Shoot The Sissy

Nando Messias’ powerful theatre piece The Sissy’s Progress drew on the artist’s own experience of a homophobic attack and was one of the most profound things I have ever seen. Stunning, emotive, challenging; Nando is a compelling performer producing essential queer work. His new show Shoot The Sissy continues to confront homophobic violence and living visibly queer. Corinna Tomrley spoke to him about the piece.

Your work is confrontational, beautiful, moving and empowering but you dont shy away from the real lived pain of being queer in a homophobic world. Why do you think it is important to address queer violence through your art?
Confrontation, beauty, emotion and empowerment are things I hope to evoke in an audience when creating work so I feel flattered to have you describe it like that. As a subject, queer violence is important but I don’t see addressing it as a choice. Dealing with it is, rather, a responsibility, a moral duty for me. That is not to say that speaking of violence is an easy endeavour. It isn’t. By no means. Looking at violence can be quite painful at times, especially when I am so deeply ensnared in its mechanisms. What moves me to develop new work is a sense that I have something to say about queer violence, perhaps some insider information that might give insight to others who, like me, are its captives or to those who are not necessarily targets of violence but who are, nevertheless, committed to fighting against it or ameliorating its destructive effects. Shying away from this lived pain is, again, not a choice. I feel lucky to have the creative and artistic tools that I have. They allow me to face the negative aspects of living as a queer person with enough critical distance to be able to transform them into something productive and, hopefully, even beautiful.

Nando Messias: The Sissy's Progress17.3.16

©Richard Eaton 07778 395888
Nando Messias: The Sissy’s Progress Image by Richard Eaton ©Richard Eaton 07778 395888

The Sissys Progress was one of the most powerful pieces of theatre Ive ever seen. With Shoot The Sissy you are further exploring the idea of the vulnerable queer body. Will we see The Sissy in more works in the future?
I’m glad you enjoyed it! And, yes, Shoot the Sissy also explores the vulnerability of the queer body. Whereas in The Sissy’s Progress I was making a public statement about visibility and ownership of my own body by reclaiming my space on the streets, with Shoot the Sissy the mood is more introspective. It began with a series of questions: Am I a freak? What makes me a freak? What are the ideological similarities between ‘queer’ and ‘freak’? Can I use this alliance between queer and freak as a theatrical ruse to explore questions of vulnerability, visibility, ridicule, spectacle? Why do people stare at me? As a performer, do I like being stared at? Can I make it stop when it gets too much or too dangerous? I was aware that the freak show was a delicate subject so I approached it with caution. This I did by trying to remain true to my own story, hoping that what is deeply personal becomes, when placed in front of an audience, universal and therefore effective in ways that I cannot predict. Shoot the Sissy is the third in a series of performances with the word Sissy in the title. The first one was simply Sissy! (sic, with an exclamation mark, like a shouted insult). In it, I developed a duet in collaboration with Biño Sauitzvy where my effeminate body became even more so in contrast with his more masculine, muscular one. The second was The Sissy’s Progress, which you’ve seen and now we have Shoot the Sissy. My intention is to continue developing work based on the Sissy but of course my understanding of Sissy is also changing.


Youre not afraid to make the audience uncomfortable in presenting how it feels to live queer and visible in a hostile society. I kept expecting you to fight back in The Sissy’s Progress. It’s a very Brechtian approach not to allow the audience that catharsis, and therefore has its own active power, doesnt it?
 I feel I would be doing myself a disservice if I held back on the representation of some of those issues. The point of the piece was to expose the daily abuse suffered by queer subjects. My efforts to go out onto the streets in a ball gown and with marching band in tow paid off in the end. The work activated the kind of dynamic I wanted the audience to witness. Various things were hurled at me during the parade section: from insults to threats to tins of energy drink. In a way, the performance simply framed what is already out there on the streets but remains hidden to most or unseen. I also wanted to avoid the ‘me against them’ discourse. This is perhaps why I chose not to fight back. I wanted the audience to find a resolution to this story for themselves without me steering their opinion in one direction. The hope is that the work then becomes multi-layered in meaning. I was also careful not to romanticise this terrible attack that happened to me by creating a happy ending narrative because, sadly, the reality is that it doesn’t always end well.

Who are some of your favourite sissies?
NM: Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde, Truman Capote, Noël Coward, Cecil Beaton, James Baldwin, Oliver Button…

I love the idea of the freak show element to Shoot The Sissy. We are enfreakened as otherby straight society, but to own freakis very powerful. Will you play with this in the performance?
Yes, I do. Shoot the Sissy was directly inspired by the sideshow attraction, Shoot the Freak, where a carnival barker invites passersby to shoot a human target by using paintball guns. I was also thrust into action by the Orlando shootings of June 2016, where 49 queer people lost their lives and another 53 were wounded in a mass terrorist attack/hate crime. I had just finished a tour of a piece that questioned the conditions under which queer people live when this happened. I felt that there was work yet to be done. In researching the subject of freak shows, I connected with this idea of a theatricalised, exaggerated version of difference that is presented to the audience. Freaks often invented a highly elaborate biography to heighten their otherness in the eyes of an audience. They used costumes, props, music and other theatrical elements to construct an artificial image. This created a context where real life and imagined life began to blur. All this artifice transformed their real bodies into a spectacle, an invitation for the audience to gaze. I wondered if the fascination to stare at the body of the other, which these shows promoted, was in certain ways a form of asserting one’s own ‘normality.’ Perhaps that is what is going on when I am stared at on the streets: men and women gawk, point at and ridicule me because that is their way of trying to prove to themselves that they are normal, cis-gendered and therefore not sissies like me.

Shoot The Sissy is at Chelsea Theatre 18th and 19th October 

Main image by Holly Revell 

In Praise of Big Thighs

By Corinna There’sthunderinthesethighs Tomrley 

I’ll come clean. I am a big fan of T&A. Thighs & Ass, that is. Now before I get accused of objectifying women and breaking them down to mere body parts let me tell you, I myself have rather magnificent T&A and there’s a correlation between that fact and my attraction to big ole chunky thighs and a massive butt.


