Spicebag: "And Sure Whatever You’re Havin’ Yourself"

Spicebag describes itself as a queer performance night and dance party for succulent misfits, fabulous flamers, dazzling dykes, trans celestial travelers, bisexual bikers, asexual agony aunts, cock goblins, hoop trolls, Nadine Coyle, that chicken fillet roll from last night you woke up with on your pillow. Its founders Stephen Quinn and Sarah Devereux talk about its birth last year, infancy, and what people can expect as Spicebag grows into a terrible toddler. Photo essay by Mattia Pelizzari.

Seán Kennedy performing at Spicebag

Stephen (aka Stefan Fae)

Spicebag was born out of frustration at a kind of homogeny I had observed creeping into the Dublin queer scene and of a shared desire, between Sarah Devereux and myself, to create a space for fabulous weirdoes who didn’t fit in anywhere else. Having bonded fairly quickly over a shared love of spontaneous Riverdance, and Nadine Coyle’s passport, we had been concocting Spicebag for quite a while before the grease traps opened and it finally exploded onto the stage, just over a year ago.

Though my background is in theatre, and Sarah’s is in visual art, we often found ourselves performing at spoken word events and squat parties; spaces where what we were serving was very much encouraged, but perhaps wasn’t quite the right context. With legendary performance events like AMI in mind, therefore, the time had come to “build our own stage to dance upon,” as designer and Panti co-collaborator Niall Sweeney once put it. Following on from Ireland’s historic marriage equality moment, it felt like Dublin’s queer scene was in need of a fresh meat injection. And thus, Spicebag was birthed; kicking; screaming and drenched in various bodily fluids.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think the social and political leaps forward we’ve made this last while have done us the world of good – if the gays couldn’t get married and move to the suburbs, Twink wouldn’t have anyone to walk the dogs with – but now that everyone can get hitched, if they so choose, I think it may be time for those a bit closer to the fringes to get all kinds of freaky again.

“Now that everyone can get hitched, if they so choose, I think it may be time for those a bit closer to the fringes to get all kinds of freaky again.”

I have been lucky enough, in my time, to have met/been mentored by some of my all-time performance super heroes: Taylor Mac; Penny Arcade; (clunk!); Justin Vivian Bond; Peaches (name-drop clunk clunk!). It is from these luminaries that Spicebag draws inspiration. It was also important to us that the night happened in a space that felt unconventional for the kind of frenzy we were trying to whip up; think John Cameron Mitchell meets Winning Streak. That’s why it was so fantastic when we stumbled upon The Dublin Working Men’s Club. The idea of hosting a DIY, alternative queer cabaret in a space where Joe Dolan wouldn’t seem out of place was very appealing to me. The lads in the club have been absolutely brilliant as well, and have barely batted an eyelid, which would warm your cockles of your little queer heart.

Essentially we wanted Spicebag to be fun, affordable, a bit gas and for it to happen somewhere outside of Dublin’s more established LGBTQIABCDEFG739&++ spaces. As John Waters (the one who does be doing the films) once said: “Gay is not enough, but it’s a good start.”


Sarah (aka The Dirt Bird)

It began at the National Leprechaun Museum. Stephen and I were both performance monkeys, and when I proclaimed to him I could queef on command, the twink(le) in his eye grew and a solid friendship was quick to set in. I can no longer queef on command, which saddens me – my accidental abstinence has tightened me right up, or so it seems. Thankfully, the friendship lasted despite this disappointment and through it, Spicebag was born! Huzzah!

Our desire to create something obscure came to fruition after about a year of having “imagine if we…” sort of chats, whilst attending and performing at various nights around Dublin. But how to translate wild desires onto a stage with nothing but that twinkle and a shoestring budget? Well, you can always take off the shoestring and use it as a bow.
We spread our sermon and an enthusiastic buzz came about. Our first Spicebag night in the Pearse Centre, March 2017, was nothing short of electric. Go tobann, there was a wonderful eagerness to taste our bag. We had to bolt the doors. It. Was. Madness.

“But how to translate wild desires onto a stage with nothing but that twinkle and a shoestring budget?”

Now come with me on a journey of the decor: it’s a combination of trash, cute ‘n’ kitschy and absolute filth. You’ll see cheap wigs double-sided sticky-taped (at least that’s what we hope is holding them up) to the wall, a pair of mannequin legs painted gold and turned into a table on the stage as a place to rest our wine/lighting. You’ll sometimes even find a golden goddess portrait of Sinead O’Connor too, surrounded by upside-down holographic images of the pope (the real one; JP II). There’s plenty of cosy ‘n’ kitschy bunting draping the walls and ceiling, you’ll notice wonderful images of butt plugs and fried chicken on them, the grease illuminated by cutesy fairy lights. As a focal point on the back of the stage is a thick, red velvet curtain with ‘SPICEBAG’ spelt out in gold lettering and white fairy lights. The curtain has been with me through three different art exhibitions in one way or another; I stole it from the fashion department in college. There’s a secret for you.

“It’s incredible to watch the smiles, attention and awe, both given and received. It’s very moving.”

A very special moment happened during the first Spicebag. I realised halfway through the show that we never turned on the lights. I announced to the crowd I was going to do so and as I was turning on each of the six of Penneys finest fairy lights, there were the most powerful of cheers – it makes me totes emosh to think about. As a finishing touch to tie in with the community hall feel to the place, I designed a series of bingo call-out posters, such as “54 – Andrea Corr” or “39 – Bikini Line” to line the walls with.
The line up is usually around six to nine performers, chock full o’ weirdness and wildness of the burlesque, drag, comedy, spoken word and musical kind. We’ve also had a wrestling match. We usually always end on a chaotic Riverdance (of sorts, always trying to emulate the full-bodied orchestral dance piece of 1994, but never quite reaching the mark. Through out the night, Stephen and I both host and perform or own acts, usually musical, often weird, and never not thinking about Linda Martin.

The aesthetic of the venue is incredibly community hall vibezz and *sheds a single tear* it really does feel like there is a strong sense of community at the event. The crowd gives out an incredibly enthusiastic, ecstatic warm energy. The feels are in a continuous motion between the wonderful performers and the audience. It’s incredible to watch the smiles, attention and awe, both given and received. It’s very moving; I’m sorry (#notsorry) I’m a Cancerian so I’m a ball of emotions writing about this! Come along to the next one! Xoxo

To find out about the next Spicebag, like the Spicebag Facebook page

This article originally appeared in Issue 343 of GCN.

© 2018 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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