The Return of Mitzi Macintosh
In 2010, after 22 years performing as Sydney drag queen Mitzi Macintosh, Graeme Browing packed up his frocks to relocate to the UK. As part of Mardi Gras, he's bringing Mitzi back to Sydney for a series of events. On the eve of his arrival, the man behind the woman caught up with SX to talk performance, London’s drag culture scene and its gay scene.
SX: You’re coming back to Sydney for Mardi Gras. How excited are you?
Graeme/Mitzi: I’m beyond excited. I’ve been very good at keeping my mind occupied and finding all the positives of living in London with access to Europe etc to try and not think about home, but now it’s happening I'm full of all sorts of emotions.
Give us a quick rundown of events that you’ll be doing while in Sydney.
Drinking, laughing, bitching. Well, that and I’m very excited to be a Parade judge this year. I’m popping down to Harbour Party, performing at MardiGrasLand, and may pop up at Laneway (nudge nudge, wink wink).
You’ll be reprising your role as hostess of Bingay. How much are you looking forward to that?
I’m petrified. It’s been three years and I knew that when the reins were handed over to Tora that she would make it her own so I’m hoping people remember my style of hosting – drink, call some numbers, talk about me, drink a bit more – and I hope they don’t call ‘HAT’ every time I make a mistake or we’ll be there for two days. It will actually be a great chance to have a catch up with a few hundred friends and tell a few stories.
Let’s talk about London. In recent times, you have started performing as Mitzi again. Tell us about that.
My desire was to pursue other creative endeavours and take the chance to get away from myself and do something different. I took a bit of a break, we did some travelling and familiarised myself with daytime television. When I decided, I needed to earn some money the economic downturn had hit the UK hard. I chased up a few job prospects with friends but nothing came of that. Then I went to look at working as a costume designer, but there were children being spat out of design college with all the qualifications who couldn’t get work so they weren’t going to employ a colourful middle-aged ex drag queen. So instead of stacking shelves at the local supermarket, I decided to slip back into the heels.
Give us your thoughts on the difference between the London and Sydney gay scenes.
I haven’t spent that much time on the scene. To get a house with a backyard for the dogs, a garage for sewing and storage for drag we decided to move a little further out so with the tube stopping at midnight so we don’t hit the town that much. The trains don’t start again until 6.00am and the last time I sat at a station waiting for a train or caught a night-ride I was a teenager so that ain’t gonna happen.
I think the gays are all the same; it’s just the accents that are different. There are venues closing down and a feeling that community is being lost. I think the problems affecting the gay scene are the same all over the world.
What about drag culture?
Where do I start? The Sydney drag scene is built around mime and production shows. We have stages designed for multiple performers with lighting, good sound and backstage dressing rooms. In the UK the pubs are much smaller buildings that are hundreds of years old and most of the shows are solo performers singing live. With no costume changes, they chat, incorporate some sing-a-long and audience participation. There are no production shows and you basically get the same money whether there is one performer or three so hence I’ve been doing a 45-minute spot show with six costume changes (I bolt for the kitchen, zip out and into another frock then run back), chat a bit and do about 12 spot numbers. It’s called ‘cabaret’.
There is movement on gay marriage reform in the UK. What are your thoughts on this, being an expat?
There is an incredible level of acceptance in the UK. I watched the BBC Parliament channel as the MPs were arguing for and against the bill and was yelling abuse and cheering for others. I think the British have a tradition of camp celebrities, and with people like Alan Carr and Graham Norton on prime-time television, they love a colourful queen. (They had Lily Savage hosting Blankety Blanks. Can you imagine that ever happening on Channel 9?) It’s been frustrating to see the backward opinions of many Australians and it goes against the view foreigners have of us, which is that we are an easy-going bunch, nonplussed by most things.
What next for Mitzi Macintosh?
What indeed? There’ll be a huge comedown after Mardi Gras. Going from thousands screaming to 30 people chatting, scratching their nuts and dancing in front of you will be novel. I have bookings for when I get back from Australia (although it’s a slightly different system whereby one venue will book you for 3 dates across the year!), and I’d like to explore the possibility of working with another drag queen or possibly two. It would mean me investing in a production show, but perhaps it might catch on. I may even get a regular night somewhere.
[Image] Graeme Browning as Mitzi Macintosh. Photo: John McRae/SX
Mitzi Macintosh will be appearing at the MardiGrasLand, at the Entertainment Quarter, on Saturday, March 2. Go to www.mardigras.org.au. Also, catch her at Mitzi’s Big Bingay Reunion on Saturday, February 23, at Paddo RSL. Games $40. Book at www.acon.org.au/bingay