Feature, By Travis de Jonk, 2nd September, 2009
Anyone who has ever met Mzzz Erin Tasmania will tell you this: She’s totally fabulous. Colourful, witty and tongue in cheek, Tasmania is the instigator of infamous alternative party madness that is Gay Shame. And now this party ”˜Tour de force’ is taking us back to the bathouse, Bette Midler style in her new show at a gay men’s sauna.
When we chat for this interview, Tasmania has just gotten back from the gym, where she’s been getting fit in the lead up to the rehearsal and set up for upcoming shows and parties that she’s involved in.
“I love that feeling when you finish your workout. At the beginning”¦ before the workout, it’s all tough and daunting. You search yourself for the enthusiasm and energy. At the end, you’re on top of the mountain and it feels amazing!”
Erin Tasmania has come a long way from her roots in Mount Isa, Pun intended. As soon as she could, she left Australia in search of adventure: “I just had to just get the fuck out” she said. She landed in Europe. Specifically, London and Amsterdam where she lived for a number of years, temping by day and running events by night. It’s where she cut her teeth on the candy cane of fabulousness. She notices that my last name is Dutch and from then on calls me Meneer de Jonk as she answers my questions.
Tasmania started Gay Shame parties a little over two years ago, shortly after she arrived back in Melbourne. When she first got back, she ventured out to find something fun, queer and alternative. But where was all the fabulousness? Where were all the people who played dress ups and that knew how to have fun with fashion and style?
“I went to a few clubs and bars when I first got back. It was alright I suppose but I just wasn’t feeling it. I went to Q+A (Queer and Alternative) at _A Bar Called Barry’s_”¦ all I really found was a lot of students in Lonsdale shirts. Where was all the fun fashion, crazy cool hair, people who were dressing up and having fun? I wondered where Melbourne’s alternative scene had gone.” Says Tasmania.
“ I was hanging out at the Glasshouse Hotel at one point and I looked around the room. There were a few guys there wearing eyeliner with really cool hair. I instantly gravitated towards them. I said we’ve all got cool hair”¦ lets be friends! [laughs]. At that point I realised that there must be more out there like me”¦. Like us, who wanna party and play dressups and have fun and dance”¦you know”¦ That’s why I started Gay Shame.”
Gay Shame initially had it’s home at the Laundry, but it wasn’t till it took over the Glasshouse Hotel that it became a phenomenon. ”˜Gay Shame ”“ Reclaim the shame!’ all it’s posters cried out with cheeky low tech irony. Right from the beginning, Tasmania pushed the party’s dress up element, by creating fun themes and leading by example. Gay Shame’s ”˜Kylie Minogue Tribute’ theme however really put the party on the map.
“We were getting good crowds anyway, but the Kylie Minogue night was out of control”¦ all these people came along who I’d never seen before. And low an behold! They were all dressed up and fabulous. It was so crowded”¦ and it has been ever since!” explains Tasmania.
In addition to her Gay Shame legacy, Erin Tasmania is now taking on a different project. Bette Midler’s performances in the 70’s at Gay Men’s bathouses were revolutionary and a large part of what made her so successful. Inspired by Bette’s infamous performances, Tasmania is taking Melbourne audiences Back to The Bathouse in her brand spanking new show at Melbourne’s Wet On Wellington; A Gay Men’s sex on site sauna. Along with her fabulous boy dancers the ”˜Faggettes’ she will sing and dance and take audiences on an intimate journey, cabaret style.
There’s something ”˜real’ and ”˜authentic’ about what she is creating. The images promoting the show are sensational and instantly flash back to Bette Midler back in the 70’s. And add to that, the arrangements for the show were created by one of the key musicians who worked with Bette during her Australian tour. What she is doing is a bit of a first for Melbourne.
“Bette was and is amazing”¦ I’m not trying to be her or anything. I was just really inspired by her and what she created. It was such fun and totally something I felt I wanted to do, but my way. I love gay men, I love dressing up and performing”¦ it feels really natural. I think Melbourne is ready, and if it’s not it better get ready!” laughs Tasmania.
She’s certainly getting herself ready for the incredible amount of work that has to be done. In between going to the gym to get more fit, a grueling schedule of rehearsals for Back to the Bathouse and running a popular alternative party, you would imagine that she doesn’t have a lot of time for anything else. And you’d be right. Aside from the occasional voice over work and occasional temping work, she doesn’t currently have full time employment.
“I just can’t do ”˜9 to 5’, it’s not me and it never will be. It’s not that I think less of it, it’s just not right for me. I’ve tried it many times, and the thing that has become apparent is that I’d rather have ”˜less’ than do that. When you’re capable and creative, the whole ”˜9 to 5’ thing can be soul destroying. There’s more out there. I’ve got a lot to give, and I’m making things happen. I’m just about finding my own way to give it, you know?
“These days it’s all about having your ipod and iphones, having disposable income. But what’s the cost of that for your life? Sure you might have lots of money, but are you really happy? I’ve learned how fulfilling it is when you follow your heart. I’ve learned how little it takes to have a great life.”
The next Gay Shame is Friday 4 September at the Glasshouse and features an awesome DJ set by electro fag Bobby I. Full details here.
Back To The Bathouse is on from 10 ”“ 27th September at Wet On Wellington (Thursdays) and Madam Brussles (Fri & Sat). Full details here.