Mr Boylesque Australia 2019 | Heated Highlights
by Bella de Jac
The audience piles in to a packed 24 Moons Bar in Northcote on a rainy Winter night. The mood is vibrant as Melbourne’s burlesque and drag glitterati have come out in support of the line-up of talent for the 2019 Mr Boylesque Australia. Punters flock to the bar, greeting each other with gusto and the outfits are wild. The Met Gala could learn a thing or two about “camp” from tonight’s turnout.
The lights dim and Leesa Mann takes to the stage to master the ceremonies for the evening. In a denim gown that would make 2001 Britney Spears green with envy, Leesa is relaxed and irreverent as she plays with the audience and handles a few overenthusiastic audience members with ease.
Indiah Money is introduced to do the acknowledgment of country, acknowledging also that gender is a colonial construct and recognises the queer indigenous people in the room – this moment touches the heart of the room and makes my show companion cry with joy. There is a reason why representation and acknowledgement matters and it is clear that this event aims to create this space.
RED CARPET PARADE
Leesa is back on the mic and announces the first section of the competition, the Red Carpet Parade. We meet Ana Diction, Dja Dja speaker of the Kulin nation and non-binary boylesque/draglesque performer who has been performing on Melbourne queer and cabaret scene for four years. Their performance fuses gender bending, drag and androgyny as an art of non-binary gender conforming expression. In classic showgirl style, Anna appears on the stage in a flurry of white organza with a huge bustle skirt and feather headdress. Before exiting the stage they pull the Aboriginal flag from their fringed top, swishing it around gracefully with a smile.
Next up is Archie Arsenic who cuts an intimidating figure in a red and black bodysuit and cape, with a pair of giant black horns. They are introduced as a fire eating gender bending drag freak, who fuses elements of drag, burlesque and sideshow. The audience whoops as they strut the stage with ferocity and shakes their booty through the cheeky butt cut-out of their cape.
The third contestant is Mr Frenchie, who certainly holds the crowd’s favour as they roar for his introduction. Mr Frenchie owns the boy band style in a suit and he slides on a pair of sunglasses as the lights dim and his vest lights up just as his introduction announces how he lights up the room with throbbing charisma. The audience go absolutely mental.
Next up is our wildcard entrant Trigger Happy from Brisbane, who, as we discover, has just hopped off a plane and headed straight to the show – which is an impressive feat in itself. He struts the stage with diva-esque confidence in a crystal covered bodysuit and floor length black feather skirt. His comedic side is soon revealed when his introduction announces him as Brisbane’s Big Boy of Boylesque, whose skills ranges from death-defying drop splits and an infallible ability to shove six Mcnuggets in his mouth at once.
Last but certainly not least is our final contestant – Astro, who takes us on a journey through time and space. A First Nations dancer, performing artist, choreographer and DJ, Astro makes a strong and incredibly entertaining entrance completely committing to his character as a laser gun toting leather-clad spaceman.
The striptease section aims to encourage performers not to rely on gimmicks or comedy but their ability to tease the audience. Ana Diction’s performance honoured the female origins of the artform is a beautiful bump & grind performance to a classic, brassy tune. The highlight was their execution of floorwork – which was reminiscent of the legendary Blaze Starr.
Archie Arsenic’s silhouette emerges through the smoke filled stage. Their hand curls into the dark and Poison Ivan begins. It’s a moody and powerful opening for the gender-bending take on Poison Ivy. The performance amps up to a throbbing techno beat as Archie swings LED whips and busts out some fierce floorwork.
Trigger Happy’s striptease to a bold Barry Adamson tune sets the course for a ferocious classic tease. The routine is every bit the fierce, showgirl performance. Boa tricks, drop splits, bumps, knee slams, tassel-twirling back bends and a backwards roll-over so enthusiastic that he put his high heel through the stage. I will forever aim to put so much energy into my acts that I can literally bust the stage open.
Astro performs a tribute to the story of the Rainbow Serpent with an enormous glittering prop snake to a contemporary remix of a
Great Southern Land. The music shifts to didgeridoo as the contemporary clothes are stripped away. Astro uses white ochre and traditional dance to bring us back to the core of the story.
Mr Frenchie’s striptease routine is a highlight of the night. The comic timing, acting and oversexed imaginings of a weary traveller who misses his flight and goes to drown his sorrows at the airport bar is beautifully rehearsed. Mr Frenchie’s eye-contact and audience connection are excellent right down to his Doraemon underpants. Its equal parts filthy and endearing, and the crowd screams in approval.
The last part of the night is the Unique section, where all bets are off. The opening notes of Claire de Lune signal the start of Ana Diction’s graceful Sally Rand tribute replete with full, white, waterfall fans. Mr Frenchie wows the crowd again with an escape act themed striptease. I look up from my note-taking to witness his bare bottom strolling casually past my face and note how wonderful it is to watch an emerging performer who has such a depth of confidence.
Astro is all legs and perfect spit-curls as he emerges as a hustler of super-villain proportions in his casino themed act. His performance makes use of personality, facial expressions and lip synch as he leaps, turns and kicks.
Highlights of the Unique section include Trigger Happy’s Shrek routine, to a medley of songs from the movie which gets wilder and wilder until he busts out some of the fiercest bumping I’ve ever seen on stage. Trigger’s perfectly timed facial expressions made the audience go absolutely wild!
Archie Arsenic’s unique is another major highlight. The piece opens with Archie Arsenic, flanked by two wraith-like figures in a darkly menacing triumvirate. What follows is an incredibly powerful and moving performance including lip-synch and fan dance. The kicker however, is that has to be performed twice. The first time they are cut short due to a technical problem where the music cuts out mid act. To have the kind of internal strength and calm to return to stage and begin such an emotional act again would rattle even the most seasoned of performers but Archie took it in their stride, and returned to the stage to reprise the act and bring it to a cathartic finish.
After a short break we wait for the judges to tally the scores with a feature performance by Melbourne based drag performer Pancetta Love. Everyone’s favourite meat for vegans, Pancetta is a sorbet fantasy in a 60s baby doll dress full of surprises. With the final performance of the night complete, the time comes for the winners to be announced. Who will it be?!
Miss Jane welcomes the contestants back on stage in their finery, with Mr Frenchie hilariously chowing down on a pot of noodles. The winners are announced:
2nd runner up Trigger Happy
1st runner up Archie Arsenic
and our Mr Boylesque 2019 winner is…Mr Frenchie!
When you’ve seen enough competitions and large scale Burlesque shows it’s always fun to affectionately note the trends of the night. Usually there’s a few moves, or costume pieces that everyone is loving this year. This years Mr Boylesque Australia trend was ‘costume pieces flung into the audience’, giving the old guard burlesque performers in the crowd anxiety from the memory of costumes landing on tea lights or getting souvenired by punters at many a show. It is refreshing to say that beyond the ‘gin & tonic with a side of Swarovski glove’ on lots of tables around me, I couldn’t spot any trends because each performer was so unique from concept to execution
As much as it sounds like the end of a nostalgic 80s kids film, I have to admit that the ultimate winner of the night is the Australian burlesque community and industry. Miss Jane, the powerhouse behind the event, brought together the drag, burlesque and performance art communities and made this event something truly inclusive, supportive and appreciative. Burlesque is a fringe art form. It is a space where we can challenge and subvert notions of acceptable behaviour, acceptable sexuality, and the commercialised body. Giving voice to the marginalised and taking the artform back to its counter-cultural roots of challenging the status quo enriches and enlivens our industry. It should always be at the core of our work. This event is an absolute highlight of the industry calendar. I’ll see you all at Mr Boylesque 2020.