Exclusive Interview: Australian drag superstar Etcetera Etcetera on her Sydney WorldPride one-woman show “Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School)”

Already loved in Australia for her glamour and quick wit, non-binary drag and visual artist Etcetera Etcetera leapt onto the international stage thanks to her appearance on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under. Since then she’s toured the nation and sashayed down fashion week runways, while her activism has seen her become a community ambassador for Australia’s oldest HIV charity, the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, as well fundraising for LGBTQ+ organizations like Twenty10 and ACON.

This WorldPride, she’s hitting Sydney’s theatre scene with her one-woman show, Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School), presented by Fruit Box Theatre in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company. The show will see her bringing the worlds of drag, cinema, and her own personal history together for an immersive night of entertainment. 

© Etcetera Etcetera.

Ahead of opening night at KXT – Kings Cross this Saturday, February 11th, Etcetera Etcetera took time out from rehearsals to speak to The Queer Review’s Chad Armstrong.

The Queer Review: How have rehearsals been going?

Etcetera Etcetera: “Good, it’s been a crazy week of polishing stuff off. You always feel like show week is going to be a million tiny things that are going to be done really quickly, but that never happens. So I’m just polishing the turd to make it a really shiny turd!”

How did you come up with the concept for Big Screen, Small Queen?

“I conceptualized the show a while ago and it’s gone through a few different forms. Initially, it was just me recreating iconic scenes from cinema. It would be me as Audrey Hepburn from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or me as Marilyn Monroe from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Anyone could have done that show, so I really wanted to make it more… me! I wanted to make it a more personal story. It was through talking with the team at Fruitbox Theatre that we hit on my film school background as the hook and thought that there was a show in that. There’s unresolved conflict, stuff in my past that I haven’t completely sorted out, so let’s deal with that on stage!”

Etcetera Etcetera’s Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School). Courtesy of Fruit Box Theatre.

What made you fall in love with film in the first place?

“I found cinema a place to escape. I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, I didn’t have a lot of people who were like me, I was always a bit of an outsider. But when I started watching movies I was like, ‘Oh my God, there are people like me out there after all!” I became obsessed with the idea that not only could I watch movies and be transported to another world, but that I could make films and create that world for myself.”

Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce, and Hugo Weaving in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Can you remember the first queer film that you encountered?

“Oh, one hundred percent. It was The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I watched it on TV when I was about 9 or 10. I saw it and was like ‘Wow! That is something that will come back and haunt me later in life!’ There was something there that I had a deeper connection with than anything I’d watched before.”

“The first queer film I went out of my way to see was probably The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I remember sneaking out to one of those live screenings where everyone dresses up. My parents wouldn’t have cared, but I think I felt a sense of guilt about seeing a film with orgies and “sweet transvestites” in it. I remember seeing it and knowing there was something there as well.”

Fellini’s Casanova (1976). Courtesy of BFI.

It sounds like there’s always been a strong connection between film and your drag.

“Yeah, there really has, but for a long time I tried to push it aside and be a serious filmmaker and artist, not a “trashy drag queen”. I was obsessed with Fellini and Truffaut, and contemporary art house cinema. Then I realized their films are all very camp and full of sexuality anyway!”

Etcetera Etcetera’s Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School). Courtesy of Fruit Box Theatre.

What can we expect from the show?

“The show’s built in a way where the audience is a filmmaker. They come in and witness a film being made which they’re in control of. Essentially it’s the story of my life where I play myself. They’ll see scenes being filmed and all the in-between bits of me changing. At times I’ll speak directly to the audience. It’s an immersive theatre experience, it’s not like a traditional drag show.”

“I call it a one-woman show because when I’m a woman I’m embodying femininity. I could also do a one-man show if I wanted to. That’s the great thing about playing with gender. I’m in drag for the whole show. I wanted to show more vulnerability than you’d see in a regular drag show. Most drag queens come out looking perfect and we never get to see the difficult parts of what we do. I’m really committed to showing the audience what makes a drag queen tick.”

© Etcetera Etcetera.

Some artists talk about their drag being a kind of armour, but it sounds like you’re doing the opposite?

“It’s no longer my armour, I’m more vulnerable in drag than out of drag. Ever since I did Drag Race Down Under it’s no longer an escape for me, I feel like drag is like sticking a fork in an electrical socket and letting the current run through me. Drag is always so intense. When you’re an artist who has a platform, like the show gave me, your art isn’t your own anymore, it belongs to everyone. Drag used to be an armour, but now it’s a connection.”

What’s it like spending time in the Kings Cross district of Sydney?

“Being back in Kings Cross deepened the spiritual connection to the show. Kings Cross is the centre of Sydney drag. During a break, I stood out on the Kings Cross Hotel’s balcony and stared at the Coca-Cola sign and thought about all the drag queens from the 60s, 70s, and 80s who’d stood here and looked at that sign before me. There’s something special about the Cross.”

Etcetera Etcetera in a promotional shot RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season One. Courtesy of World of Wonder.

Which films can we expect to catch a glimpse of in the show?

“Well you can’t do a drag show about cinema without referencing Priscilla! But I think people will be surprised by some of the other films in the show. There’ll be some that people won’t necessarily think would influence a drag queen. There’s a whole part about horror films. It’s a genre that plays with eroticism and camp, which is a line that drag queens toe all the time.”

Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding (1994). Miramax.

What would you show at an Etcetera Etcetera film club? 

“Well, Muriel’s Wedding, obviously. It’s my favourite film. I’m also a big fan of the work of Gus Van Sant and the Glitter Cycle in Australian cinema. That was an amazing moment when you had Strictly Ballroom, Priscilla, and Muriel’s. It was such a specific time when Australian cinema had this massive, unique voice on the world stage.”

“I also love Wes Anderson; a total film student favourite. I think there’s something about his films that have a clear visible style and a tongue-in-cheek tone that I love. And John Waters! I really think there’s a clear link between the work of John Waters and Baz Luhrmann, more than most people would realise. There’s a similar sense of the grotesque in cinema. I just think one has a bigger budget than the other.”

© Etcetera Etcetera.

At film school your goal was to be a filmmaker, what made you become a performer?

“I wanted to be a director and have control of the process. It never crossed my mind to become a performer. I was so disillusioned by the film industry, it was way more of a boys’ club than I ever imagined. It was full of these rich kids whose parents had given them a camera, but they’d never studied or worked at it and I was being ignored. Like, who is this non-binary person who wants to make weird films? It was when I committed myself to drag that I realised I could have that full control of the story I was telling.”

© Etcetera Etcetera.

If someone’s coming to the show because they saw you on Drag Race Down Under, how are you going to surprise them?

“You only saw the smallest sliver of who I am on Drag Race, that’s the nature of reality TV. I hope people walk away from Big Screen, Small Queen thinking, ‘wow, so that’s what she’s really like’. They’ll see what I’m into and what drives me. I want to open up and show people what it’s like inside my mind. That might be awesome and traumatic. I’m offering free counselling services afterwards!”

By Chad Armstrong

Etcetera Etcetera’s one-woman show Big Screen, Small Queen (Everything I Didn’t Learn at Film School) is on at KXT – Kings Cross (244-246 William St, Potts Point, NSW 2011) from February 11th – February 23rd, 2023 presented by Fruit Box Theatre during Sydney WorldPride in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company. Click here for tickets and more information.

Follow Etcetera Etcetera on Instagram @etceteraetcetera and pay her official website a visit.

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