Author Carol Langley recalls her first encounter with Sydney drag about 30 years ago with obvious afffection.
My first taste of nightlife was drag at [former Oxford Street venue] Patches in the mid-1970s, she told Sydney Star Observer.
-˜The shows were just so captivating and it was just an exciting time and it just seemed so alive.
The experience remained with Langley until a memorable meeting with local showgirl Claire de Lune a couple of decades later.
For many years I have been doing the cash collection at [fundraiser] Shop Yourself Stupid for the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, Langley said.
When I was actually introduced to Claire de Lune, I happened to be doing Shop Yourself Stupid on Taylor Square.
It was one of my earlier efforts and I think I was a lot less assertive and confident carrying the buckets than I was in later years.
Claire bowled up to me and grabbed my bucket and proceeded to give me a lesson on being assertive.
Langley later chose the barnstorming de Lune as the subject of a research project for a Masters in Theatre.
The experience was amazing, prompting the freelance writer to explore her long-held fascination for drag in even more depth.
The result is Langley’s first book, Beneath The Sequined Surface: An Insight Into Sydney Drag, a compelling analysis of the showgirl scene and 10 of its pre-eminent performers.
Langley offers an overview of Sydney drag history, but the bulk of the work is given over to the profiles of showgirls including de Lune, Mitzi Macintosh, Polly Petrie and Vanity Faire.
It was actually quite a life-changing experience meeting the performers. It was quite magical, Langley said.
Each performer in the book stands out in her individuality.
That was the main criterion: getting a variety which gave a flavour of the spectrum of drag.
As part of the five-year research and writing process, the author met with each drag queen several times for interviews that stretched as long as three hours.
Langley also saw a vast number of shows and took all of the book’s impressive photographs.
Each showgirl offers views of the industry and explains what drew them to drag.
Perhaps most fascinating are the glimpses of the personality behind the performer: all of the drag queens talk about their childhood, and most include one image out of heels and makeup.
Some of the performers offstage and onstage were very, very similar. Basically the same person with drag on, Langley said.
[In] others you could discern a difference -¦ even in the way their speech patterns changed.
As she continues research for a doctorate on drag, Langley is confident the Sydney showgirl will continue to fascinate.
One of the things that really struck me is the way it grows and renews and revitalises, she said.
And also the way that new performers are assisted to grow and develop by the established performers -“ that was quite a revelation to see.
Beneath The Sequined Surface: An Insight Into Sydney Drag, RRP $70, is published on 6 February by Currency Press. The book’s launch is on the same day at the Flinders Hotel, 63 Flinders St, Darlinghurst, from 6pm, with all profiled drag queens scheduled to attend. RSVP on 9319 5877.