March 20th was the Guelph Queer Equality Drag Show. Performing at this event meant driving to the University of Guelph Campus Centre, in the dark, in the co-op car which I have only previously driven in once. Besides being a well-attended and well-promoted show during which I dare not screw up, it was also an experiment in car operation AND my first drag show since my shoulder injury...a "test" of my recovery so far.
There are so many wonderful -- WONDERFUL! -- things about the car co-op, but you do pay a small price. Besides the money you expend for actually taking the car out, you also need to go through a "ritual" before and after using it, which involves a complex series of key-and-passcode stuff, and a bit of paperwork, and then figuring out the state that the LAST person left the car in.
Whoever used the car before me had left the parking brake on, and I was delayed for ten minutes pulling various levers trying to find it, until realizing it was exactly where it was when I used to drive in the early '90s: between the front seats. By the time I'd disengaged it and closed all the hatches that had opened during my exploration, I then needed to back the car out onto busy Park Street, and I've never been particularly good at backing up.
So needless to say I was already frazzled by the time I left the city...and then I realized that, contrary to co-op protocol, the car DIDN'T have at least half a tank of gas in it, so I'd need to stop at a gas station on the way home.
All this was on my mind when I arrived -- mostly uneventfully -- in freezing cold Guelph. Fortunately the hospitality was top-notch and there was even a paid bar, so I got through my numbers quite well, thank-you-very-much. Here's a picture from "They Don't Know," taken by M.S.:
The show in general was AMAZING. Somehow, whenever Guelph organizers put together a show, they always manage to find top-notch performers in a wide variety of idioms. So we saw a fantastic (and spunky) drag juggler, and a full-on performance by Green Go, and Alberta folk singer Amy Bronson -- who you should DEFINITELY see next time she performs -- and...
The Nigel Gough dance troupe. Just about every time a do a drag show in Guelph, Gough has prepared a hilarious routine that sends the crowd absolutely wild. I have managed through the years to avoid needing to follow him -- NOBODY wants to go on after Nigel -- but more on that soon.
Anyway, the GQE drag show was a huge success, and I even got a little mention in the campus newspaper:
Popular drag queen Muffy St. Bernard graced the audience with her presence, travelling from Kitchener to perform at the show. Muffy put on a fun and sexy performance, teasing the crowd with her playful yet classically conservative antics."Classically conservative?" I'm still wondering what that means -- it sounds euphemistic -- but it may mean that my "antics" aren't of the over-the-top-sexy type, but they still have a playful "coyness" that evokes '40s musicals. Or maybe that's just what I WANT it to mean.
Anyway, as much fun as I was having, I was unable to forget that I needed to drive back to Kitchener...and I was absolutely white-knuckled all the way. Besides pumping gas in a crinoline at 1am -- YOU try to make sure the gasoline doesn't drip on you in such a situation -- I spent the whole time thinking "I'm a terrible driver, I'm going to get in an accident, I suck." By the time I'd reached Kitchener I was a nervous wreck, and actually pulled into TWO DIFFERENT DRIVEWAYS before discovering the one I was supposed to use.
In short, my show was good but my driving was awful.
So I spent all week flirting with driving schools, and grilling co-workers about their driving techniques. Workmate Dave -- who put up with the worst of my whining -- walked me through the typical back-up steps, and in doing so he put his arm across the imaginary passenger seat and turned his head around.
"Why are you doing that?" I asked.
"Because that's the only way to back up," he said...and it was a REVELATION. I don't think I was ever taught to actually LOOK BEHIND ME while backing up...I've always just looked in the rearview mirrors. Dave revealed that if he was driving behind me he'd probably want to shoot me in the head.
In the meantime I was getting ready for the NEXT show: the Gender Martini on March 25th, ALSO in Guelph. I would be ending both sets...and in the second set I was FOLLOWING NIGEL GOUGH.
First off, you can't end a set with a whimper; the song must bring people to some sort of closure. It cannot communicate that somebody is coming up next, it must say "That's it, you're satisfied, now go get a drink!"
What's more, if you're following a fantastic slam-bang performance like Nigel Gough and his troupe, you should not try to "one-up" them by doing anything even remotely like they did. If you don't think you can BEAT the previous performer, your best bet is to do a complete 180 and subvert their expectations.
I was still mulling over these things when the night finally arrived, warm but rainy. I got into the co-op car and did the paperwork without feeling any stress whatsoever. I immediately located the parking brake and disengaged it. I put my arm across the back of the passenger seat, shifted into Reverse...
...and backed effortlessly out onto Park Street! It was perfect! Now that I had discovered the secret of backing up, nothing could stop me!
To further allay my driving fears I was also taking drag stand-up artist D. to the show (I'm not protecting her identity, that's actually "D.," as in "D. Licious"), and she served as my navigator and company. We arrived at the eBar and were once again enveloped in sweet hospitality, and I found myself back in the same "green room" that I'd been in the last time I perfromed at the eBar.
This was me at the eBar in 2004:
...and me in exactly the same place five years later:
In other words, if you've got a good joke, keep using it.
The show was PACKED. We actually needed to be escorted onto the stage to get around the clustered crowd of event-hungry people. Again, Amy Bronson was amazing, and so were the other performers I managed to see (but whose names I've forgotten): the hula-hooping burlesque queen, the trio of dancers from Toronto, Mr. Gough and his dancers on a significantly smaller stage, Victoria Park triumphant as always.
Since it was a "Gender Martini" I decided to end the first set with "Love is the Darndest Thing," a bizarre reflection of love and resentment by Betty Hutton ("...what every young girl wants is wedded bliss.") This number requires Schnapps the Seal, and it always either succeeds brilliantly or flops terribly.
Thanks to a professional puppeteer who coached me after the last time I did this song (at Zelda's), I tried holding Schnapps as though he were a real animal -- as opposed to "a thing on the end of my arm" -- and I took her advice to let him behave independently of my own actions...and it worked! It was gratifying to hear the crowd laugh not just at the absurd lyrics, but also at the upstaging antics of Schnapps.
In order to shift gears and try to "blow out" after Nigel Gough in the second set, I resurrected Dalbello's "Gonna Get Close To You," which I think worked passably well as a way of closing things down.
Unfortunately both of these numbers require shoulder-destroying outfits. I was lucky to have lots of help in the back room getting them on and off, but by the time it came to drive home my shoulder was already aching in a "now you've done it" sort of way. When D. and I found ourselves totally lost on the way home -- due to an attempt to be clever about our route -- I learned what workmate Dave has subsequently said so wisely: "You cannot fight Guelph."
So for the last few days my shoulder has been in agony, keeping me awake all night and requiring constant icing; getting in and out of those outfits, plus waving my arms around on stage, plus driving 60km, have set my rehabilitation back a bit. Fortunately my MRI has finally been scheduled for May, and guess where I have to go to get it? GUELPH.
But there's fun stuff to look forward to. The entire Gender Martini show was recorded and eventually I'll be able to relive it...the best way to evaluate and improve your performance is to watch yourself on stage (so said Miss Drew eight years ago, and it's true). I was also mysteriously interviewed outside the eBar's theatre by a man who promises to post it to YouTube...one of the benefits of driving a car is the inability to drink more than a token amount, so I expect my conduct was better than usual (perhaps "classically conservative" even)?
In summary, the shows in Guelph were even better than expected -- and the bar is really high for these shows to begin with -- and I had a wonderful time, and I met wonderful people. But judging by my shoulder's outrage I don't think I'll be doing any drag shows at Club Renaissance any time soon...