SISTERS GRIMM / THE POLITICAL DRAG, THE QUEER MAINSTREAM

“The weird thing is that LGBTIQ exists as a category of being, that’s designated by mainstream culture, when actually it’s unbelievably fragmented. And there’s so much intra-group conflict because everyone actually has really, really different aims, and different objectives, and their struggle doesn’t mirror that of the other groups at all.”
– Declan Greene

“You find these little things that help… ‘If I can channel Judy Garland, If I can channel the strength of this survivor’… For some reason, it usually is a female survivor, because you don’t want to identify with the straight men that are making your life hell, or that you don’t relate to. You relate to the women who are outsiders as well.”
– Ash Flanders

In the third episode of season four, we discuss what queer is and isn’t with playwright Declan Greene and performer Ash Flanders, who together make up Sisters Grimm, Melbourne-based queer performance collective par excellence. Sisters Grimm have risen through the ranks of Melbourne’s independent theatre with a series of extremely well received shows, very quickly progressing from backyard performances for friends to sold-out shows at Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Sydney’s Griffin Theatre and Belvoir. By now, they have, together and separately, performed in all of Australia’s major theatre houses, and won an incredible number of awards. They have been described in The Age as ‘treading the line between the frivolous and the furiously political better than anyone in Australia right now’.

And it is their brand of frivolous, furiously political queer theatre that we talk about today. Drag, the way it speaks gender as a foreign language, and its undercurrent of dissecting, enabling, and owning, victimhood, as well as its central position in queer culture, is one of our great topics. Drag features prominently and aggressively in the Sisters Grimm oeuvre, which features every kind of cross-casting imaginable, most notably when appropriating Euro-Australian colonial narratives. The queer eye is particularly suited to dissecting national and colonial myths because it is an outsider eye, say Ash and Declan, giving numerous examples of the ways in which the queer individual grows up interested in aesthetics, in surfaces, in the performativity of identity, and the way in which oppressive power is exercised through cultural myths – and perhaps becomes particularly fluent in ways to dismantle that power.

“I think you develop critical facilities, as a queer person, because you learn to question the texts that you receive culturally… You know that those narratives don’t articulate your experience of being, so you have to figure out how to dismantle them, and to insert yourself into them in order to identify with them.”
– Declan Greene