Drag Performances

Drag queen shows have become one of the most attractive entertaining destinations in Sydney.  A drag queen is a man who dresses, and acts like a “caricature” woman (Drew Shane 2011).  According to Graeme (Langley 2006, p. 70), the actor of famous Mitzi Macintosh, their performances are often for entertaining purposes. As a form of popular entertainment, drag performances employ number of techniques for recognition of popular cultures such as lip-synching pop music stars, or make-up of popular characters.  However, those entertaining performances are not mere aims of drag shows (Taylor & Rupp 2005, p. 2133). The underneath of those camouflages, implies many political tones such as a satire of drag queen’s ‘voicelessness’, a strike for gay’s equality, a negotiation of genders, a criticism of hegemonic masculinity’s confines.  This essay discusses the intersection of those popular entertainment’s conventions and the above political acts in various drag shows of Maxi Shield and Verushka Darling, Claire de Lune, and Dallas Dellaforce.

First controversy lies in the function of lip-synching in drag shows. Lip-synching is one of the main factors which changed the nature of drag performance irrevocably (Senelick 2000, p. 389). As a form of popular entertainment, lip-synching is used as a vehicle for popular culture’s recognition. According to Langley (2006, p. 10), audience’s enjoyment is encouraged through indentifying various popular culture’s markers such as the iconic songs and iconic performers. Since those well-known songs and well-know stars are considered as popular culture, manipulation of those conventions also becomes popular entertainment for mass audiences. Maxi Shield and Verushka Darling’s lip-synching of Rihanna’s ‘Shut up and Drive’ immediately reminds audience of the pop star’s famous hit. Therefore, lip-synching elevates drag as a peripheral entertainment of minority gay’s community to a new level of popular culture and gradually revolutionizes into a successful art form (Langley 2006, p.14).

Besides, lip-synching also initiates some political acts. Firstly, lip-synching is an object of parody that is used to criticize its imitated popular culture. Some shows satirize the unreasonable application of lip-synching to highlight the performers’ voicelessness. Here, perfect lip-synching is not the main aim; rather excessive dependence on lip-synching is main joke. Claire de Lune’s show is evidence. Although sometimes she clearly stops talking; the pre-recorded soundtrack continues to take over in the background. Attention is drawn purposefully to the mechanic of drag construction. The performer is acting for defiance to strike for a more control on stage (Langley 2006, p. 11-12). This implies the situation of early drag industry in the mid-1990s that drag queens used to be voiceless in their own persona, in employment and in gay community (Langley 2006, p. 14). Thus, lip-synching concurrently marks drag performances as popular entertainment and as political act.

Dellaforce’s performance of the Clown Cult at The Red Rattler Marrickville is another remarkable illustration of drag as popular entertainment and as political act. His make-up as a clown flashes back the popular circus performance. As claimed by Lemon (2011, p. 230), circus performance has always acted as a mirror to popular culture that absorbs cultural influences, and reflects popular fascinations. Especially, the clown character has been viewed as central role in the heartland of popular culture (McManus 2003, p.127). Thus Dallas’s character under the clown’s camouflage emphasizes his intention to perform a popular entertainment that has a long standing in theatre’s history.