So, what I’m basically saying is this objectifying is all about self-love. And yeah, that’s tinged with a lil narcissism, I’ll own it. However, as much as there is such a thing as fandom of large T&A, we are, of course, often told that we should desire smaller bodies on the whole. So I do think of this preference as political, too.

Besides, who said anything about just women? People of all genders can have head-turning, heart-stopping T&A. Just look at Prince Fielder.


We’re in an age of pro-booty. Beyoncé, Nicki, Kim etc. And I will not get into any kind of body bashing or discussions of ‘thigh-gaps’ or one body type being preferable to another. There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bodies. All types are valid, all types are appreciated by different people. And I’m not just a fan of the fat body. I’m a fan of many types of bodies. I just happen to have a penchant (read, weakness) for substantially sized T&A.


Our American cousins describe bigger bodies as ‘thick’. For us over in the UK, the descriptor doesn’t quite work because we use ‘thick’ to mean stupid. But if we forget that for a second (just as we should forget what ‘fanny’ means to us because it is such a great word for ass), I actually really like ‘thick’ as a descriptor.


I used to be all about fat. I will still use fat to describe myself over any other word. And people will go, ‘oh, no, don’t, you’re not’ because they don’t know that I use fat both as a neutral descriptor of my body size and shape and as a positive reclaimed word. And sometimes when I explain that they still don’t understand, so ingrained is the negativity of fat in our heads. I’m not wanting or expecting to be placated into being told I’m not actually fat, I’m just curvy, it’s just my big tits… no. I am fat, people, and I’m super ok with that. Anyone who isn’t, that’s your problem, it really is not mine and I do not care what you think.

So, fat is a great word and I used to eschew the euphemistic words like curvy, plump, plus size, bigger etc etc. There are far too many and they’ll use up my word count. But now, as long as they’re being used as an expression of our rich language instead of avoiding ‘fat’, I think they’re super ok to use.


So back to thighs. I like ‘em thick. And there’s rarely a case where someone with big thighs doesn’t also have a substantial tukus. It’s a great combo and just makes me lusty. Powerful, empowered and lusty.

I am very, very proud of my own T&A. I think they’re my best assets. All my strength is in my lower body (my arms may as well be noodles) and I could do proper harm with my lower portions were I a Bond villainess or something. As I’ve gotten older they’ve got better, I swear. I have even developed cellulite, finally. I don’t know why I didn’t have it before but it just goes to show it has nothing to do with being fat.

jennifer maitland

I’ve celebrated my big body since I was very young. Even though I was made fun of for it and grew up in a fatphobic environment, I simultaneously hated and appreciated my body.  When some assholes shouted at us ‘who’s got the fattest legs?’ me and a fellow fatty friend compared to see. For us it was just a practical thing, we somehow just didn’t take it as an insult. Other times I despised my legs and widening body. Actually, it took a while for me to embrace my arms and legs as great parts of my body; they were the last hurdle. Now I love my arms and think my legs are fucking incredible and rarely ever cover them up anymore. It takes a lot of time and work to undo all of that internalized bullshit about body size. And, sadly, it never seems to ever fully go away. But I’m stronger than all that and know in the end that all my stuff is good.


I remember on my 16th birthday going to see Taj Mahal, live. He, alas, didn’t do his song ‘Corinna’, but he did play a tune called Big Legged Mamas Are Back In Style Again. And I felt like he was singing that song just for me.

Big legged mamas come and go out of style but for me they are perennial.


My first lady crushes were Julie Newmar (Catwoman), Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman) and Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke); amazonian goddesses all. This stuff was formative. They are the earliest attractions I can remember; I simultaneously wanted to be and to ‘marry’ these women.


I would obsess over them for hours after the programmes ended, sitting on my own and just thinking about them. They are part of my queer root and it was a combination of their attitudes, their cool and their bodies that I was fixated on.


I knew who she was but I first noticed Mariah Carey when I saw her video for ‘Without You’. It’s a ‘live’ video and she’s wearing a slightly weird all black ensemble. For years in my head it was a long dress or skirt she had on but I see now it’s actually trousers.


That makes sense really because the most enduring image seared into my brain and eyeballs is a shot of her from behind. I instantly fell for her tukus. (Although it’s not nearly as big as I remember… funny thing, time and perspective, isn’t it?)


The same with Jennifer Lopez. My first encounter with JLo was a gorgeous photograph of her in Vanity Fair, again from behind. I have a very instinctual gravitation to a woman’s tush. It just works for me, what can I say?


So I’ve been a Mariah’s bum fan for a long time. Then a couple of years ago when she was doing her Vegas residency someone posted some photos of her from the show. Now, Mariah yo-yos with her weight but in recent years she’s often been on the bigger side of things.


For the Vegas shows she was larger and, oh my word but I was altered by these images. Her thighs were huge. A few of her costumes were weird but I didn’t care. I was obsessed with her great thighs in these pictures.

vegas thighs.jpg

Then recently I saw more pictures of her thighs and felt compelled to try and put into words what they do to me. I have attempted 1000 words on the topic. I feel I can say no more.

mariah glasgow

I can only show-and-tell these big-thighed cuties and let us all appreciate the wonder of a marvelous, substantial set of T&A.


In praise of Thick Thighs because, after all, they make our dicks rise.


By Corinna ‘Mermaid’ Tomrley


When Debbie Harry confirmed that she is bisexual and had indeed had those rumoured affairs with women, queer girls’ hearts rejoiced across the land. Of course we don’t need confirmation that a star is queer to fancy them, or for them to even be queer, but it’s nice if they do come out, yes? ‘Women are more sensual’, cooed our Deb. Oh, my but we’re flushed… and damp…


Debbie Harry at 71 is as hot a goddess as she’s always been. Hotter. She is one of the superstars who is incomparable to anyone else (indeed Blondie were unlike anyone else) and who will always have a huge impact on the culture, no matter what she does.


