Great news from the Diva team this week – the community is rallying for the Awards night coming up on October 29th. The local drag industry has taken its share of blows this year, with less venues and tight financial conditions on those still offering the Sydney entertainment phenomenon.
On the Oxford Street strip and at the Imperial we are still treated to those venue’s flagship shows: Stonewall Hotel sticking with the three cast tradition and the long running Polly’s Folly’s, Arq with its Thursday night show and at the Midnight Shift Club those Friday and Saturday night extravaganzas!
But the news or the battle, lies elsewhere – in solo drag - novelty shows like Tranny Bingo, Drag Queen Karaoke and Tranny Trivia in the City and suburbs and on the strip the ‘one woman show’.
The guys still making drag a full time living are versatile, innovative and blood brave. Add to this a whole heap of performers we don’t see on the strip and by my count we’ve had 18 to 20 solo performers taking on an audience this year. I spoke to some of these performers about the ups and downs of working solo.
Tora Hymen put it in a nutshell and which I got in consensus from all the guys, “Being a solo performer is much more challenging, you don't have the strength of the group behind you. You rely much more on the audience reaction and as your alone the night rides on your talent, timing, ability to read the audience, to adjust your approach and be spontaneous, improvise and think on your feet. In a group number, everyone goes on stage knowing exactly what they have to do, but with most solo gigs, you have an idea of how the night will go but once you start, anything can happen and to do it well isn't easy, but is rewarding”.
Tora has been presenting Tranny Bingo for just over three years, mostly in Kings Cross pubs but now covers pubs in Newtown, Rozelle and Cremorne and still finds time to appear in several trio shows on Oxford Street. As he mentioned, with fewer gay clubs and with most of the shows calling for girls with strong dancing abilities it has forced girls who are overlooked for these productions to create opportunities elsewhere. “You can teach someone to dance but you can’t teach someone to do what a lot of solo performers are able to do” said Tora.
Maxi Shield has been a full time professional showgirl for thirteen years and the bulk of his work has always come from being a solo performer and covers all the formats from karaoke, games nights and the ‘one woman show’. He loves the solo format because each week it is different.
“Having the audience enjoy their night out really makes going to work a pleasure. And as much as the audience can enjoy your performance, they are also the first to let you know if you have repeated yourself or not giving 100%. Some times there honesty can be quite brutal” Maxi said.
Nevertheless Maxi went on to say “It’s been very hard in the drag scene to try and get the respect from other peers and community as a solo performer. It seems for many years and still to an extent, you’re not a real drag queen, unless you are in a choreographed show. Sometimes it’s a lot harder to talk to a room full of people rather than do a 4 minute number”. [Join Maxi's GTG Group]
Verushka Darling thinks that solo performers are actually the backbone of the drag community. “Not only do they do their nights, they also host events, they lead rallies, they raise the money, they spread the word, they endorse campaigns, and are quite often the interface between the corporate and community worlds - solo performers make the entertainment world go round”.
Verushka is well known as one of our best hostesses and is always in huge demand: his solo show Let’s Talk About Sex has been running on Oxford Street for over four years now, going from a funny little after-work drinks thing, to a cult-hit.
Verushka explained “Within the ‘format’ of my show, people write to me anonymously with their ‘problems’ and ‘issues’, and I pull their notes out and ‘solve’ them live on stage. I can be on stage from anywhere between half an hour, to over an hour, depending on how many issues/notes have been put in my box. It’s all completely improvised. All I have to rely on are my wits and my experience. It’s thrilling, scary, risky, dangerous, rewarding, and lots of fun”.
Portia Turbo has been a star on the local scene since the early nineties and won his first of many DIVA’s back in 1996. He was a huge part of the Albury Hotel’s stable of star’s and when the pub closed in 2002 created Turbo Trivia the first of this kind of solo performer’s format. For Portia it is his main form of entertainment income, and he tells me he feels so blessed to be able to do Trivia, continue working in drag and doing what he loves so much.
Portia likes the instant gratification of making a room laugh and seeing them do it, or getting to know everyone in the room. He tells me he has worked the Kings Park Tavern for so many years that he’s watched some of the kids leave school, go to uni or trades, get jobs, married, and have children – and likes the love that those great people who come every week generate.
Turbo Trivia is now a brand and can be found in so many venues each week that it generates gigs for other performer’s – Portia said “Over the last few years I have been trying to build up a bunch of work for lots of Queens so they can learn the rudiments of mic work in a controlled environment, or continue with their already great skills. When I am able to ring someone and offer them a regular gig, for however long it lasts, I feel extremely proud and happy. And mostly the girls have done well and been excellent hostesses and good people to work with”.
So how does all this fit the DIVA Awards and the answer is a tad awkwardly. Everyone of course is eligible to be considered as the Entertainer of the Year, but just doing a novelty drag night such as bingo or trivia; even if you worked seven nights a week isn’t going to get you this one.
The DIVA people told me that solo performers are considered for many of the awards and the work that girls do performing solo, whether it is on the mic, numbers, hosting or gigs outside of Oxford Street always comes into discussion when judging happens. They told me that showgirls who work solo with charities are certainly up for Queen of Hearts. Showgirls who perform outside the traditional drag realm – doing more cabaret and live singing are eligible for the DIVA Variety Award, and new showgirls who get solo work are in the running for Rising Star.
Bitch of the Year is a public voted award which profiles showgirls who are entertaining and funny on the mic and the other public voted award that individual performers are eligible for is Sydney’s Favourite Drag personality.
Tim Millgate is the judges’ coordinator at DIVA and said “The emergence and success of gigs for solo performers and hosts only indicates the passion that Sydney has for drag. There’s barely a suburb in this town that one of our showgirls aren’t hosting something at and nearly every night of the week too. DIVA will continue to herald the success of the many drag performers who put the hard yards into their art”.
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