A year ago I had the pleasure of hosting my favorite performance artists, the Eyes Wild Drag, on their first North American Tour. Around that time an article I wrote about them was published as a feature in Curve Magazine.
As you wil read, these performers embody ferocity and tenacity. In a country where being out is a revolution onto itself, these folks continuously create art that pushes boundaries. As they gear up for their international arts extravaganza, Generotica
, I wanted to share with you, my dear readers, a taste of true fabulousness.
Wild in Italy
as published in Curve Magazine, 6/2012
After dodging a group of tourists armed with giant cameras, I hopped onto the bus and squished myself in between two women speaking and gesturing at lightening speed. I held on tight to the handrail as the bus zoomed past the Vatican, turned right onto via Colonna, and then snaked around Piazza Cavour. Within 20 minutes the bus arrived at my destination, a Centro Sociale Occupato, one of the socialist community spaces that support of free speech and liberal expression in Rome, Italy.
I slipped into the rehearsal that was already in progress. A striking woman with the feminine wiles of a young Barbara Streisand stood on the stage directing two masculine women. She spoke loudly. “Piu’ forte!” I sat straighter in my chair. She turned on the music and the trio began to enact a mimed story about a gender misfit set to the lyrics and rhythm of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.” I smiled to myself. I was less than two miles away from the conservative-stalwart-who-shall-not-be-named and watching Italy’s first drag king group in action.
Eyes Wild Drag is Senith, Spruzzy, and Bianco, three mavericks, each with a signature style. Senith is the nexus of the troupe, the most “rompi coglioni.” Proudly the first faux queen in Italy, drag queens are often jealous of the attention she gets. They can eat her eyelashes, because she has talent to boot. Spruzzy is the physical comedian of the group with a joyous presence akin to Kevin Kline in “A Fish Called Wanda”—passionate, exuberant and zany. Bianco plays with gender lines like D.R.E.D., changing from masculine to feminine presentation within seconds. Delicious.
It takes guts to stage queer performances in a country where being publically gay or lesbian is an anomaly. Eyes Wild Drag not only performs, but with spunk, glitter, and pizzazz has created a community in which they are understood, supported, and celebrated—an incredibly fabulous way to create a revolution.
The Road to Gender Performance Revolution
Six years ago, after watching “Venus Boyz,” Gabrielle Baur’s documentary about drag culture in New York City, three friends were inspired to form their own performance troop. They had no role models to fall back on, no performances to compare to, beyond the few they glimpsed in the movie. They simply felt strongly, as queer individuals, that they wanted to explore gender on stage. That was their starting point. They made the rest up as they went along. And Eyes Wild Drag was their name.
At first they looked to their native Italian culture for inspiration. They used traditional forms of pantomime and cabaret to create a story of redemption for gender-variant individuals. In the process they subverted traditional gender roles inherent in those forms. They continue to do this while being thoughtful to their message, incredibly entertaining, and wholly charming—if not downright steamy.
As the troupe started to perform in club and cabaret venues around Italy, they quickly realized they had a problem. A large portion of their audience was baffled: What were these three people, with glued-on facial hair and/or high heels and wigs, doing on stage? Some people took offense, probably out of sheer shock from the novelty of it all. As Senith said, “We were creating new ways of being in society.” Lesbian feminists questioned the need to portray male characters, and drag queens laughed at the idea of a woman as a “female” impersonator.
The members of EWD realized that they needed to create the queer culture that would embrace their performance. They were already cultural pioneers, now they were becoming activists. They began with drag-king workshops. Afternoons were spent educating participants in how to incorporate “male” gender performance into their lives.
Enlightening small groups of people at a time was helpful, but the workshops fell short of reaching their entire community. So they got more clever. They knew that if an Italian audience sees foreigners performing in drag, they would more readily accept that type of performance for Italian artists. With this in mind they set about inviting a slew of international artists to Italy. Each artist they hosted was a hit and brought EWD closer to congregating their ideal audience.
The troupe became more ambitious. In 2009 and 2011, they hosted a transgression extravaganza called “Genderotica.” This daylong event included a drag show, workshops, and photography and video exhibitions. Artists from all over Europe and the United States showcased their work at the festival. Italian LGBT guests and their friends attended in droves and drank from the gender-bending well that EWD provided for them.
Bring in the Faux Queens
During our interview, EWD reiterated multiple times that although they have enlightened many, drag in all its shades it still something new to many Italians. Regardless, the trio continues to push the envelope. Starting last year, EWD began to educate their community about the faux-queen concept. In February 2011, they brought a little New York City flair to Florence, inviting the notorious Victoria faux queen party from Stonewall Inn to present. They coupled the performance with a photography exhibition about faux queens from around the world. To say it was successful is an understatement. Over a thousand people came—and surely left spotted with glitter and an appreciation of drag performance in all its shades.
“A little magical moment happens between us and the audience when we perform,” said Spruzzy. “And that is the most important thing.”
Like any dedicated artists, Senith, Spruzzy, and Bianco find all means necessary to produce and showcase their work. Next time you are in Italy check their website for performance dates. If you are lucky to be on the East Coast this coming June prepare yourself to be dazzled. EWD is stretching the wings they patched together in Italy and embarking on a tour to spread their message of queer vitality to the world.(www.eyeswilddrag.it)
“I’ve spent as much time over the last 30 years as I possibly can because Italians seem so ambivalent about the modern world’s arrival.”
