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Interview with Drag King Guy Liner

This article was originally uploaded on the 23rd March

Introducing: Guy Liner! Levi Richards (he/they) is a fourth-year English Literature student at the University of Edinburgh. He is also a local drag king named Guy Liner who first started performing at Glamoor the Kweer Kabaret in 2019. The Student interviewed him to find about how he started doing drag, what his tips are for beginners, and how to balance a student life with being a drag artist.

How did you start drag? Could you give a timeline of the starting process?

I found out what drag was pretty much the summer before university because I went to a drag convention. We watched local performers and there were some amazing drag kings there. Being able to see all those guys was incredible, I was blown away. So, when I came to university, I started going to shows every week, and drawing a lot of the performers as well, because I was just being a big fan boy, to be honest. Then, people kind of knew of me a little bit when I started posting drag looks. They had heard of my Instagram because I had drawn pictures of them. That was not like a strategic thing by the way. That was a genuine drag obsession. So yeah, I first got into drag for Halloween. I was the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors for Halloween. Then over Christmas I started doing some more drag looks, like the sort of French duke one that I do mostly now. And eventually Mystika Glamoor [a local drag artist who hosts a monthly drag show in Edinburgh] messaged me saying, “Would you be interested in performing at Glamoor? Let me know” and I was like, “Yes, please”.

That’s amazing. Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to do drag, but doesn’t know where to begin with? Or if they are intimidated by the idea of being on stage or contacting the local drag artists?

I would say not everyone can. But if you can and want to, go to the shows. Go to whatever is on locally, every week. As well as being a sort of networking thing, it is also good to see what people enjoy in a performance and what makes a performance good. See people’s makeup, outfits, and work out what you want to do with your own thing in relation to that. And maybe it goes without saying but think of what your own drag is. It does not have to be set in stone because I feel like whatever anyone starts out planning to do as their drag persona will potentially completely change. Try some makeup looks and take pictures. Create a separate Instagram account for drag. Think about the songs you would like to use or any mix you have in your head. You know, just starting to get some ideas in terms of what your drag would look like, because then you could reach out to a show runner and be like, “Hey, I’d really like to do a show”. Then they can look at your thing and get an idea of what you doing drag at their show would look like. It is much more casual than a portfolio but shows what your drag would look like.

And I think as well, obviously you want to network and chat to people and just follow everyone on Instagram. But in terms of doing that, you do have to be mindful of people’s boundaries. Because obviously people can be super excited and want to get pally with the performers. But then also this is their place of work, and you want to be mindful of that. I think ultimately when people are respectful and polite, if you reach out to someone being like, “Hi, would you consider having me in your show?” then the worst they can say is no. And I think it seems unlikely that they would say absolutely not like forever, it is just a scheduling thing. So, you know, it is worth having a bit of a grounding both within the scene and within your own drag persona before you start thinking about trying to do drag.

Also, my friend runs a drag king collective called Shut Up and King (@shutupandking on Instagram) that does drag king shows, workshops and skillshare. So I would recommend anyone who wants to get into doing drag king stuff follow them.

Speaking of coming up with your own drag persona, how did you choose your personal drag style and how did it evolve over time?

When I first started doing drag, I was doing a traditionally masculine look. For example, I was trying to do a real looking beard, which was great at the time because it was about gender expression, a gender euphoria thing for me. I kind of moved away from that. I have always been into historical fashion and the crazy, outlandish element of that. So, I did a Prince Charming look with white face paint that had expired like four years ago. I felt like I could do a dandy thing and that could be my niche. And I am sure there are tons of other people who do that as well. I am not trying to act like it was a hundred percent original, but you know, it is just like something that I find interesting. I think my drag persona has really gotten more effeminate as I have gotten more masculine in my normal life. In drag, I was trying to look like a stereotypical man, because I was kind of wanting to do that in my life. And then when I came out and was being a man in my day-to-day life, then my drag got a bit more effeminate and experimental.

I feel experimental in the sense of using drag as an outlet to keep the fun aspects of femininity without feeling uncomfortable with them. In my day-to-day life, maybe I am not comfortable with doing these things anymore, but in drag it does not matter because drag is just, it is all nonsense. Your gender in drag is all made up in a ridiculous way anyway. It does not really matter the way that you present yourself in terms of how much you stick one way or another.

How do you prepare each performance? What are the different elements of each performance that you need to consider?

The thing I really like about drag is that you do everything. You are like a one-man-show. Because you do costume, wig if you have one, makeup, mixes if you are doing one, you choreograph it, do a bit of acting if that is part of it. You also run your own social media and try to get yourself booked for gigs. It sounds overwhelming, but I think that is genuinely the most fun thing about drag. You get to get into all these different little fun elements. And if there is one that you do not really care about, say you are not interested in making clothes, then you do not have to do that. You can buy clothes or pay someone else to make you clothes. Or if you do not like making mixes, that does not matter, just do a song. You can really pick and choose. So, I guess it is a bit different for everyone. I feel like I kind of have a default makeup that generally does not change much. Usually the way that I will come up with a number is by randomly listening to songs and being like “Oh, that sounds kind of fun”. Or hearing a clip of a TV show and being like “Oh, that would be funny to put in a mix”. And then mashing those things together, getting the idea in my head.

On that note, from editing songs to acting, styling, costume, makeup, there is so much to every single performance. How do you balance being a student with being a drag artist?

I think the good thing is that drag is quite on the fly. It is not like theater where you must do weeks and weeks of rehearsals. In the past I decided what number I was doing for a show, like while I was walking there, which I would not recommend. Do not do that, especially because usually you need to send them a track in advance. Drag is like freelancing because you get to choose how much drag you’re doing at any given time. If you get to a point where you’re like, “I am in super crunch time with my dissertation for the next three weeks, I am not going to try and organize any drag for myself.”, it is quite flexible. If you are not feeling it for a bit, then you can kind of tap out. I think that sometimes people do struggle with overexerting themselves, I definitely have. Especially when you get to a point where you have become a regular and could be doing lots of gigs. It can get quite easy to be like, “Well there is this show every Monday and this show every Thursday and then there is this show this week”. And you are trying to go to everything and then you just go insane, and you get absolutely exhausted. So, if you get to that point, you have to set boundaries with yourself ,like not doing two shows in one week or maybe try and do this many shows a month. You must be careful with looking after yourself. Because drag is very tiring.

If you could do one thing different when you were just starting, what would it be?

I was very intimidated by everyone who did drag, which I think is kind of funny, because I feel like when you go and see people up on stage, you’re like, “Oh my God, they are like celebrities. They’re so cool”. And then you get to know people and you are like, “Actually these are just cool people who are involved with this thing”. But I think I was so scared and intimidated by everyone that I had a lot of reservations about actually talking to people and trying to organise things. But honestly, there is very little that I would change. I just am very happy with how it has all gone. I have absolutely the time of my life doing it. When I was first starting, especially, it was all so exciting. The only other thing is the same thing that I was just saying about not running yourself into the ground. Because there were definitely times when I did not take my own advice. I once tried to do a show on Sunday night in Glasgow. I ended up getting the last train back to Edinburgh, going to a 9:00 AM class the following morning and then doing another gig that night. Oh my God. And that was a mistake. That was a terrible idea. And I shouldn’t have done it.

Thank you very much for your time and for taking up this interview!

Thank you for asking.

Image courtesy of Daniel Redican