We’re pretty bloody excited for Brisbane Festival next month. The city-wide festival will feature a huge range of great productions… and there’ll be none more outrageous than James Welsby’s YUMMY.
YUMMY is a cabaret of drag, dance, circus, and live music that’s bursting at the seams with subversive and salacious humour. So we caught up with James Welsby himself to chat about the hilarious show.
Ahead of next month’s Brisbane Festival, we caught up with director James Welsby to chat about his upcoming production YUMMY.
HAPPY: Hey James, how are things? What are you up to at the moment?
JAMES: Things are fantastic! We are currently in Edinburgh presenting our show the Edinburgh Fringe, which is the biggest arts festival in the world. It’s beautiful but intense! One day you’re completely sold out, and the next the audience is modest… but we’re here, we’re queer, and we’re gonna make em cheer!
HAPPY: Can we hear the YUMMY elevator pitch, from the horse’s mouth?
JAMES: YUMMY is a drag cabaret about feminism and femininity – it has a phenomenal ensemble and a unique sense of contemporary choreography. It’s very entertaining, and promotes the three dimensionality and limitlessness of what drag can be.
HAPPY: Can you tell us about how the show got started?
JAMES: It started in August 2015 as a one-off club cabaret experience, and now is touring the world. It began after some major funding cuts to the arts in Australia, and at a time when there was a broader conversation about the politics of drag culture going on. Our response was to create a gender balanced drag show that didn’t rely on anything to exist except love and lashes.
HAPPY: The show has been around! What have been some of the highlight performances so far?
JAMES: Our season in Melbourne International Comedy Festival last year was pretty magical! We also got tremendous responses in Adelaide Fringe earlier this year. We’ve had to adapt some thing s as we go, but there’s always been a consistent heart to the show. It’s all been a highlight!
HAPPY: Talk us through your cast. Who are these amazing people?
JAMES: The cast is the reason for the show’s success! We have drag celebrity Karen From Finance as our hilarious and heart-warming MC, the unstoppable Hannie Helsden who has been touring around Europe and is also multi-skilled as she manages a lot of the company too, the stunning Zelia Rose who has been touring the world with Dita Von Teese, the divine Benjamin Hancock who performs in club contexts and also for major companies like Lucy Guerin Inc, the magical Jandruze who designs and sews all of his own costumes, and the arresting Joni in the Moon who keeps releasing the most wonderful music! We also have the incredible Beni Lola who is a total star!
HAPPY: You have both men and women performing in drag for the show, how did this decision come up and how do you think it’s effected the reception to the show?
JAMES: I don’t think we need any special acknowledgement for that – I think it’s just the right thing to do! There are drag contests where women are excluded, and we don’t want to operate that way so we include women and gender diverse individuals in the show. It makes the show and the audience experience all the richer! I think people have embraced our show in a really positive way – drag is super popular right now, but I think audiences are growing tired of old-school drag and it’s schtick – we must keep evolving.
HAPPY: About yourself for a moment – how did you get your start in directing?
JAMES: I always wanted to direct and choreograph – that desire was much stronger than my desire to perform in other people’s work. When I was at the VCA, I was always presenting short pieces I’d made and running the student works programmes. The wonderful thing about YUMMY is that you see so many people’s work in the show – each individual has usually made their own act (and costume!), and my job is to shape the over-arching audience experience and choreograph the opening, closing, and group numbers. So my style of directing might look different from others’ but it’s about inviting people to contribute creatively, but me having a bigger picture vision.
HAPPY: And when did you start working with drag performers?
JAMES: I started dabbling in the dark art of drag in 2011. My background is in contemporary dance, so I approached drag from that point of view, and slowly shape-shifted into a contemporary drag artist.
HAPPY: One of your upcoming performances is at Brisbane Festival in the Theatre Republic? Have you ever performed in Brisbane (or even this space) before?
JAMES: I presented a show called ‘HEX’ at the Powerhouse in Brisbane in 2015 – that was a contemporary dance show about HIV/AIDS memory and inter-generational impact. It was part of MELT Festival, and was such a wonderful experience. This is our first time in Brisbane with YUMMY, and we can’t wait. We’ve had many requests to come to Brisbane, and I’m so glad we get to finally do it!
HAPPY: Really looking forward to it! Thanks for the chat
JAMES: Thank you!
La Boite, Roundhouse Theatre – 12 – 15 September
More info here.