In retro parlance, drag is about divas. For the Austin Drag Collective – which is hosting Austin's first Freakshow-a-Go-Go at Emo's this Saturday – it isn't even necessarily about drag. Embracing the non-diva-ish notion that collective action can produce damn fine spectacle, the group has gathered from across the nation, yes, drag performers – but also burlesque troupes, puppeteers, and cat dancers – to upend expectations and, oh yeah, put on a gigantic show.
The first Freakshow, held last year in Portland, Ore., traced its lineage to the roving International Drag King Extravaganza and Washington, D.C.'s Great Big International Drag Show. Unlike those festivals, Freakshow-a-Go-Go is a one-night performance event that casts a wider net. "We wanted to bring different kinds of performance artists into a space on a shared stage to highlight more than just drag," says Eaton Johnson (a former Chronicle intern). "We wanted to highlight performance in general and foster communication between different members of performance troupes and styles, in Austin and in the nation."
The result, he says, is "fun, kind of circusy, kind of out-there" – a Felliniesque gamut that encompasses the "significant, meaningful pieces" of Durham, N.C.'s Cuntry Kings; Oakland, Calif.'s Butch Tap (performing both drag and full-on tap-dance pieces); Portland, Ore.'s Cattitude dance ensemble (focusing on "cat positivity"); and New Orleans' Crescent City Kings. The hometown represents as well, with the Jigglewatts' burlesque, Baruzuland's shadow puppetry, gonzo dance troupe Little Stolen Moments, and WinoVino's roving carnival of musicians. Emceeing is PJ Chavez, the Bowie, Texas-spawned practitioner of "hair arts" and hostess of Live! From PantsuitLand With PJ Chavez.
For the Drag Collective (all members of local drag king troupe Kings N Things), the event's biggest challenges involved conveying the inclusiveness, both to potential performers and publicity outlets, of a show that encompasses so many categories. "I think the toughest thing is those little [online] check-boxes that only make you define yourself further; it's harder to do so when you're so broadly based," says Johnson.
The show's eclecticism is "a way to perform ourselves and to reveal new definitions of 'sexy' and 'performance,'" he continues, "dislodging notions of normal and creating new narratives. I think that within drag and performance you can hit those new narratives and stray away from what 'normal' might be. We're reclaiming terminology – like 'queer' has become reclaimed. It's a mixture of reclaiming terminology and doing it."
It's time, in other words, to take back the freak.
Freakshow-a-Go-Go: Austin! takes place Saturday, May 30, 9pm (preshow at 8:15pm), at Emo's outside stage, 603 Red River. For more information, call or visit www.emosaustin.com.