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Auckland Pride Festival: An interview with the creator of Briefs

Feb 11, 2016 Theatre

I stopped dead when I read the words “Cirque de Soleil meets RuPaul’s Drag Race”. Usually, when shows are described by way of such comparisons there’s an inevitable groan, often because it’s two things you don’t think should be mixed anyway, like The Hunger Games and Shortland Street.

But Cirque de Soleil and RuPaul’s Drag Race? That sounds like something I want to see; like salt and caramel or chocolate and peanut butter, I imagine they’re two things you never anticipated being so good together.

In a way it makes sense. Both circus and drag are art-forms that push the human experience to the extremes; circus pushes the limits of what the body can do, while drag pushes the boundaries of what gender is and what gender means. It’s a match made in heaven, and a show that blends the two sounds like a damn treat.

Briefs Live is that show. The brain child of Fez Fanaana, a New Zealand-born Samoan raised in Australia, Briefs is an all-male, burlesque, gender-bending circus show that has been toured around the world. Within the show, Fanaana transforms into his alter ego, the love child of the ring master and the bearded lady, MC and host Shivannah. Fanaana is also the director and choreographer of the piece.

Fanaana talked to us about creating and maintaining Briefs Live and the day-to-day logistics of touring a circus drag show around the world, including eyelash stocktaking.

What goes into making a show like this? Is it devised with the company or does it all come from your head?

I drive the creative side of the production as the creative director. Each cast member brings existing material, skills, characters and acts, so it’s not as clean cut as director and actor. It’s a delicate balance of trash, glamour, skill, theatrics and entertainment. We work collaboratively and we are all respectful, bratty and talented enough to make the collaboration work somehow.

What gave you the idea to bring drag, burlesque and circus together like this?

This type of combination is not new. In fact variety and cabaret has been pioneered throughout history in various forms. One thing that remains common is the celebration of those who sit on the fringe of society and the idea of creating a fantastical world that provides a glimpse into the life of the alternate. Although this formula is not new, we aim to put an iconic spin on the style and subject matter.

What’s the kind of day-to-day performer maintenance that goes along with touring Briefs?

It’s important to keep things fresh for the cast and for audiences, so we tend to change things up slightly by adding or swapping in new acts and skills. This is particularly important for audiences and cities that we have frequented multiple times like Brisbane, Perth, Berlin and London. Other maintenance includes self -control regarding post show partying, eyelash stocktaking, de-skanking of costumes and alone time. It’s also really important to take the time to engage with new people and places as we are lucky enough to travel intensively.

Yes. A lady did a power chuck during our farewell disco number. I think the choreography set her off.

Similarly, what are the logistics of touring a show of this scale around the world to festivals and the like? How do you balance producing, performing and creating?

Balancing producing, performing and creating is something that I constantly negotiate. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I only just pull it off. I don’t think it is something that just falls into place. It’s hard work. I don’t mind doing the hard work as long as there are positive results. We have a small yet killer team. At the head of this team is Linda Catalano our producer, manager, dreamer and mobster. She is so very much responsible for the survival of Briefs as a show and Briefs Factory as a production company.

This show isn’t really like anything else, as the creator of the show is it scary to bring audiences something that they definitely haven’t seen before, and what are the responses like?

As the host I welcome the audience, set some house rules and then encourage the audience to let loose and to take advantage of the in-theatre bar. This can make for an electric crowd and it can also lead to a little bit of messiness. At their best the audience give a standing ovation and disco dance their way out of the show with grins that imply mischievousness. Other reactions can range from general elation, joyful disgust and spewing. Yes. A lady did a power chuck during our farewell disco number. I think the choreography set her off. That’s the worst it can get.


Fez Fa’anana is the Artistic Director and a Performer in BRIEFS at ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre from Wednesday 17 – Saturday 20 February. For more information see



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