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Joel Bray grew up as a queer, light-skinned Aboriginal in a country town and never felt like he quite fit in. 

By Tamara Howie

Bray turned those feelings of displacement into an award-winning, one-man, dance theatre show, performed in the familiar yet foreign setting of a hotel room.

The show, Biladurang, is based loosely on the Dreamtime story about a platypus of the same name. The platypus’s mother – a duck – was exiled from her home after straying into forbidden lands and having a baby with a water rat.

Why does the story of the platypus resonate with you?
It talks of being displaced from your home and being a kind of a mutant. I’m fair-skinned but Aboriginal, I grew up in connection with my culture through my father, but I also lived with my mother who’s of European heritage.

I grew up kind of not fitting in either world. 

I was also queer and grew up in a conservative religious family, so not being quite sure where you fit is a really palpable thing for me – that’s what the work is really about.

Tell us more about the show.
It’s autobiographical about a person who is in his mid 30s, queer, light-skinned Aboriginal, who takes a moment to ask ‘where am I’? Is this who I’m supposed to be?'

It’s a lot of fun. The kind of work I make is making fun of the weird stories of my life and there’s a lot of self-deprecating humour – I don’t want to spoil it, but people get to have a lot fun.

Why did you want to perform the piece in a hotel room?
The hotel room is perfect because it’s a super familiar place. They’re pretty standard but also nowhere – it’s not home or work or a place of leisure, it’s a temporary version of all of those.

Space makes us respond by habit. When we walk into a theatre we know when to clap and we sit in the dark and shut up, we have a certain way of behaving.

Being able to have the performance in a difference space allows people to respond however they want to.

It’s quite an intimate space – what’s the relationship between yourself and the audience?
There’s a lot of interaction but mostly people get to sit and watch up close and personal. It’s like a conversation – in the moment I can craft it especially for the audience that’s there.
Fri 10 – Sun 12 Aug | 6pm & 8pm | H Hotel | See the event listing
Image by Pippa Samaya

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