The Drag King cometh | Lucy J. Skilbeck

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Lucy J. Skilbeck – writer and director of Joan, an internationally acclaimed ‘Drag King’ show performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson. Taking the figure of Joan of Arc as its starting point, the show comes to Spazju Kreattiv next month

Lucy Jane Parkinson in Joan – where the performer embodies various historical characters as a send-up of toxic masculinity. Photo by Field&McGlynn
Lucy Jane Parkinson in Joan – where the performer embodies various historical characters as a send-up of toxic masculinity. Photo by Field&McGlynn

Joan of Arc is a very powerful figure throughout history, and obviously highly relevant in terms of gender roles and how they’re perceived. How did you hit upon the idea of structuring a show around her and her legacy, and how did you set about making all of that into something that’s unique and entirely your own?

Sometimes learning about someone is like meeting them. I was on the 63 bus when I met Joan and I swear fireworks went off in the distance when we encountered each other. That might be too dramatic but seriously I felt like – wow – I am either in love with you or totally fascinated by you. She wore men’s clothing (we can argue her motives for hours, I know) when it was absolutely not okay to do so. She was from a tiny village and was the child of a tenant farmer, as am I. And yet she went on to change the course of the 100-year-war. Her story forever horrifies and inspires me.

Given how tenuous the idea of gender remains despite many apparent leaps forward in our society as a whole – Malta itself has made substantial progress in this regard with the Gender Identity, Gender Expression And Sex Characteristics Act, while at the same time an MP from the Nationalist Party voted against an anti-domestic violence bill simply because it contained the word ‘gender’ in it – do you believe that there’s an urgent and topical quality to your show, and does this impact the way you approach the material at all?

That’s so interesting! I often find that when it comes to gender the world is simultaneously making huge leaps forward and huge steps backwards.

With Joan, in spite of her incredible feats, her ultimate undoing was the fact that she cross-dressed – what does that say about the rigid attitude towards gender, then and still now.

We might have this idea that history is a linear trajectory of progress, but if we think of it more like many random events that bounce off each other, then you can see that humans are not ‘bettering’ ourselves, and views held then are no less shocking than events today.

Fixed gender roles are a method of control. We are normalised into two categories and are much more manageable in this form. Not accepting this has been a site of resistance for centuries, because if
gender becomes unstable then many other institutions and power structures crumble also. I believe there are other fights to fight, but whilst gender non-conforming people continually experience violence I will continue to resist.

Shot from Joan, performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson and directed by Lucy J. Skilbeck: “We wanted to give Joan back some of the power by enabling her to send up some of these men”. Photo by Robert Day
Shot from Joan, performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson and directed by Lucy J. Skilbeck: “We wanted to give Joan back some of the power by enabling her to send up some of these men”. Photo by Robert Day

Beyond the background and the politics, and on the level of the stagecraft involved – what are some of the challenges of embodying so many characters in a single show, and what motivated you to pick those characters in particular as part of yours and Lucy Jane Parkinson’s repertoire for this particular performance?

Lucy Jane Parkinson is one of the best Drag Kings out there, so she makes multi-roling look easy!

Believe it or not, some of the main challenges we had were around facial hair! Usually Lucy takes a good hour to don her Drag persona LoUis CYfer’s beard but in Joan she has just seconds to become The Dauphin of France! It’s a lot of fun switching accents and mannerisms for each of the characters, who are all men that influenced the course of Joan’s life. We chose these characters for two reasons. One to demonstrate the ‘man’s world’ that Joan was living in, so the audience can really understand her motivations for doing what she did. And two, to give Joan back some of the power by enabling her to send-up some of these men. Drag is a wonderful way to critique gender playfully and drag kings often highlight the toxic masculinity that is still prevalent today.

Are you looking forward to performing in Malta? What kind of atmosphere and reception are you expecting from the island?

Absolutely – we can’t wait! It’s always great performing the show in different contexts. We’ve done it in tiny village halls, shopping centres and big theatres and the audiences are always different but equally fabulous in their reception. I imagine Malta will be no exception! Of course as sun-lacking Brits we’re hoping for some good weather and I bet the island’s community will embody this warmth. See you soon!

 

Joan will be staged at Spazju Kreattiv at St James Cavalier, Valletta on May 25 to 27 at 20:00. The show has been brought over by Drachma LGBTI, and is supported by Arts Council Malta – Creative Communities. Bookings for the show: http://www.kreattivita.org/en/event/joan/. The performance will be preceded by a series of ‘Drag King’ workshops at Spazju Kreattiv. For more information, log on to: http://www.kreattivita.org/en/event/joan-workshops/

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