Reviews //

Review: Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School)

If this is the future of our drag scene, then it’s a bright future indeed.

Photographed by Matthew Miceli

Ana here! On Monday we had the pleasure of viewing the opening night of drag superstar Etcetera Etcetera’s one woman show, Big Screen, Small Queen. The performance exhibited elements of traditional drag, including lip syncing, comedy and plenty of sparkles, in an intimate theatre setting, allowing Etcetera to display a vulnerability and sensitivity seldom seen in bars and nightclubs. Fierce lip sync performances were interspersed with poignant monologues spoken live on stage, many of which were excerpts of Etcetera’s own diary written during their time at film school. 

This structure allowed Etcetera to contrast a starry-eyed yet disillusioned student with the glamourous, accomplished superstar that she has become. Etcetera’s self-doubt and uncertainty as a student resonated with me as a young artist grappling with the notion that the future might not be as magical as I have dreamt it to be, and that perhaps I really ought to try consulting. Seeing the queen in her element, glowing with confidence and showered with applause was inspiring to me, and likely to all of us who have been told that a career in the arts is simply not realistic.

Etcetera’s choice of soundtrack was classic yet diverse, ranging from the Pussycat Dolls’ “When I Grow Up” to Divine’s performance in “Pink Flamingos.” To see the queen lip sync the words “I AM GOD” while wearing a pink flamingo puppet on her left hand was truly a treat. Another favourite performance of mine was Etcetera’s live vocal of Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there is?” While I cannot comment on the quality of the vocals (I’m tone-deaf as a doorknob), I do recall the queen holding the note “boooooooze” with a striking gravitas. As I watched Etcetera emote and twirl on stage, in a sparkly, ‘sequinced’ gown and glittering boa, surrounded by a community of young, queer artists in a King’s Cross pub, I thought to myself, “if that’s all there is, that’s fine by me.”

A particularly unique component of the show was Etcetera Etcetera’s costume changes right on stage. While we did see seamless reveals, we also saw Etcetera stripped down to nothing but her tights and panties. While the body was right, the goal was not sex appeal, but to further play into the intimacy and vulnerability of the piece.

The dancers and production team did a fantastic job of supporting Etcetera, and the show was a resounding success. My main takeaways were that beauty and power can come from a place of uncertainty and doubt, that the best art is often a celebration of the self, particularly when that self has been systematically marginalised and dismissed, and that I may have a crush on one of the dancers. But who knows? Maybe it was about communism. 

William here! Intimate is perhaps an over-trodden word to describe a performance in a small theatre, but I don’t think anything else captures what makes Etcetera’s show tick. At the “front” of the stage there is a camera, with a live feed projected immediately behind the performers. The audience, flanking the stage, are positioned as observers, film crew witnessing the creation of a show.

Between captivating numbers, Etcetera monologues with the audience, telling us about her vulnerabilities, inspirations, and the dreams that simmer under her wigs. It felt how I imagine a backstage kiki with her would feel, pouring out her heart whilst wincing and luxuriating in tightening her corset. It helps that there was a legion of queens sitting in the front row of opening night, her DRDU sisters and fellow drag artists vocally supporting their community.

The show, to me, is fundamentally about space. It’s about space in the sense that Etcetera tries to find herself in a sea of snobbish, rich, (presumably) cishet film students. It’s about space in the sense that Etcetera makes room in the Australian film canon to recognise the importance of camp, of queerness, of artists historically censored and rendered invisible.

It’s about space in the sense that Etcetera, pausing to change with the assistance of her sleek dancers, relishes in the lingering moments between sentences. For most performers, a pause between lines is a death knell. Etcetera steadfastly holds the room, knows her peaks and valleys (as certain judges on a certain show would say), and demonstrates an emotional vulnerability not possible in a purely lip-syncing spectacular. 

This is a formidable outing for one of the brightest stars in our Sydney arts scene. Etcetera was sure to acknowledge the paths carved for her by the older queens in our community, and the sanctity of a space like King’s Cross. Big Screen, Small Queen takes this history and builds on it. If this is the future of our drag scene, then it’s a bright future indeed.

You can catch Etcetera Etcetera’s solo show Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School), presented during World Pride, at KTX from the 11th to the 23rd of February.