Big Screen Small Queen (What I never learnt at film school)
Etcetera Etcetera may be a young drag queen, having graced our screen in a little reality comp you may or may not have heard of, *Cough cough Ru Paul's Drag Race Down Under*. The then mere 23-year-old had only been performing for around 4 years, when comparing that in drag years, well let's just say that it doesn’t even register on the wig-o-meter. Sashay to a few years later and the woman that stands before us now embodies all the glitz and glamour of a timely Hollywood starlet.
Hot off the heels of her collab show with drag sister Art Simone, Etcetera Etcetera has taken the plunge and stepped out on her own in this funny, heartwarming, honest, twisted and just a down right party of a one woman show. Inspired by her time at film school, Big Screen Small Queen (What I never learnt at film school) explores Etcetera Etcetera’s struggles to break into the film industry as a gender rebel and less-than-mainstream artist. Both comedic and confessional, we join Etcetera Etcetera as she tracks her journey from burgeoning movie enthusiast to drag superstar with hilarious twists and touching odes to queer Old Hollywood along the way.
You might be quick to judge the opening act, a Marlene Dietrich look alike takes to the stage as two back up dancers hurriedly try to keep in step, lavishing their affections and bowing down to her every unspoken command. "Diva" is the first word that comes to mind as Etcetera Etcetera makes her presence known. Embodying the spirit of such strong-willed woman like Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn even funny lady Joan Rivers. Etcetera Etcetera commands your attention and well she gets all of mine. However, it's not long before the mood shifts, and the layers get stripped back, literally, as her back up dancers start to disrobe her, what is left is a bared soul, exposed for all the world to see. Nothing to hide behind, no fanfare and this is where the magic lays.
Etcetera Etcetera wanted an immersive experience for the audience, to let them be in the role of a film maker. A camera is set up in front of a small stage with a projector screen for a backdrop. Etcetera Etcetera plays to the audience, she plays to the camera and at times to herself. The lines between reality and truth are a constant blur and it makes you question just how much of real life is a performance. Throw in some cute journal entries from her days of film school (they're sweet, innocent and may be a little naïve. Oh, how reality changes one's views) and some amazing lip syncs, costume changes and there's even a screening of some her shorts from film school days projected during intermission.
In essence yes this is a drag show, but it is like no other. This is a side we rarely get to see; all costume changes happen in front of the audience. A character is what they present never do we get to see who they were only who they become. Through these characters they find their strength, their voice. We see drag queens as being stoic, and God knows they must be in this world. There's this taboo that being venerable means being weak and I get it when you spend majority of your life being pushed down and made to feel lesser than what you are, your body becomes an armor and you're not willing to allow anything or anyone to penetrate the skin. Etcetera Etcetera however gains power from her venerability. Finally, she gets to direct herself, choose her story and drag how she wants to drag.
Stand out numbers for me happen to be her odes to John waters. Her first dressed in a bright pink dress with the head of a Flamingo as a glove, lip synching to some of Divine's most famous lines all while tussling with the bird that has come to life and fights for control. The other starts out with a black and white projection of a 1950's house wife, running through a grave yard only to be attacked by an unknown assailant ( also most hilarious and enjoyable death scene I've ever seen in my life, gives Paul Reubens death in Buffy the vampire slayer movie a run for its money) which then evolves into an operatic rendition of Talking Heads Psycho Killer ( Ms Kate Miller-Heidke supplying the vocals) dressed as that 1950's housewife welding a knife ( Think Kathleen Turners Step Mom). Some local hero's also get their dues. Both Muriel's Wedding and Priscilla get their own treatment through musical numbers and monologues.
Big Screen Small Queen also tells the importance that film plays in the lives of many young queer kids. Through film we learn what it is to be a man, how to act like a woman, what it means to fall in love, when it's safe to cry and when it's not so safe to fight back. representation is needed, we crave to see what is on screen reflected on to us. For myself growing up queer in the 90's meant most characters were either killed (Lost and Delirious, Boys Don't Cry, Philadelphia) or we were the Killer (Monster, Heavenly Creatures, Sister my Sister, Fun). It really wasn’t until Pricilla and Muriel's wedding that we knew there was an "other". That we understood we could have that happy ending. You could be queer and happy, you could be a transwoman and find a healthy love, that you could be part of a rainbow family and bring up happy well-adjusted children. I get her homage here, to the films she loves and for their importance on the woman she's become.
This production has not been produced alone and from everyone on stage to off you can feel the community and family they established to bring this production to life. Etcetera Etcetera may be the focus, but she allows all players to have their moments. Both dancers Carter Rikard (who also choreographed) and Jack Williams were fantastic in their rolls and in no way played second fiddle. They were energetic, talented, funny as hell and had their own shining moments center stage. Erin Caroll in charge of costuming was able to create some stunning pieces recreating the glamour of the silver screen.
I'm not sure I agree with the title, I get the meaning behind it of realizing that in the big picture our roles we play are small in comparison. However Etcetera Etcetera is no small queen, her heart is big and voice is loud that she is unstoppable force both in life and on the dance floor. This is truly an enjoyable production and will have you clapping along with every beat only fueling the fire that’s inside of our hostess. I hope she can look back and realise her life is as good as an abba song.
Photo credit Matthew Miceli Photography (c)