Multi-hyphenate trans queen, drag performer, playwright, comedian, screenwriter, and New York City tour guide Glace Chase has been unexpectedly stuck in Australia during the pandemic and things have taken some unusual turns.
“Oh my God, it’s been an ongoing trauma!” Glace tells The Queer Review’s Chad Armstrong in Sydney. “I was only meant to be gone for six months and I’ve been gone for two years! I was hoping to get back sooner, but we were locked in this country [due to Australia’s strict COVID-related international quotas]. I’ve been so homesick for New York.”
And what does a drag performer do when she’s stuck in Australia? Hit the road (not quite Priscilla-style) in search of Australia’s big things. Rural Australia is littered with ‘big things’, as the promo for Glace’s new stand up show says, ’The Big Croc, The Big Meat-Ant, and The (many) Big Men in Hi-Vis’.
“While I’ve been in the country I’ve been everywhere. Most of last year I was sleeping in my car in outback Queensland which is an exciting adventure. I don’t really like being told what to do. I would rather go off and have an adventure on my own terms than be forced to do something. Luckily I was in Queensland so I could do that, not so much this most recent lockdown in Sydney. I did not get out of the city for that one.”
The Australian-born, New York-based performer and writer came over to Australia to debut her own ‘big thing’—a new play, Triple X—and then the world hit the pandemic pause-button.
“We’ve been shut down in production three times. Last year we were shut down at the start of the pandemic, then this year we were up and running a few weeks in Brisbane when we lost the rest of the season due to another lockdown, and then we were in dress rehearsals in Sydney, days away from first preview, when this last lockdown happened.
“It’s been tough. Performing artists everywhere have lost so much due to COVID. I still feel very shaky from the experience. I lost my home, my job, my financial security. You don’t just bounce back from that uncertainty.”
Triple X, is a crowd-pleasingly sweary romantic comedy that brings a straight cis man and a trans woman together in a clash of worlds that asks a lot of big questions between the laughs.
“It’s a rom-com slash romantic drama. It’s definitely got that Pretty Woman kind of flavour to it”, explains Glace. “I think it’s a great genre for a trans love story because that format has become a bit tired. We’ve seen it all so many times before. Whereas we’ve not seen a trans love story like this before.”
“The stakes are high, there’s a lot of jeopardy. Both of these people come from very different communities with very different values and ethoses, so playing those out makes it really fresh. Take the whole ‘star crossed lovers’ aspect: you can’t personify that more than with a straight man, who lives in the day, and a trans woman who lives in the night.”
Scotty (Josh McConville), a straight cis Wall Street banker, has a new loft apartment in Tribeca and a rich cis girlfriend he’s about to marry. But in secret he’s having an affair with a charismatic trans drag performer, Dexie (played by Chase). Things get more complicated when Scotty’s conservative family finds out about the affair the day before the wedding.
“There is a middle ground in sexuality (and gender) that NO ONE has examined”, Chase writes in her introduction to Triple X. “There’s a whole world out there that has never been discussed, and certainly not from a place of empathy. If you’re a straight guy who is into or open to trans women then society at large, and even the trans community itself, mostly regards you as a fetishist, adulterer, or kinkster. (And some are)… It’s pretty damning. And it’s cruel to trans folks. Are trans people worthy of love? Of being seen as legitimate romantic partners and desirable in their own right? Do the guys that are into trans women deserve to be shamed or otherised?”
So how did this New York story come to debut in Queensland, a state of Australia that’s not always known for its progressive politics?
“It’s just a quirk of my relationship with Sydney Theatre Company’s Associate Director Paige Rattray. New York is just what I know, so It gives it authenticity. Paige really understood the care that needed to be taken to tell the story right and to keep it as honest as possible.”
Triple X is a co-production between Queensland Theatre and Sydney Theatre Company. “I was a little forthright early on saying what the story needed and I wasn’t going to compromise and everyone I developed it with was very aligned to that. No one had done a trans love story like this before and everyone knew when they needed to step in with support and when to get out of the way to tell the story right.”
“Brisbane really got on board and were really open to it even though they hadn’t talked about this topic before. It’s an edgy play, but we got standing ovations at every show. I know a lot of people were dubious with how we’d do, but everyone loved it.”
Triple X doesn’t just break new ground for Australian theatre, as Sydney Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Kip Williams pointed out at the 2022 Season launch: “Triple X is the first ever trans love story to be featured on a main stage, not only in Australia but also around the world. It’s such a special show and a unique story; thrilling, funny, moving, powerful, cheeky, subversive, and ultimately deeply profound in what it says about love and living truthfully.”
Returning home can be a strange experience, as a fellow emigrant who has “boomeranged” back to Australia I know that sense of travelling back in time, feeling like you’re reverting to the age you were when you got on that plane and left the country, but things have been even more intense for Chase.
“Try doing it when you’re trans and you transitioned while you were away! You kind of revert back because you’ve been away, but then throw a gender transition in the mix and it’s like ‘Fuck me, what is happening?!’ Things are a lot better here now than they were when I left in terms of trans visibility and queer rights. It’s really going in the right direction.”
With Triple X’s long-awaited Sydney run opening in early 2022, this will be the end of an unexpectedly extended chapter of Chase’s life—an interlude between two versions of home, two countries—and based on the reviews, she’ll get to leave Australia on a creative high.
“I’d love to take Triple X to New York. Not doing that yet has been one of the sadnesses of COVID-times because it was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize’s international women’s playwriting award, and we were certainly on the cards for a New York run. I’m sure it will happen in due course.”
“I’m hoping to be back in New York after Triple X finishes its run in Sydney. I’m looking forward to getting back to my gigs there. I miss that energy of New York, it suits my temperament. I’ve got a new solo show I’m working on that I want to take back there as well.”
“I’ve heard New York isn’t what it was before Covid, but it’s getting back on its feet now. Some of my venues have closed and a lot of people have moved away. It’s different there, but it is also home for me. Big international cities don’t work for everyone, but when it clicks for you it really clicks. I feel like I’m myself when I’m there.”
By Chad Armstrong
Triple X plays at Sydney Theatre Company’s iconic Wharf Theatre from January 12th to February 26th 2022 (previews from January 7th 2022). Tickets are on sale now. For more on Triple X and Glace Chase’s new solo show, Glace’s Big Things, head to her official website, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.