As Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival - a glorious celebration of all things queer - breaches its dirty thirties, an action-packed program of 130+ events showcases everything from Oscar Wilde to Elizabeth Taylor via opera singers, quiz shows and musicals.
Kicking off with Alexandra Gardens’ Midsumma Carnival on Sunday Jan 15, St Kilda comes alive two weeks later with the annual Midsumma Pride March down Fitzroy Street to Catani Gardens. And just before it all wraps up, a brand new party - Midsumma Horizon - will fuse art and music at Testing Grounds on February 5th.
With so much to soak up, here are 15 of our faves to get you started.
1. The Happy Prince
Gender-and-genre-hopping with unadulterated glee, Little Ones Theatre have thrilled audiences with their smartly subversive takes on Dracula, Dangerous Liaisons and Salome. Director Stephen Nicolazzo returns to Oscar Wilde with an adult angle on his gorgeous short kids’ story The Happy Prince, starring Janine Watson and Catherine Davies. It’s just the ticket for joyous hearts.
La Mama Theatre, Carlton, Jan 18-29
2. A Night at the Musicals starring Le Gateau Chocolat and Jonny Woo
Nigerian opera signer, cabaret legend and drag star Le Gateau Chocolat is a force of nature all by herself, but paired with UK icon Jonny Woo, chances are high that this dynamic duo will blow the spire off the Arts Centre roof. A Night at the Musicals sees them massacre much-loved musicals from Cabaret to Annie via The Lion King.
Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne, Jan 17-22
3. Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens
Written at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the United States, Bill Russell and Janet Hood’s Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens chronicles the countless lives affected using music and poetry. Directed by Daniel Lammin and with a cast including Stephen Amos, Natasha Bassett, Adam Canny and Nick Casey, raw humour and sorrow combine in a joyous celebration of life.
Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Brunswick, Feb 1-5
4. Ursula Martinez: Free Admission
British cabaret and comedy rock star Ursula Martinez strips her soul (and a fair bit more) while building that fourth wall in literal and figurative ways at Arts Centre Melbourne this Midsumma. In perhaps her most revealing show to date, forget everything you think you know about the original La Clique/La Soirée cast member.
Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne, Jan 31-Feb 5
5. Quippings: Return to our Roots Show
Disability performance troupe Quippings take over iconic queer bookshop Hares & Hyenas’ Hare Hole performing arts space for one night only this Midsumma. Prepare to have your preconceptions pulverised as they unveil their saucy, sexy cabaret, with folks encouraged to stick around for a dance afterwards.
Hare Hole (Hares & Hyenas), Fitzroy, Feb 1 only
6. Ash Flanders: Playing to Win
One half of the outrageous theatrical force that is Sisters Grimm, Ash Flanders isn’t about to take no for an answer when it comes to getting his name up in lights. In a queer theatre royalty team-up with Little Ones’ Stephen Nicolazzo directing, he’s ready to sing for his supper with a live band in tow and tales to tell about what it takes to climb to the top.
Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne, Jan 27-29
7. This Show is Gay
Celebrating his 10th year mesmerising Midsumma audiences, community hero and cabaret comedian Dean Arcuri will be spreading the love all over town, from quiz night Trivial HERsute, inviting brave ladies into the usually men-only Laid for an everyone’s welcome Switchboard fundraiser, to Speed Hating with Kirsty Webeck at the Carlton Club. This Show is Gay is his main event, a joyous sequinned singsong through the campest hits at Speakeasy HQ.
Speakeasy HQ, Melbourne, Jan 19-Feb 4
8. Elizabeth Taylor – The Queen of Celebrity Activism
Following a year in which we lost far too many legends, this exhibition of screen goddess Elizabeth Taylor’s personal effects at Gasworks Arts Park celebrates old Hollywood glamour as well as her impassioned work in HIV/AIDS activism.
Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park, Jan 17-Feb 5
9. Panti: High Heels in Low Places
Drag artist Panti Bliss (Rory O'Neill) shot to superstardom during Ireland’s marriage equality referendum when her two cents about homophobic bullshit went viral, catching the attention of the Pet Shop Boys and half the planet. This one-woman show has it all: sex, gender, and self-deprecation. Also catch Panti’s fabulous marriage equality doco The Queen of Ireland at ACMI, raising much-deserved funds for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival.
Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne, Feb 2-4
10. Out to Win
Whatever code you barrack for or don’t, this uplifting doco, with talking heads including hunky NFL star Michael Sam and tennis champs Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova is sure to get you pumped. Directed by Malcolm Ingram, Out to Win doesn’t shy away from the tough times either, including the tragic story of English football player Justin Fashanu. Also check out a brace of local sporting events at Midsumma.
Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park, Jan 26
11. Beautiful Women/Convergent Pathologies
Moonee Ponds’ Incinerator Gallery plays host to two excellent art exhibitions during Midsumma. Photographer Lisa White showcases femininity in all its fine forms, lesbian, bi, trans and intersex, in Beautiful Women, while trans and gender diverse artist group show Convergent Pathologies tackles mental health in multiple mediums.
Incinerator Galleries, Moonee Ponds, Jan 21-Feb 12
12. Dolly Di*mond’s Bl*nkety Bl*nks
Cabaret queen Dolly Diamond has rung in the big guns for this game show bonanza. She’ll be joined by a gaggle of gorgeous guests each night, including ABC presenter Virginia Trioli, comedian Cal Wilson, pop star Anthony Callea, Australian Sex Party politician Fiona Patten, Kinky Boots star Callum Francis and Victorian Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Rowena Allen. You can also catch Dolly singing at the Arts centre’s The Barre every Monday night during the festival.
Chapel Off Chapel, Prahran, Jan 20-28
13. I Am My Own Wife
A complex figure, the life of trans woman Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, founder of Berlin’s Gründerzeit Museum of everyday items who survived both the Nazis and the Stasis, is celebrated in Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife, winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. Starring Ben Gerrard as von Mahlsdorf and a host of other characters, this one will be fascinating.
Fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne, Jan 17-Feb 5
14. Colouring the Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans Perspectives
Jumping off from 2015 book Colouring the Rainbow, which gave voice to twenty-two First Nations people’s regarding family, culture and identity as well as homophobia, transphobia and racism, this lively panel discussion at Northcote Library will take a look at where we’re at now.
Northcote Library, Northcote, Feb 7
15. Queer Family Portrait
One for all the family, both logical and biological, friends, loved ones and pets, this free event, hosted by a phalanx of LGBTQI+ artists, will ask what a Queer Family Portrait might look like, in all its wonderfully myriad variations.
Arts House, North Melbourne, Feb 4