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The Broken Heel Festival: Celebrating Priscilla Queen of the Desert

Drag performer Bam Bam tells LOTL about her favourite strap-on experience…


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The Broken Heel Festival invites road-trippers, seekers of fun, and the outrageously spectacular to visit Priscilla Queen of the Desert’s spiritual home of Broken Hill. The quirky mining town on the western edge of NSW, just 1,100km from Sydney, will be at its most glamorous during the weekend of September 11-13. The festival, which celebrates the 21st birthday of Priscilla, has announced its guest list, including Amelia Airhead with The Sydney Glitter Girls, Zackari Watt, and DJ Magnus.

Drag star Amelia Airhead is looking forward to a return to her hometown. “We can’t wait to get to Broken Hill to celebrate the 21st birthday of Priscilla. The movie was an homage to our Sydney drag scene in the early 90s and in turn, it repaid us by completely reinvigorating how drag is perceived worldwide by the mainstream– and it’s stronger than ever today. Stephen Elliot, the film’s writer and director, has done the drag world a wonderful service.”

Also on this list is the burlesque and sideshow performer, Bam Bam, hailing from Melbourne to wow crowds with a Drag King performance on the Friday night. LOTL spoke to Bam Bam – also known as Amy Broomstick, creator of GRRL Fest.

What was it like being queer and growing up? Has much changed from then to now? And how is it, being back in Broken Hill and celebrating Priscilla's 21st?

Actually it was my Father who grew up in Broken Hill. He was the son of a miner and a stay-at-home Mother, and reports that Broken Hill was a beautiful and “simple” place to grow up  (it was the 50s). My Father, whilst not queer, is an extremely flamboyant and eccentric performer. So growing up in a rural mining town had its challenges, but ultimately made him stronger.

I grew up in Wollongong; it’s a little bit backward, a little bit progressive. I had very alternative and artistic family and friends, but always felt a lot of pressure to conform to hetero-normative standards. I’m attracted to all genders, so hiding my queer side was an option for me, and we all have our ways of surviving high-school! So even though my Mum would take me to Mardi Gras, I would be made fun of at school for going, so I just kept it to myself for years. I was only really able to embrace and feel proud about being queer after high-school, when I left the hometown and found the wonderful, wild and queer communities that make you feel like you have found home. So many people in my community only “came out” years after high-school and leaving town. I suppose that says a lot!

Back to Broken Hill however, growing up we would often travel out there to visit family and explore the dusty expanses. I developed a really strong connection to Broken Hill from a young age. The faded, pastel weatherboard houses, the incredible rock sculptures outside of town, learning my first swear-word from the cockatoo at Silverton Pub, going 50m down the mine shafts with my eccentric Uncle Grayham grinning like a maniac. Most of all I remember how artistically alive the town and surrounding areas were. There is something magical in the ground out there that inspires people and draws them in.

When you are planning your performances, where do you draw inspiration from?

Mostly from life experiences; what is making me angry, excited, or passionate. I have always been quite a political person and that will often influence the art I make, even if I am the only one who knows the back-story! That’s OK. I like to leave art open to audience interpretation…

The creative community of Melbourne and around Australia constantly inspires me. Artists like Moira Finucane, Betty Grumble, and Adrienne Truscott. Seeing powerful women pushing the envelope of performance, feminism and art is crucial to the vitality of our communities and what we strive to create. I get a lot of inspiration from funny and/ or intense women.

How do you use performance to subvert the expectations of how a woman should behave on stage?

One of the things I have been trying to catch myself on lately is constantly apologising for nothing. Even though I am considered to be a confident, mature woman the words “Sorry, I’m sorry” are always slipping out of my mouth. So just being a powerful, unapologetic woman on stage in itself subverts expectations of women in general. This actually surprises me in this day and age, but it’s true.

Feminism can have so many global impacts and victories, but it is the personal, everyday subversion of gender expectations and pressures that we often directly deal with. I try to subvert this through gender exploration, grotesque sexuality and extreme feats of the body like eating glass.

I also like to tell stories through performance, stories of sleazy men, artificial women, masochism, desire, self-love. I love the idea of burlesque and drag being a form of “naked clowning”. Not just to titillate and tempt, but to achieve some sort of catharsis through laughter and tears and pure ridiculous entertainment. I don’t think I have made anyone cry though. Not yet.

What kind of response do you aim to achieve from an audience when you perform? 

It’s really up to the audience how they interpret what I do. I just hope to evoke a positive and thought-provoking response. I like to challenge people, make them squirm and ruffle some feathers. But essentially I want to translate a pretty raw and real message, but not being to serious or deliver a diatribe in the process. I want to take people on a journey if I can into a place they weren’t expecting to be.

Have there been any outstanding or even strange experiences you've had with audiences? 

Haha. Oh yes I have a favourite experience. Last year at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, I performed with The Syndicate, an act called “Candy” for a two week run. This performance involves challenging the expectation of a male-identified audience member who thinks he is receiving a salacious lap-dance, but actually he is only there for MY satisfaction. The act climaxes, if you will, with the “mark” licking cream from my glorious sparkly strap-on and hopefully going home with a kinkier attitude towards life. It’s always gone down really well…

On one particular night I simply chose the “wrong” man for the job. He was this macho bro who was really threatened and emasculated by the dynamic, and wouldn’t play along at all when shit started to get weird. By the time my strap-on came out, covered in cream, his beefy arms were folded and he was cussing at me. So I turn to the audience to offer up my sugary banquet, hoping to save an act slipping into awkward territory. And before I could say “my hero” an extremely straight-laced looking gentleman from the audience leaps up, KNEE SLIDES over to me and deep-throats it. Relishing every last bit of cream, like a good, good boy. The audience roared approval and the hostile dude-bro was left to slink off stage looking sheepish.

One of my favourite moments on stage.

Never underestimate your audience!

 

Broken Heel Festival

Date: Friday 11 – Sunday 13 September
Location: Broken Hill, NSW
Cost: Single day $65-88; 3 Day Pass GA $185 or Pensioner $156.40

Tickets are available at moshtix.com.au/v2/event/broken-heel-life-outback-is-never-a-drag/78432.

View the full program at www.bhfestival.com.  

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