Ep 31 – Priscilla, Dragged

Happy Midsumma! This months episode celebrates all things queer and DRAG. Carla and Philip go and see two very different drags shows – the development separated by 20+ years but still very similar in sentiment. The reboot of the musical Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the brand new play Dragged by Tasmanian playwright Andy Aisbett. Both shows raise lots of discussion on class, ockerness, Australianisms, gender philosophy and tiny cocktail umbrellas. Just when you thought you never wanted to hear It’s Raining Men again off we go!

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Ep 31 – Priscilla, Dragged Transcript

(soft electronic intro music plays – fades)

Philip: Hello everyone and welcome to episode 31 of Across the Aisle, your favourite podcast about culture, theatre and the arts in Melbourne. I’m Phillip Thiel and I’m joined in the studio today by my friend and drag mother, Carla.

Carla: Hi!

Philip: Hello. How are you?

Carla: I’m good. How are you?

Philip: Yeah. Beautiful day today. Got stuck at the level crossing. But Dan will fix that for us. It’s summer in Melbourne which means Carnival Pride March and all the other curiosities of Midsumma Festival. And in today’s show we’ll be taking in two shows that fall under this rainbow-coloured umbrella. Both of them concerned with drag queens but on, and at, very different stages. First up it’s the return of the 2006 musical ‘Priscilla Queen of the Desert’ by Stephen Elliott and Alan Scott at the appropriately lavish Regent Theatre. Later we’ll head to the newly refurbished, but much smaller, La Mama Courthouse in Carlton for ‘Dragged’; a new play by Tasmanian Theatre Awards 2016 emerging artist and writer Andy Aisbett. So, lots of drag queens ahead and I’m really curious to hear what points of intersection and divergence we find between these productions. Before Carla gets us going with Priscilla, a quick note: both of the productions today were sponsored by listeners who contributed to our Season 3 crowdfunding campaign on Pozible. They received top secret hot take reviews via SMS as a sign of our gratefulness for the lavish generosity that they showed. So, our trip to Priscilla Queen of the Desert was supported by Josh Wright and is brought to all of you by Josh. Thanks Josh!

Carla: Josh is the new creative director at Arts House.

Philip: Fantastico! So, Carla let’s catch a matinee.

Carla: Indeed!

Philip: (laughs)

Carla: I love a matinee. I have to … I have to get that out of the way. I love a matinee. There’s something so naughty to me about sneaking off to the theatre at 3 o’clock on a Saturday and coming out and it’s still daylight and you can go and have dinner. It’s definitely a different kind of environment and I think maybe not the best environment to see this show – the Priscilla show – because it is quite a… I think, designed to be, a raucous night out for a lot of people. Don’t get me wrong. People were still sinking a shit-tonne of cocktails (laughs) and dancing in the aisles.

Philip: It was like a hen’s afternoon.

Carla: It was like a hen’s afternoon, but it was forty-four degrees or whatever and everyone was a bit ready to get loose. So, I think we’re all very aware of the 1990 film Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I never saw this musical when it was first put out – this is the first time I’ve seen it. Its little blurb says: ‘Get ready to shake your groove thing. The iconic hit musical has more glitter than ever, featuring a dazzling array of more than 500 award-winning costumes, 200 head dresses and a nonstop parade of dancefloor classic including It’s Raining Men, I Will Survive, I Love the Nightlife, Finally and more. Based on the Oscar-winning film, Priscilla is the hilarious adventure of three friends who hop aboard a battered old bus bound for Alice Springs to put on the journey of a lifetime … a show of lifetime. Their epic journey is a … heart-warming story of self-discovery, sassiness and acceptance.’ So, the costumes. A lot of the original people who worked on the film were also involved in bringing this to life, particularly Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott who wrote the book. It was directed by Simon Phillips and they used quite a few of the original costumes from the film and then also some further costume development by Tim Chappel who was a creative partner with Lizzy Gardiner. I can’t really tell from the book as to whether Lizzy Gardiner was involved in the musical or whether they just used some of her designs from the film. But anyway, the costumes are fantastic, but we have to get a caveat out of the way. So, this was almost like a queer minstrel show to me, like, I sat there with my jaw unhinged for three hours not really quite believing what I was seeing. It is racist; sexist; homophobic; transphobic; classist; xenophobic; it is everything that you remember from the film. So, in that way it is a truthful realization of this bubble in time of Australian history. So, I just want to get that out of the way because I don’t actually want to talk about that today. I want to talk about a couple of things.

Philip: I will just say, before we leave that behind, that I wondered if there would be an update on the film and at times, I sensed that maybe some elements would be. But none of them were.

Carla: No, it was a direct translation. Yeah. And I think that’s where we’ll start talking about Australian classism. The things that I really want to talk about this production today is the translation of a film to a musical. Do you think it was successful? Is it something that is generally successful? I can’t really think of many adaptations.

