In Conversation with Flesh Coloured Panties Productions

 Photo by Jeeves

Photo by Jeeves

When you like your men like you like your women, or are attracted to more than one gender… sometimes people need a little clarification. And if you’re Annabel Larcombe, Erin Pattison and Samantha Andrew, you might decide to give that clarification in the form of a musical cabaret extravaganza, brilliantly titled Baby Bi Bi Bi, at the Melbourne Fringe Festival. We sat down with the team known as Flesh Coloured Panties Productions to chat about the creative process, authenticity, and whether or not putting on a musical is the best way to come out to your parents.

What do you feel your Flesh Coloured Panties mission statement is? And aside from yourselves as writers and performers, who else is in your team?

E: Our mission statement is, at the heart of it, to create the theatre that we wanted to see. [There] was a big gap in the market, and that gap was things with a strong female presence behind the scenes and on stage, and queer representation as well – queer representation that wasn't token. 

A: We all went to uni together - Sam did the music composition course at VCA, Erin and I both did the Performance and Acting Course.  Brynna Lowen is our costume [and set] designer, Libby Gilbert is our stage manager, and Racheal Lee is our lighting designer. We met them all through uni and connected over projects that we were assigned together. We just loved working with them, we thought they were so strong, and had such a unique take on their individual elements so we kept them on in the process. 

Together you have written a cabaret musical about bisexuality – how does one go about that process?

A: It started with me and Erin in a pub, just bantering about being bi and the things we found funny about it. We thought "We should make a show about that!" We both love singing, so we're like, “Let's get some music involved - Sam, get on board!" We had a caeser salad for dinner, bought a bottle of red and sat around a table just laughing about it, and from that, pretty much all the songs were born.

E: It was super autobiographical and really organic - we kept locking ourselves in rehearsal rooms with pianos, started with one joke that would then turn into an entire song and find its place in the show. 

Do you think this is a story or a show that could be told in any other medium?

E: I personally think that it's a story that is so under-explored, that we had so much opportunity to tell it in any medium we wanted. We had a lot of conversations about the fact that music gives you opportunity to take your audience to such a heightened place, so quickly. So I think, if we had have done it as a straight play or on film, there would have had to be a lot more of a slow progression of the audience getting to know us, of coming on that journey with us. But with a song, you hit one chord on a piano, strike a pose and the audience is so there with you – they understand where this story is, and where this moment is taking place.

S: I think there are these genre gateways where we get your non-classic theatre crowds in. We have some pieces in the show that are inspired by artists that I'm sure many people listen to –we have a Destiny's Child-style piece, and I remember when I was telling a lot of my non-theatre friends about the show, they heard Destiny's Child and they were there with me. Even though they might not identify as queer, they're like "Oh, that's my way in. That's my way of not feeling isolated, because I know Destiny's Child.”

E: I don't want to call it a stigma, but I think there's a slight weight to the term "Queer Theatre". It does come with its own certain set of baggage because it's a community that hasn't had a voice for so long, [so] a lot of the content they're producing is tackling some really heavy, deep issues which are entrenched in the community and in that queer experience. We wanted to remind people that our stories were very personal, but they're also super accessible. 

A: It's a story about love and acceptance, and everyone can relate to that. Everyone wants to be accepted, everyone wants to be loved, and I think that's what the show is at the heart of it. Whether you're queer or not, everyone can identify with that.

 Image by Jack Dixon-Gunn

Image by Jack Dixon-Gunn

Your show is about giving representation to the bisexual experience – where were you able to seek out that representation in the past?

S: I'm a huge music theatre fan and I’d grown up listening to a lot of love ballads in musical theatre songs – really beautiful, flourishing, gushy declarations of love, and most of the time they were a girl singing about a guy or a guy singing about a girl, so I didn't feel like I fully identified with that. And then I heard Fun Home the musical, and I heard the song 'Changing My Major', which is one lead woman singing about this other lead woman that stayed the night over in her college dorm and she's falling in love with her. I was like "Wow!" Just hearing a song in a style I adore so much, in a genre or art form that I am obsessed with, which is music theatre – that was a big moment for me.

How do you navigate representing marginalised groups in Baby Bi Bi Bi?

E: There was originally a piece in the show called ‘An Ode to the Bisexual Man’ but it did feel a little bit out of place in the piece. We had to sit down and have a conversation [about how] we cannot tell everyone's story. We can't speak to the experience of someone in poverty and queerness, we can't speak to the experience of a woman of colour and queerness, we can't speak to a generational experience. And if it's not our experience, we'd also probably get a lot of things wrong!

A: Yeah, because it's really inauthentic if we talk about someone else's experience, whereas we can talk about ours, so detailed and so specifically. [Marginalised groups] need the space to talk about their stories, not just us three white women trying to talk about everyone's stories together. 

