Le Freak hot on the heels of two sell-out seasons is set to make its return at the 2023 Melbourne Fringe Festival. Featuring world-class, award-winning trans, queer, disabled and sex worker performers Le Freak shines a lens on sideshow and how this artform has historically exploited (and continues to) the “freaks”.
Award-winning circus and sideshow artist, Themme Fatale, talks Le Freak:
– what was the inspiration for the show and what is it about this show that you consider to be enduing
The initial inspiration for Le Freak was in part a show that both Elle Diablo and I briefly worked on that shall remain nameless, that on the outside looked to be interesting and diverse and inclusive, but inside turned out to be perpetuating a whole lot of really gross, bigoted ideas. We turned to each other and were like “what if we got together and made the show that we thought this was going to be?” We started unpacking the complicated histories of sideshow as both an avenue for empowerment and exploitation for the people working within it, and this is the show that developed from that! I think that grappling with the complexities of empowerment and exploitation (which is it, and when and how?) is an experience that a lot of people can really resonate with in the neoliberal hellscape we currently reside. We wanted to have an honest conversation about that, but in a non-punishing way, so we thought what better aesthetic to use to talk about exploitation than an exploitation film! We’ve dialled everything up to eleven, which is both a very affective mechanism for highlighting the contrasting ideas we’re grappling with, and is also just fantastically fun.
– how would you describe the show to someone who knew very little about it
Le Freak is an empowering hour of high-stakes sideshow, surrealist circus, and dangerous drag, fed through the aesthetics of a 1970s exploitation film. It’s sexy, it’s funny, and it’s unafraid to be both political, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s got a big emphasis on accessibility and a big tendency towards being very weird.
– what are some of the themes involved and why are these important
Le Freak is a queer, disability-led show, and so is of course informed by these experiences. All too often work that deals at all with themes of disability offers disabled performers one of maybe two options: we can offer up our trauma, or we can be “inspiration porn” (so aptly described by Stella Young). Le Freak says no thank you to both of those, and instead is just us making the work that we want to make, and telling the stories that we want to tell. And those stories are incredibly funny and sexy and weird.
I think the themes around exploitation vs. empowerment are also particularly important right now, as marketing companies are increasingly latching onto conversations around identity, and trying to sell this idea of empowerment with every face wash or pair of socks. I think increasingly queer people are becoming tired of the “pinkwashing” – having our identities sold back to us for profit under the guise of “representation”. Of course real representation is vital, but audiences are smart, and can tell the difference between genuine acts of allyship, and this much more cynical behaviour.
Le Freak uses direct quotes from our own lived experiences to satirise these characters, who want us to perform our identities, but only within a very narrow scope of what they’ve imagined our identities to be.
– has the show been modified for Fringe and, if so, why was this something that had to happen and how was it decided what the new show would look like
So, after two very exciting sell-out seasons, we’ve really escalated the scope of the show. We’ve expanded the cast, which now includes myself (Themme Fatale), co-creator Elle Diablo, and our incredible collaborators Dale Woodbridge-Brown, Sarah Birdgirl, and Bella De Jac. We’ve kept in some old favourites from previous seasons, but we’ve also created all new acts for this new season too. We work collaboratively with the artists we involve each season, and so the new acts are informed by the skills, experiences, and desires of the new artists joining us. The show has also expanded in that we’re in a much larger space now – the beautiful ETU Ballroom at the Trades Hall Fringe Hub. We’ve got a giant LCD screen behind the stage which has enabled us to add stunning textural elements through AV, but it’s also allowed us to increase access to the show through being able to caption the show every night.
– what do you enjoy most about appearing at Fringe and why is Fringe theatre important overall
It’s not news to anyone that the last three years have been hard on the arts, so anything that pushes resources not only into the arts, but into independent artists is something that is absolutely vital right now. A lot of arts funding goes into a relatively small selection of large companies, which is great for them (no shade here, I am always pro artists getting money!) but it doesn’t always help the biodiversity of the arts landscape, with the large number of smaller companies that we might have seen pre-pandemic. Fringe theatre is absolutely vital, and festivals like Melbourne Fringe can allow art to exist that might not get the platform otherwise. Le Freak is able to be platformed this season via Melbourne Fringe’s “Cash for Equity” program for example, and we are incredibly grateful for the support.
