Shakespeare is a Drag

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Title: ShakesQueer

Rating: 5 Stars

The central branch of the Seattle Public Library is currently showing a surviving copy of a Shakespeare First Folio. As an adjunct to the exhibition, they are putting on other Shakespearean related events.

One is called ShakesQueer. It’s advertised as an interpretation of Shakespeare by major figures in the Seattle drag scene. This clearly is something that I had to see.

This wasn’t just a completely random event by the gay community to hitch a ride on a larger cultural event. After all, it was illegal for women to appear on stage during Elizabethan times. All of Shakespeare’s female characters were necessarily played by young boys dressed in drag. Beyond that (or maybe because of that) several Shakespearean plays have gender identity confusion as major plot points (eg Two Gentlemen of Verona, Twelfth Night, As You Like It). It’s not much of a stretch that a drag perspective of his work could have important things to say.

However, hilariously enough, despite this theoretically rich terrain to explore, this was not really done. This was used as an excuse for drag performers to do their act, with the merest of references back to Shakespeare. Having said that, the performances were really quite good and entertaining.

The major plays referenced:

Twelfth Night: The performer acted out the major plot of the play, while boisterously dancing around. She lip synced spoken dialog that was coming out of a recording. Several performers did this. I don’t know if this is a usual feature of drag performance or was special to this event.

Macbeth: The performance was a homage to the three witches. This was amusing because the recording had started and was playing for a while before the performer came out. Everyone was looking around like they were expecting her to come down from the ceiling or something. It was a seductive, mysterious dance.

Winter’s Tale: This was a take on the famous stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear”. The assistant, in several guises (eg Smokey the Bear) would chase the performer around the stage. It was hilarious.

Tempest: This was a homage to Caliban. This was a pretty disturbing performer.  She was in fright makeup and barely had any clothing on, and what clothing was very loose fitting (things were bouncing around always on the verge of escaping). It was a an eerie performance where she spent most of the time on her hands and knees crawling around, thrusting her tongue in and out.

Hamlet: The performer (in male drag) started off by reading the Alas, Poor Yorick speech. He abruptly stopped and began to do a striptease. Again, he was dressed in male clothing. He seductively took off his shirt, his pants, his briefs, and ended up wearing nothing but a jock and two flesh colored pasties. Doing a striptease as a man in a drag show was clearly an interesting, political statement.

The most extreme performance did not have any clear Shakespearean connection (at least to me). She was dressed from head to toe in a white body suit representing something like a shroud. She started the scene off by vomiting blood (plastic sheets had to be laid before she started). A man entered the scene and she embraced him lovingly and then bloodily killed him. This was obviously some revenge scenario. All in all, it was pretty horrifying. There were people in the audience that had shocked expressions. There were about five children (maybe 8 – 13) that, from their looks, might have interesting dreams tonight.

I didn’t not know what to expect, but I did not expect what I saw. The fact that both I was surprised and I was greatly entertained meant that it was an awesome night indeed.

 

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