Dickie Beau: the lost interview surfaces and is fabulous - tidbits - MyGayToronto
Dickie Beau: the lost interview surfaces and is fabulous By DREW ROWSOME 21 February 2018.
Before being mesmerized and overwhelmed by Dickie Beau's LOST in TRANS at the Progress International Festival of Performance and Ideas, I was given the opportunity to ask Beau a few questions by email. Being tragically ignorant of Beau's work and aesthetic, I did the best I could and when I didn't hear back, I just assumed that I had been offensively ignorant. But Beau is far more magnanimous than that, he was just talking his time to be thorough and far more articulate and intriguing than I had any right to expect.
Unfortunately his responses can't be used to promote the Toronto stop of LOST in TRANS, it has been and gone. And yes you should be upset if you missed it. And if there is ever another chance, or a chance to experience Dickie Beau in any incarnation, seize it. And the Progress International Festival of Performance and Ideas will return next year.
Drew Rowsome: What do you hope the audience takes away with them after experiencing LOST in TRANS?
Dickie Beau: Oh god, I try not to have too many expectations of what an audience will take away. And I have no control over it, either. I just hope they don't throw things. Of course, I hope they like it but I'm aware that it's a slightly odd show, so who knows. I'm confident they will be given some food for thought. And if nothing else, there is some great material in the show that I think is hard not to like.
"Echo, the Nymph, of whom all that remained when she died of a broken heart was the sound of her voice" (lifted from the Progress Festival blurb) sounds like the ultimate drag character. Why the attraction to doomed but glorious divas?
That's a big question. I suppose part of it is to do with having been a queer child, and having known it, and so being secretive, and therefore used to performing. I was a child of the '80s. I was precociously aware of being sexually interested in men. And I knew that wasn't okay as far as the outer world was concerned. And I was conscious that men who liked men died of AIDS. Which I assumed was my destiny. The impending independence of adulthood was both the promise of freedom, and the threat of death. Which makes you quite a serious child. And gives you a dark sense of humour. So, you scour the landscape for someone or something to reflect back to you, to project onto, for somewhere to run. I don't know. Fairy godmothers, alter egos . . . for me, the voices I'm drawn to are those that not only speak to me, but speak for me. That's what my Echo does in this show.
Why tackle Metamorphoses after Garland and Monroe?
The show Blackouts that I made with the voices of Judy and Marilyn was a kind of hall of mirrors, and in one way was about the many reflections that can be read into the real-life scripts of these sort of mythic figures - reflections of myself, of gay culture, of society at large . . . So, I then began thinking about the guy who fell in love with his own reflection: Narcissus. And I re-read the myth of Narcissus and Echo, and realized I was more interested in Echo than Narcissus - I loved the image that all that was left of her was the sound of her voice. And I thought, 'Narcissus is everywhere in popular culture, where is Echo? There's a feminist critique to be had here!' And just as I was thinking about all that, a friend sent me a link to an extraordinary recording of a tape that had been found on the floor of a commuter train in New Hampshire of an unknown woman's audio love letter to an unknown man. It's a very queer tape, in the broadest and deepest sense. And in the context of what I'd been thinking, it is incredibly poetic. So, I found my Echo, or she found me, and the show grew up around that.
LOST in TRANS is a very visual show but your work begins with the voice. How do you balance the two aspects?
Hmm. I always find this kind of question difficult because I don't approach the making of a show thinking, "Okay, how will I balance the voice with the multi-media elements in this show?" It's not a question I've ever asked myself. I just follow my nose and make a show. There are logics at play, and there is structure, but I find these things along the way. I don't follow a rubric, I follow my instincts. And as I start to understand what's unfolding, I fine tune it.
How did you come to be part of the Progress Festival?
I was lucky enough to be invited! Thank you, Shannon Cochrane of FADO Performance Art Centre!
Are there any other shows at the festival that you are eager to see? Why?