Philip: Legally Blonde?

Carla: Legally Blonde. You also saw Matilda which you didn’t particularly… that wasn’t a film that was a book tour musical…

Philip: Although yeah that’s had a few incantations … incarnations. (laughs) I thought ‘Legally Blonde the Musical’ was a triumph.

Carla: Oh wonderful!

Philip: Yaaa…

Carla: I’m sure that there are many but we’ll talk specifically about this as a translation to a musical. I also want to talk about… Essentially, it’s Australian classism and the intersection with that with homosexuality or drag or whatever, and then my final question from both of these plays is: what is drag? It’s something that I have… It’s been in the background of my queer life for the longest time. I… you know… was bumping around Newtown during the time that they were filming this film. It’s something that it was… very much captured a part of my young tween childhood years of my queer life in Sydney and it’s something that I’ve never actually questioned. But trying to really unpack these two shows, I just keep coming back to the question of what is drag?

Philip: And what is it becoming? I mean there’s a funny little moment going on around drag at the moment. It’s on the TV more and more, centrally, through RuPaul’s Drag Race, people are talking about it, writing articles about it, analysing it. But what is ‘it’? I agree. Because so much of what that RuPaul side of drag is – that world of touring drag through America – that is so defined by that television show that it’s taking its own sort of pathway, and then this film Priscilla Queen of the Desert had such a strange, widespread reception in Australia and has become a kind of defining text for what people believe drag to be, and also what they think Australia is, in relation to gay culture and drag scenes. So, it’s sort of … because the film reduces lots of things to broad comedy – the urban outback divide, the all sorts of… sort of encounters with different…

Carla: …gay versus straight it’s like it’s very binary black and white…

Philip: …and scenes where they encounter people from other countries, and you know, it’s sort of surprise that the non-white other and then surprise at the sort of, you know, real woman who’s an angry woman – all of those scenes of weird binaries that seem not to belong in the world of drag as we know it, and are challenged so often in the performance of drag as we know it, somehow are drag for so many people because of the impact of Priscilla.

Carla: And I guess I feel like I want to have someone much older than me on this show that remembers this in more context or detail, because drag used to be, in my limited understanding of the history, like Les Girls which is what is referenced in Priscilla – also very much a part of my history as a Sydney person – you know, my parents used to go to Les Girls, you know, to have a gawk, kind of thing, and so drag used to be, quote unquote, you know, like basically trans women before they could get an operation or live their lives in a trans, in a … in the gender that they wanted to be, or they were born, mentally. But then it sort of went through … but I went through to this where it’s like a lot of these costumes almost like clown, circus kind of, where there’s primary use of boy bodies like there are no padding, no boobs, just primary boy body use – they’re quite muscular, as they were in the film

Philip:  but more

Carla: more

Philip: extremely muscular…

Carla: Yes

Philip: …in this production we’ve got body dysmorphia-type bodies going on here.

Carla: Yeah. And there’s not a lot of drag as we understand it to be, as in female impersonation in this.

Philip: Indeed, and listen to the song list that was part of the description, It’s Raining Men? I mean that’s not a … is that a drag anthem?

Carla: As soon as we sat down and that started, I was like, oh we are in deep water…

Philip: We’re in straight land.

Carla: (laughs) Yes, we’re in straight land.

Philip: We’re at a straight karaoke show.

Carla: And that’s what made me really understand like how thirsty we were back in the 90’s for any kind of representation. Now I look back at it, it was just homosexuality packaged for straight people.

Philip: One hundred percent.

Carla: You know, because it’s like, it takes all of those elements of like, oooh the fags are so fucking good at flower arranging and costume design and, you know, being screaming queens…

Philip: …and dirty jokes…

Carla: Yeah yeah yeah it’s exactly…

Philip: …that we get.

Carla: Yes yes! And it was just like a hen’s night at The Laird… not The Laird, … The Peel. (Philip laughs) You know, it was like a hen’s night at The Peel.

Philip: Although women are not allowed at The Peel…

Carla: Anymore.

Philip: …there’s a sign on the door…

Carla: Well fucking hell, if this is what happens then I don’t want that either.

Philip: Mmm. Indeed. Interesting.

Carla: Do you find it’s over-‘ockernss’… and the boy bodies… to me that felt very homophobic, because it felt like it was packaging drag in a way that was silly enough for straight men to accompany their wives to go and see the show or to watch the movie?

Philip: Yeah. It was sort of drag in the style of footy show…

Carla: Yes!

Philip: …players who are so male…

Carla: …which is so specifically Australian…

Philip: Their maleness is exposed because they can’t properly pull off the drag show. I mean even in the original film; non-drag queens get dressed up in drag in certain scenes and it is a kind of clowning event.

Carla: Yes.