He style, her attitude, her sexiness. Oh. Mah. Gawd. Debbie, we love you ❤

Debbie was punk and disco and old Hollywood and slut chic and believed she was the adopted child of Marilyn Monroe. She was pushed down your throat partially dressed hyper sexuality that if you dared touch uninvited she’d kick you in the teeth. Now she is advanced style fuck age appropriate in your face drop dead gorgeous goddess fierceness. Debbie Harry, we love you ❤

PicMonkey Collage

Fun fact: Debbie is one of a group of uber fabulous divas who are 70/71: Cher, Dolly, Liza all turned 70 this year and Bette Midler is also 70 (she’ll be 71 in December). So what was it about the years 1945 and 1946 that produced such queer icons, we wonder? Cuz also born then were Divine, John Waters, Goldie Hawn, Priscilla Presley, Jaclyn Smith, Susan Tyrell, Jocelyn Wildenstein, Susan Sarandon, Suzanne Sommers, Patty Duke…


Youtube Gold

By Corinna ‘Merm’ Tomrley

There are countless things on Youtube that are rather marvelous. There’s a handful, though, that are just so wonderful, so extraordinary, that we wonder why when we mention them to most people they’ve never seen them or even knew of their existence. These are videos we’ve even posted a lot but that for some reason still don’t get the attention and acclaim and cult status that they so deserve.

Ethel intends to put this right and give you – THINGS ON YOUTUBE YOU REALLY SHOULD KNOW ABOUT



There is so much about this that is just really ace. Firstly, it’s Christopher Walken cooking chicken. It’s on shitty video in his kitchen. His hygiene practices are questionable (touching poultry and then touching your salt pig, Mr Walken? Salmonella City!). There’s his descriptions of things in that voice. There’s the cat.

Chris did go on to remake this with a proper TV crew and some bloke from that thing as his guest. We really wish he hadn’t because it takes away from the raw weirdness of the original. So don’t ever bother to watch that one but instead what this version over and over and over.

Best moment: the insipid, vile looking result that he produces.



We were alerted to this treasure by the sublime Stargayzing. David Munk wrote so wonderfully about this bizarre ad that we won’t witter on ourselves too much. Suffice to say that the very idea of this film is enough to make the camp heart flutter. But the actuality of it surpasses anything you could imagine from such a concept. Warning: the opening music may make your ears bleed. But hopefully you’ll still be able to hear what comes out of Joanie’s mouth as she does her shop. Because it’s something else.

Best moment: Did she say ‘weirdo’?



As far as we’re aware, there was a plan for a full musical film of Lego SOTL, but this is all that got made. You may wish for more but it’s kind of great that this is all that there is. It’s enough. The concept itself is genius. The execution perfection.

Best moment: Put the fucking poodle in the basket



Say it: ‘Mandom’. What a word. Who can we possibly get to advertise this ultra butch cologne? Who else but masc god Charles Bronson? The theme tune (one of the best ever, you’ll thank us for this earworm) tells us ‘All the world loves a lover’, but who exactly is Mr Bronson the lover of? For, although he has his Mandom shrine of products at home and he basically fucking showers in the stuff, there isn’t a single woman in this ad. There’s the piano player, there’s the creepy doorman and then in his apartment there’s… his pipe. Marvel at Mandom. We can only presume it stank to high heaven and could be used to remove varnish from the floorboards, just like all 70s perfumes.

Best moment: How Chuck takes off his shirt. There’s no chick to bitch about it strewn across the flat, after all.



It was informing our soul sisters Graham and Pal about Mandom brought the Dunaway egg film into our lives. Yes, the Bronson ad is extraordinary and funny but had we seen the egg advert? What? No. What? When Pal said ‘it’s Faye Dunaway eating a boiled egg’ he wasn’t exaggerating. Because that’s literally what it is. Actually, forgive us, it’s Faye Dunaway peeling and eating a boiled egg. Why is this sexy? Because it’s Faye Dunaway. Why is this weird? Because it’s a film star eating an egg. Why is it really weird? Because that’s all she’s doing in a beautifully lit black space. Why is it super weird? Because this egg eating activity is advertising a department store.

Best moment: Um… when she eats the egg? Actually, when she peels it and gives sexy cheekbones to camera. What is she going to do next? Oh she’s going to eat that bit of egg, the saucy minx!


Ethel Loves… Adrian+Shane


When Adrian+Shane appeared in the first issue of Loverboy Magazine I was instantly smitten. Their art continues to delight, seduce and intrigue. With Judy and Liza being subjects of their work and ideas of queerness and identity at the forefront I needed to discover more about this amazing art partnership.

Corinna: I’m going out on limb and presuming you are a romantic couple as well as an artistic partnership? If so, what came first love or art or did both crash together at the same time?

Adrian+Shane: Haha, yes, you’re right to presume we’re a couple. Love came first. The art was never planned. We met at Christmas 1997. Shane was studying at the Glasgow School of Art and I was still living in Ireland. A month and a half after we first met I visited him in Glasgow for Valentines weekend and bought a massive bottle of Absolut vodka in the airport on my way. One evening, we sat on the floor of his student flat listening to the Spice Girls and getting drunk on the vodka. I began doodling in a sketch pad, then I passed it to Shane and he painted on top of my drawing. We passed it back and forth. This was the beginning of our collaboration. Over the weekend we filled ten pages in the pad with drawings, paintings and collage. We’ve still never shown them to anyone. The following year we had our first Adrian+Shane exhibition


C: How does your work life balance pan out?