All Broads Lead to Rome
By Michael Wolff
Vanity Fair, September 2009
I just came back from an incredible few weeks performing in Florence and Catania, Sicily. As was the case with all of my previous performances in Italy the Italian public was attentive and interested. They showed up in force for the last show: one-thousand people payed homage in Florence. As a performer it was an unbelievably gratifying experience.
We were in and out of Florence and Catania, so most of my stay I was in Rome. I came back from an active audience and accolades to a city of inspiration. The architecture. The sculptures on street corners. The massive fountains.
Being around this grandeur made me feel very sad about the current state of Italy.
It was two years since I had last been to Italy. From the moment I stepped off the plane everyone I spoke with told me that the economic crisis had a huge negative impact. Conditions feel like they are getting worse. Friends in professional theater spoke about how their wages have been cut to almost unlivable levels. And it doesn’t look like this will change in the near future.
I spent an evening walking through the Roman Forum with a group of Romans. One of them turned to me and said: “You can’t invent such a fantasy of history as what you can imagine happened in Rome.” As they pointed out the significance of, what to me was a pile of rocks, I got the sense they were trying to prove something: “See, our country could be great, too!” It also was apparent that this pride takes a new dimension in a time of decay; they are especially proud because they do not have much as a country to be proud of now — and haven’t for a long time.
In The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman he asks: “Does your society have more memories than dreams or more dreams than memories?” Because if you have more memories than you are on the decline. During the course of my stay I didn’t hear one hopeful comment about the future of Italy. When I heard about the nation as a whole it was about one of two periods: Ancient Rome or the fascist period. Fascism was when things went from bad to worse (or temporarily better, depending on who you talk to). But, Ancient Rome — that is the time to remember! Current events? Too despicable to talk about with self respect. All memory and no forward thinking.
The Italians are waiting for someone, anyone, to step through the levels of corruption and muck to do something, anything, to improve the economic situation. Yet, most remain cynically inactive and brooding on the past.
I went to Paris abrasive-ly resistant to spending time in a country I was taught to hate. I left a beret-wearing Francophile shouting “Viva La France” at random intervals. The reason for the change was finding that France is a magical place where ordinary rules do not apply.
Here are the top ten things that make Paris a mystical wonderland:
11-Butter is not fattening.
10-Public pools have co-ed bathrooms and showers where no one is sexually harassed.
9-Bread, cheese and wine have their own places in the food pyramid.
8-The most one waits for a subway is not at all to thirty seconds on a normal day, and four minutes on a bad day.
7-The best thing to drink after a morning run is a coffee.
6- It is not necessary to tell people to turn off their cell phones before a movie.
5- Muscle relaxers are over-the-counter drugs.
4- Buying new clothes is not necessary when there are one-hundred years of the finest fabrics and designs at your disposal at a bevy of decently priced vintage houses throughout the city.
3- A forty-something woman can dance on the bar in a chain-link mesh shirt and still be the hottest thing in the club.
2- A photo of a topless women does not make a movie or an advertisement or a television show or a piece of art pornographic.
1- You can have two kids and a husband and still find yourself in a lesbian bar on New Years Eve.
Actor Patel is more than a person. More than an actor, really. He is an experience. He is the kind of guy to blast Hindi music at seven in the morning, break out in dance and song for no apparent reason and incessantly take pictures of nothing at all. I tried to video him to give all my readers a taste of what he is like, but he froze because he was speaking to a camera and not to his audience, which is really anybody and everybody who is surrounding him.
Actor Patel (who really calls himself Actor Patel — we call him “Actor” for short) played a character in the movie I was shooting in India. He was not staying at Vijay Vilas, the lovely beach resort where most of the actors were, and was instead was sucking it up as a shabby joint. At dinner the second night Actor told me how he has not been sleeping well. Beore I could stop myself an offer to take up a bunk in Grant’s, a fellow actor’s, room, flew out of my mouth. Grant almost threw a fork in my direction. That night Grant, the poor guy, was only able to get to sleep with the help of an Ambien, a blasting IPod and a pillow over his head. That was after Actor Patel made him partake in a photo shoot that included a lap top as a prop.
The next morning the cast discovered something very important about Actor: you can tell him to shut up. At breakfast he started going on a ramble that was half Gujrati, part Hindi and somewhat English (note: people who speak all of these languages fluently find him hard to follow because most of it is muttered) and Zenobia, who played his boss in the movie (character traits sometime follow you off screen) turned to him and said “Chotu [his name in the movie], be quiet!” And, miraculously he did. That was because he has a heart of gold and about the size of a football field. You can poke fun of him and he doesn’t mind — a long as he knows that you are his friend.
This is not to say that at our discovery that he is a sweet guy Actor stopped being irritating. The offers for life insurance (he sells it as a side gig — a dollar a day if you are under thirty!), puns that make no sense and a constant plee for attention all grated on our nerves. But, because he is a good person he was able to, as Grant put it, “worm his way into our hearts and infest our brains”. When filming was over Actor had to visit family somewhere else in Gujarat (however, Actor currently resides in New Jersey and is available for performance bookings all over the tri-state area which you can read about on his Facebook page
) so was the first to leave. The remaining cast and crew spent a day at Vijay Vilas resort without him and the experience was not quite the same (although more peaceful). Actor told me before he left: “I am like a perfume — sometimes too strong, but when it fades out you miss it.” Yeah, we missed him.
The one and only!
Look, no hands!