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Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS - In­ter­view/ Britt Mann Pho­to­graph/ Ai­tor San­tomé

Mark Win­mill, 43, and Fez Fa’anana, 39, are per­form­ers in The Briefs Fac­tory, an Aus­tralian cre­ative col­lec­tive who com­bine cir­cus, drag, bur­lesque and cabaret in shows per­formed around the world. The cou­ple, who live in ru­ral New South Wales when they’re not tour­ing, per­form their new show,

Close En­coun­ters, in Auck­land this month.

FEZ/ Mark and I first crossed paths at a gig in Bris­bane at the Queen’s Ball. He was do­ing aerial and I was a back-up dancer for a drag queen. I went and in­tro­duced my­self and he to­tally ig­nored me.

He was stupidly hand­some, stupidly fit, and cov­ered in tat­toos. And he was do­ing a trapeze num­ber. I thought: “That hu­man is amaz­ing.”

A cou­ple of months later, he tried to in­tro­duce him­self and I wasn’t hav­ing it be­cause he’d em­bar­rassed me. So I ig­nored him. We ended up be­ing thrown to­gether at a ta­ble at a pub in Bris­bane and we buried the hatchet and started again. That was 16 years ago, in April.

Once we got over be­ing stand-off­ish gays, we did a lot of court­ing; we took each other out on a lot of dates – we were quite ro­man­tic about it. We were always try­ing to fig­ure out cost-ef­fec­tive ro­man­tic cute ways to meet up.

The Briefs Fac­tory is this crazy il­le­git­i­mate child of ours we dreamed up. It came out of a string of par­ties we were throw­ing in Bris­bane. In the show, I’m the lovechild of the bearded lady and the ring­mas­ter. I host the show, and per­form as well. Mark is a hula-hoop­ing drag queen aeri­al­ist ac­ro­bat. His char­ac­ter – Nadja Cu­mi­natcha – is a crazy Euro­trash, Euro­vi­sion, Ibiza party drag queen. She cracks me up.

I came from a the­atre back­ground in high school, mixed with a bit of rugby league. I have Samoan par­ents; I was born in Porirua, and brought up in Aus­tralia – I was 6 when we moved.

Mark is very charis­matic and very staunch. He likes to suss out a char­ac­ter be­fore en­gag­ing fully. He’s su­per gen­er­ous, su­per car­ing and very pro­tec­tive.

We spend about nine months of the year trav­el­ling and we have a lit­tle paradise patch in the mid­dle of nowhere in north­ern New South Wales. Aside from our chil­dren – the dogs – we’ve got some goats. Mark is very much a green thumb and an­i­mal per­son. If he wasn’t run­ning around as a crazy drag queen, he’d be car­ing for an­i­mals and sav­ing the world, one tree at a time.

I’m the boss lady, par­tic­u­larly on the ground. Longterm re­la­tion­ships are hard to man­age even when you’re not tour­ing – we still butt heads quite fre­quently. Mark’s got a re­ally level head, while I get caught up in the crazi­ness. We de­cided early on to have a re­ally pos­i­tive man­ner talk­ing about things. The big­gest thing for us is manag­ing how we com­mu­ni­cate pro­fes­sion­ally.

He man­ages our per­sonal time. If I’m work­ing non-stop on a pro­posal, he’ll say: “OK, you’re clos­ing your lap­top. We’ve got five hours to­gether – we’re go­ing on a date.” MARK/ I’d just fin­ished per­form­ing and work­ing over­seas, and I’d been back in Bris­bane for maybe a month. I’d just started to scout for my own solo work as a trapeze artist. We met at the Queen’s Ball. He was danc­ing with the troupe and I was rig­ging my trapeze...

We met prop­erly maybe a week or so later through a mu­tual friend. There was a def­i­nite court­ing period.

The company was ini­tially me and Fez’s brother, we were both cir­cus per­form­ers and talk­ing about stag­ing an all-male cabaret show. Fez was re­ally into it, he be­came the MC. It all took off from there.

My fa­ther, in the 60s, was an ac­ro­batic clown on the cir­cuit in Aus­tralia and New Zealand; a lit­tle bit in Asia. He started with a tra­di­tional cir­cus and then formed an ac­ro­batic duo. He taught me how to tum­ble, when I was about 8. It was 20 years later I started with the cir­cus. I always wanted to be a vet.

My par­ents said it’d be hard work – I was a lit­tle bit older than most people when they start. I was like: “That’s al­right, I want to give it a go.” Even­tu­ally they saw what I was do­ing and how much we travel and work, and they’ve been so sup­port­ive. They’re big fans. They’ve got a wall of fame in the house.

We live on this beau­ti­ful prop­erty with my par­ents and my brother – it’s 20 acres. I’ve been ad­dicted to gar­den­ing since I was lit­tle, mainly re­gen­er­at­ing na­tive trees.

With tour life, you’re con­stantly “on” and en­ter­tain­ing; the bal­ance is great. We make sure if we have two days off we’ll do a ro­man­tic es­cape to a city we haven’t been to.

We’re best friends. That’s not to say we don’t have crazy fights and ar­gu­ments. But that’s nor­mal.

Fez is very smart and po­lit­i­cally driven and within the show, he’ll bring up top­ics that are cur­rent – not too heavy – but chal­leng­ing to the au­di­ence. In Lon­don we did a show ded­i­cated to sup­port­ing the marriage equal­ity cam­paign in Aus­tralia. Be­cause we were so far away from home, it was a way for us to be part of that. Aus­tralia just needs to wake up.

We don’t par­tic­u­larly feel like we want to or need to get mar­ried, but we’re all about the free­dom of choice. Maybe one day we might get mar­ried in Ve­gas. BRIEFS Close En­coun­ters, Novem­ber 21-De­cem­ber 9, Q The­atre, Auck­land. Book at qthe­atre.co.nz/ briefs2017.

“If he wasn’t run­ning around as a crazy drag queen, he’d be car­ing for an­i­mals and sav­ing the world, one tree at a time.”

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