“Drag is all a game,” laughs Bridge Markland, a performance artist and member of Berlin drag royalty. With this festival, returning to Berlin after a 20-year break, Markland and her team are on a mission to put those underrepresented in the drag community at its centre.
Go drag! focuses on women, non-binary and trans performers in a medium that many still see as primarily concerned with men dressing up as women; it will also foreground older performers.
Go drag! focuses on women, non-binary and trans performers in a medium that many still see as primarily concerned with men dressing up as women.
Two decades ago, drag was far from the mainstream art form it is now – as difficult as that is to imagine for those of us who grew up under the auspices of RuPaul’s ever-expanding media empire. Back then, even for non-conventional drag spaces like this festival, the idea of the binary was dominant.
“Women celebrate cross dressing” was the tagline of Berlin’s 2002 festival: language that is arguably non-inclusive and likely would not be used today.
The main goal of the festival this time around is to be as inclusive as possible. “We want to bring everyone in and show that drag is playful, political, fun and that it matters,” Markland explains. “It is important that people are able to express whatever gender expression they want to use,” she says.
Markland, who co-founded the festival, is back with her original blend of theatre, performance art and gender transformation. An experienced MC and host, she also transforms German classics such as Faust into one-woman shows with puppets.
Other headliners include Olive Baldwin, who has created Berlin cabaret shows like Bollocks to Brexit and Poppers. English Nancy Lund has been credited with pushing for the drag king revolution in Berlin with their show at Silver Future in Neukölln. More recently, Lund has focused on creating collaborative events for queers and has developed a drag queen character as well: Shirley Knott, a fine contender for the punniest drag name.
A whole raft of exhibitions, lectures, films and parties are also on offer. Even within the stage offerings, though, this is a more diverse festival than you might expect. There are five cabaret nights throughout the 10 days, but among the other performances is a fascinating historical piece, Joey Hateley’s Harry Stokes: The Man-Woman of Manchester, which tells the story of a Victorian trans pioneer.
Claire Dowie’s piece about transformation, H to He, is directly inspired by Kafka’s Metamorphosis. And the self-declared Gesamtkunstwerk House of Living Colours is an intimate look at climate change and biodiversity loss conveyed through, you guessed it, the medium of drag.
However mainstream it has become, drag ultimately is still about those that society marginalises.
However mainstream it has become, drag ultimately is still about those that society marginalises. Hate crimes against queer people have occurred in Germany at the highest rates for years, and people who choose to break gender norms – however shiny and acceptable this may appear on American television shows – are still taking a risk by doing so.
In Berlin, it’s easy to dismiss drag performers as Neukölln hipsters failing upwards, rather than recognising them for the (in many cases) talented artists they are. This festival seeks to show just that. It has something for everyone.
- go drag! festival English Theater, ufa Fabrik and other venues. Oct 1-9