I chat to Jack Wilde, part of the two-person team behind Big Glittery Sh!tshow, a cabaret circus performance featured at Wonderland Festival 2019.
If you’ve ever visited TRYP Fortitude Valley, you’ve probably experienced this hotel’s raw, quirky authenticity. A proud pillar of Brisbane’s vibrant entertainment district, it’s a tangle of contradictions – immaculate service against a backdrop of street art, inner-city sophistication paired with the grunge vibe of a dive bar.
And, true to its local spirit, TRYP Fortitude Valley is committed to supporting Brisbane’s thriving creative scene. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a street artist or a musician or a cabaret performer – if you’re creating and inspiring and making incredible things, TRYP wants to help you do it.
That’s why, this year, they’re a sponsor of Wonderland Festival, one of Brisbane’s biggest performance festivals. Hosted by Brisbane Powerhouse, this incredible line-up of comedians, dancers, musicians and cabaret performers has hit Brisbane’s artistic scene in an explosion of hilarity, sexiness and downright strangeness. The festival is still in swing until December 1, so make sure you go and check it out.
Big Glittery Sh!tshow
It seized first place at Melbourne’s Gasworks Circus Showdown, and now it’s come to Brisbane in a cloud of glitter, strobe lighting and flying dildoes. Big Glittery Sh!tshow is the brainchild of performers Jack Wilde and Shona Conacher, and their lurid combination of cabaret and circus acrobatics kicked off Brisbane Powerhouse’s Wonderland Festival (to an overwhelmingly positive response).
Today, I’m lucky enough to interview the man himself: Jack Wilde – jackrobat, cabaret king, and a true jack of all trades.
The Story of Jack and the Flying Dildoes
‘Tell me about yourself’ might seem like a generic start, but Jack isn’t your regular interviewee. His energetic, larger-than-life personality is on display across his Instagram and Facebook, and the proliferation of pink dildoes and cupcake frosting has me intrigued.
It turns out he’s from a circus background – his uncle taught him to juggle and, after stints in youth circus and traditional circus, he graduated from the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) with a Bachelor’s Degree in Circus. “A bachelor’s degree in a joke,” he deadpans, but it seems like Jack’s studiousness is paying off. His post-grad years were packed with cabaret, street performances and fringe circus, the kind of resumé-building work that’s necessary for any circus professional.
I want to know how he got into cabaret – after all, stripping down in public seems like a pretty big step-up from juggling. “For circus performers, it’s kind of a natural segue,” he tells me. “We’re way too comfortable with getting naked on stage. Sometimes cabaret’s got a bit of a different vibe, but it just kind of fits in there naturally.”
And what about his athleticism? If you haven’t already had the pleasure of seeing Jack and Shona perform, jump over to his Instagram for a minute and check out some of their videos. “It’s a developed skill over time,” Jack says. “I wish it was a talent, but it’s taken me way too long to work out what works for me specifically. I’ve tried lots of different diets and workouts to get me to the point where I am.”
I ask him about his co-star, Shona. Where does she fit into the story of Jack Wilde? Like so many of life’s precipitous moments, their initial meeting was deceptively normal – a boardgame night for circus performers. “I definitely didn’t expect that two years later we’d be doing a show together and throwing rubber dicks at each other’s faces,” Jack laughs.
A Big, Glittery Baby
That leads us to the heart of the interview – Big Glittery Sh!tshow itself. Jack tells me it was a fever-dream, a crazy, bedazzled idea born in the sullen heat of January 2019.
“Shona and I were both doing different shows at the beginning of the year at Adelaide Fringe [Festival], and we were just sitting under some shade, way too dehydrated, five or seven hours early for our respective shows. I think I pitched it to her as like, ‘hey, what about we do a knife-throwing act together?’ She was like, ‘yeah.’ And I went, ‘but it’s dildoes’. And she was like, ‘yeah, f*ck yeah, sold, let’s do it.’”
Sh!tshow earned its stripes at Gasworks, one of Melbourne’s biggest circus events, walking away with first place in the face of heavy competition. Jack reveals that their application to the circus showdown was submitted on the same day they conceived the premise of their show. “The application for [Gasworks was due] that night, so I was like, oh sh*t, let’s type it up right now, let’s go. We had to smash Sh!tshow out in under a month.”
If that wasn’t enough, their hilarious excess of sexed-up glitz has taken audiences by storm, and I want to know why. Why is something so naughty and nonsensical pulling such massive crowds?
“It’s loud, it’s fun and there’s way too many strobe lighting effects in it, but it gets you sitting in your seat and being like, oh, f*ck yeah, I’m about this,” Jack says, his voice charged with excitement. Even over the phone, he radiates cheerful energy. “Audiences get excited. There’s nudity, there’s sexy stuff, there’s cupcake frosting, and I guess there’s circus skills as well, but it’s something that’s just exciting for people.”
It certainly sounds entertaining, but I still don’t have a clear idea of what Sh!tshow is actually about. Is there a plot? Underlying themes? A life-changing revelation?
Jack starts by explaining a line from his online Powerhouse listing – “an undercurrent of celebration, acceptance and love”. “When we were creating Sh!tshow, we didn’t want to go into it like here’s some gender norms and sexual objectification. We’re trying to swap up gender norms as much as we can.”
Shona’s raunchy, no-f*cks-given persona is a deliberate middle finger to the idea of ‘passive femininity’. She performs most of the show in tight-fitting lingerie, a get-up that Jack jokingly refers to as “a bondage salami”.
“I’m there just trying to do romance stuff,” Jack says, referring to his glittery suit and rose-between-teeth stunts. “Anyone in the show, you can’t tell whether they’re gay or straight. We’re trying to be as ambiguous as we can so that people can’t really put a label on it and we’re kind of proud of that. We’re going to talk about sexuality, and it’s going to be open-minded.”
I ask him about the plot (no spoilers). “It’s so loose,” he says, laughing. “The opening scene is the drabbest sh*t ever. The lighting is green and grey and boring, and then you see me definitely not cutting up cocaine (it’s confetti). I snort a bunch of that, and then the show just erupts from there. You’re taken on this weird 45- to 50-minute ride of circus explosions and orgasmic sh*t. I don’t know what’s happening, you don’t know what’s happening, but it’s fun.”
My next question involves the duck. What duck? This duck.
Jack tells me that it’s their worst-kept surprise, part of a running joke throughout their shows that sees a series of rubber ducks making unexpected appearances. The monstrous yellow thing from the picture? That’s their finale, a plot twist as hilarious as it is bizarre.
Where Next for Big Glittery Sh!tshow?
Sh!tshow’s appearance at Wonderland Festival was its extended premiere performance, so, now their four-day run has finished, Jack and Shona are taking a short break. Come February 2020, they’ll be back on the stage with a season in Melbourne, followed by performances at Adelaide Fringe Festival. Jack assures me that Sh!tshow is still very much an evolving act, so, if you missed its appearance at Wonderland, there’s still plenty of time to witness its glittery, dildo-laden glory in the future. And after the final curtain’s closed? “World domination through dildoes,” Jack jokes.
When I ask him if he’d like to say anything to the readers, he pauses. There’s a moment of thoughtful silence. “I think my great positive thing about Sh!tshow is sometimes when you go to circus shows or cabaret shows, you’ll have someone telling you do not try this at home,” he says. “I think this is the only show you’ll get to go to where I’ll tell you, with great fun, try this at home. Go home, order a bunch of dildoes off the internet, and try exactly what you saw here tonight.”