We talk to Fez Fa'anana, founder of the all male Aussie drag burlesque group, about ten years of being answerable to no-one
Mixing irreverence, punk politics and queerness, Briefs have been a haven for alt. cabaret seekers for ten evocative years. What began in Brisbane in 2008 as a party outlet between friends, designed to let off steam and test-drive new acts, began to evolve pretty quickly as demand for their celebration of freelance alternative performers grew. Soon the Briefs team were showing up at festivals across Australia, often on nothing more than a wing and a prayer.
Fez Fa'anana, the founder of Briefs Factory (the creative collective behind Briefs as well as the producer of other acts), had been getting invites to Scotland for years, but, in his words, 'we understood the magnitude of the Edinburgh Fringe'. Nevertheless, in 2011, the collective appeared here for the first time, very last-minute and bolstered by a group of pals chipping in to help with lighting and music.
'It was very much put together with a bit of sticky tape and hope,' Fez explains. 'I ran into somebody who managed to get us a time slot: half past midnight at the Gilded Balloon Wine Bar. That killer time slot was our first taste of Edinburgh.'
Ten years, though, is a long time for a company to survive after starting out just looking for a place to party, unbothered about taking a lighthearted approach to proceedings. Of course, disorganised is now the last word you'd use to describe Briefs. What's helped them over the years is their fierce independence: they don't receive any core funding from anyone.
'This has its benefits,' says Fez. 'While it makes everything we do very high-pressured, it also gives us full ownership; we don't answer to any funding bodies. So our territorial and creative brief is completely independent.'
It was important to Fez that Briefs didn't rush into bringing their brand to the Fringe. Having heard so many times of Australian groups who'd been so eager to get to Scotland that they relied on half-formed ideas that saw them never return, they had plenty of examples of what not to do. On top of everything, Fez believes it's their risk taking that's helped them to survive.
'We're constantly taking financial risks, we're taking creative risks, we're taking touring risks, we're taking risks on cast. The state of funding and touring has never been something that's solid, and we really wanted to make a collective that had a foundation that could move whether or not we got support.'
Yana Alana, aka Sarah Ward, is one of the acts Briefs is producing in Edinburgh this year. Briefs' risk-taking beliefs align with her own: she is, after all, a woman covered in nothing but blue paint singing about her mental health, Of course she was going to get along with the team.
'They are who they are, and they don't say sorry,' she says. 'They take up space. They have a really strong focus on putting people of colour on the stage, and queer people and people who are happy to play with their gender. Their shows pack a punch. And also, they're just so fun.'
Yana wrote her show, Between the Cracks, while she worked in a coffee factory. It deals with mental health, her struggles with anxiety, and all she really wants from performing it is for people to feel less alone when it comes to their mental health issues.
'The show ends with Leonard Cohen's song "Anthem" and the chorus is: "There's a crack in everything / that's how the light gets in",' she says. 'I see that it's our dysfunction and our flaws that make us who we are. Sometimes you've got to accept when you're sick and you may not recover, but that's who you are and that's okay.'
It's that sense of hope that resonates with Briefs' ideology as well. Their show this year, Close Encounters is very recognisably a Briefs production: they're maintaining their spirit and anarchy and taking audiences on another journey.
'In this show, we're coming from the future to let people know that the future is bright, the future is waiting for us,' says Fez. 'We're sorting through some pretty heavy stuff as a planet, so we've just come back from the future to celebrate life and remind people that we do actually get there in the end.'
Briefs' usual blend of questioning masculinity via circus, drag, burlesque and comedy means you should look forward to aerial acrobatics, biting politics, beautiful artistry and perhaps just a touch of nudity. Basically, all the best elements of Briefs they've flaunted over the past decade.
Briefs: Close Encounters, Assembly Hall, until 26 Aug (not 20), 7.15pm, £17.50–£19.50 (£16–£18). Yana Alana: Between the Cracks, until 26 Aug (not 20), 8pm, £12–£13. Hot Brown Honey, Gilded Balloon Teviot, until 27 Aug (not 8, 15, 23), 7.30pm, £15.50–£16.50 (£14.50–£15.50).
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