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Thursday 09 April 2009

Wellington Proud: I was there, I was Square

Posted in: Events
By Matt Akersten - 4th March 2009

Out in the Square: Buffy, Ellie Kat, Bimbo, Queenie Aotearoa, Felicity Frockaccino, Steven Oates & Rhubarb Rouge

Gays on parade: "We're here, we're queer, get used to it!"

Lisa Simpson: "But we are used to it. You do this every year!"

Out in the Square is officially New Zealand's biggest annual LGBT event by far, if you count all the thousands of people quickly crossing Wellington's Civic Square as 'attendees' - which the organisers do, using official 'clickers' to count them.

So we know that well over 8,000 people witnessed at least 30 seconds of the annual LGBT family day on Sunday as they raced across the Square trying desperately not to make eye contact with any of the drag queens.

I stayed for the whole thing though. Here's what I enjoyed the most:

1) NZ Idol winner Rosita Vai's live rendition of Kylie's Love at First Sight.

2) The wild Wellington wind gusts obliterating several tents, and the men who would come to the rescue by holding onto them with their strong, butch arms.

3) Felicity Frockacinno's wheel-spinning prize game, where all spinners got at least a free Red Bull. She stopped the wheel each time with her razor-sharp cheekbones.

4) The shocked looks from the crowd when skinny young Mr. Gay Wellington turned up wearing just his undies (I couldn't see the beach, so they can't have been togs).

5) Watching Buffy & Bimbo teaching the crowd their routines: "Join in with us on this one. John Key did!"

Ellie Kat, Mr. Gay Welly, Rhubarb & Felicity
It was great to see so many community groups and stall holders turn up to share their wares, especially since the event had been postponed due to dodgy weather on the previous day. Along with usual local LGBT groups like Out Takes Film Festival, the Lesbian & Gay Archives of NZ, the NZ AIDS Foundation, Agender Inc., a gay gardening group, and Gay Wellington phone support and info line, the Greens and Labour Party were there with their 'out' MPs, the Roller Derby girls were skating around, a new theatre festival was starting up, plus there was baked goods, gelato, whitebait and cold drinks to enjoy.

The event had the full support of Wellington's Mayor Kerry Prendergast, who spoke on stage to start the day's entertainment.

Aaron, Kerry Prendergast and Andy
Well done to Aaron Halliwell, Andy Boreham, Virginia Hopkins-Burns and all the Out Wellington crew for organising the event, which can't be beaten anywhere in New Zealand for being a popular, inclusive, LGBT family fun day right in the heart of the city.

Particular thanks would have to go out to ever-perky MC Steven 'Sparkle' Oates, who at one point was asked by a crew member: "we don't have anyone else lined up on stage for another half hour - can you just keep talking until then?"

'Wellington's Top Drag Queen' Rhubarb Rouge is also worthy of a special shout-out, for generously doing what seemed like over 25 numbers on stage through the day, with upwards of two-dozen costume changes. What an entertainer! Tickets for her shows in Auckland cost upwards of $65, so we were getting a real bargain seeing her so often at this free event.

Even more gay Wellington

Taking aim on S&M's pool table
I was in Welly for a few days so caught the first few Proud '09 Festival events, and sampled the gay nightlife.

The lighting and look of Scotty and Mal's Cocktail Lounge on Cuba Street is subdued and tasteful, so it's a nice quiet place to relax and play pool on Friday and Saturday evenings before around 10pm - it got busier after that, with the DJ keeping people on the small dancefloor downstairs while more cocktails are mixed upstairs.

When we visited Dixon Street's Club Ivy later on Saturday night, it was busy with host Stephen Oates giving out prizes, and a show from the lovely Ellie Kat. There were loads of people in the smoking area on the level below, too. So the Wellington gay scene seems to be in great health at the moment, with the two venues complimenting each other well.

A relaxing spa at the Pool Party
After Out in the Square came the Big Gay Pool Party in Thordon Pools, with a BBQ and drinks, big pool and heated spa. A good-sized group of around 60 people turned out, many of them sunburnt from their day in the Square - a good range of ages, a few lesbians, Felicity Frockaccino bobbing about in the water in full make-up, and Auckland's Buffy & Bimbo as the ever-wacky hostesses.

Monday night was the first-ever Forum Meet-Up, and although quite a few folks had told me they'd go, I was still nervous it would be an 'epic fail'. But we got 15 people - the same number as we had got in our Auckland Meet-Up earlier this year. We met in the lovely old Blondini's café in the Embassy Theatre, in a room with a great view of Courtenay Place, but which had been boarded up and used as a storeroom for decades until recently.

A mass debate at the Forum
A few of the attendees at the Forum Meet seemed hell-bent on sticking to political topics, but there were also general chats and giggles about their lives, and even some flirting. People are much nicer offline than they are online, I've often found. One attendee had brought his laptop along with him, but managed to resist the urge to post stuff on the Forum then and there - it was left switched off during the two-hour sit-down, thankfully.

Monday night finished with something I'd been looking forward to - being a guest on Aaron & Andy's Camp FM radio show. I'd been warned: "You'll never get a word in edgeways with those two!" But they turned out to be welcoming and generous hosts. Andy threw me some questions about and I tried to sound interesting for their listeners, who were phoning, texting and emailing in as we spoke. It really is a show full of 'in jokes', and we all laughed alot as the time ticked by very quickly. They love doing that show, and I definitely must listen more often… just hoping that they explain some of those in-jokes as they go along!

As the night went on and my early-morning flight to Auckland beckoned, I must confess I was getting a little weary of Aaron's relentless Eurotrash-'80s-'90s-manufactured-TV-reality-show-pop taste in music, which he seems to inflict on everyone at all Proud Festival events. A&A's sidekick 'office bitch' Justin seemed to agree - he just sat by himself with his headphones on listening to his iPod music during the whole two-hour show. Is he plotting a takeover? Perhaps. But for now, it is all Aaron and Andy's gay game, and we are merely pawns.

Wellington's Proud '09 Week continues until the Finale Party at The Garden Club on Dixon Street from 10pm on Saturday 7 March. All the details are on the official Proud '09 website.

Matt Akersten - 4th March 2009