The opening night of YUMMY speaks volumes of the extensive social reach of modern drag culture. Premiering at The Toff for Melbourne’s LGBTQIA+ Midwinta Festival in 2015, director and producer of YUMMY, James Welsby, tells the anecdote with vivid recollection and vigour.
“We did one show and it completely sold out,” says Welsby. “I’ll never forget the moment where I looked out and saw this room packed full of 300 faces staring at us! I just never expected that and I burst out laughing.”
This year, Welsby and the multi-dimensional, multi-talented performers of YUMMY can expect much the same response when they bring their exuberant brand of drag and polished dance repertoire to premiere at the Adelaide Fringe.
A concoction of drag grandeur, physical theatre, and high calibre dance routines, this disparate group forms an essential part of YUMMY’s ambition to create a more inclusive world of drag.
“In terms of a political message it’s about gender equality and about coming together to move forward,” Welsby asserts. “It’s about not having any limits and not accepting limitations put on you by society or by yourself.”
As a genderqueer performer, Welsby cites drag as a potential driver for social change through outward defiance against hetero-normative and cis-normative social standards. “To me, I see drag as being limitless. I see queerness as being limitless and gender expression as being limitless,” Welsby tells of his own personal experience with drag.
Drag culture has its roots in the expression of LGBTQIA+ folks, who have used performative dance, singing, costuming, and extravagant showpersonship to perform a heightened extension of the self. Yes, drag queens have been around far longer than the mainstream reintroduction of drag culture, however, what this modern resurgence has offered audiences is a wider platform to experience the positive social impact of diversity as well as the accessibility of self-expression. Queens of all genders the world over have worked too hard at their craft to be typecast as merely men in wigs.
Welsby will be joined on the Adelaide circuit by a world-class ensemble of Melbourne-based creative professionals, some whom are similarly decorated – aside from the obvious lycra and tulle – with accolades of artistic acknowledgment.
Among the troupe are dancer and choreographer Benjamin Hancock, recipient of the 2017 Australian Dance Award and Green Room award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer; outspoken new-wave drag queen, director and producer of Auto Bio Queen, Beni Lola (Natasha Jynel); circus darling of Circus Quirkus and La Soirée fame, Hannie Heldsen; contemporary dancer, choreographer and visionary artistic associate at 2ndToe Dance Collective, James Andrews; politically-charged experimental-pop group, Joni In The Moon; world-famous ‘Queen of Corporate’ drag queen and beloved club-scene comic, Karen From Finance; and, of course, there is Welsby’s drag alter-ego, the enigmatic Valarie Hex.