The show also deals with the idea of coming out – how was that experience for you folks?

A: I think I'm definitely the most “closeted” one in the group, because I came out opening night of the show – my parents came and saw it! So that was my coming out story, very recent. As it got closer to the show, I realised more and more, the reason I wasn't telling them was because I was scared. Even though I knew they would be accepting, what if they suddenly weren't? So I just thought, trial by fire – if they see the show, I feel like that will speak better than I ever would be able to articulate myself [otherwise]. And they saw the show and they were so proud and they loved it! I think because you just have to sit and listen for an hour, people come out with the full perspective.

Would you recommend everyone put on a musical to come out?

A: I recommend it mostly because I didn't have to look at them while I was coming out! [They were] sitting in darkness, and I was in a nice dress feeling confident, so it was good!

 Image by Jack Dixon-Gunn

Image by Jack Dixon-Gunn

What are some of the attitudes around bisexuality that you want to challenge with this show?

A: That it's really hot. It's not hot, it's the same as every other couple – it's just as awkward and just as real. I have dated quite a lot of straight men, and there's a song about it in the show, about when I come out to each of them – "That's really hot." "So threesomes are on the table now?" And it's just like; “Ah, nah!” It's not this hot, fetish-y thing, it's just real. 

S: It's also not a gateway or a testing ground being in-between identifying as straight or gay - you're not [just] trying stuff out.

E: Yep, totally agree! The ultimate goal was to just normalise bisexuality. Like, the person that I'm going to get angry at for not making the bed is sometimes a woman!

And now we have some questions that we like to ask everyone at her words – who are some of your heroes?

A: Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj are just two of the most inspiring, hardworking people. You look at Beyoncé, the amount of hours she puts in every day for her craft - it's two hours every day minimum, running on a treadmill and singing. Waking up and doing that before eating breakfast! It is mind blowing how hard some people can work, I love that. 

S: Friends that have just allowed me to fully be myself without fear of judgement. I think that's a really really big one - people with open hearts and open minds. And then of course any female composer crushing it in the composing game. I love Missy Higgins, she is just so fantastic! Also Sarah Barellies who is an amazing composer who wrote Waitress the musical, and Kate Miller-Heidke – they’re people I'd love to be. 

E: I think at the moment a lot of my heroes are all the women who are working together. The partnership of Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer from Broad City – two women who just bloody support each other, and it's so great! They both had that frustration of not seeing themselves represented, so they decided “we’ll make the content ourselves”. And as I think an extension of that, in a very similar way, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are killing it. Women in comedy always really inspire me because it's not an easy slog; it's really hard to find a place as a woman in comedy. 

What advice would you give your younger self?

A: I'm very loud, and [sometimes] you feel other people looking at you or talking about you, and you can feel yourself get small and crushed. And you stop doing what you're doing or having fun, and you just sit for a little bit quietly. So [I’d tell myself] whenever you feel that feeling, push through, be louder, be more. So that those people know that it's not their place to crush other people. Whenever you feel that feeling, push the walls out, make sure they know that this isn't just their space, there's a space for every kind of person. 

E: I think just back yourself and sell it! I think as cliched as it is, there's a huge truth in "Fake it ‘till you make it" because if you back yourself and keep walking through the world with that level of confidence, eventually everyone else will cotton on and start treating you like that too. 

S: Don’t squash the theatrical and humorous part of your personality. Even in settings that are more serious. The best music I have ever written, is stuff where I love the sound of it, and I've written it for me. And that sounds quite selfish, but if I love the sound of it, and I think it's enjoyable, often [other] people do too. 

 Photo by Jeeves

Photo by Jeeves

What is one thing every person can do to create a more equal society in Australia and beyond? Or what's one thing everyone can do to make their corner of the world better and safer?

E: Divert to people who know more about the experience than you. Listen, and assume that if a woman is talking to you about feminism, or a person of colour is talking to you about race politics, assume that they know what they're talking about.

S: Don't make assumptions on gender or sexuality, just try and use as many open pronouns and language and talking to people. Don't say "Your boyfriend" or "your girlfriend", say "partner" – anything that you can to make more people feel included. 

A: Whatever your current political opinions are, try and prove them wrong - research them and try and prove them wrong. Even if yours are ostensibly the right opinions, you probably could learn something from understanding the other side. 

S: And admit when you don't know, and ask questions. I think more people are open to answer these questions than you think. 

E: "I don't know" and "I was wrong" are not dirty words.

Thank you so much for sharing your time, humour and caeser salad with us FCP! If you want more from Flesh Coloured Panties Productions, make sure to check out Baby Bi Bi Bi at the Butterfly Club from September 17th - 23rd during Melbourne Fringe – or, you can keep up with them on Facebook and Instagram. Keep an eye out for these ladies, because this won’t be the last you hear from Flesh Coloured Panties Productions.

Domini Marshall