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The new stage show diving into what ‘parenthood’ really means

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Brand new, original show—The Mama Complex Collective: Variety Show!—is telling the very real and raw stories of what parenthood can be.

As someone who was told she would never have children, finding out she was pregnant just over seven months ago was already a surprise for performer Charlie Wan. But it was what came next that shocked her even more.

As well as owning popular dance school Subsdance, Charlie is a burlesque performer and drag king, and is well known for pushing the envelope in everything that she does. But when she announced her pregnancy, people struggled to understand how that persona could exist alongside being a mother.

Photography: Megan Bowers-Vette

“People would say, ‘oh, but now you’re going to be a Mum, you’ve got to give all that stuff up, right?’. Or, ‘you’re pregnant, you can’t do burlesque anymore because that’s wrong’,” says Charlie.

“And then, there was the shock of, suddenly, people believing they had autonomy over my body. People coming up to me in the street, who I’d never met before, saying, ‘you’re huge’. And you think, I would never say that to another human being. And as I began to speak to people about my experiences, it became very apparent that there’s so many stories out there about ‘parenthood’, that I thought I have to put this into a show.”

So she created The Mama Complex Collective: Variety Show!. The show is a night of song, dance, drag, poetry, comedy, storytelling, social commentary and above all else, raw truth, which drives into the trials and tribulations of parenthood.

Charlie ran the first show in Sydney recently, and next up it is coming to Canberra Theatre Centre for two shows on June 4 and 5. As well as starring in the show herself, every location will feature a lineup of performers, each telling a personal story through their own medium. The Canberra show will even feature a performance from Charlie’s own mum.

The main theme of the show is that every story deserves to be heard, no matter your gender, background or experience. It also includes stories of those who choose not to have kids, or find themselves simply unable to. And while some aspects of parenthood are wildly hilarious, it’s rarely smooth sailing, and the show also touches on difficult issues like miscarriage, infertility, and the trauma of childbirth. These sensitive issues are scattered throughout the show, and anyone who is uncertain whether it’s appropriate for them can reach out before the show. An onsite counsellor will also be available for support and trigger warnings issued as needed throughout the show.

And as she dives headfirst into her own parenthood journey, Charlie hopes to continue running the show into the future to keep telling these stories.

“This show is for anyone who has ever had an opinion or a conversation around having kids. It’s so broad, but it’s definitely for people who want to be open-minded,” she says.

“It is a place for people to find comfort and feel like they’re not alone. Because there are so many things that we go through, that aren’t always the happiest. And I think it’s so important to know that you aren’t alone, and as human beings, we go through this stuff. And we can get through it by talking about it and getting through it together.”

the essentials

What: The Mama Complex Collective: Variety Show!
Where: The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre
When: 7.30pm, Friday 4 and Saturday 5 June. The Friday night show will also feature an Auslan translator.
Website: Tickets from

Photography: Megan BowersVette

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