When The Lights Are Shining On Them: Drag Performance and Queer Communities
Dr. Stephen Farrier
This thesis broadly characterises queer communities as performative, specifically it argues that queer communities can be articulated as a contingent and highly localised set of performative acts set within a broader context, which have the potential to congeal around sites of drag performance.
Exploring drag performance in contemporary London, this thesis considers the ways in which performance is a particularly fecund environment for the emergence of queer communities. This relationship between queerness, community and performance is not a phenomenon solely within the contemporary moment, but rather can be located historically within a heritage of queers using performance.
Starting from moments of homophobic violence in contemporary London this thesis interrogates the continuing emergence of queer communities around performance and the particular role that drag and drag performance plays. Arguing that drag has an integral role in particular queer histories, knowledges and cultures, this thesis arrives at a contemporary moment in which, because of the viral development of online social media and video hosting sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Vimeo, and so on) drag is developing as an increasingly popular form of performance, with a growing proliferation of drag performers and audiences over the last five years. Whilst drag performers have historically travelled and worked internationally, the development of online media has led to a proliferation of the popularity of the form on a transnational scale in the last five years beyond the movement of individuals or groups of performers.
This thesis is committed to queer understandings of knowledge production and as such strives to challenge what could be understood as (hetero)normative modes of knowing, research and writing. The field work of this research takes place in moments of watching performance, being a body in a space watching performing bodies, and accounting for and reflecting upon these performances. Using a bricolage of queering knowledge as explored by writers such as Halberstam (2012) and Muñoz (2009), performative writing (Pollock, 1997), queer autoethnography (Adams and Holman Jones, 2008, 2014), this thesis proposes a “queer side-eye” as a methodologically queer approach to understanding the importance of watching performance whilst simultaneously being rendered as a community by performance in the moment of watching. Queer side-eye indicates a queer sideways glance, taken at moments of performance and theory to unearth what knowledge can emerge at the periphery of knowing. It also indicates not only a way of looking or watching, but also a ludic attitude and position characterised by the famed acerbic wit of the drag queen in performance. Whilst this queer side-eye is an overarching methodological framework, it also characterises the approach, attitude or position taken in relation to the theoretical approaches of this work.
This “queer side-eye” will be drawn from fields notes made from extensive experiences of watching drag performances which evidence both the acts of drag and the affective experience of being a body in the space watching performance. By focusing this research around the work of performers in contemporary London to which I have access, this thesis considers, accounts for and explores the contingent emergences of drag, performance and community in this particular setting to gain new insight into the ways in which bodies coming together around performance can work to produce affective experiences of community.
I am a PhD Candidate at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and a lecturer teaching across the fields of drama, theatre and performance. My research focuses around drag performance, and the potential ways in which queer communities can and do emerge in contemporary London, particularly around performance.
Prior to embarking on doctoral study, I received a BA (hons) in Drama, Applied Theatre and Education from Central and a MA (Distinction) in Sexual Dissidence in Literature and Culture from the University of Sussex. During my MA, I also worked various Special Education Needs and Early Years settings. At the same time, I began to spend more and more time watching drag, cabaret and burlesque performers, and working with a collective of performers known as the Family Fierce. I worked as a producer of drag and cabaret shows, the largest of which were known for bringing the performers of US-based reality television show RuPaul’s Drag Race to the UK to perform at, now closed legendary LGBTQ+ bar in Camden, The Black Cap.
Today, alongside my research, I am the co-Director of queer bar, performance and cabaret space Her Upstairs and queer club space Them Downstairs in Camden, London, which house performance events from across the drag, queer and cabaret performance scene in London and beyond.
2015 – Present, Co-Director, Her Upstairs and Them Downstairs, Cabaret and Drag Performance and Bar Space
2013 – 2015, Co-Producer, The Meth Lab, Regular Drag Performance Event in Camden, London
2014 – 2015, Manager, The Family Fierce, Drag, Burlesque, Cabaret and Performance Art Troupe
2016 – Present, MA Tutor, Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
2016, Lecturer (Drama and Theatre), BA (Hons) Drama, Theatre and Education, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
2014 – Present, Visiting Lecturer, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
2012 – 2014, Teacher, Carer, Learning Support Assistant, SEN settings in London and Saint Albans
2017 'I Want To Take You To A Gay Bar: LGBTQ+ Spaces, Drag, and the Performance of Queerness', Theatre and Performance Research Association Postgraduate Symposium, University of Leeds
2017 'No Wire Hangers: Drag Performance, Learning my Queerness, and Getting the Reference', Intersections Conference, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
2017 'Don't Be A Bitch, Practice Bitchiness', Life's A Drag: Manchester Drag Symposium, Manchester Central Library
2016 'Mother Black Cap: Queer Performance and the Loss of (Queer Spaces)', International Federation of Theatre Research Conference 2016, University of Stockholm
2015 ‘When The Lights are Shining On Them: The Value of Club Performance’, Intersections Conference, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
2015 ‘“I’d rather be a dear than a hunty": Globalising Drag Practices and the Resistance of the Local’, Theorising the Popular, Liverpool Hope University
2015 ‘“A Queer Threw Up At The Sight Of That”: Queer Performance, Protest, and the Loss of Queer Spaces in London’, Performance & Politics & Protest, University College Cork
2015 ‘Queering Community, or Thinking Community Queerly’, Applied Theatre Postgraduate Speakeasy, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama