Queering the Circus and Beyond with Briefs Factory Collective

Circus News

Queering the Circus and Beyond with Briefs Factory Collective

Briefs Factory is an Australian creative collective who manufacture, cultivate and present evocative, irreverent, physical performance. Inspired by circus, drag, dance, burlesque, music, comedy and the ever changing world around them, Briefs Factory are dedicated to developing and touring their brand of award winning, genre defying, political party punk around the world. Learn more about Briefs in this interview between our Community Manager, Em Holt, and Briefs Factory ensemble member, Dylan Rodriguez.
Serenity | Dylan Rodriguez

For this Q&A, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Dylan Rodriguez, drag name Serenity. Dylan is a dynamic circus and performance artist with diverse and unique skills. Both contemporary and commercial, he has a skillset which spans from renowned drag performances and cabaret to contemporary circus.

Serenity (the cult-figure alter ego of Dylan Rodriguez) performs death-defying acrobatics and jaw dropping stunts in stilettos. Most known for his work in the cabaret and club scene and for his extensive touring with Briefs Factory (Dirty Laundry, Club Briefs, Bite Club: 2nd Serve and Brat Kids Carnival).

Dylan graduated from NICA with a Bachelor of Circus Arts, and has Directed and Produced shows (At the Last Gasp & Concrete) – Winning “Best New Original Circus” in Melbourne Fringe 2013. Since graduating Dylan has entertained crowds around the world, performing in a huge variety of shows and productions; Radio Forth Gala at Edinburgh Fringe, Celebrity Cruises (Carribbean), The Slipper Room (NYC), Gente Feesten (Belgium), CIRCA & Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Beethoven 9 at Hamer Hall and recently Reykjavik Kabarett (Iceland) to name a few.

What excited me the most about Briefs is the dare to be any and all of what the entertainment world and beyond has to offer. The multidisciplinarity of the productions is something we at CircusTalk have been noticing elsewhere within our evolving industry. Circus performers are no longer contained to traditional or contemporary boxes. Circus is expanding, circus is blending, circus is everywhere. Briefs is a trailblazer in this multidisciplinary balance and we hope others will continue to push the boundaries of where circus can go.

Briefs is also doing important work by creating, casting, and touring productions that not only represent, but advocate and celebrate queerness on stage. The cast is described as a “balance of representation, which is reflected in the work.So, unintentionally this company represents a spectrum of individuals often described as marginalized. Giving more depth, voice and narrative to the characters in a 90’s Benetton ad campaign.” Stated so simply, Briefs’ existence is innately powerful because it simply exists. Briefs is a beacon of queer art, and as a queer circus artist myself, it makes my heart swell to see Briefs tour the world and know that someone in the audience will feel seen and celebrated for exactly who they are.

Em (E): What is the “why,” or the mission of Briefs and how does it manifest on and off stage?

Dylan (D): Briefs is essentially a big queer family, on and off stage. We create a safe and inclusive space wherever we go. Briefs operates under a “read the room” mentality. Without prejudice, our invitation extends beyond any individual specifics.

(E): What kind of performers are in Briefs?

(D): We have a real picnic basket full of performers. Each one of us brings something niche and special to the picnic blanket, together forming the unique flavor of Briefs.

We have a solid foundation of talented circus and sideshow performers in Briefs. The kind of performers we have are all essentially multidisciplinary, whilst being strong soloists. We all work together as an ensemble and as the show goes on, individual specialties are revealed. Some of us are aerialists, burlesque stars, dancers, acrobatic drag queens, jugglers, magicians and elite strippers (amongst many other things).

We all collaborate and work tirelessly to bring our skill sets and ideas together to generate the one-of-a-kind performances that are loved all over the world.

(E): Marrying circus, drag, burlesque, comedy, and so much more – how does this multidisciplinarity strengthen the productions?

(D): I think the nature of having such a variety of skills and disciplines all in one show gives for an unpredictable and ‘sitting on the edge of your seat’ experience, as you truly do not know what’s coming next. The tried and tested formulas of how Briefs shows are structured is specific; there are strategic highs and lows, the feel and palate of each act considered and placed accordingly. The disciplines of circus, burlesque and drag are not exclusive of each other and in Briefs are fused together, to give an experience that’s truly in a class of its own.

There really is something for everyone at a Briefs show – Whether it’s your first drag show or you’re a seasoned queen. Entry level or veteran.