Philip: And the clowny costumes reveal the straightness, and the maleness, of the people and the bodies underneath. So…

Carla: Which is such… it seems to me such an Australian thing.

Philip: Yeah and… and the ockerness and the extremeness of the elements that I think were enhanced through the musical is a product of that question you had about film adaptation to the stage. There just wasn’t very much talk in the musical, because musicals don’t have talk, and that meant that they had to translate things efficiently through stereotypes that were even further exaggerated from the already extreme versions in the film comedy. Right? So you kind of have to get Shirl, this woman in an outback pub who’s sort of angry and marginalised within that culture, you’ve got to sort of amp up the misogyny well beyond what would be needed in a film context – not that one ever really needs misogyny at all – and yet because that’s the character that the musical has inherited, you get this grotesque further expression of her.

Carla: And I’ll tell you something that I thought that I found really interesting because I wrote something like ‘no female characters’. And then later I was like oh shame on you there’s a trans woman in that show. But isn’t that interesting that I wasn’t even led to believe through that show that she was a real woman?

Philip: What about Cynthia … and Shirl? You know they are sort of…

Carla: No.

Philip: … girlfriend figures.

Carla: Babes. (Philip laughs) The only people that were treated with somewhat respect were like mermaids, which were the divas…

Philip: Oh my god the divas! Okay.

Carla: …the divas that were floated down from the roof to sing the song, so at least they did that – they had a represent… the representation physically of the women singing the songs that the main characters were lip-syncing along to.

Philip: Well, representation but literally…

Carla: …floating above, yeah…

Philip: …the stage… and then sort of dragged up into the ether. Fascinating! All of this… all of this hyper-problematic gender stuff. And then the reception of the musical which we just have to say was kind of ecstatic standing ovation let’s go and keep having the party is so intriguing, when… when that is the text, right? So, people are receiving this as if it were really unproblematic – that was the vibe.

Carla: And it made me really think, like, back in the day like why there… I mean I’ve got so many intersections for both the shows, which is like cackling bogan fag-hags in the audience; ockerness; off-colour drag queen jokes; so back when drag queens were more like… it’s sometimes a warm-up act in gay clubs where they were just telling lewd bawdy jokes. And I think like a lot of this – I’m not directly barbing the production itself – it is definitely of its time and I’m trying to unpack this cultural shift – in gender studies, essentially – over a 20 year period, to the point that we can now have this conversation. So, both shows had: a cast of thousands, and everything but the kitchen sink in the storyline; super-faggy dads…

Philip: Oh yasss

Carla: …there was two super faggy dads, one in each show; a live band in both shows with a live… like, an original score, … well not so much an original score for that one; and fag-hags gone wild; and boy bodies.

Philip: Boy boy boy…

Carla: …in both shows.

Philip: That’s so interesting because the gay male non-drag body has become more muscular, along with the straight male body in Australia for a younger generation. So how do you dress that up? I think there’s just a generation shift in terms of what gay men look like, at least the ones who were going to be performers, and then how do you cast that? How did you make that into somebody who is on the pathway to be a drag queen, in the second show, and a kind of full-blown superstar performer in the Priscilla show?

Carla: Yes. I also… it just made me realise that, you know, I’m like, what is a fag hag? Why are there fag-hags? It totally spun me out. This whole show… or, both these shows (Philip laughs) And it’s like yeah. Because back in the day – and this is a direct correlation to the show that we saw on Saturday – back in the day the only way that you could go and have a good time as a woman was to go out with men who would not want to sexually assault you. Right? And that’s exactly what I felt was the vibe at that Saturday matinee, was, I’m like, I was like, oh how sad that straight people can only really let this far go and have a great time when it’s in a queer quote unquote queer environment. It said so much to me.

Philip: Yeah and the absence of straight men in the audience was fascinating then, along those lines, because it was dominated by women numerically. Lots of women were going together as a group of women with or without gay male friends. But yeah, that idea that there’s a licence given to the experience of women through the gay male, and that we’ve sort of created texts that facilitate that, and environments that facilitate that (at least until The Peel banned women). (Carla laughs) So we come back to that fascinating sense that there is a heritage problematic between two categories of people looking for something along the same lines.

Carla: It was a fascinating trip back in time for me. And then you know then comparing it with this now this brand-new drag show and then also over the top we’ve got All Stars Three, RuPaul’s Drag Race in the background already started. And it seems to me like drag has followed the trajectory of our understanding of gender, because now they really… I mean it’s… it is exaggerated, but now the goal is primarily to look as feminine as possible; to really be a female impersonator. That is also technology like they’ve got chest plates now and all that kind of stuff but…

Phillip: “realness”

Carla: …the idea that really it’s like they… it’s no longer about him having a boy body or a girl body it’s about what you want to be whether it’s a feminine presentation or a masculine presentation and I think that has been the most interesting trajectory to look at between these two shows.