A+S: After the gym every morning we drive to our studio. We usually have a brief meeting to decide what needs to be done and we spend the day working on it. We finish at around 7pm depending on what we’re working on. If we’re in the middle of a big project we’ll work until midnight. Then do it all over again the next day. We generally work 7 days a week. We get a break when we go on holiday.


C: Do you have a pretty solid and consistent vision as Adrian+Shane or do you, as two separate artists, have differences where you have to drop an idea because it’s not where you both want to go?

A+S: In general we both know what Adrian+Shane is and we have very similar likes aesthetically. But every now and then one of us will have an idea that the other doesn’t like. When that happens we either make adjustments to the idea or we bin it and move on.


C: Your piece ‘I Was A Gay Child’ is so stunning and resonates for so many queer boys, I am sure. Is this strictly a gendered piece though, do you think? I was considering it in terms of being a queer woman and wondering what I’d depict for my own gay childhood. I wasn’t a ‘tomboy’ (shudder at THAT word, but you know what I mean, I hope…). I think I’d have Lynda Carter, Daisy Duke and Cat Woman in the background for mine but I don’t know what toy I’d have in the foreground.  Probably a Barbie tbh because I coveted them and all I had was my sister’s hand me down flat footed Sindy who was horse-crazy and Sloany. I couldn’t relate. I craved the glamour of old Hollywood and girlie things that spoke to me from within my queerness. Or I’d have a Spirograph because I used to think of Busby Berkeley chorus girl formations as I twiddled it… What are your thoughts on my rambling explanation here in terms of queer formativity, childhood and gender? And I’m thinking of it all from outside the binary as well…

A+S: We love the way you think. When we make art it’s generally from our own perspective. We grew up secretly fantasising about other boys/men and sometimes wanting to play with girls’ toys. It might be interesting to do a version of it from a queer girl’s point of view.


C: Can we talk about ‘Judy Fucking Garland’? I adore this piece and not just because I’m a card carrying Judy nut (in every sense, darlings). It encapsulates the deification of Judy – classically understood as The Gay Men’s Personal Diva. But also, for me, sums up the cultish deification by The Good Judy Fans – those who will not see her personified and portrayed as anything but fun, pure, happy, sexless. The fact that you have the word ‘fucking’ in there will piss off a lot of them and that makes me particularly happy… anyway, I digress (as I usually do on the topic of Judy). Your JFG is one of the best pieces of Garland art I’ve seen because it has a multitude of readings but is also simply joyous. What are you exploring through this and the related Liza piece?

A+S: We fucking love Judy. As little Irish gay boys we grew up watching her on TV every Christmas in The Wizard Of Oz. About a year ago we had the idea of using the line “Judy Fucking Garland” in a painting or T-shirt. After creating several designs we were dissatisfied with, we put the idea on the back burner and every now and then we’d return to it between working on other projects. Catholic imagery has always played a part in our work and combining the text with an image of the Virgin Mary gave it a whole new meaning. It’s powerful. The paintings were exhibited in a show in Dublin in June 2015 and caused a lot of controversy. The gallery received letters from life long customers demanding that the paintings be removed etc. Meanwhile the T-shirts we made depicting the same image have been flying off the shelves.


C: Some – unimaginative – people might not quite see how pop art and pop culture can be used to explore social commentary but it’s there in your manifesto and I definitely see it in your work. I think the subversiveness of camp is very, very underrated and one of our main weapons and tools. Can you say something about how your art takes on social critique and explores identity? There’s a particularly powerful thematic blurring of catholic and queer iconology there, too.

A+S: Pop art and social commentary go hand in hand as far as we’re concerned. Pop art was always about reflecting what was going on in society. That’s what we like to do, hold a mirror up and show off the ridiculous. We like to burst bubbles, including our own and try to disturb what’s comfortable. People get set in their ways and don’t like change and anything different.


C: Madonna is an artist who excels on stage: discuss (I used to work at the Astoria in the 90s. I can’t believe that they actually got Madonna for G-A-Y. Gutted I missed that. Adore your video piece that came from it). In your opinions, is she still as powerful up there on the boards as she was in her Blonde Ambition/Girlie Show heyday?

A+S: We love her. She still has plenty to say. We just saw her current tour “Rebel Heart Tour” and she has just as much energy as she’s ever had. People have been bashing her for years. It’s so ridiculous that she’s criticised for being 57 when in fact she should be celebrated. I guess it’ll take her death for the masses to examine her career and really appreciate how fucking incredible she is.


C: Your work ‘It takes balls to be a fairy’ challenges the stupid anti-sissy mentality in gay culture and celebrates the nancy boy instead. Is this something that’s particularly relevant to your artistic voice and message?

A+S: Growing up in an environment where boys were boys, played football and were masculine. If you didn’t match that stereotype you were singled out. Even now within the gay community “feminine” guys are looked down on. We love embracing these words that are used to bash and humiliate gays. Words that have been used against us. Taking them back, owning them and using them in a positive way. Queer, fairy, homo, faggot, poof, queen. We love them. ’It Takes Balls To Be A Fairy’ is by far our most popular T-shirt.


Interview by Corinna Tomrley

Read more about Adrian+Shane in Loverboy issue 1



Ethel loves radical feminist theatre, darlings. Ever since Corinna Mermaid was earnestly doing her Theatre Studies A Level and emerging as a baby feminist and baby queer she was ravenous about all things thespian and right on. Cut to many – ehem – decades later and a new pussy posse of rad fem performers are bursting forth and in your face with their fannies, celebrating cunt and doing it with dance, fun and glitter. You KNOW we would be had by all that…

Corinna Tomrley: Tell us about Pussy Patrons (and plug the last few days of your kickstarter!)

Pussy Patrons: The PUSSY PATRONS are a company of four, born out of an anger and frustration with taboo attitudes around women’s bodies within society, focusing on the vagina, our pussy. We use storytelling, image making, food as an art material, comedy and poetry to liberate ourselves and hopefully others. We researched, devised and performed our piece, Cabaret of Cunts, in the Pinter Studio as part of a performance festival at Queen Mary, University of London. As we approach our final year at university, we are lucky enough to be taking our PUSSY PATRONAGE beyond our university walls and on tour. We hope to spread the funny, feisty, fearless and feminist style of performance around like a glorious bout of STI and fill the world with PUSSY PATRONS.

