It’s passed 5pm on a Saturday afternoon in Adelaide. Away from the sun-kissed public-crawling surrounds of the Royal Croquet Club, Briefs Creative Director Fez Fa’anana sits in a dressing room, meticulously applying makeup. A corporate gig has been lined up for the Adelaide Fringe Festival favourite, meaning it’s all systems go.
And that’s just the beginning of his night.
“My body clock’s getting back into Fringe mode,” he explains, as the process of his transformation into the wonderfully fabulous and biting Shivannah begins. “It is just turning into a vampire, pretty much. I work better at night.”
For fans of the Brisbane-born Briefs Factory, the company’s return to Adelaide is most definitely a welcome one. It’s a poignant one too – the final time we’ll be seeing the boys before they head back into development mode for their next full blown production. The acclaimed and successful Briefs: The Second Coming has seen the company thrust onto the international circuit and into the arms of widespread praise.
Still, while the press and the merit comes flowing in, simply sitting with Fa’anana as he multi-tasks his own preparation with being interviewed, receiving deliveries and notes for the show ahead, as well as preparing his fellow performers for the shows ahead is indicative of his work ethic.
“It’s not sacrificed for the sake of doing a trashy show, or just for the sake of it being drag or late night variety.” he says of the quality and work ethic driving each Briefs work. “Talking about curating, that’s really important to us. I think part of our protest is about bringing theatre protocol to these art forms that maybe are quite often not considered ‘art forms’ when it comes to Australia Council funding. Drag, circus, variety, cabaret, comedy – they don’t have their funding bodies. I think part of the protest piece, aside from all the ‘isms’ like gender equality, racism, multiculturalism, all those definitions – aside from those standard fights that are understood and infused within our work, I feel like there’s this thing within the arts industry that we’re constantly proving ourselves as being [a] valid performance and art.”
“One thing that interests me is finding trashy performers who have that theatre protocol.” he furthers, focusing on the current Club Briefs show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. “YUMMY is a perfect example. James Welsby, being Valerie Hex, comes from a contemporary dance background, he comes from a dance theatre background. He understands the principles of presenting work in that context. There’s a difference between drag in a club and drag in a theatre and I feel like there’s a place for both of those things. We have a call time. You are there on time. I don’t give a fuck if you’re wearing drag or not, we have a call time.”
Reflecting on the last four years of touring, it’s clear that the Briefs Factory is more than just a playground for the trashy, the decadent and the hilarious. It’s a home and a platform for artists to grow, develop and explore ideas that mightn’t be accepted outside the fringe landscape. What audiences see in shows like Club Briefs is a melting pot of the crazy ideas that are worked upon in the lead up to new productions being made. It’s important for the environment to be just right for these ideas to fly, and what better place to test it, than right on stage in front of new audiences?
“We made this company and we made this nature of work because we didn’t have a platform,” Fez explains. “We built our own. As it turns out, audiences were looking for the same thing as well. I feel like, while we’re selfishly cultivating our own work, we also found out that audiences were really up for that flavour as well. I guess it’s that thing where aside from being artists, aside from being a Creative Director, I’m also an audience member. I was selfishly doing what I wanted to see.”
“We’re using this as a bit of a process to develop some of the new work.” he says of Club Briefs. “Next week in particular, we’ll have a few of the new cast members here and we’re just going to throw some ideas out on to the stage. We might just have a quick throwaway moment or a quick transitional moment; that might not even happen but I think that, as an independent company, we need to be really resourceful and smart about how we work with our time. While some people might think the Fringe is not the best place to be rehearsing and in the ideal situation, if we were a fully funded company, we wouldn’t be doing this – as a festival, we use it as a vehicle to bring people together and to throw things in front of audiences. The idea that we are all together, means that something is moving forward.”
Of the current line up, the familiar Briefs faces are joined by some incredible new performers that make their mark well and truly known. Newcomers will be taken right out of their comfort zone while long-time Briefs fans will notice these new additions to be fitting comfortably in with Mark Winmill‘s ‘Nadia Cominacha’ and the Evil Hate Monkey.
“It’s important for us to have a strong female representative,” Fez says. “More often than not, we’d have a little bit more, but this is how it’s panned out here. Tara Boom was just someone who we clocked over a while now and she’s doing some exciting stuff. I like that there’s no sexual connotation to any of her work. I love that first and foremost, she’s a really strong performer, she has a great presence on stage; she’s trained her ass off to get her skills and she’s just a good clown and a good idiot. People may or may not know that she’s a drunken strawberry in a martini glass but she doesn’t give a fuck and I love that.”