Philip: One tiny little distinction from the film that I noticed was during the gay bashing scene in the musical version when Felicia is running away from angry men who’ve discovered his maleness. In the musical version, the soundtrack is Hot Stuff.

Carla: I know!

Philip: I was almost in tears.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: And he’s running away from cowboy-like men who were jumping onto him and he’s punching several of them in the face, successfully, as if it were a slowed-down scene from an action movie, getting a few guys out of the way before finally falling to the bigger hero who’s the homophobic gay-bashing straight man.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: In the film there’s no fight from Felicia.

Carla: No.

Philip: And in the musical…

Carla: Because she knows not to fight… back…

Philip: …and her body is different… Guy Pearce’s body wasn’t like Ewan’s body. What’s his name? – Ewan Dodge’s body – which is just excessive. Right? It’s a body-building body on Felicia in this adaptation. And so of course you have to sort of choreograph it so that it’s a bit more male and a bit stronger and tougher and physical.

Carla: Mm hmm. I think maybe you like – and this is maybe being generous, I’m not sure – but when you put something on the stage everything does have to be exaggerated like stage makeup and everything in order for everybody in the back to really still see. So, I’m sure if we were, like, even closer it would be much more traumatic. I’m so impressed. I’m so impressed that they can dance so well with being that big. It’s so great. Look ultimately this show was very entertaining. The costumes were stunning particularly the final… the final act with all of… like, the lady at… the wattle, and the kangaroos and the koalas’s and stuff, like, oh my god, tear to the eye, like…

Philip: Beautiful. And why was that reserved for the curtain call? I mean that was weird.

Carla: Yeah that was weird.

Philip: That was the adaptation of the stage show in Alice Springs from the film. They perform that after the whole story’s over, as if they were somehow back in Sydney. And of course, there’s that wonderful moment at the Sydney Opera House dresses, and, you know, it was beautiful and wonderfully choreographed, but I wondered why that was delayed so long?

Carla: It felt like they were saving the best ’til last. It was a bit too late by that point, like, I would have ooh’d and ahh’d, like… you know there could have been a little bit more of a peppering. But it’s a… it’s a quibble. Like, the final acts, the costumes were absolutely stunning. And I hope they will be preserved somewhere in a museum for us to look at forever.

Philip: Totally. (laughs)

Carla: And there isn’t… like, I don’t have cultural cringe in that way. Like, I love dinky-di crappy shit about Australia. I love it. I absolutely love it. But also, I had forgotten about the Ayres Rock thing.

Philip: Oh yes.

Carla: Where… just… that was the thing that actually really, like, kicked me in the guts…

Philip: That was disgusting…

Carla: Like I couldn’t even believe it. And that was the one concession that they made. I don’t remember if they do it in the film but…

Philip: No in the film it’s Kings Canyon.

Carla: It’s Kings Canyon? Are you sure?

Philip: Absolutely 100 percent.

Carla: Because in the musical they’re like… went, oh you know we shouldn’t be doing this but…

Philip: Exactly. So, in the musical they say, “We shouldn’t do this it’s sacred.” And then that’s what… Bernadette’s line, and then Felicia says something along the lines of, “Kylie’s sacred too.”

Carla: And then Kylie like…

Philip: Kylie is sacred? You’re on Uluru.

Carla: It’s seriously like if I went out to Broken Hill and said, “Tell me what gay people do…”

Philip: [in ocker Aussie accent] “Kylie! Kylie, mate!”

Carla: (laughs) It’s… this is what the show…

Philip: I can’t believe I’ve said that voice into a microphone.

Carla: So ultimately, I think… I think it was well translated as a musical, even though it was extremely problematic content.

Philip: But I feel mostly rage.

Carla: Yeah, I felt… I felt like I had to have the sulfuric acid bath after going to that, I was like…

Philip: There was a didgeridoo joke, (Carla laughs) and they made an indigenous man say it…

Carla: …and they made an indigenous… oohhhh and they made a lot of people do a lot of things that I’m sure that they regret. But… I don’t know what else to say.

Philip: Do you know what the worst thing was? That they didn’t make a musical with original songs. That’s an old-school critique but I actually hate the fact that they had to make every musical moment – and there were many – somehow match a pre-existing karaoke number.

Carla: Well this literally, this song list is… from going to a gay club in 1995. Yeah. With your girlfriend.

Philip: But like, if you’re looking at a bus that says, you know, ‘gay fags go home’, or whatever it says on the bus when somebody graffiti’s it, if you have to somehow translate that into True Colours by Cyndi Lauper, unironically performed…?? Like, the cognitive dissonance was…

Carla: (laughing) Well can I just ask when they had the Go West number why everyone was a red head?

Philip: …and why were they going west anyway? Oh my God.

Carla: I do want to say one more thing about… the comparison between the shows is alcoholism.

