When The Lights Are Shining On Them: Drag Performance and Queer Communities
Dr. Stephen Farrier
Drag performance is and continues to be intimately linked to queer communities. This thesis explores drag performances and queer communities in contemporary London. It argues that these performances offer fertile sites for the emergence and sustenance of queer communities. Through a mixture of queer autoethnography, feminist writing practices and queer theorising, this study focusses on the work of twelve performers in contemporary London. Starting from the understanding that homophobic and transphobic violence is increasingly prevalent in the context of this study, it describes and theorises the contingent emergences of drag practice and its relation to and construction of affective experiences of community both in response to and regardless of this violence. Overall, this thesis proposes that drag practices and the spaces in which these performances happen are fundamental to the survival of particular forms of queer community.
With the increased use of social media by drag performers and audiences, there has been a resurgence in drag performance. As a result of this use of social media, drag performers and performances are being seen and understood on an international scale. However, rather than focussing on the prevalence of social media, this inquiry makes the argument for the importance of drag as live performance in bars, pubs and clubs, despite the increase of these kinds of queer venues closing in major cities in the UK.
As a way of theorising these performances, this thesis proposes ‘queer-side eye’ as an overarching methodological framework and tactic that recognises the complex and contingent ways in which the researcher is imbricated in the research. Queer side-eye is also a physical position in the world and describes not only a way of looking or watching – and being looked at - but also a playful attitude and position characterised by the acerbic wit of drag performers. The tactic is constructed through field notes made from extensive observations. It is also connected to ideas of queering knowledge explored by Halberstam (2012) and Muñoz (2009), feminist writing practices from Kristeva (1985) and Cixous (1997), and modes of queer autoethnography proposed and practiced by Adams and Holman Jones (2008 & 2014).
Alongside the significant new insights that a structure of queer side-eye offers for the study of queer performance forms, this thesis argues for the importance of queer venues and drag performance in the context of homophobia and transphobia in contemporary London and beyond, arguing that drag performance offers queer forms of survival.
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 and queer performance practice, and the potential ways in which queer communities can and do emerge in contemporary London, particularly around performance. I also focus on critical thinking around queer theory and survival in contemporary culture.
Prior to embarking on doctoral study, I received a BA (hons) in Drama, Applied Theatre and Education from Central and a MA 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 as a care worker and teacher. 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.
2017 – 2019, Producer, Collisions: A Festival of Practice Research, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
2014 – 2015, Manager, The Family Fierce, Drag, Burlesque, Cabaret and Performance Art Troupe
2013 – 2015, Producer, The Meth Lab, Regular Drag Performance Event in Camden, London
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, The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
2012–2014, Teacher, Carer, Learning Support Assistant, SEN settings in London and St Albans
2019 ‘Come Hear The Music Play: The Politics of Queer Failure and Practices of Survival’ in Fisher, T. & Katsouraki, E. (2019) Beyond Failure: New Essays on the Cultural History of Failure in Theatre and Performance, London, Routledge, pp. 79-93
2018 ‘Queer Stages: LGBTQ+ Venues, Drag Performance, and Hope,’, LGBTQ+ Night Time Spaces: Past, Present, Future, Urban Pamphleteer #7, pp. 22-24
2018 ‘REVIEW: Fintan Walsh, Queer Performance and Contemporary Ireland: Dissent and Disorientation’ in Hill, S. and O’Brien, C. (2018) ‘Performance Ireland, Special Issue: Gender, Sexuality, and the City’, Performance Ireland, Carysfort Press, pp. 130-133
Parslow, J. ‘Queer Learning/Learning Queer, or Drag Queens Made Me Do It, Theatre and Performance Research Association Postgraduate Symposium, University of Oxford, March 2019
Parslow, J. ‘Don’t fuck with us fellas: Low Forms, Messy Forms, Forms of Survival’, Association of Theatre in Higher Education Conference, Boston, August 2018
Parslow, J. ‘Stop Relying on [Those Bodies]: Local Drag Performance & Migrating Drag Practices, International Federation of Theatre Research, University of Belgrade, June 2018
Parslow, J. ‘Not Another Drag Competition: Mainstream Drag Practices and Local Drag Knowledges’, Theatre and Performance Research Association, University of Salford, September 2017
Parslow, J. '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, January 2017
Parslow, J. 'Don't Be A Bitch, Practice Bitchiness', Life's A Drag: Manchester Drag Symposium, Manchester Central Library, January 2017
Parslow, J. & Meth, “Mother Black Cap: Queer Performance and the Loss of (Queer) Spaces”, International Federation for Theatre Research Conference, University of Stockholm
Parslow, J. & Meth, “Hear Me Roar: Queer Utopian Negativity and the Potential of Performance”, Intersections Conference, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, January 2016
Parslow, J. ‘“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, September 2015
Parslow, J. ‘“I’d rather be a dear than a hunty": Globalising Drag Practices and the Resistance of the Local’, Theorising the Popular, Liverpool Hope University, July 2015