CT: Gonna be really obvious and crass now and I bet you’ve been asked a billion times, but how is this show different to The Vagina Monologues?

PP: Hahaha! Don’t worry, we’re definitely in a similar vein. I would say that we have a lot of similarities. We are both feminist, both concerned with our vaginas and we both use anecdotes and our personal experiences to try and make sense of our pussies’ place in the world. I think perhaps our biggest differences lie in the way we present our material. As a company, it is important to us to first and foremost celebrate ourselves and other women and what better way to celebrate then a massive, messy party?! We also differ hugely in aesthetic. Like the best parties, Cabaret of Cunts is tacky, colourful and sparkly with a lot of incredibly serious (!) dance routines thrown in. The party atmos also allows a bit more scope for everyone to muck in and get involved. Girls just wanna have fun after all.


CT: What is feminism and feminist activism for you?

PP: Woah-ho-ho! That’s a big question! Feminism is a really difficult term to define, not just academically but in everyday life. A lot of discourse and a fuck load of shit surrounds the word. We feel that feminism is unapologetically embracing and embodying yourself in a particular time, or space, or just always.  Appreciating yourself and your body, especially within a society in which we are constantly and wrongly reminded that we are not good enough. We as a company feel it is important to celebrate feminism and use it as an active and adaptive ‘thing’ that takes into account other stories, other women and other points of view, especially within issues of intersectionality. Feminism is not something we switch on and off or only do in a rehearsal or performance, it’s formed by your environment and becomes a lens from which you see your environment. We are consistently inspired by the women that surround us and the everyday acts of ownership and strength that they show. We like to adopt a style of feminism that is accessible to all, celebratory and sticky with a sprinkle of glitter on top!

CT: You just described not only my own ethos but pretty much my life. You were at Split Britches Retro(per)spective weren’t you? How glorious are they?! I’ve always been in love with feminist and queer theatre but I would go out on a limb to say there’s not enough feminist – or even generally radical – theatre about now (beyond cabaret) – would you agree? Or are we missing something going on out there?

PP: Yes! They are amazing. We love their style of performance, their cabaret form, their work with desire and they’re unapologetic authenticity in performance. They’re funny, sexy and timeless.

Hmmm, actually we feel there’s a plethora of emerging performance artists, even in our immediate circle. We feel like this is a fantastic time, we are emerging as a lot of other artists are emerging, from what we feel is a gap from the exciting and radical work of Lois Weaver and Split Britches… a bit of an artistic revolution round 2!!!  What we would argue, though, is that there are not enough platforms or theatres to expose this exciting work. There is also the issue of how to survive as an artist in London, fighting for funding and the role of economic capital.  But luckily with funding programmes that exist like Kickstarter, Grants for the Arts etc. there are ways around it, it’s just finding these options. We are so grateful and lucky to have so much support on our Kickstarter, we are on our final push and any further funds, however small, would be so appreciated.

CT: What next for PP?

PP: Well……………our performance of CABARET OF CUNTS is coming up very soon – 23rd January – At the fantastic and beautiful ballroom in Limehouse Townhall (watch this space!).

After that we would like to continue to develop work and make a new piece combining a lot of elements of Cabaret of Cunts, but go into more depth and focus. For whatever happens, women remain our focus – along with a lot of heart, humour and, of course, Shania Twain. What is next for us is hopefully a lot of fun, bonding, empowerment, liberation and maybe some paid work.

Oh and did we mention we have a Kickstarter…………

PicMonkey Collage


We’re going to tell you something funny about vaginas…
There is nothing funny about vaginas.
They leak, they seep, they smell and they squeek
and they enjoy a good Phillipe.
Roll up, roll up, to the cabaret of cunts.
We do have to warn you, we may be upfront.
Expect a laugh and a cry and a cringe and a sigh, maybe even a bit of cum in your eye!
For your flower, pussy, fanny and foof,
We do hope you find some proof.
Of our struggles and triumphs,
As we refuse to suffer in silence.
With Bobby and Tracy and a bit of Dapper too,
We explore the functions of our precious foo foo.
So, wilkommen bienvenue welcome!
We hope you enjoy and have lots of fun with your chums!
We are sure that everything will go to plan,
Because man, should you feel like a woman!

Find you Pussy Patrons:

Fanny face(book)

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Ethel Loves… Lou Papalas

When I wrote about the puntasticly, fabulously named Barber Streisand recently, it brought to mind a similar – but more Babtastic – wonder that I heard about some years ago: The Barbra Shop. A regular barbers by day (albeit with Babs stuff on the walls and Babs busts for sale) and a Streisand themed museum by night. I mean. You know? I tried to track down Lou Papalas, the fabulous man behind The Barbra Shop museum collection for that article, but didn’t manage to by deadline. When he got in touch after the fact I told him I simply HAD to interview him for Mermania. As a man with the largest Streisand memorabilia collection in the world, he’s Ethel Mermaids material through and through.

Corinna: How did your love of Babs begin?

Lou: In 1963, my Mom called me into the living room to watch this “kooky girl” on The Mike Douglas show.  I was drawn to her for many reasons—among them, her non-conventional looks and atypical candour as well as a plethora of what seemed self-confidence.

After that a friend gifted me with The Barbra Streisand Album – Barbra’s first… LOVED IT!  Then Barbra was in Funny Girl on Broadway. My buddy (he also loved Barbra) and I both purchased the Broadway Funny Girl album. Not only did we know all the songs, but we used lines (in falsetto) from the musical in our everyday conversations. We would always crack up at the applicability of those lyrics to situations in our lives.