Philip: Interesting.

Carla: So, I don’t know if that is specifically Australian as well, or along the themes of… there was a… there was an overarching bludgeoning theme of people who aren’t happy in their own skin. So that’s why they do drag – is to be someone else, but that’s also paralleled with their alcoholism because they’re fighting their demons. And that was, that was literally both shows.

Philip: Yes.

Carla: So, twenty years later, twenty-three years later, …

Philip: It’s still a trope.

Carla: …you’ve got the same, this same story and I don’t know if that’s fair to say either.

Philip: I think it’s a pretty limited story. I mean, it sort of means that whenever you see something and you say, ‘Fabulous’, … you have to know, ‘Oh hang on – footnote – this is probably a self-loathing person who’s got major addiction problems.’

Carla: Yeah. Or that, you know, ‘The only way that I can express my… the misogyny directed at me as a feminine man is by dressing up as a woman.’ Is by expressing that in…

Philip: …but being an angry self-loathing and violent woman, who lands a few punches on the way.

Carla: Oh dear. This… I think this says so much about Australia that I could talk about for you… with you for a billion years.

Philip: But let’s at least get a margarita.

Carla: (laughing) It’s time to go and get a cocktail.

Philip: (audience chatter fades up) Intermission. So, I’m serious about the margarita and I’ll have a glowing one, please, with a straw.

Carla: They’ve got like, five different kinds here. So okay…

Philip: Ohh you’ve got the menu?

Carla: No no I’m just…

Philip: Okay.

Carla: …flicking through the catalogue.

Philip: (laughing) You heard the excitement in my voice there!

Carla: I just remember seeing people with, like, literal fistfuls of plastic…

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: Plastic… margarita glasses.

Philip: There were umbrellas all over the floor.

Carla: There was umbrellas all over the floor!! It was too much to feel shame even though it was 43 degrees or whatever. I was wearing thongs to the theatre.

Philip: Brilliant.

Carla: And I kept getting these little like cocktail umbrellas stuck in my feet…

Philip: Crunch crunch.

Carla: …and I kept thinking, Oh Phil would like this, I’m being punished for wearing thongs to the theatre.

Philip: What an exceptional cluster of strange texts overlaid. I mean, we can’t talk about it forever, but, you know, alcohol is on the stage, alcoholism in the pews. Yeah. Far out. Okay but what else? What else? Have you been going to the tennis? Have you been going to the Triennial?

Carla: (laughs) I have not. I have not actually been yet. I’m waiting to finish up work before I go to school, so I can… go during the week.

Philip: Yeah nice.

Carla: What have I been doing? Working all summer, which is boring, but… I just want to mention again that Star Trek Discovery has completely kicked it up a notch, like… the second half of the season has gone so batshit-insane, it is so good, every episode I have no idea what’s going to happen.

Philip: Can you just start with that season? Would that be a thing I could do?

Carla: Yes. Anyone can watch this. You don’t have to know anything about Star Trek.

Philip: Okay.

Carla: It’s just got a really cool storyline, cool effects… give it a go.

Philip: Because my version of Star Trek is like they give you a quiz on the rules of chess before you watch.

Carla: No. It’s fine. No. You can very much just drop into this universe and it’s very spelled out. But not in an… exposition-y way. So that’s been killing me. I’ve actually started re-watching the Masters of Sex, which for all of you theatre-goers out there, if you have not seen the show I would highly recommend it because it is very dense, very textural, very beautifully acted and the script is amazing. It’s very tender. It’s about longing and desire in the 50’s. It’s wonderful. So that’s what I’ve been killing my time with.

Philip: Fantastic. I did actually catch the Triennial at NGV during a special 10-day festival that they were running there, and I’m intrigued by this development in museum and Gallery-style institution programming, where they’re targeting Gen Y really explicitly.

Carla: Well this is that guy… I can’t remember what his name is, but he was the one who was at GOMA for five years and now he’s brought that… model here.

Philip: Because it was a party, right?

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: I left NGV at midnight.

Carla: It’s inclusive…

Philip: Yeah.

Carla: …because they have those plaques for children. That’s something that he’s really adamant on and having spaces for children.

Philip: Great, great, great stuff for kids at Triennial. Made by artists who specialize in that kind of art.

Carla: It’s amazing.

Philip: Fabulous and fascinating. Interesting though, as well, because Wilson Security Company…

Carla: Yes.

Philip: …currently employed by the NGV has been protested against really visibly by some of the artists, which gives an appropriately uncomfortable undermining element to some aspects of the show. Yeah, it’s very selfie-ready, but we’ll talk more about it when you’ve seen it. I did go to the tennis.

Carla: Oooohh!

Philip: I like a… I like a ground pass.

Carla: Do you?!

Philip: I do, I like Grigor Dimitrov.

Carla: Oh, okay sure.

