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.”