C: How did your collecting begin?

L: I began collecting quite by accident. Initially I obsessively cut out any article I found in magazines or newspapers and stuffed them in my bedroom dresser drawer. If I went to the doctor or dentist and Barbra was on the cover or in a magazine in the waiting room, of course I would take it home with me when I left the office. Soon I began looking for articles, scanning periodicals in hopes of finding more.

Once Barbra starred in Funny Girl on Broadway, starred in her own one woman hour-long TV special, the movie magazines and tabloids chose Barbra as “the celebrity.”  It was so easy for me to collect, however, my collection quickly out grew my dresser drawer. I then purchased a foot locker to accommodate it. All through college, while others were listening to the classic rock beginnings, I had Barbra. My college fraternity brothers teased me about Barbra all the time. Fast-forward to the 90’s. EBay came into my life and collecting Barbra got a whole lot easier and a lot more expensive. I purchased thousands of items from around the world. I had many of them framed to preserve them—hundreds of them. My collection now occupies six 10 x 10 X 15 climate controlled storage units, 9000 cubic feet. My quest to have it all became a reality and fulfil my goal to open a non-profit Barbra Streisand museum/performing arts centre seemed a lot closer. With that in mind, as if my collection wasn’t large enough, I started attending auctions to purchase more Streisand items.



C: What led to your setting up the museum above the Barbra Shop?

L: I retired from a management position at Ford Motor Company in February of 2002.  By that time my collection was an obsession totally out of control and had grown into the tens of thousands. I had also acquired thousands of duplicate and triplicate (and more) of the same item. Some of them were purposefully purchased, but most were purchased only because I kept no written inventory and could not remember if I already had one.  I figured that when I opened my museum, I could sell those duplicate items to raise funds to support it.

April 24 of 2002 was Barbra’s 60th birthday as well as the 50th anniversary of the Caucus Club in Detroit. I befriended the owner of the Caucus Club, the first of Barbra’s non-New York venues. I proposed taking over the décor of the restaurant for a half year which culminated with a Barbra Streisand 60th birthday party and for the anniversary of the Caucus Club. I displayed over 100 items. The rich cherry panelling was the backdrop for beautiful professionally framed Streisand posters, articles and mixed memorabilia. I even had the ladies room painted pink with rose floral accessories.  The owner purchased pink linen tablecloths. The restaurant and my Barbra display was featured in articles and front page stories

My wife and I purchased a winter residence in Palm Desert, California. I had all of the “Streisand stuff” relocated to California from Michigan. After seeing the enjoyment people experienced viewing the items at the Caucus Club, I wanted to create a smallish museum. I did just that and my first location was the “BARBRA SHOP” in Palm Springs California …the Castro of Palm Springs. It was a barber shop by day and a Barbra museum by night. The walls were entirely covered from floor to ceiling with framed posters and significant display items. Additionally, mannequins with different Streisand hairstyles from her career were placed throughout the shop. The barbers wore black Barbra Streisand T-shirts and to complete the mood, Barbra albums provided background music and the TV showed Barbra movies. This clever shop became an international Palm Springs tourist destination and during evenings, after the barbers departed, from 6pm to 10pm many display items were added and the barber shop was transformed into a Barbra Shop Museum.


C: Why and when did that have to close?

L: Our landlord had legal problems and we needed to vacate. Initially the shop moved to a downtown location, not easily seen and seldom patronized. Therefore we closed for good…unless someone wants me to do a Streisand themed restaurant, museum, Barbra Shop in any U.S. tourist spot or European location for that matter.


C: Tell me about your experience of the Barbra auctions?

L: Initially I attended a Barbra Streisand Christie’s auction in NYC. I purchased several gowns, one of Barbra’s Chinese antique lamps, some china and three large pieces of antique pottery.  I participated in three other NYC auctions, at one I was high bidder on Barbra’s first eight concerts in New York City.

In 2004, I volunteered my service to assist Julien Entertainment in identifying significant items from Barbra’s career as well as personal items when she started to let go of her career items. I even hosted a two week exhibit of extremely significant career gowns at Takishimaya on 5th Avenue in NYC. During that exhibit I decide that I wanted to become owner of Barbra’s most classic and historically significant and iconic “My Name is Barbra” gown. It was the last item offered for bid in the Her Name is Barbra 2004 auction and I was the high bidder. This gown and the eight contracts are the two most important/valuable pieces in my vast collection.


C: What items were you most surprised about her selling at auction?

L: Actually, it was almost painful watching all of her beautiful career gowns being distribute to others and breaking up what would make a significant career exhibit. I made it a mission of mine to keep tabs on who purchased what by starting the Barbra Streisand Legacy Associates. I requested that new owners of her gowns or other significant items register as associates. Many of those registered items have been exhibited to provide funding for non-profits.

C: What was the thing that got away that you wished you had won?

L: Her Oscars see-through Scassi pantsuit. Scassi won it back for himself. He repurchased many of the items he designed for Barbra.


C: I adore the busts that were in your museum.

L: Those items were actually on consignment for me to sell. They were and many still are owned by Ken Joachim, the curator of the 1996 Hello Gorgeous museum in the Castro of San Francisco. The unsold were returned to him when I closed my shop.


C: You’ve lent items to other museums and exhibitions toured with some of your Babs collection. Where is your collection now and how can people see it?

L: All of my collection is now in storage. My long term goal of establishing a Streisand Museum/Performing Arts centre becomes less pursuable as I am soon to be 70 and that goal is rapidly becoming a short term crisis. I do not want to die not having achieved all or part of my goal, leaving the thousands of items for my family to liquidate.

C: Have you met her?

L: Yes I have. After I curated a 1200 piece exhibit at the Hollywood Museum her manager, Marty Erlichman, called me and wanted to tour, film and photograph it. As a thank you he and Barbra invited me to her Arizona concert as a guest. Marty requested that I go backstage after the concert where I was one of very few guests – her sister Roslyn Kind , David Foster and girlfriend, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Jay Alexander, Renata, Jane Withers and Mrs. David Rose and of course Sammie.