– what excites you the most about appearing live – what keeps the fire in the belly burring
There is an energy to live performance that nothing else compares to. Especially in sideshow where your body is literally on the line – it’s such a visceral experience! Playing in the suspense and tension of that particular blend of excitement, joy, and horror that only sideshow stunts can bring is wildly fun. Getting to use sideshow as a device to get people to pay attention and open up empathy to stories they might not otherwise be exposed to is something that really excites me. Getting to spark joy and spark change in the same act is a privilege that I think artists have, and every time someone tells me they’ve come out of one of my shows changed, that keeps me going.
– what sort of artist do you consider yourself – how would you describe yourself as a creative
I am a drag clown, and I think my drag name says pretty well what I aim to do: Themme Fatale. “Themme” as in what I lack in gender I make up for in being clever, and “Fatale” as in danger. Sometimes the danger is a bed of nails, sometimes the danger is reminding everyone that gender is made up and very mutable!
I sometimes joke about making work that’s just a Trojan horse for revolution – I really want to show people a good time, but I also am a big bleeding heart idealist who desperately wants us all to do better at taking care of each other and the world, so I can’t help but try to sneak that in, dressed up as best I can in a layer of sexy dangerous drag-laced antics. Not everyone has an interest in dense political theory, but I think art has the capacity to distil the core of an idea in a way that language often can’t. Is what I’m doing propaganda? Maybe. But the world’s quite literally on fire, so desperate times: sexy measures.
Also, I was once described as a “Bimbo Laureate” and I’m trying desperately to live up to it every day!
– who inspires you and why
I’m inspired by unapologetic, funny, sexy, talented, queer people who aren’t shy about the fact that they’re trying to change things. Kween Kong, Betty Grumble, Reuben Kaye. My partner Vida who helps me become a braver, more honest, and less watered down version of myself every damn day.
– what is next for you
First up? A brief disco-snooze because I will not glamorise overworking. I am just incidentally glamorous, and often over-working. And then we head on to getting Le Freak around next year’s festival circuit! We’re touring with some fantastic other shows also under the wing of our excellent producer Olly Lawrence. I’m technically not allowed to announce our first stop, but it rhymes with “schmadelaide”.
– and finally, what would you say to encourage audiences to attend
Le Freak is basically “Capitalism Bad, Me Sexy: The Musical”. If you like burlesque, drag, circus, or late night revelry but at a much more reasonable time of night, this show is for you!
We’ve put in a lot of work into removing barriers to accessing the show, so if accessibility is a concern, the show is also for you.
The venue is wheelchair accessible with accessible bathrooms and bars on the same level, we have captions on our big screen every night, and HEPA filters running in the venue for all our immune-compromised friends (myself included). We have six Auslan interpreted sessions across the season (Oct 5, 7, 11, 14, 20, 22), a sensory-friendly session (Oct 12), COVID-safer masked sessions (Oct 12 & 18), and an Audio Described session with tactile tour on October 22. You can find a full content and sensory guide on our website at lefreaktheshow.com/accessibility .
Lastly, if you have any familiarity whatsoever with the Centrelink hold music, you need to see this show, I promise you.
Opening on October 4th at The ETU Ballroom, Trades Hall, Le Freak features multiple circus/sideshow performers. The show makes use of narrative sketches and video content along with live captioning making Le Freak accessible to audience members with disabilities. Two performances each week have been dedicated to engaging with the deaf community with the inclusion of an Auslan Interpreter. The Sunday 22nd show will include a tactile tour and audio description to create accessibility for the blind community. Blind and low vision audience members are invited to a pre show experience where they are able to touch and interact with the cast, costumes, props and set.
October 4 -22