Prada Clutch and her boyfriend-manager-producer Gavin Morris have struck drag gold. She’s the headline act of their agency Sydney Drag Queen which is mining an unexpected vein of the drag industry, opened up by The Adventures of Priscilla, to which their current show pays grateful and loving homage.
Prada’s Priscillas is playing Panthers on Friday, May 6 and Prada is hosting talent shows, Anzac Day functions, hens’ nights, private parties, high-powered corporate events and Bingo nights, including Drag Bingo with Prada on Thursdays, April 21, May 5 and 19 at Windsor Wolves and Dom’s Drag Bingo with Prada on Thursday, May 12 at Panthers.
Drag has changed. And so have the people who pay to see it. Something gay audiences have owned and considered theirs for so long is now a booming industry miles away from the clubs and pubs of Oxford Street.
There are straight audiences, and there are gay audiences; there is straight theatre, and there is drag.
And this oil and water never mixed until The Adventures of Priscilla deposited drag into the heart of Australia, literally and figuratively.
That 1994 film took a bunch of outrageous drag queens (is there any other sort?) from Sydney’s Oxford Street and stranded them in the middle of Australia where they had to sing for their supper to an unruly bunch of outback farmers and shearers.
And win them over they did.
Such an anthem to diversity it was that cinema-goers in every city enthusiastically sided with the screen queens against anyone on screen who so much as glanced at them sideways.
And it’s spilled off the screen.
Gavin and Prada’s agency books are now filled with dates for functions at all ends of town and right across the suburbs. It’s a huge change from where she started out . . .
Prada Clutch: People told me, you know, drag is the dog-end of the industry. People looked down on drag. To this day theatre people look down on people who do drag. I studied musical theatre at the Australian Institute of Music, that's where I’m from.
When I came out I was taken to a gay club and that very first night I saw a drag queen and what an experience! I went up to her and said look, I really appreciate what you do. I’m a theatre performer and it's incredible what you do! I could never ever do it. She said to me yeah, we'll see, we'll see. Famous last words.
Theatre people told me you’ll never ever work if people find out you do drag. So I kept it very very secret. And I did not cross that border for a long long time.
How did you feel when you put on drag that first time?
Prada: OK, so within about six months of seeing my first drag act I started buying everything and I finally put it on and, look, it was exciting. It felt exciting! It was basically putting on a costume and becoming a character, incognito.
Remember, I’d just studied theatre and to this day I find transforming into a character, Prada, exciting.
Prada does Conchita (makeup by Gavin Morris) . . .
You also play gay clubs and pubs, but to the converted. At mainstream venues is there a potentially volatile element in the crowd?
Gavin Morris: You’re suggesting it’s a challenge but it’s not; it’s a real opportunity. The mainstream stuff, the straight stuff, that’s our bread-and-butter. We only very rarely get the odd-bods in a crowd.
Even at a hens' night you might get that one person who's been invited and knows what’s going on but isn’t too comfortable or we get a word beforehand, you know, leave my mum alone, she’s really difficult or whatnot. What do you think, Prada?
Prada: Yeah, look, in eight years of performing in drag I could count on one hand the number of experiences not on the great side. Generally everyone’s quite fabulous and positive.
So how do you deal with the occasional troublemakers in a mainstream club?
Prada: Generally speaking, they wouldn’t be there. Most people know exactly what they’re walking into.
For example, Panthers are advertising our show and what we do and the troublemakers aren’t gonna go. They’re not interested. They know what to expect. There's gonna be a drag singer there. They don’t like it? They're not gonna go.
If however, there was somebody negative there, it depends what they did, but look I’d just tell security and say look, get rid of them, you know?
It actually happened to me last week at a club I was working. I walked in and they had a football game on and they had a lot of people who weren’t there for me, they were there for the football, and they had to cross my path. They carried on a bit stupid so I just mentioned them to security and said listen, one more out of him and get rid of him. And they did.
You handle it very differently at a gay venue. You embarrass them, stop the show, turn up the houselights and put a spotlight on them in front of everyone and they shrink into their hole and go home.
I’ll be honest with you, I mustn’t attract these people because it very very very rarely happens to me. Even last week with the football boys, I mentioned it to the security guard and it just all happened behind my back like clockwork. I didn’t have to think about it. I just said keep an eye on that one and within minutes he was gone. It's just best to be professional about it, you know?
Priscilla changed so much. Gay audiences have always loved drag but mainstream audiences treated it like a freak show. Even in Priscilla, the mainstream audience came to see the freaks but the movie turned it round on its head.
We’ve got so much to thank Priscilla for. Absolutely. It paved the way, brought drag into mainstream.