Philip: (laughing) Surprise, surprise. In fact I was watching the tennis – this is a separate story – but at Port Arlington Hotel, on the telly, we had a couple of televisions going with tennis on each of them, and when the locals who always had the news on in the background just asked us which TV we needed to turn off (because you know, the locals were going to have the news on), I said, ‘Well it has to be that one, because that’s my husband playing.’ (laughs) He was, like, everyone else dressed in hot pink at the time.

Carla: Modern modern.

Philip: That was a very, you know, post-marriage equality moment I felt, because they thought, Is he serious? And then the guy behind the pub, you know, the hotelier, said, ‘Well why didn’t he give you a free ticket then?’ (laughs) I said I think it’s…

Carla: Because I like to slum it. Yeah. With his fans, too.

Philip: Yeah. That’s it. I’m not in the box. (laughs) It’s a funny moment though for Melbourne when a genuinely international sporting event like the Australian Open perches on the edge of the city. You know, as a resident of the CBD it’s fascinating to see the impact of that in terms of snobbery and racism basically, because it’s… Europe arrives…

Carla: Sure, sure.

Philip: …then Europe departs… this was… it was the Australian Open that made the Melbourne City Council bring in its disgraceful bylaw about street-sleeping and, you know, they cleared Flinders Street of people who were sleeping there because of the tennis. So, there’s that disgustingness to it.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: But yeah, it’s one of the sports I watch.

Carla: Did you ever know that – because I was still living in Sydney when we had the Olympics – that they just got a bus in? And they just, like, went around one night and picked up all of the homeless people and drove them to a detention centre, like, two hours out of the city for three weeks while the Olympics was on? And then just, like, they all just disappeared, and then they just put them all back on a bus and drove them back in, like, two weeks after the Olympics done, just deposited them at Hyde Park. Seriously.

Philip: That is surreal. This country is actually surreal.

Carla: It’s unbelievable.

Philip: I mean we do that on all sorts of scales, but we just keep doing that.

Carla: Did you do anything else for Midsumma?

Philip: Not yet. I skipped Carnival.

Carla: Oh, I went!

Philip: Oh!!

Carla: (laughing) I had a friend in town, I was like, ‘Let’s go!’

Philip: I thought it was not your kind of party.

Carla: It’s not at all. Trust me. They had this strange thing. They had this, like, Minus 18, you know, like, the young gay people…

Philip: Love Minus 18.

Carla: …organization. Yeah. And they had it in this, like, caged-off area in the centre of where everything was, and it just looked like a crèche… like because they were all just like sitting in there. At first, I was like, oh that’s nice, they’ve got a little area that they can sit in, but really it just looked like it was trying to, like, keep predators out, rather than…

Philip: …but also – this is a Priscilla joke – but to keep the 16-year olds in? (laughs)

Carla: It was really strange. But yeah, bigger and bigger and bigger. I haven’t been in years. So, the new location is great.

Philip: Okay.

Carla: Darling Gardens.

Philip: Okay.

Carla: It’s much bigger.

Philip: Great.

Carla: It’s much more… there’s a lot more shade, and all that kind of stuff. But I only stayed for like 40 minutes because I was already getting sunburnt.

Philip: It’s not Darling Gardens, it’s the NGV side of the river.

Carla: Yeah isn’t that Darling Gardens?

Carla: Alexandra. Oh whatever. Yeah. OK. Darling is the one just over here, in Clifton Hill.

Carla: Yeah that was. Oh yes. Sorry. Ahh… ‘Hir’, I’m going to go see Hir… the Taylor Mac play at Red Stitch. That’s going to be the last thing I do for Midsumma. Yeah. (theatre chimes) Got to go!

Philip: More drag!

Carla: Get your wig on. (audience chatter fades out)

Philip: Okay it’s time for our second Midsumma production: ‘Dragged’ at La Mama. This review is brought to us by a generous friend of the podcast, Chester Chen!

Carla: Ohhh Chester! Thank you, Chester.

Philip: Thank you. I think you would have liked this one. As the program says ‘In this wild new play, the fight through bruised relationships, unknowing identity and 24/7 partying all collide and leaves a mess mum couldn’t even sweep up. We follow the story of Stella, beaten up glamorous drag queen, and her transformation from boy to man, and man to queen. Through drug-induced hallucinations we are thrown-up on the corner of Memory Lane and Regret Street to watch the makings and destruction of a boy in battle.’

What curious language people use about this stuff? That wasn’t exactly my experience of this show, but who knows? Maybe that’s how you need to market to get people other than fans to see drag. Anyway. This was the story of a disturbed, socially isolated self-loathing young alcoholic, who does really mean things to his boyfriend overseas, and participates in the destruction of his entire family, and then relives the experience while dressed in a kind of semi-fabulous drag outfit. So, curious premise; ultimately depressing; and yet, interestingly, along the same lines as Priscilla, this was presented in a flamboyantly comic mode at times as if, it’s drag, we’re going to laugh.