“We crossed Harry [Clayton Wright]’s path when we first took Briefs to Edinburgh; he’s a very multi-skilled artist. I think he working for queer press over there, so he was doing some really interesting articles. He was doing these ‘Bedtime Sessions’, you got into bed with him and do a vlog. We met him and he interviewed the Briefs boys in bed! Again, another idiot who is a really sophisticated theatre maker and performance artist, bratty club kid, online personality and dirty fiend.”
A fusion of hilarious trash and spellbinding physical talent has made Briefs a household name but as Fez remarks, the fusion has to be equal and balanced for their productions to work.
“There’s the shock value but there’s also the Thomas Worrell’s, who can be in any kind of physical theatre circus company. It’s about that right balance, so that people get to taste everything at the buffet that they want to.”
“Our work has always been informed by the climate of what the hell is going on at the moment. In the past it’s been a lot less consistently political throughout the show. I always take pleasure in taking nice stabs and moments of slapping people in the face with a little bit of politics and making sure the show is barbed enough so that people laugh and then nervously laugh.”
Though still in the early stages of development, the successor to Briefs: The Second Coming, is definitely on track and taking great shape.
“This new show, while it’s not heavily political, I feel like it’s a reflection piece.” Fez reveals. “We’re going a little futuristic with it, it’s Briefs: Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I feel like it’s going to take the same formula of this show, in terms of opening the show with the usual fanfare and we always have to finish the show with a big spectacle. We’ve done that in the past, so the bookends are sorted. Now it’s just trying to figure out what the ingredients are in the show. I think this idea of referencing the future and alien life forms… we’re not getting heavy about it, I just thought it would be an interesting way to remove us and [have] Briefs as aliens, looking at humans and what the hell is going on. Observing and probing. Aesthetically, I really want to up the ante of the show. It’s a little less party-trashy and a bit more warped. It’s exciting; we’ve got some new cast members who are really unexpected.”
“It’s been our meal ticket, it’s been our safety blanket,” he says of Briefs: The Second Coming. “It’s been the thing that’s taken us away from our families and it’s been the thing that’s put us on the map internationally. It’s been our passport. We didn’t think we were going to break into the international circuit, let alone spend four to six months of the year in Europe. To have that work showcased in Paris near the Moulin Rouge was just crazy.”
When it’s come to the level of international acclaim The Second Coming has reached over the last four years, it’s difficult for Fez to pinpoint a defined catalyst that sent the production – and the company – over that tipping point.
“I can’t put my finger on it, I think it’s that thing of us making sure that we stay true to ourselves in the way that we present work. Club Briefs is kind of a replica of the first version of the show. I think the thing that made The Second Coming successful was about us maintaining the rough and tumble spirit of the original work and how we work as a company and then also stepping it up. Making it a bit more sophisticated, getting a little more money behind it so that we could up the ante on props and costumes and take the pressure off me, in terms of getting a producer. Having someone to fight for me and for us so that we can just focus on making ‘art’.”
Producing work that continuously pushes the boundaries and encourages the performers and audiences alike to think a little more dangerously and provocatively always comes with its risks but, at least up until this point, the Briefs Factory have gotten a successful formula in the bag.
“It’s still a gamble, wherever you are.” Fa’anana admits. “Whether or not it’s the Edinburgh Fringe, Adelaide Fringe or Perth Fringe – it’s always a gamble, particularly with the nature of our show. I feel like it’s a sign of the times; people are getting bored of shitty attitudes. People are getting smarter, there’s sophisticated thinking. There’s a reason why Trump is the butt of jokes, because that kind of behaviour is actually laughable. Even we opened [it’s like] I know all these acts and I know all these performers but then when I was actually introducing them, I was like, ‘Holy fucking God, I didn’t think this through!’ It’s that thing of not second-guessing yourself; you’ve booked them and you’ve programmed them, you’ve put potions together to try and make something happen. You have to go with it.”
“It’s daunting and exciting,” he says of the company’s upcoming period of development. “We’re just trying to remember what we did last time! Sometimes I second guess myself and go, ‘I think that’s a good idea,’ and have the confidence to just go with it and then afterwards, I surprise myself, like, ‘No, that was a good idea!’ We do know what we’re doing and we do know how to execute ideas now and that’s why I feel like people here at the Croquet Club can, last minute, go, ‘Fez can you do this?’ and walk away, trusting that it’s going to be okay. It felt nice to go, ‘Yep, I actually know what I’m doing. I think it’s going to be okay.’”
Club Briefs runs at the Royal Croquet Club as part of the Adelaide Fringe Festival until March 5th. Grab your tickets here. Their children’s show Brat Kids Carnival also runs today, February 26th and March 5th. For more information, head here.