Oh, I forgot the best part. When I met Barbra, she put her hand on her hip, looked me straight in the eyes and said in her Brooklyneese best “so wher’d ya’ get all my stuff?” I will always remember this as it is etched in my brain.

C:  We’re a little in love with Babs’ dog Sammie.

L: I have also met Jason and  his dog Eli when I again went backstage at the Hollywood Bowl

C: Lucky! What would you most like to see Babs do in the future?

Aside from Gypsy, I would love her to record a simply produced album of old favourites in the style of early Barbra, with a lot of drama and emotion without concern to be perfect and with minimal accompaniment. Purely classic Barbra.

When she and Bette Midler get a little older and before they retire from the screen, I would love to see them to star together in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (I am a little weird that way)

C: That would be the ultimate dream!


Ethel Loves… Figs In Wigs


You know that anyone who has ‘Wigs’ in their name are gonna raise Ethel’s antenna. And a group of women who look, sound, and play like they exploded out of Ethel’s head..? We want to be their best friends forever. Throw in their song called… WAIT FOR IT… Cilla Black Bean Sauce. We are IN LOVE, darlings.

Who are these Figs in Wigs we hear you cry? They are five comedians, dancers, visual artists, musicians and circus entertainers who are currently touring in Show Off, all about our obsession with social media and ourselves. What was that..? Sorry, Ethel was just checking her phone. They call it a ‘variety show (without the variety)’. We’re smitten, kittens!

Can we go back to Cilla Black Bean Sauce for a minute? Yeah, we’ve not stopped thinking about that since we mentioned it either. The title alone would be enough, right? But it is also a fabulous electronic track ALL ABOUT CELEBRITY NAME FOOD PUNS. That is correct Mermates – we’ve just given you the heads up on THE BEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO CULTURE.

So where can you see this glorious troupe in their new show? Why, at all of these places:

Sat 14th Nov (8.00pm), £10 (£7.50) Croydonites Fest, 1 Matthews Yard, Off Surrey Street, Croydon, CR0 1FF

Sat 21st Nov (8.00pm), £10 Tom Thumb Theatre, 2 Eastern Esplanade, Cliftonville, Margate, CT9 2LB 01843 221791

Wed 25th Nov (8.00pm), £8.80 (£7.70) The Continental, South Meadow Lane, Preston, Lancashire PR1 8JP, 01772 499425

Thurs 26th Nov (7.30pm), £9-£13 LICA, Great Hall Complex, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YW, 01524 594151

Fri 27th Nov (8.00pm), £10 (£5) Live Art Bistro, Regent Street, Leeds, LS27QA, 07738971178 

Fig’s facebook

Twit @figsinwigs

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Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud – 25th Anniversary Edition!


Fabulous news, darlings! This week sees the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition of the best book ever: Shaun Considine’s Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud.

The new Gala edition has additional material including a chapter on Mr Considine tracking down missing (stolen!) photographs of Bette, Joan and other goddesses taken by the late, great photog Milton Greene. And – not to spoil the story – there’s tons of new images in the book to boot.

The Divine Feud isn’t just our favourite book; it is constantly professed by Bette and Joan fans as the best bio on either of them. If you have read it, you’ll know just how good it is and want this new edition for all the extra stuff. If you haven’t, you will definitely want this glorious tome in your lives, quick smart.

You can buy the print edition now and an ebook edition by Little, Brown will follow on the 29th January.

Now, altogether: (Joan) ‘Bette! Bette! Over here!’ – (Bette) ‘Christ! What a SILLY bitch!’


Read our interview with Shaun Considine here

Note: we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Shaun Considine in April 2015. Since first interviewing him for The Ethel Mermaids, Shaun and I had become incredibly close. As is the way these days, this friendship was developed online. We would email each other, sporadically. He’d send me a bit of news on his latest ventures, or a story remembered that he knew I’d appreciate. Stories about Julie Newmar, Judy Garland and the like. I loved hearing them and I always loved hearing from Shaun. He had projects that tragically weren’t completed when he died. He had written a follow up to his book Barbra: The Woman, The Myth, The Music (for which I wrote a chapter). Most excitingly, he had written a script based on his most famous and well-loved book, The Divine Feud, taking key moments from his biography. He was shopping it around and his dream cast, he told me, would be Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore. He wanted a woman and/or gay director/producer. Because he would give me sketchy details about himself and his life, I wasn’t sure to what extent this script was seen by the right people at the time of Shaun’s death. It is bitter-sweet then to know that Ryan Murphy is basically making Shaun’s film as his television series ‘Feud’.

I’ve no doubt that Murphy will do an amazing job. It’s been acknowledged that Shaun’s book is the source material. And there’s no reason why Murphy and his team couldn’t have come to the idea themselves. They probably didn’t know that Shaun had wanted to do it. If they did I would hope that they would ask for access to his script and maybe use it if they could, in some way. I’ve no idea who handles Shaun’s estate now. Even though it breaks my heart that Shaun didn’t get to do his film and didn’t get to see his work turned into a project by one of the most exciting and important creatives of our time, I would hope that he would approve of the idea that someone else was doing it. And that he’d at last have got the more mainstream recognition he so deserved for his incredible work.

I miss Shaun so much I can’t even say. He’s one of those facebook friends who comes up on invite lists from time to time and it rips at my heart to see his presence there as if I could just drop him a line. And then I remember that he didn’t really do facebook because he mainly got inundated with messages from young men chatting him up, apparently. I would, instead, have dropped him an email and maybe he’d reply, sometimes he wouldn’t. He was so private and so piecemeal with what he shared, but I did know he’d been ill in those last couple of years. He’d disappear from communication for a few months and return to say he was suffering from a case of getting old, no details. Just more wonderful stories. And he said the loveliest things to me. I miss him, I love him. It was an absolute privilege to have known him.