Carla: Comedy tragedy, comedy tragedy.

Philip: Yeah yeah and there was also a whole lot of surreal elements to this play. That meant that the storytelling was done in a way that I actually found quite interesting. So rather than simply giving you the chronology, making everything clear, I was never really sure where we were or who was whom. I mean I actually took a long time…

Carla: Really?

Philip: …to work out that the blonde kid was the drag queen.

Carla: Ohh the baby drag queen? Okay.

Philip: Yeah and I also didn’t know who the people having parties were, and whether they were the same people as the alcoholics meeting at a kind of AA-style meeting…?

Carla: I think that that was the inference.

Philip: Yeah yeah. So that when we’re immersed in parties… hey the music was great wasn’t it?

Carla: So, the music was actually very good.

Philip: Really cool. So, there were live scores… performers, fantastic taking us into party mode, out the back lane behind the club. That was really exciting and fantastic. But look I was actually really excited by this production. I love to go to a play that is a new piece of writing that works, like, this was well rehearsed, it gelled, and it’s the kind of script that shows real promise in terms of this kind of theatre being produced. I love going to La Mama in Carlton. I’m really happy that they’ve got a new entry with the fabulous panelling. I love that they offered me a free coffee. I love that somebody there had heard our podcast before…

Carla: What!?

Philip: Yaaa, just some random person and I became friends! Anyway. I just love the mode and the mood at that institution and that’s all I got to say.

Carla: Yeah. Look I wholeheartedly agree with you, and I think Andy Aisbett’s text here particularly for – I think it is his first play – it’s a very, it’s… it’s great. Like I certainly couldn’t write a play, but… you know I think it could do with an edit. I think it could be, you know, cut down by 20 minutes. I don’t really… I don’t really understand… I think that the parallel between the party people, the AA meeting, and then the drag queen’s life – or the baby drag queen’s life – was sort of this ‘people in pain’ parallel, but I think that that whole subplot can be cut out. I don’t think that that was… it was confusing, and it was kind of unnecessary.

Philip: The party people?

Carla: The party people. Or it needs to be more clearer or amped-up as to the inference that it’s, like, everybody’s drinking their pain away, or … it needs to be fleshed out more or cut. Louis Corbett as the young drag queen – the boy before he becomes a drag queen – was astounding. What an amazing performer. I can’t believe how great he was…

Philip: In a tough role.

Carla: Very tough role. And so, baby-face. Like that little molester moustache that he has, it’s just like, it looked like it took him five years to grow it.

Philip: And he could face down Dean Robinson in the role of his dad.

Carla: Absolutely! (laughs)

Philip: In some pretty violent scenes.

Carla: Yeah there was excellent physical acting in this.

Philip: So well-choreographed.

Carla: Very well-choreographed. There was really… a lot of this was very polished. So, I think for a Courthouse show, and a La Mama show, and a first script show, this was awesome and I… I would hazard a guess that more iterations of this, it will become a pretty iconical standard text in the future. Samuel Thompson is the drag queen. The thing that I found strange about his show – and I don’t know why, maybe I’m being silly – is it just… because the drag queen was off to the side of the stage watching his life unfold, essentially, from the time he was young and being in denial about his sexuality and everything like that. And I just find it so strange this beautiful glamorous drag queen was just sitting on the side of the stage letting everybody else take their light… you know?

Philip: And even the occasional interruptions were really tasteful.

Carla: Yes! So yeah this is another story of… it seems to be more of a coastal, homophobic, raise, raising, child raising, situation. There was a lot… a little bit of mixed metaphors in there, particularly with the mum that kind of sped up a bit at the end. What was the drag queen’s character… Stella?

Philip: Which is her mother’s name.

Carla: It’s Stella. Stella was like, ‘Oh I became a drag queen to forget who I am, forget where I came from, but I’d never want to forget my mum, so that’s why I took her name.’ And I’m like, I’m not really sure if I understand the logic behind that…

Philip: Also, you haven’t forgotten your mum.

Carla: Yeah. (laughs)

Philip: There’s no risk of that.

Carla: But we don’t really have… do we have the details of the people who did the music? All we’ve got here is sound designed by Shane Blackshaw.

Philip: We need to include that; they were so cool.

Carla: They were really cool. It’s like a… acoustic guitarist plugged in and a… like a, digital…

Philip: Maybe they’ve just sort of buried their names in the cast to imply that they were, you know, performing along with everyone else? But they’ve just got names in the program.

Carla: The score was great. So, this is still on, by the time we get this out, I would recommend that you go and see it, or at least we need to keep Andy Aisbett on the radar.

Philip: Absolutely. It was so bold and wonderfully melodramatic.

