The Art of Drag is a hugely popular ten-week course at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern run by Michael Twaits, who we also know as the host of Pride’s Got Talent and Trafalgar Square at Pride in London. Dave Cross spoke to Michael to find out more about the course and all about the graduation showcase this Thursday at the Vauxhall venue.
Hi Michael, in basic terms what is The Art of Drag course?
It’s a ten-week performance-based course at the glorious RVT. For five weeks we have guest lecturers who come in to explain their style of drag, how they fit into the scene – be it character comedy, lip synch, parody or whatever. Everyone on the course has a go at each skill set before making a choice for the next five weeks developing one piece for each act to bring to the showcase.
What was the inspiration for starting it?
Thanks to a certain TV show, a lot of the new drag artists coming to the scene seemed very focused on their aesthetic and had spent less time on what they were actually going to do on stage. I wanted to do something that took drag back to being about the act; the live performance. I was also very aware that as a new drag act there are very few chances to do a performance where you receive any form of support, feedback and guidance before your first performance. The are talent contests all over the place (Drag Idol, Pride’s Got Talent, Not Another Drag Contest, etc) but you get the feedback live, and then you’re done. I wanted to create a space where people could work on an act, then present it on stage without critique. Then, if they want, they can do the contests. Some get bookings from the showcase as I make sure the room is full of cabaret glitterati who are programming performers and are hungry for fresh meat.
Can you give us some examples of the people who come to give lectures and what they talk about?
The course has run five times now and I always switch up the guests depending on the dynamics of the class. Gareth Joyner (Myra DuBois/Frank Lavender) comes and talks character/comedy; Adam All has come and done drag kinging, parody and hosting; Lolo Brow looks at movement, burlesque, side-show; Cosmic explains traditional end-of-the-pier drag; and Crystal Lubrikunt and Meth have both run lip synch workshops. And then towards the end we also have acts, aside from me, to come in and give notes on the nearly finished pieces – Joe Black, Pi The Mime and more. I try and bring different voices from all sides of the drag cabaret world so they get a fully rounded experience.
What kind of acts do you get joining the course?
All sorts! It’s amazing. We have full on representation from the whole of the LGBT+ community, and even the occasional heterosexual! The last three courses have had around a 50/50 split between male and female bodied performers, which is brilliant. I don’t put any stipulation on who can do the course or on what gender they need to present for it to class as drag.
Can you tell us some of the people who we might know who have done the course in the past?
It’s brilliant to see what all of the acts are up to now. We’ve got Frankie Sinatra running his own King of Clubs at The RVT, TVTV has been performing all over and internationally, and Dean Atta came to the course to prepare for his poetry project at Tate Britain. The Haus of Royalz created a drag house after meeting on the course with their own residency at The RVT. Bae Sharam, Eva Wonder and Fruit all performed on David Hoyle’s show over the past season. Dolly Trolley was the runner up at Pride’s Got Talent and then went to the Adelaide Fringe Festival. Connie Orff has her own show back in Wales at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Rhys’s Pieces is literally everywhere on the cabaret scene.
It’s an embarrassment of riches. I can’t take any credit for the amazing things they are all doing, the course was just one step along the way, but I’m very proud of what they’ve all achieved.
And this year you’re doing a show at Underbelly…
Yes, this summer I’m producing the first The Art of Drag review show at the Underbelly Festival. Out of the 50 course grads at least ten will be joining me for the night on the Southbank on 24 July, showcasing the full variety of what the course has created and showcasing the amazing work the acts are now producing as jobbing dragsters.
And what can we expect at the showcase next week?
Who knows?! That’s the joy of the course; even though I’ve watched them developing their acts, you never know quite what will happen until they are their in front of the audience. We’ve got a Bette Midler inspired Witch, a Miss Piggy lip synch, a singing sheep and much more.
And finally, how is Pride’s Got Talent going this year?
The talent has been phenomenal. I’m really excited to see what happens this week as we start our semi finals. It’s at this point that acts really start upping their game as they compete to get into the final, and win their place at Pride In London. And it’s amazing that the winner of the cabaret half of the contest will, for the first time, have a guaranteed slot, prime time, at Trafalgar Square on 7th July. I can’t wait.