As Sydney kicks off WorldPride events celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community, all eyes will be set on Australia over the next couple of weeks. This year, various creative productions are striving to elevate communities that are underrepresented in the arts, including Nicholas Brown's 'Sex Magick'.
Described as a story of enlightenment and sex, the play explores queerness, masculinity and South Asian Australian identity – a powerful combination of themes which we rarely see brought to life on-stage.
“The world has seen '[The Adventures Of] Priscilla, Queen of the Desert'. We’ve seen these queer Aussie stories, but we haven’t seen brown ones,” the play’s director, Nicholas Brown told Draw Your Box. “We very rarely even see brown stories at all, let alone queer ones.”
It’s this lack of representation paired with his personal experiences as a queer Indian Australian man that drove the 43-year-old to create this production.
“This play is about sex and sexuality,” he explained. “And those two issues are the major identity issues I’ve had to face in my life as a brown guy. They’re the two things that have probably caused the most pain and joy at the same time.”
While locals may recognise Nicholas from TV shows such as 'Home & Away' and 'The Unlisted', the actor – like many people of colour in the industry – moved abroad at one point in order to further his career. While working on and off in India over the span of six years, Nicholas was cast in Bollywood films, playing “masculine, violent characters”.
“I got typecast as the villain over there,” he said, explaining it contrasted the “very sensitive roles” he portrayed in Sydney.
Having just “come to terms” with his sexuality before moving to India, Nicholas “felt quite excited and joyous to finally figure out” who he was. However, he quickly learnt the need to keep this under wraps in India in order to maintain a successful Bollywood career.
“I think if the Bollywood industry had found out that I was queer, they wouldn't have me playing these masculine roles, which were making me good money and giving me some great exposure at the time,” he reflected. “So, I was faced with a lot of challenges and I wanted to write about it because I thought, perhaps other people would identify with it.”
After finding “a lot of solace in Indian mythology” and discovering a queer aspect of it that helped him understand his own sexuality, Nicholas began writing 'Sex Magick'.
Divided into nine acts, the play follows the journey of Ard Panicker, a physiotherapist who ends up working at “a metaphysical health spa, giving Ayurdevic rubdowns to yummy mummies in Bondi”. After experiencing mysterious full-body seizures and visions following the death of his estranged father, he travels to the village in South India where his father was born. It’s there that he finds an enlightened tantric guru who helps him grapple with his sense of identity and sexuality.
While it’s a work of fiction, the production is evidently inspired by some of Nicholas’ real-life experiences – and basing it in South India was definitely intentional.
“My father is South Indian and I remember the first time I went to India was when I was 24. There was something about South India and South Indian culture that made me feel so connected with who I was,” he said.
A key element of this culture that he chose to showcase in 'Sex Magick' is Kathakali – a classical Indian dance form originating in Kerala, a coastal state in South India.
“I had this profound experience when I was watching a Kathakali play in Kerala, where I suddenly understood my theatricality or why my face was expressing, and perhaps my sexuality in a strange way,” he said. “Because I was seeing these men in these opulent dresses playing women and goddesses.
“If that was in Australia, or America, for example, they'd be considered drag queens, but in India, they're not. It's just normal for these men to dress as the goddess and to wear a lot of makeup.”
Noting these differences between masculinity in the East versus the West made him feel more comfortable in himself, Nicholas said it naturally had to play a pivotal part in 'Sex Magick'.
Audiences can expect a multi-dimensional experience, as the stellar acting and Kathakali performances will be teamed with video elements to add a “magical” touch.
With a no holds barred approach to exploring culture and sexuality in this play, the actor admitted he’s “nervous” about public reactions, but knows he must tell this “important story”.
“I feel compelled and propelled to tell it, and what's the point of being an artist if you're not going to take risks and be brave?” he said. “So, I'm putting myself out there with this show, that’s for sure.”
He not only hopes that brown, queer people feel seen, but that conservative South Asian communities open their minds to more storytelling that embraces sex and sexuality.
“The two words sex and India don't go and I just think that's so ridiculous because India has given us the Kama Sutra,” he said. “I think this virtuous morality that is often practised in India is hypocritical and is the result of lingering colonialism there.
“If Indians come and see this and are offended, I would love to ask them why they're offended and why they think sex is something to be associated with shame,” he added.
“I’d love for this story to de-shame, decolonise and to ask those questions, because sex is a natural part of life.”
Starring Raj Labade, Blazey Best, Stephen Madsen and Catherine Văn-Davies, the play 'Sex Magick' runs from February 17 to March 25 at the Griffin Theatre Company in Sydney. Ticket information and further details are available here.