Go Deeper

Greg Bowers on Drag and Identity: “All the lumps would be in the wrong place”

Posted June 11th, 2010

“I always come back every 2 years or so,” says Greg Bowers. “Something draws me into Philly—I don’t know what it is.”

Since 2002, in one form or another, Greg has performed off-and-on in the Philly Fringe Festival. What brings him back to Philly tonight is Festivale! The 2010 Philadelphia GLBT Arts Festival to perform Cabaret Wonderland: Songs From a Lost Decade, a drag suite inspired by Alice in Wonderland. The show is at the Arts Bank at Broad and South Streets, at 10:00 pm.

“Four years ago I was commissioned to write a full-length musical on Alice in Wonderland. I fell down the rabbit hole and became a bit of an Alice scholar myself. The musical was for children and families, a kind of straight-up show. It’s been fun putting together some of the works inspired by Wonderland—there are great characters there for a drag queen.”

Greg performs as Ginger Moloko, a persona created in 1997 during his work with the New York performance group Ultraviolet.

“We were really a performance art group masquerading as a rock band,” Greg says, and they performed at venues like PS122, The Kitchen, and the Knitting Factory.

“The New York drag scene is really fierce and into fashion and creating the illusion of a woman. I couldn’t and didn’t really want to compete with that. I don’t think that drag is really about being a woman, at least that’s my take on it,” Greg says.

“Drag has become really diverse as a performance vehicle. I don’t particularly see drag as a feminine thing. I don’t think that drag queens are what women really look like. I don’t know any woman who would look like me in drag, or know any woman who would want to. I think of drag as more a construction of identity.”

After the jump: getting ugly.

In his show, Greg says there are fast and frequent transformations that move him dramatically around the spectrum of masculinity and femininity.

“In the performance aspect of it, you’re always aware that there’s a gay man essentially performing for you. I’m not necessarily interested in adopting the mannerisms of a female,” Greg says.

In Cabaret Wonderland, Greg uses Ginger and themes from Alice to go down the rabbit hole of himself.

“I have my little digital flash recorder, and I turned it on at some crazy times in my life over the past 6 months and captured what was going on. Sometimes I’d narrate what I was actually doing, and it was everything from the most banal behavior to doing things I don’t generally tell people that I do—if you come to the show, you’ll see what I mean. It’s strange to hear that behavior coming out while you’re presenting as a drag queen that’s an illusion or package. Hearing these things in counterpoint gives me adrenaline.”

Greg is now a professor at the College of William and Mary. Since first creating Ginger, he’s earned a Ph.D. in composition, and works in a multifaceted way.

“I don’t just compose multimedia and popular stuff. I’m at home writing for orchestra, and I do a lot of digital pieces. I’m also into research, into music cognition, and studying the way the mind works while listening to music. [My interests] are all taken care of in academia. I teach music theory, I teach composition. I’m free to do my research, and I’m free to do my crazy performance art shows. Just like a drag queen isn’t just a woman to me, as a musician, I’m not just a cabaret artist.”

Nonetheless, cabaret is what tonight’s show is all about. Greg was especially excited about the opportunity to reintroduce the character of the Ugly Duchess.

“Most poeple know Alice through the Disney movie, but they tossed out the Ugly Duchess because they had no reason for her. It’s one of those abandon-everything looks. There’s this razor-fast change on stage from that to something that’s completely the opposite. She’s this very huge ugly mannish woman with huge gown and huge headpiece. She’s perfect for a drag queen that doesn’t mind being ugly.”

What’s the opposite?

“I’m not going to tell you,” Greg says. “But it’s very dirty.”

–Nicholas Gilewicz

Images courtesy of Greg Bowers.