Carla: Bold is a good word for it. Yeah yeah.

Philip: For example, I don’t want to give any spoilers, but the moment of… kind of, profound connection and reconciliation between boy and mum, at the end, where a lot of love language is used in wonderfully simple powerful ways. I was hooked. I was having a kind of next level soap opera experience and you can’t do that by writing badly. So that’s just further affirmation of this playwright. Fantastic.

Carla: Yeah. And obviously it was a… it was a really good cast. Excellent cast. I think we were there; we were there on opening night. There was… a lot of friends of the cast in the audience…

Philip: “Ha ha ha.”

Carla: …whooping and hollering. The set was great as well. This production really stands up.

Philip: Yeah. And it was so fascinating to see it after Priscilla. So, intriguing.

Carla: And I mean I guess that it can be metaphorical for the performing arts in general of finding yourself through characterizing other people. But there was that whole element again of alcoholism and doing drag to escape my life or their life, to then find themselves again.

Philip: And yet still be self-destructive.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: You know it’s offered as a solution that can never work because the damage is so profound. And there were really sad threads to this story, and you had the idea that we keep have to overlaying drag as a culture with melancholy and darkness. Yeah, it’s fascinating.

Carla: Yeah. Both productions really had that dead gay sort of thing hovering over it. Yeah. And that’s interesting to me as well that they’re not narratives that I’m used to seeing much anymore either. Like I watched… Call Me by Your Name the other night, and…

Philip: Beautiful.

Carla: …you know, I’m just like, this is where we are now. You know?

Philip: Agreed.

Carla: Yeah interesting, and I wonder if being Tasmanian had a lot to do to influence Andy’s play? Oh, we should try to get him on here.

Philip: Yeah. That would be amazing. Let’s do it.

Carla: We want to involve the Apple Isle a little bit more. More of our sister, really, than Adelaide or Sydney.

Philip: We are close.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: Absolutely.

Carla: Thank you for this show. We loved it.

Philip: Wonderful. “Coming soon.” What is going to happen next in Melbourne? The AFLW… kicked off last night…

Carla: It’s already started…

Philip: So that’s happening. Were there numbers?

Carla: Ohhh it was shocking.

Philip: Yeah well last year they had to move that match from…

Carla: My dogs freaked out.

Philip: Oh okay. Cool. That’s good. Yeah, I saw a friend posting about how the women in her household wanted to watch drag, you know, men dressing in drag, and the men in her household wanted to watch the women play football. So, screw you 1950!

Carla: Oh dear. Hashtag something.

Philip: Goals. (laughs) So yeah, I do recommend seeing a match in this season of football because number one it’s free; number two, it uses suburban ovals, which have this whole nostalgic embedded quality. I saw one at the Whitten Oval in Footscray last year, the Dogs versus the Crows, and it was different. Yeah and I… and I recommend giving it a look.

Carla: Well I’ve never been to the football and I always say that that’s, like, one of the few things that prevent me from being a minted Melburnian. The other is going to a show at Festival Hall. But now it seems that that will never happen for me, so…

Philip: Sad.

Carla: I know, but I think that that’s a good point because I should make my first football match a women’s football match. I also have a team as well. It’s the Giants… the Giants, Greater Western Sydney So yeah. Okay. Let’s go. I have two Coming Soon’s, so shows that we covered last year as our Best Of, or my Best Of, are both getting another run in February. So, we’ve got: This is Eden, at 45 Downstairs again, having a two-week run… one week, two week run… so go and see it; and also Picnic at Hanging Rock is having another show at The Malthouse. Yeah. So, I’m going along to see both of those shows.

Philip: Are you!?

Carla: Yes, I am!

Philip: Let me know when you are.

Carla: Yeah.

Philip: Wonderful.

Carla: So, if I’m doing this thing this year, it’s my New Year’s resolution that I’m not buying any tickets until the day, so also going to try and get student rush.

Philip: Text me.

Carla: So yeah. So, I’ve got like a blocked out in my calendar the show runs…

Philip: Oh my God.

Carla: …and then I’ll just be like, oh today’s the day, run over there and get a student rush. Yeah. I can’t wait. So, they’re my… they’re my two, you must go and see these shows. Stop what you are doing.

Philip: Agreed.

Carla: That’s it for me.

(soft electronic theme music fades in)

Philip: And that is it for this month. Happy Midsumma and see you next year. Thank you so much for listening. You can contact Carla and me at ‘us@acrossaisle.com’. Please do that. Our Facebook page is @acrossaisle and our Twitter account is @acrossaisle. Thank you to Shack West and Mark Barrage for our sound and music and thank you to all the artists whose work we immersed ourselves in this month. Without you we’d have to put on our own drag show. See you later Carla…

Carla: Bye Philip!

Philip: …and see you all here next month.

(soft electronic theme music fades out)