As a political act, Clown Cult show affirms a central role of drag in the construction of public gay identity which is often used as political tactic in demonstrations (Newton 1972 & Rupp 1999 cited in Taylor & Rupp 2005, p. 2118). Drag shows are political theatres staging on critique of hegemonic masculinity and mainstream heterosexuality. The stage is used to affirm gay identity, to cross the boundaries between male and female, heterosexual and gay, and to support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cause (Taylor & Rupp, p. 239 – 240). As supported by Kiminski (20003, p. 24), drag is a protest that strikes for gay and lesbian’s equality. Dallas’ use of swearing terms, direct pointing, and sex acts draw the audience into complicity with them, blur the respectability of the audience and the deviance of drag queens. Those strategies shift the power between her and the audience. Dallas’ tearsing down the boundaries suggests that everyone in this theatre is indifferent disregard of their social status ‘out there’ (Taylor & Rupp 2005, p. 2133). Drag is also a negotiation of gender. Drag queen demonstrates that all gender is ‘an imitation for which there is no original. (The Harvard Law Review 2008, p.1989). This is represented in Dallas’ use of same pink colour and balloon material for both the male and female’s sexual organisms. One person can be both a man and a woman, thus the deviances of genders is insignificant. This criticizes the unethical punishment of for gays and lesbians in way to suppress those deviances. Dallas’s criticism moves further to the confines of hegemonic masculinity. According Brown (2001, p.39 – 40)’s claim of a restricted definition of hegemonic masculinity, Dallas acts out conflicts of men who are unsatisfied with a limited definition of ‘real’ masculinity. The ‘femininity’ attributed to gay men is not ashamed, but confident in retaliating against a hegemonic straight world (McNeal 1999, p.346). When acting as an aggressive man who has thickly black eye-browns, Dallas keeps big balloons to create sexy breasts. This implies that men can have female’s attractiveness. They are still men, however, through the revelation of a ‘balloon’ penis when he undresses. This is a strike for an alternative masculinity or a gay masculinity such that a ‘real’ man may be supposed to be pretty.

In conclusion, through different performative components and contexts, drag performance can be an intersection of drag as popular entertainment and drag as a political act.  Drag queens bring laughs to most of their audiences, but those jokes are implied with political messages to inform many aspects the gay and lesbian community that the audiences would carry with them when walk out the theatre room.

References

Brown, J. B. 2001, ‘Doing Drag: A Visual Case Study of Gender Performance and Gay Masculinities’, Visual Sociology, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 37 – 54

Drew Shane 2011, Is Drag The New Superstar or Is Your Superstar A Drag, Fresh Express, accessed 31 May 2011, < http://thefreshxpress.com/2011/04/is-drag-the-new-superstar-or-is-your-superstar-a-drag/>

Harvard Law Review Association 1995, ‘Patriarchy Is Such a Drag: The Strategic Possibilities of a Postmodern Account of Gender’, Harvard Law Review, vol. 108, no. 8, June, pp. 1973 – 2008

Kaminski, E 2003, ‘Listening to Drag: Music, Performance and The Construction of Oppositional Culture’, The Degree of Doctor in Philosophy dissertation, The Ohio State University

Langley, C 2006, Beneath the Sequined Surface: An Insight into Sydney Drag, Currency Press, Sydney.

Langley, C 2006, ‘Borrowed Voice: The Art of Lip-synching in Sydney Drag’, Australian Drama Studies, no. 48, April, pp. 5 – 17

Lemon, A, ‘Bring in Your Washing: Family Circuses, Festivity and Rural Australia’, in J Conell & Chris Gibson (eds), Festival Places: Revitalizing Rural Australia, Chanel View Publications, pp. 229 – 247

McManus, D 2003, No kidding!: Clown as protagonist in twentieth-century theatre, University of Delaware Press, United States of America

McNeal, K. E. 1999, ‘Behind the Make-up: Gender Ambivalence and the Doubled-Bind of Gay Selfhood in Drag Performance’, Ethos, vol. 27, no. 3, September, pp. 334 – 378, accessed 30 May 2011 from JSTOR, ISSN:

Senelick , L 2000, The changing room: sex, drag and theatre, Routledge, London

Taylor, V & Rupp, LJ 2005, ‘When the girls are men: Negotiating Gender and Sexual Dynamics in a Study of Drag Queens’, Signs, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 2115 – 2139, accessed 30 May 2011 from JSTOR

Taylor, V & Rupp, L. J. 2005, ‘Crossing Boundaries in Participatory Action Research: Performing Protest with Drag Queens’, in D Croteau, W Hoynes & C Ryan (eds), Rhyming hope and history: activists, academics and social movements scholarship, University of Minnesota Press, pp. 239 – 264

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