– Corinna Tomrley


Dolly pARTon at South Place Hotel

Think about the best thing that could happen. No, I mean, THINK REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS. Imagine a room – what’s in it? Some comfy sofas? Nice lighting? And what’s that all around you? Think about it now – what would be the most perfect thing in the world? We’re all thinking the same thing, right? Spooky eh? Because in our perfect imagined room we are surrounded by Dolly Parton art by some of the most creative Finnish artists and designers.

WELL YOU DON’T HAVE TO JUST DREAM IT – IT IS OUT THERE! You can find the exhibition Dolly pARTon at South Place Hotel in London but ONLY until Monday 30th June. So GO GO GO, or it WILL just be a dream!

So how did this happen?

Well, a group of Finland’s top artistic types decided to create a collection of works inspired by one of the most iconic and visually arresting pop culture goddesses of our times. And this isn’t just a celebration of Dolly – it is a deliberate confrontation of what is art, and not just in terms of the content, but the spaces this exhibition has, does and will inhabit. Starting at the Klaus K Hotel in Helsinki, guests were greeted in the lobby by a happy onslaught of Dolly depictions. South Place Hotel – quickly becoming renowned for its art and support of artists – took up the challenge of having a room full of pARTon in their chi-chi Le Chiffre games room. If you miss it in London, don’t worry – you can fly and catch it in its next home in Berlin at the 25 Hours Hotel.

I spoke to Sampo Marjomaa, creator of the piece ‘Plywoods Barbie’, one of the key players behind the exhibition and who also just happens to be a major Finnish TV star with his show Hauskat kotivideot, which reappropriates and recontextualises clips from America’s Home Videos. He said that he’d had criticism from the art world for holding an art show in hotels – ‘it’s SO commercial!’ was the common accusation.

And is not the art world and are not galleries commercial? I asked. ‘Exactly!’ Sampo exclaimed.

So Parton is not only a wonderful muse for this stunning exhibition – like the lady herself, Art Dolly is a fuck you to art hierarchies of high and low, good and bad. Exactly The Ethel Mermaids manifesto, I told Sampo. No wonder we loved this show so much.

But it’s more than just a political statement. This show is viscerally arresting. Comprising 8 pieces by 8 different artists, every artwork is amazing. Every single one. How often does that happen? I cannot remember ever thinking that about an art exhibition.

Mari Kasurinen's My Little Dolly
Mari Kasurinen’s My Little Dolly

The one artist I’d heard of before was Mari Kasurinen, who you will also probably know from her incredibly prolific art collection, My Little Pop Icons: gorgeously sculpted ponies resembling some of pop cult’s favourites – including Gaga, Lagerfeld, Warhol, and fictional characters like Poison Ivy, Chewbacca, Edward Scissorhands. So I was very excited to see her ‘My Little Dolly Parton’. Pictures of the sculptures cannot do justice to the artworks or the impact of seeing them in person. I expected to enjoy Dolly Pony – I didn’t expect to have an emotional reaction. The sculptured ponies are bigger than you’d think, they have presence. And there was something about the scruffy ‘do, the extra long luxurious tail and the disturbingly expressive eyes of the thing that just got me. I revisited that pony several times last night.

Suvi Aarnio’s Fandom Imagined

Suvi Aarnio’s textile piece ‘Fandom Imagined’ evokes that other icon of country music, the Nudie suit, as well as a religious triptych with the exquisitely embroidered Dolly posed like the Holy Mother. Fandom of Christian iconology meets that of The Goddess Parton. The side panels of the triptych are mirrors, reflecting her beauty and also bringing to mind an old fashioned dressing table where Dolly might apply layer upon layer upon layer of makeup. For me, Aarnio’s work – which bears the Dolly quote ‘There’s a heart beneath the boobs and a brain beneath the wig’ – is a sister piece to Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’. A painted glass Parton, you are invited to look at it both in its stunning technicolour and through a red gel viewer, which transforms her boobs into a perfect heart.

Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’
Sami Viljanto’s ‘Dolly Surround System’

Experiencing these two artworks, I not only considered the ‘fake on top, soul beneath’ Dolly message but also the heartbreaking fact that this incredibly beautiful, classically pretty woman has never thought she was attractive. Part of Dolly’s charm is the trash and the flash and that she embraces ‘too much’ when it comes to paint, wigs and costume. We love her for it. But she has admitted that this is covering what she sees as a lack. And this is also, of course, the reason for her multiple cosmetic surgeries over the years: the boob jobs to enhance and lift her already massive breasts, the face work, the dieting that keeps her teeny tiny. Dolly Parton is at once a glorious celebration and a mood of melancholy and pathos. And isn’t that so country music?

Sampo Marjomaa’s piece ‘Plywoods Barbie’ (see invite above), painted on knotted wood, is the only artwork that gives us contemporary Dolly. I noted this to the artist and he agreed: ‘most people concentrate on the nostalgic image of Dolly Parton’. At once rustic and plastic, in this piece – depicting her in her currently favoured pale, custard yellow – we have the surgeried Dolly smiling at us (well, as best as she can) hand on hip, emoting that solid Dolly attitude of sass, fun and challenge. We can only hope to rise to it and please her. You so want to please Dolly.

In her 1994 autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business, Dolly revealed that as she gets sent such an enormous amount of fan art she has had to dedicate a room in Dollywood to it, a room she gloriously refers to as ‘The Arts and Craps Room’. Again with the play with high and low. When I sent her my own Dolly art – Little Tiny Tassle Top – a couple of years ago, I hoped and prayed that it would end up in the Arts and Craps gallery. My life’s ambition is to become curator of that wonderous space in the Smokie Mountains. One day.

That said – let it be known – the Dolly pARTon exhibition is all art and no craps in sight.

Corinna Tomrley 2014