Irish drag queen Panti (aka Rory O’Neill) is a creature of the night: when the Star Observer called the sharp-tongued diva for our interview, we found her bright and breezy despite the fact it was pushing 3am in her part of the world.
“It’s alright, I’m a night owl. I had to get up at 8am this morning, and it almost killed me,” she told us.
Panti will make her Sydney theatre debut this month – she’s previously only made club appearances in the city – when she tours her new show All Dolled Up across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Contrary to the glam title, think of the show as a peek behind the curtain – a look at the nuts and bolts (pardon the pun) of what it means to be a drag queen.
“I just tell stories about my life, because I’m not an expert in anything else. The show explains how you go from being a young boy in a tiny Irish village to being a drag queen – but I’d hope the stories are all universal in their own way. It’s about being true to yourself,” Panti said.
Throughout the show, Panti explores the audience’s preconceptions about drag, and discusses many of the hazards of the job – like the phenomenon of ‘tranny chasers’, men with drag queen fetishes who assume she’d be equally keen on them.
There’s also a hilarious and rather telling anecdote about the fact that drag queens find themselves the confidantes of any number of trashy drunkards with embarrassing stories to tell – their thinking being that a drag queen would never judge them, Panti recounts with a raised eyebrow.
“People do have very set ideas of what drag queens are, because you tend to see only one type of drag queen, whether it be on the TV or in bars. I’d hope that people who don’t know a lot about drag queens would learn a little something about that world,” she said.
“People find it interesting, the mechanics of drag and the things a drag queen has to deal with. They get a kick out of hearing about tucking and all that. So I’m willing to give away a few secrets!”
It’s a two-way street, through – Panti always interacts with her audiences, giving them a gentle ribbing at the same time.
“I’m used to having to interact with people – in a nightclub, people are drunk, flirting with each other, going to the toilet. You really have to fight for their attention. I hasten to add there’s not really audience participation, because that makes me cringe. It’s more that I’m talking occasionally to individuals,” she said.
“People can be a bit nervous, because drag queens have this reputation of being very mean. But I also think people take a bit of ribbing from a drag queen a bit better, because you’re sort of a cartoon character.”
INFO: All Dolled Up plays Sydney’s Vanguard, 16-17 October, Melbourne’s Festival Hub, October 24-25. www.thisispopbaby.com