Yellow lights flood the stage at District as ROMEO DE LA CRUZ finishes up their rehearsal for tonight’s P.E. themed Eat Me show, hitting every beat in a choreographed routine. As I take my spot in the audience, the pieces of the puzzle that will form tonight’s show are beginning to fall into place. Ever since nightlife resumed, I can’t get enough of being out amongst people. But here, I can’t help but sense a unique, ineffable buzz in the air.
As I work my way backstage, I pass by performers of all disciplines, some half-way through their make-up, many just enjoying a laugh with their mates. The atmosphere is joyous, and as I speak to the performers, I’m reminded again of the physical chasms felt deeply by them over the course of the pandemic. “The internet gives us ways to connect,” host AUNTIE CLIMAX tells me, “but there’s a certain magic that happens when people are in a room together.”
Both backstage, and watching the show unfold, it’s clear those involved in Eat Me make up a community. In considering the closure of clubs and any nightlife scene over the pandemic, the interruption of queer communities, families even, that came with it, has received little attention. “I think we’re still dealing with the trauma of Covid, and we will for some time” Climax continues, “I think nightlife in general is an important place for catharsis. It is necessary to let loose and express yourself and not be judged for that, and to feel safe doing that.”
“This is my only source of income,” MARILYN MISANDRY adds, “It can’t be understated how many people were left desperately vulnerable without these spaces.” Nightlife, for plenty of queer people, is a place free from judgment, somewhere that allows for self-discovery, separate from a world that doesn’t always offer safety. “It’s where we define ourselves,” Misandry continues, “it’s where we find our communities. It’s where we’re best.”
I ask the performers if drag specifically is useful for communicating new ideas and starting conversations – whether these are the grains of optimism we can take from the return of nightlife. Misandry shrugs, telling me instead it’s simply the art form she works best with, as a natural sculptor would choose to sculpt. “I never thought, ‘This is the most useful way to get my ideas across’,” she says. “This is how I like to express my art and my identity.”
Otherwise, Climax sees drag as a mechanism to take the piss: “Drag is a satirical medium. Anything is ripe for pastiche or satire,” she explains. For tonight’s show, where the core theme is physical education, drag can target social issues in sport – Climax acknowledges the treatment of trans people, the lack of homo-representation and the money involved in sport as just some of the topics in need of addressing.
Whether drag or queer performance actually needs to provide any one specific purpose is probably something we don’t need to get too caught up in. From just the first few performances, which include Climax and co-host BABA YAGGA lampooning an array of sports (ending in Yagga being ‘burnt at the stake’ with Climax’s Olympic torch), or NATASHA MOONSHINE’s mesmerising hula hoop routine to Gwen Stefani’s Wind It Up, an anything-goes ethos seems to work just fine.
And in any case, tonight’s show isn’t overly refined and nor does it pretend to be. Climax and Yagga occasionally stumble over each other’s words as they joke with the audience, and signals are sometimes missed for someone to be called offstage. Altogether, these moments make for an endearing show: there’s no cool veneer separating performers from audience. We’re in on the jokes, just as much as we are part of the community present onstage.
In fact, Misandry tells me it’s this DIY spirit that makes Liverpool’s queer scene unique compared to other cities: “Liverpool is far more about risk-taking. It has a real lack of polish to it which is really refreshing.” Misandry is a Manchester queen, and though that city seems to receive more recognition for its drag talent, that doesn’t have any real bearing on the quality of Liverpool’s queer scene: “It’s still in the process of figuring itself out, which is always an exciting place to be.”
If Liverpool’s drag scene is still in its formative stages, Eat Me certainly offers a vision for what this community can be. Auntie Climax relays to me the importance of a queer scene which rejects exclusion; for her, this is what nightlife should be about: “The togetherness that happens and the cross-pollination between different facets of the queer community and the non-queer community, which is…fucking good shit!”