No. I'm very much interested in myself. I'm playing Narcissus in this show, and I'm a hugely serious artist, so I'm all about staying in character.
Lip-syncing is much harder than it looks. How do you rehearse and know when it is to the level you want?
I try to imagine the voice I'm learning is happening within my body and this will then inform the shapes my body makes in performance. So, weirdly, I think I rely on physical memory to a large extent. Quite often, I'll vocalise to begin with to try and recreate the quality of the voice I'm learning with my actual organism. Then, I take away my own voice, and I'm left with a physicality. Then, I just repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat. But quite often, because I edit the sound I work with, the logics that inform the editing decisions have imprinted a memory of the material to begin with, so I start learning from a good place. I don't use a mirror, which seems to surprise people. I did use a mirror early on, years ago, but I found it hindered me rather than helped me. So, I never use a mirror now. And I try not to think too much about what level it's at - because then I'm watching myself, and so I just try to be at one with the sound, as it were, rather than standing outside judging my own performance. And I hope for the best.
Why did you choose drag as your art form?
Drag sort of chose me, and it was quite by accident. I was an out-of-work actor when I was accosted in a London nightclub by a drag queen from San Francisco called SupposiTori Spelling. She dragged me up out of necessity - she was working for a club that needed a door whore at short notice, and so I got, er, dragged in. And it was SupposiTori who introduced me to lip synching and the culture of drag families and so on. I was already a bit of a club kid, so I was fairly often in a state of sort of gender fluid demi-drag during my twenties, but SupposiTori was my introduction to a very particular drag culture, more of the US than of the UK. But I think it's true what RuPaul says: "You're born naked, and the rest is drag." It's ALL drag.
I found some racy photos from Danny Hoyle's Mega Thursdays. Do you sometimes enjoy stepping away from art and doing down and dirty drag?
David Hoyle's Mega Thursdays? I've worked with David Hoyle quite a few times. I think down and dirty drag can also be art, don't you? I think I do it all, and I don't think of some things I do as venerable whilst other things constitute slumming it. I'm not sure I care for the idea that some types of performance are held to be more culturally valuable than others.
What is your project with 2boys.tv? Will Toronto audiences get to see it? (they are favourites of Toronto queer audiences)
With 2boys.tv I worked on a workshop-cum-performance idea that draws upon themes that relate to LOST in TRANS and a new work I'm developing ideas for - and which are relevant to their interests, too. We considered gay male subjectivity, visibility, invisibility, and other ways of looking at the gaze. We did a workshop based around blind dates. It brought up lots of amazing stuff about queer histories, sites of transgression, dark rooms, the performative and transformative power of shame, safe spaces and dangerous spaces, fraternity, community and intimacy. For me, it was a very powerful process and I'm hoping we can find a way to continue working together. They are wonderful, we get along very well, and I think there's huge potential for more collaboration.
"TRANS" is a specific gender term. How does it intersect with LOST in TRANS? With drag? With your art?
I usually write the title with a hypen at the end of the word "Trans-", indicating that there are potentially many further parts to the word, and multiple options for its extension, or not. But the hyphen is not always present - sometimes perhaps I'm sloppy and omit it, sometimes maybe it isn't reproduced. But your asking this question reminds me of its importance. This is another big question. Much as my definition of "Drag" is perhaps not precisely the same as your definition of "drag," my use of "trans-" has a personal resonance, and is multi-valent. On one level, it has its origins in my six-year-old self, who recognised a sexual desire for men, and interpreted this as a sign that there had been a cosmic error and he was in the wrong body, and so went to bed at night praying to wake up a little girl. But that way of interfacing with the world has trans-formed as time has gone by, and I have shape-shifted through a range of positions since then. Gender is definitely a central theme in this show, but so is sexuality, and I can only speak for my own personal experience, but for me gender identity and sexuality are not discrete issues. They are engaged in a conversation. Or they are dance partners.