(E): What is it like being a trailblazer for queer art, representation and celebration and what is it like sharing that on stages around the world?

(D): Being able to tour the world and connect with artists from all over is truly a gift and an insightful experience. I find it immensely interesting how circus scenes and queer scenes from all over the world develop and thrive no matter where you go, despite a unique set of challenges and difficulties. And to be honest, it’s so great to see how at the core, we all have the same brilliant and creative communities that set the pace for boundary pushing and cutting edge art.

What’s also incredibly significant is that despite language barriers and cultural differences, the work we do translates. Briefs’ success is partially owed to the fact that people from all over the world come to our shows, resonate with the work on a real level, have the night of their lives, and then proceed to return to the show. We call them repeat offenders.

(E): Where would you say Briefs fits into the grand performing arts scheme?

(D): Briefs doesn’t fit in – to put it simply. Categorizing a company is usually only possible if it can be measured to something else that already exists. Historically whenever something doesn’t fit in, it creates its own genre.

The DNA of a Briefs performance is underground, queer and unapologetic. We bring our work to mainstream theaters and festivals and showcase to audiences that wouldn’t normally see the kind of work we create.

(E): Why is Briefs important?

(D): I’ve said before, Briefs is group therapy for queer people. A safe, inclusive space that creates a community where you’re free to laugh, party with us and be yourself, and perhaps an educational experience for straight people.

Touring our kids show “BRAT KIDZ CARNIVAL” has been honestly one of the most fulfilling experiences. Queer theater for kids and teens is so profound and important. When you’re trying to navigate youth and discover yourself along the way, having reference points is, I believe, fundamental for developing confidence and a sense of self. Our show gives young people an opportunity to gain a reference point; seeing queer adults not only sitting and thriving in their queerness but being celebrated on stage for it.

I myself wish that when I was a young teen, I could have witnessed our kids show, learning about drag firsthand and seeing queer boys take to the stage and deliver incredible circus acts would have been a game changer.

One moment in particular sticks out in my mind. During post-show we often go into the theater foyer for photos with the audience. After one of the shows on our Scandic tour, a teen boy came running up to us, exclaiming that he had just come out to his dad and that it was “the best day of his life”. I remember tears streaming down his face and him insisting on giving us all hugs. It’s moments like this that really make you appreciate the power and importance of what we are doing.

Photos courtesy of Lachlan Douglas @somefx and Ven Tithing

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Em Holt
Burlesque Dancer, Acrobat, Community Manager -UNITED STATES
Em Holt (they/she/he) is a genderfluid mover, burlesque dancer, drag performer and acrobat based in Florida, US. With a background in high level competitive gymnastics, circus arts and multidisciplinary dance, their diverse capabilities allow them to meet a variety of physical requirements and personas on stage.

These days, Em independently travels and tours the US as burlesque and circus bombshell, Karma Carnelian. Karma's performance style seamlessly blends classic and neo burlesque choreography with dynamic acrobatic chair and floor work. Karma has performed coast to coast, from the Hubba Hubba Revue in San Francisco, CA, to the House of Blues in Chicago, IL, to countless productions in their home state.

Em received their BA in Advertising in 2019 and MS in Integrated Marketing in 2021 from Florida State University, where they also performed teeterboard, flying, swinging and double trapeze in The FSU Flying High Circus from 2016-2020. Em first joined CircusTalk first as a journalism intern in 2020, and currently serves as the team's Community Manager, creating written and digital content for the site, and managing the companies' social media channels.

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Em Holt

Em Holt (they/she/he) is a genderfluid mover, burlesque dancer, drag performer and acrobat based in Florida, US. With a background in high level competitive gymnastics, circus arts and multidisciplinary dance, their diverse capabilities allow them to meet a variety of physical requirements and personas on stage. These days, Em independently travels and tours the US as burlesque and circus bombshell, Karma Carnelian. Karma's performance style seamlessly blends classic and neo burlesque choreography with dynamic acrobatic chair and floor work. Karma has performed coast to coast, from the Hubba Hubba Revue in San Francisco, CA, to the House of Blues in Chicago, IL, to countless productions in their home state. Em received their BA in Advertising in 2019 and MS in Integrated Marketing in 2021 from Florida State University, where they also performed teeterboard, flying, swinging and double trapeze in The FSU Flying High Circus from 2016-2020. Em first joined CircusTalk first as a journalism intern in 2020, and currently serves as the team's Community Manager, creating written and digital content for the site, and managing the companies' social media channels.