.

This includes the $22.5 million two-year Arts and Cultural Recovery Package announced in June 2020, aimed at securing jobs for artists and art workers, new creative work, reactivating venues across the state and delivering COVID-safe cultural experiences.

An Arts Queensland spokesperson said the organisation was evaluating the touring framework, in consultation with the sector.

The spokesperson said that all applicants for funding were asked to demonstrate how a project would support specific communities.

“LGBTIQ+ is one of the categories,” the spokesperson said.

Other categories include the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, children and young people (0–25 years old), as well as people with a disability.

– ABC / Kemii Maguire

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