Thee Gay Agenda’s Big Top Queerness

Local queer variety show returns to its in-person clownery roots

l-r: Dylan Garsee, Aira Juliet, and Tabitha Hamilton, with styling by Ephrance Vintage (Photo by Roy Muyinza)

In August 2019, Qmmunity writer Mac Irvine called then-nascent group Thee Gay Agendaa three-ringed circus of sorts.” Speaking on the phone with TGA organizer Emmet Hunker, it seems that the same high-energy carnival chicanery courses through the show’s current incarnation.

Given the Thursday, April 28, event title, “Under the Big Top,” this performance promises to be a true return to form. Of course, Thee Gay Agenda never really went away; it just went virtual like all the other girlies. On the prospect of returning to in-person performance, Hunker speaks carefully but honestly about what a relief the change will be. With both in-person and online events taking up the same amount of organizing effort, the comedown from virtual shindigs was steep and a bit unsatisfying. “You'd finish it up,” they say, “and the green dot would go away and it's just like this emptiness.”

Contrasting that post-streaming drop is the joyful tangibility face-to-face encounters hold. Having a physical show brings TGA back to its roots and was what motivated the team to pitch up the big queer tent once more. “What we live for, what we exist for, is the show,” Hunker says, adding that while there’s much to prioritize in the queer community, TGA’s heart is in “[bringing] people together to be a part of a show, to have a platform for their art, and to have fun.”

Courtesy of Emmet Hunker

Fun is the name of the circus game, and Hunker says that the particular queerness of clownery drew the TGA team toward this theme. “I mean, clowning, [like] being freaky and standing out, is and always will be like a queer motif.” They also point out that the circus is something of an origin for the variety show, which reflects TGA’s format. Those notes of comedy make for the through line of each Gay Agenda show and are what guides their choices of performers – making sure every artist has “the levity of our vibe in mind.” Hunker also says they aim to represent a true variety of what queerness looks like. “Can we represent every facet of the queer community at every show? No, because I mean, that's impossible,” they explain. “But we do our best to make sure that people can see a little bit of themselves on stage, and thus, feel safe to come and feel safe to bring their friends.” With Thursday’s impressive lineup boasting big Austin queer scene names like Aira Juliet, Gothess Jasmine, Tatiana Cholula, Ms. Girl6, and more, there’s a little levity for everyone.

With strange tides still churning over Fourth Street, Hunker notes how important the work to take up spaces and queer them silly. To queer something is not unlike the way clowns take the ordinary to absurd extremes, rewriting tragedy into hilarity. “It's comedy,” Hunker says. “It's standing out. And it's also just changing perspectives, opening minds.”

Thee Gay Agenda’s “Under the Big Top” pitches up at Pho Craft on Thursday, April 28, at 7pm, thanks to sponsors Oatly and Kind Clinic. Presale tickets are sold out, but there will be a limited amount of tickets available at the door. Arrive early to get on the waitlist.

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LGBTQ, Thee Gay Agenda, Emmet Hunker, variety show, Pho Craft

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