There’s a video of me aged about six dancing around to the Toni Basil hit “Mickey” – screaming along with all the words and doing some fairly free dancing. The video culminates in tears when I don’t get enough facetime and my sister tries to join in. This mix of pop, exuberance, showing off and unnecessarily heightened emotions meant that I’ve felt a calling to create drag shows. I’d make the other kids at school join me at lunchtime in creating routines to the hits of the day – which we’d then demand a slot in the afternoon schedule to perform for the rest of the class. I remember campaigning desperately for our high school to add The Rock Eisteddfod to our extracurricular roster. And the envy I felt when my sister got to go to jazz ballet, put on a red tulle ra-ra skirt and perform “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”.
My paid immersion in the world of drag began with Priscilla, Queen of the Desert-the Musical. Sourcing classic pop songs and finding new production number and storytelling concepts for them was my ultimate job, and through that I met Trevor Ashley. Since Priscilla, we created Liza on an E which got us invited to the Sydney Opera House to invent an entirely new showcase for Trevor’s particular talents. I’m Every Woman opens tomorrow night and is a complete love letter to the amazing female performers of the last century and to Trevor’s love of showing how well he can animate the specifics of their talent.
Working in the drag genre has freed up areas in me – I’m much happier going by the fly now, at pushing the taste boundaries right to the limit, but still knowing you can move an audience within a line or two. At sensing that line between straight homage and the need to really say something about a performer and the work they do. Drag queens also have an impeccable sense of entertainment – they know their audiences really well, because every appearance they make is like going before the Romans in the Colisseum – worse, bored twinks at a club, more keen on scoring a root than listening to banter – if you can win over that audience, you know how to make people listen.
It’s been an interesting journey working with Trev – he’s started to be really keen on having an emotional arc and making sure things land structurally, and I’ve started to test how far a joke can be pushed.
I don’t know what art is. The things I see regularly that are labelled “art” are mainly dull. Overdirected takes on classics, new plays from overseas, forcedly lyrical Australian plays – these things are praised and I think – but what about the audience? I have a couple of things I like in theatre – to be delighted, surprised, to laugh and to cry. And there’s a hell of a lot more chance of that happening in a drag show than in the latest subscription company production.
I can’t wait for the audience to see Every Woman Trevor can do.