08
Aug
16

Drag in Theatre and Performance

What is the definition of Drag? According to Wikipedia it is as follows:

A drag queen is a person, usually male, who dresses in drag and often acts with exaggerated femininity and in feminine gender roles. Often they will exaggerate certain characteristics such as make-up and eyelashes for comic, dramatic or satirical effect. While drag is very much associated with gay men and gay culture, there are drag artists of all sexualities. There are many kinds of drag artists and they vary greatly in dedication, from professionals who have starred in films to people who just try it once, or those who simply prefer clothing and makeup that is usually worn by the opposite sex in their culture. Drag queens can vary widely by class and culture. Other drag performers include drag kings, women who perform in male roles and attire, faux queens, who are women who dress in an exaggerated style to emulate drag queens, and faux kings, who are men who dress to impersonate drag kings.

 

Do we consider cross -dressing in the theatre (plays and operas) as a form of Drag? I do not; to me drag is about creating your own persona and making something out of scratch not filling a role requirement in a some one else’s work.

Now to look at this question I am also not going to include ancient temple cross dressing priests or those who lived as the other gender that is another topic. Drag as performance is what I want to discuss and how we define it, and what it does. The world of what has been referred to in several ways as Drag or female impersonators. This tradition goes back to music hall days and has as many stars both renowned and infamous like Fanny and Stella who went on trail before Oscar Wilde and went on to continue their stage career after being acquitted.

This kept up through the 50s and 60s with clubs featuring “acts” Finoccho’s, Club My oh My and many others most performers would sing and dance, before the world of lip-syncing arrived

. https://youtu.be/W6EsOPozjdk

There is a lot written about the history of the art form, and yes I do consider it to be an art form.

 

The idea of a man shedding his power in a male dominated society and culture to dawn the manners and appearance of the opposite gender one that is viewed as weaker and less than is in fact an act of empowerment for them, we see this time and time again. Is it less for Drag Kings who are emulating the ways and manners of men? It’s possible as we view a man’s sexuality very differently than we view women’s sexuality. The rules for men are still fixed in the binary system. As to how doing drag affects the performer from everything we are told by these performers and artists they feel complete in a way they hadn’t before, as gender expression and playing with the binary system weather or not that’s what they are doing intentionally its what’s happening. The role of drag within the community has also changed as the fight for equality has shifted to conform to the hetro- normative model.

 

Drag queens, fems and non – conforming queer folk historically have been in the forefront of the fight for equality, they are not the queers who sit politely and ask permission as we look to our history it’s the drag community that started the riots in New York and San Francisco. It is this fight surrounding drag and gender identity within the community that continues the discussions of Hetro and Homo normative and how drag is viewed within our own community, how we wish to be perceived, and the idea of there no longer being room for non- conforming.

 

In drag the performer has the permission to say and do almost anything they want. It gives them a platform to tease and to say things they never would say (for the most part) to anyone who is in the line of fire.

 

Drag is a transformation; it is also a form of art where your body is your canvas. It has gone from presenting as the other sex to high performance art.

We go from the performative with in bars and nightclubs to the Ball culture of the 80s and 90s. More and more Drag queens and Kings are pushing the boundaries taking bigger risks and squewing our idea of what gender is suppose to resemble, sound like, and act like.

Looking at Rupaul and his sheer force of will, the first drag queen to be the face of a cosmetic, and liquor add campaign he has had several iterations of talk shows and now a game show on top of Drag Race.

With the sudo mainstreaming of RuPual’s Drag race I wonder what is the affect this show has had on the drag culture? We look to the contestants who have taken the crown; we see performers in the traditional sense with Del Rio, Jinx, and Bob the Drag working in the mainstream of classic entertainment singing and stand up. The first pushing of the boundaries of what we consider to be proper drag with Sharon Needles, and a gender bending Violet who strips down to practically nothing and is clearly male and yet clearly not all at once.

https://youtu.be/l_w7wTn-WYs

 

Drag is not a conformative art form. So it will be interesting to see if the real mainstream culture will try to co -opt it and just how that will go.

 

The reaction to faux Queens has been interesting and hostile in some cases. Can women be drag Queens?

https://youtu.be/VJYaq_XnjaQ

 

In the spirit of Drag I think absolutely women can do drag the very nature, culture and history support it. I am curious as to what is spawning the hostility? Why is it a threat?

Women pushing boundaries within and commenting on femininity can be act of defiance so I’m all for it and clearly it pushes buttons that’s what is at the heart of drag.

 

Drag is a performance art, one that makes you question what the boundaries of gender are, and should we have boundaries surrounding gender in the first place?

 

The spirit and world of drag has influenced theatre and has taken from theatre. How can we, as theatre makers, take more of this on in how we present theatre? The courage and risk taking is at the heart of drag and it is this that we should be bringing back into theatre. We have fallen into a complacency that does little service to the audience and the work. We need to make bigger choices and have the courage to stand behind them.

 

 

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