Fez Fanaana aka Shivannah - An Awful Lot of Vaudeville
Red Bennies scratches the itch with the Eccentric, Eclectic and Fabulous Fez Fanaana.
When and how did your realise this was the life you were going to lead?
My father was an amazing rugby league player who left Samoa on a scholarship to a renowned college. He was the first in the history of his family to be educated in a western sense and later migrated to Australia after churning out 5 children with my exhausted mother. My father of course wanted me to follow in his footsteps of sport and academia. I did my best to do so, until I realised I wanted to perform. I particularly wanted to be a physical performer and later a gender bent performer. I was playing representative rugby league, which made it even worse for my father, when I eventually dropped out and made a transition into the performing arts.
It was while kicking a football that I realised that I wanted to be dancer. I remember my follow through after kicking the football, almost kicking myself in the head. It felt good! Definitely..
Was it a conscious decision or did it all just fall into place?
I definitely knew that I wanted to perform, or at least be a ‘show-off’ of some description. The style, content, skill and showmanship fell into place. Unlike trained performers I had to develop independently. This was not by choice but I am thankful for it now. I think it sets me apart from other dancers, drag queens, MCs, cabaret and theatre performers.
Can you explain a little about what it was like growing up in Ipswitch?
I didn’t think anything much about growing up in Ippy. I thought everyone was experiencing the same thing as me…as you do when you are a kid. I think it made me resilient, resourceful and with an alternative way of thinking. My parents struggled to move to Australia to give me family the best opportunity so we always made the most of what we had and where we were…if we didn’t we would get a fierce hiding or a stern stalking to.
Hehehehehe… I love coconut discipline.
Are you mainly self-taught?
Yes. I haven’t had any formal dance training. I begged my parents to put me in dance school but we couldn’t afford it and footy was more important. Thanks to the help of my theatre lecturer, I dropped out of my course after a year and a half. Bes Marshal was her name, and she kinda hinted heavily that I would do so much better if I were to get out there and just do it.
How young were you when you first started performing? Who did you perform for?
My mother was a traditional Samoan Drummer and she used to make us dance to traditional stuff growing up. I would always want to be a Hula dancer…but that was not what the boys did.
You have a multitude of projects and ventures under your belt. What did it begin with?
I started out with Polyoxic Dance Theatre 12 years ago. I formed the group with a cousin who had a similar up bringing, back ground and aspirations.
You are an independent artist, performer, choreographer, arts worker, host/MC, producer and an ambassador for Pacific and Indigenous culutres… Firstly, where do you find the time?
I have always wanted to do everything and I just somehow make it happen now. I have worked my ass off to generate work for a long time. Now I feel like I am reaping the rewards from blindly, confidently, earnestly and independently creating work that I believe in and that feels right on my body and in my head…even though people might think I have just thrown together what I do. It is calculated bedlam.
Secondly, what do you hope to be concentrating more on and developing more in the near future?
I am focusing on creating work as opposed to producing stuff. I love producing/orchestrating projects but I think I have loads of time to do that. I am getting on a bit so I need to focus on physically performing while I can still touch my toes! I’ve got loads of time to keep performing but I also have loads of shit that I want to do which makes me nervous and excited about the future.
I am working on a massive project with Polytoxic (polytoxiclovesyou.com) next year. It will be the largest scale work that I have done and it have just recieved a massive chunk of funding to make it happen. That is a first for the company, but it has been a long time coming..
The show is called ‘Rat Trap’ and we are working with some amazing people like collaborative director Annie Davey, Choreographer Neridah Mathieu, Designer Jonathon Oxlade, Dramaturge Katherine Kellie, and of course Polytoxic in full company mode, including Mark Winmill, Lisa Faalafi, Leah Shelton, Amanda-lyn Pearson and my Brother Natano Faanana.
How did you and Mark Winmill meet?
We met in a “bogan” pub in Brisbane. Well that is the short story. I actually approached Mark when I was dancing in a faggy dance troupe for the Queens Ball. Mark was doing aerials and I decided to grow some balls and introduce myself…he ignored me. 6 months later he introduced himself to me and I ignored him. We finally met again and decided to not ignore each other...!
How long have you been performing together
We've been together for almost 9 years. We started performing together about 4 years into the relationship. We had to make sure that we had the boundaries set and that we would not fuck the relationship up.
How would he describe you in one sentence?
Creative brat child control freak idiot friendly coconut.
How long did it take from idea to show for the Briefs Production?
‘Briefs’ was a bit of a mistake. Kinda anyway. It started as a late night Speak-Easy and Cabaret that was put together by a small collective of Brisbane based male physical performers including myself. As performers we all work as freelance and or within other companies. Briefs was a bit of a scape goat for trying out new late night naughty work and was a way for performers to let loose and experiment. This was 3 years ago. Riding off the success of these small independent nights meant that we could naturally develop the show with no pressure. It also meant that we could gradually grow the show at our own pace. That was once we established that this thing that we were doing could be a show.
You have just returned from a very successful International Tour for Briefs. Did you have a favourite Country or venue to perform in?
Edinburgh is an amazing place. The city itself is stunning and the people really got what we did.
What is your favourite Circus skill to perform? Is there anything you would like to learn how to do?
I am actually the Bearded Lady of the Circus and my skill lies more so in the world of dance and physical theatre. I am training in a few things but mainly for fun. I love foot juggling. I am keen to one day have a foot juggling act. Of course I want to do it in drag too. Foot juggle a giant lipstick….
What would you like to see for the future of performing arts / boylesque / circus in Australia?
What I would like to see in burlesque in general is the game to be lifted so it can be considered in the realm of theatre, opera, ballet etc. I would like to see more skill incorporated into burlesque like it has in the past. It bores me that there is a very simplified reinvention of burlesque that only pays homage to the beauty but forgets about the potential for political bite, clowning and for the chance to really dance and physically celebrate the form and what the body can do.
I look forward to seeing what happens with circus in the near future in Australia. I think we are feeling a new movement after the franchising of circus through institutions. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Places like NICA have produced some of the foremost leading international circus artists. There just seems to be a little gap at the moment and it feels like the institutionalization of circus is still finding its feet.
What recommendations could you give to those people out there who want to get into performing arts?
Make it happen by any means. Be resourceful. Be open to criticism. Don’t make excuses for mediocrity. Be prepared to make mistakes. Be prepared to lay your creativity out for people to judge, but also be solid and confident about what you can do, what you want to do and what you want to sa
What did you enjoy about performing at Red Bennies last year?
The world of Red Bennies is a fresh and inviting one. I recently posted my opinion of Red Bennies on facecrack, which probably sums it up.
Red Bennies is not a step back into the old world of the early 20th century; it does not just recreate an era of Vaudeville, Circus or Burlesque. It is by far no means a Speak-Easy or watering hole or claims to be, which entertained the varied classes from the middle class to the troupes. No. It is a club that pays homage to all of the above bringing a cocktail of shit hot up and coming performers onto the Australian club scene with a creed dedicated to style, urbanity & panache.
“From the beginning of recorded history, variety entertainment has flourished wherever the common people gather.” – someone smart
Without giving too much away, what can the audience expect from your performance at Red Bennies? Why should people come to see An Awful Lot of Vaudeville?
I am challenging myself as an MC to work more towards Stand Up. I think drag has an interesting culture of engaging with an audience. I want to push that world a bit and fuck around with it. Stand up is such a white male world and I want there to be room for an Immigrant Bearded Tranny.