Queer Lip-Sync Spectacular Showcases Empowering Narratives
By Mary Margaret Hogan '18 | Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Mary Margaret Hogan '18
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Last semester, the Queer and Now Lip-Sync Spectacular launched its premiere in French Hall. Brought back by popular demand, theater and linguistics major Garrett Sager ‘19 brings his innovative piece to UMass once more at the Fine Arts Center alongside his dedicated and “sickening” cast and crew.
In the spring of 2017, Sager was inspired by his fascination and idolization of queer performance to devise a piece for his senior year thesis. “I have wanted to do a narrative lip-sync for a while now. This being my first time, I knew I needed to explore this art form before I tackled it for my thesis,” Sager said. Reading academic articles on drag and queer performance was helpful, but Sager says seeing the performances himself, truly aided his research and vision for his project’s journey. “Between watching live, in-person performances, YouTube clips, or RuPaul's Drag Race, I knew there were a lot of exciting experiences and discoveries that come from lip-syncing,” he shared, “I watched a lot of Sasha Velour, who has an amazing interpretation of what lip-sync is, as well as Bob the Drag Queen. And even beyond lip-sync performances, watching clips of Divine and observing John Waters provided my vision with some aesthetic inspiration.”
Originally, Sager imagined this piece to include devised solo focused performances in a series of vignettes with potential for one group number. But after his experiences in the theater department’s production of Ta’zieh and his training at Double Edge Theater, he knew this devised piece had to be ensemble-based in order to achieve those pieces’ success with body choreography and spectacle work. “I knew some of these songs I was considering for solo work were so epic that they could easily be transformed into group numbers,” said Sager, “I don’t think if this continued on to be soloistic journey it would have had the same impact.” Demonstrated by the success of Queer and Now, centralizing this project as an ensemble based-show provided the opportunity to foster more voices while emphasizing diversity and difference in these stories.
“Regardless of how many people I was going to cast, I knew that each person was going to have their own section. Being my first devised piece I’ve tackled as a director, I wanted to provide the cast with responsibility and agency over each of their sections,” Sager mentioned. With seven different sections, each member, including Sager himself, was highlighted in their own drag personas within each number. Alongside the dramaturgical team, the ensemble was allowed to bring in a series of songs to rehearsals where they would discuss and discover their themes, then strategize how they could communicate their own narratives through each piece. “The strength of this show lies in the collaboration. It would be an injustice not to thank every single dramaturg, designer, technical member…everyone. And of course, the ensemble really found the heart of this piece, for sure,” Sager expressed.
The original production featured a total of six ensemble members lip-syncing to various numbers in their devised personal drag personas. Faolain (Fay) Bobersky ‘20 portrayed a newfound, dominant Marie Antoinette opposite fellow theater major Bry Belling ‘20 in an intimate and passionate number that Sager describes as “queering the familiar.” He explained, “Presenting Marie Antoinette in her expected powdered wig and her hoop skirt, we thought, ‘How can we change this?’ Providing this familiar icon and flipping it on its head is how we raised questions throughout our piece.”
“Each one of our performers has their moment and their story that is different and powerful, so it is very hard to even begin to pinpoint one as a favorite because they all stand out,” Sager raved. Theater and business management student Lucas La Guardia ‘19 tackled the role of a “drag deity” in the last showing of Queer and Now with a Britney Spears’ number featuring a Mother Mary claiming her feminity while simultaneously sharing Lucas’ own personal experience with religion. Ensemble member and theatre major Cynthia Lizardo ‘19 performed SZA’s “Normal Girl” as audience members witnessed her grow into an empowered, “disco-queen” version of herself. While theater department’s Ethan Gourlay ‘19 depicted their experience with gender and queerness, focalizing on the relationship between self-love and self-hate in their number.
Sager also held a strong starring moment in the original production as one of his favorite icons of all time; Judy Garland. “Judy has been both a crucial figure in my personal development and my understanding of myself, but also a crucial figure in the LGBTQ rights movement,” he explained, “The basis of the rainbow flag is because of Wizard of Oz while there are even theories about the parallels of the timing of her death and funeral to the Stonewall riots. I originally wanted to do something gross, but couldn’t find motivation for it. When I brought in Get Happy to the ensemble, we all agreed I needed to be Judy Garland and portray her grosser experiences under the public eye. She was so ruined by Hollywood and toxic masculinity. I knew I wanted to give her an alternate ending.” Starting with a monologue, Sager transitions into a painful portrayal of Garland’s exploitation, but allows his characterization of the icon to reject these vices and instead find herself in front of the red ruby slippers; a symbol of self-empowerment and new beginnings.
“At this moment when we’re seeing so many accounts of sexual assault coming to the light, I wanted to portray a Judy who would’ve benefited from this and been given that agency to come forward and be heard,” Sager declared. For Sager as well, the ruby slippers provided a personally emotional moment in the show. “In [Somewhere] Over the Rainbow, I’d like to think this is where you can see me in this performance. I still cry listening to the track because I know for me and so many other people, those ruby slippers represent our journeys to self-actualization. It’s been a big part of my identity. If six-year-old Garrett had known twenty-year-old Garrett would be doing this, he would’ve flipped out. Being able to acknowledge how important Judy has been to my development and my queerness has been really powerful.”
Though the lip-sync showcases a talented cast full of ferocity and grace, the piece stands as a challenge to anti-LGBTQ rhetoric with empowering images and tangible moments of cast members embracing their identities and showcasing their journeys to achieve this autonomy. “There’s a lot of fun we’re having in this show, but simultaneously we’re combating a lot of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that is still very present in our society,” Sager explained, “Notably with three things: the trans-military ban, Mike Pence’s stance on conversion therapy, and the violence against black and brown trans femmes. This type of rhetoric and bigotry showcases there is a threat to being queer.”
“Being in an academic setting, there is a lot of privilege in showcasing this performance, and me as a white, cisgendered man, there also lies that privilege, but my reason for mounting this show derives from being given this opportunity to create an outlet to show a celebration of queerness. In this culture we are in now, there’s a lot of currency in adhering to gender roles and I think the power lies in rejecting that currency,” Sager revealed, “I want people to find fun, hope, joy, and pride within this production and themselves. The world is despondent when hatred becomes our main rhetoric, but escapism theater is a great opportunity to showcase the beauty of our differences and alternate possibilities. There is something so radical about our celebration.”
The original mounting of Queer and Now was featured in French Hall, but now will be presented in the Fine Arts Center in room 204. Though placed in an alternate space, 204 will once more be transformed into the runway setting, but this time provide a more intimate experience. Sager labeled the change of space as the perfect preparation for his senior thesis as he not only continues to develop this piece further but plans on touring the show to various locations. For the remount, even audience members who were made familiar with the original will be introduced to new material and can look forward to an even larger, fiercer finale.
Don’t miss out on the remount of Queer and Now: A Lip Sync Spectacular coming back to UMass on Friday, March 2 at 9:30 p.m. and Saturday, March 3 at 7:00 p.m. & 9:30 p.m. You can reserve tickets in advance for all three performances here.
Learn more about the revolution at the official Queer and Now website!