Gavin: We’ve got so much to thank Priscilla for. Absolutely. It paved the way, brought drag into mainstream. Lots of people know what drag queens are now. They've seen them on screen if not face to face.
Most weeks we'll get an email requesting a hens' night and they want to do something “original” and “unusual” and the funny thing is we do it every week! It's in demand, the norm. Priscilla definitely broke down barriers.
As business people why do you concentrate more on mainstream, not gay venues?
Gavin: We do both but, yes, mainly the straight scene. It's where the larger business is. It's a larger market. Some people are shocked to hear that at the end of the night – Prada, what was it you said?
Prada: Oh, that drag does pay. Someone was remarking on something I had. I thought there was no money in drag, they said.
Gavin: You actually can live off it if it's done right. When we meet people for the first time it’s like "Oh, so you're a drag queen" and then it’s "So what do you do for a job?" [laughs]
Prada: It’s acting, it’s a character, and if you do it right it actually is a full-time job. Just like any other actor. Quite frankly, at a gay venue people generally aren't there for the show. A few might be there because they respect the drag queens but generally speaking people at gay venues are there to pick up. They're not overly interested.
I had some experiences early in my career and I’d walk away thinking look, I'm up there singing my heart out, you know, being a nice new drag queen, putting so much effort in and you finish the show and they don’t even clap. You know what I mean? It's not that they don't care, it's just that they're genuinely not watching.
But at the straight clubs and stuff, the complete adoration they have for what we do is just beyond rewarding. So for me I'm happy to drive an hour out to Penrith. And perform to people who actually care and actually want to see me.
Because it's cutthroat. There's not a great deal of work in the gay scene and there are a thousand drag queens who all want to work so unless you've got five days’ drag work in a gay club . . .
Gavin: Which would consume you!
Prada: Which would absolutely consume you. You'd have to have a second job. Most drag queens do. Whereas I’ve been living off drag for the last eight years.
Gavin: We've been quite smart with our agency. We've got about seven girls. We pay them good rates, above what you’d get elsewhere, and the call time is much shorter.
Prada: Gavin will book me for three hens' nights in one night! Or I'll do two hens' nights and then race over to a pub or a straight bar and do a little spot there and I'm in drag from 6pm and finish at, say, 1am or 2am and I've done three separate gigs. All paying incredibly well. All good fun, I tell you.
When we meet people for the first time it’s like ‘Oh, so you're a drag queen’ and then it’s ‘So what do you do for a job?’
How did you two guys meet?
Prada: We met eight years ago and started dating. We always tell our family we met on Facebook.
Gavin: It wasn't quite Facebook! We met “online”, shall we say. You can't tell an Italian family about those apps [laughs].
After six months or so I could see Prada slaving away trying to make a living and I said listen, I’ve got this great idea for a drag agency.
Prada: We didn't have to really push it at all, it all just sort of happened. Literally. The work has just constantly come in, just constantly, constantly, constantly come in. There's very rarely a weekend I'm not working.
We were so busy over Mardi Gras. The four days leading up to it, all the bookings we had were meet'n'greet minglings for corporate stuff. No performing, no nothing. You just turn up, be fabulous, and have your photo taken.
But it was an excruciating schedule. We did a gig at the airport on three days. Up at 3am to put on makeup to be there at 6am. And we were there till midday. Then we’d have an hour’s sleep and go to the night job. In drag till midnight. Back home, sleep for two hours, get up at 3am and start all over again. But that's Mardi Gras! At that time of year we know we're not gonna get sleep. We’re incredibly in demand and you gotta do what you gotta do.
What’s your real name?
Prada: Oh, look, I’ll tell you but I prefer not to break the illusion. When people know the boy name they tend to call you that when I’m there in drag. And when I’ve spent however long getting ready, you know, I haven't spent that time to be called a boy. You know what I mean? I've dressed up to become Prada.
You’ve both been very eloquent for a 9am interview!
Gavin: We haven't even had breakfast.
To do that on no breakfast is even more commendable!
Prada: I’ll be honest with you, 9am is definitely not drag-queen time!
Gavin: And it wasn’t a fluff piece – that went much deeper than we were expecting.
- Prada’s Priscillas on Fridays, April 29 and May 27 at The Imperial Hotel, Erskineville, and Friday, May 6 at Penrith Panthers.
- Showtime with Prada on Friday, May 20 and Saturday, May 21 at Richards on the Park, Canley Vale.
- Drag Bingo with Prada on Thursdays, April 21, May 5 and 19 at Windsor Wolves Leagues Club and Dom’s Drag Bingo with Prada on Thursday, May 12 at Penrith Panthers.
- Anzac Day with Prada on Monday, April 25 at Harbour View Hotel, The Rocks
- Other upcoming shows here.