• ORbit Interview •
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In Conversation: Lashings of Ginger Beer Time
Lashings of Ginger Beer Time is a Queer Feminist Burlesque Collective. Combining songs, dancing, stand-up and sketches, luxe Victoriana drag with thigh-high fetish-boots, upbeat musical theatre optimism with twenty-first-century political rage, this is music hall for the internet age. Going back to the politically-charged roots of Burlesque, they aim to provide titillation for the brain by entertaining and challenging their audiences in equal measure.
The ORbits editor spoke to Galatea, Sebastienne, and Kaberett about gender, the power of parody, and performing in an age of austerity politics.
How does Lashings of Ginger Beer Time plan to bring down the heteropatriarchy?
Galatea: By pointing and laughing at it! In all seriousness, we’ve found that some of the best ways to get our points across to people have been by joking about and parodying some of the ridiculous stereotypes we see around us in popular culture and the media. It’s very hard to accuse people of being ‘humourless feminists’ when you see them running around wearing sock puppets on their hands, pretending to be Daleks, or dressing in drag and impersonating Stephen Fry! And once you get people laughing, it’s easy to get them thinking, too: lots of audience members and reviewers have commented on the ways in which our shows have made them rethink issues such as representations of trans* people in the media, stereotypes about feminism, and sex education in schools.
Tell us a bit about the role of burlesque in a Lashings performance.
Sebastienne: When we talk about burlesque, we’re talking about the literary form, not the style of dance. If you’re thinking of feathered fans and nipple tassels right now, that’s because of the influence of neo-burlesque. We draw most heavily on the tradition of the Victorian music hall, which combined stand-up comedy, topical satire and short sketches (often making fun of public figures and powerful groups in society) with the bawdy sexual content that it’s best known for nowadays. Sexual openness and bawdiness have always been part of burlesque, but the foregrounding of those aspects is a very recent development.
Burlesque is the only word we can find that describes what we do. We take social norms and turn them on their heads, exposing and mocking their contingent nature. We use comedy sketches, song parodies – and yes, sometimes sexualised dance – to express ourselves, to make audiences laugh first and think second. It’s very much a twenty-first-century version of music hall.
What can song, dance and poetry do for austerity?
Kaberett: If nothing else, they can remind us that people like us exist, and that there still remains a community where we’ll be welcomed and taken care of. For me, having a place where we can apply gallows humour to the significant impact austerity measures are having on us – without needing to explain it six ways from Sunday – is a great relief, even if it’s only a temporary one.
Sebastienne: I find it so important just to be out there, reaffirming that there is an alternative. On a protest march, or in the comments section of a political blog, I’m already surrounded by people who think like I do about the damage done by austerity politics. At a Lashings show (where people could be for all sorts of reasons), there’s more scope for those affirmations to have an impact and change somebody’s thinking.
How would gender work in a utopia born of Lashings’ collective imagination?
Galatea: We recently put on a very silly pantomime Cinderella. In our version of the story, Cinderella is a scruffy punk bi girl who is forced to work as a servant for her Evil Stepmother, the dreaded Baroness Scratcher. She’s in an open relationship with her fellow servant Buttons, who wants to be (take a deep breath) the only panromantic polyamorous asexual ambidextrous weasel farmer in the whole of the South-East Midlands. Through a series of wild and convoluted schemes, the two of them manage to get Cinderella to Princess Charlotte’s twenty-fifth birthday ball … where the princess is suffering in miserable silence, unable to tell her father that she’s a lesbian. Ella and Charlotte meet and fall in love, but are separated by the evil Baroness! There is hardship and torment (some of it involving weasels), but the lovers are at last reunited. The story ends with a happy three-way poly relationship between Buttons, Cinderella and Charlotte, fully supported by the king. Meanwhile Cinderella’s stepbrothers, Dave and Boris, realise that their greatest wish is to give up bullying and exploiting people – so they decide to reform and live as full-time submissive love slaves to the heterosexual but gender-playful Lady Dandini.
After each performance, we were almost knocked off our feet by the rush of people who came up to us and made comments along the lines of: ‘Oh my God … you made a story about us.’ There were a lot of people who felt that aspects of their gender and sexuality were being recognised in a way that they’d never seen in a piece of entertainment before (or at least, never as anything other than the butt of a joke). A world where people’s sexualities and gender expressions could be accepted and respected, and everyone could get a happy ending? That’s the Lashings’ idea of utopia right there.
Kaberett: I’m a non-binary trans* person, and as such I spend a lot of time thinking about gender and the ways in which it plays out. My experience of gender is twofold. There’s external expectations – strongly gendered societal roles, oppositional sexism, the concept of gender as performance art – and then there’s the aspects of gender I consider internal: like the fact that progesterone makes me ill – and breasts are nice and all, but they don’t belong on me.
So my answer boils down to this: I want a world in which the wonderful breadth and variety of gender is recognised and welcomed. I mean this both in the medico-legal senses – doctors who don’t gatekeep; a medical system that trusts and supports the patient; an understanding that requiring people to tick “male” or “female” is unhelpful and doesn’t give anything like enough options – and in the social sense of exchanging our current gendered (genital-based) expectations for communication and negotiation and, above all, treating people as individuals who deserve respect.
We’re coming to a Lashings gig. What should we bring with us?
Galatea: A sense of humour and a sense of adventure … after all, you’re likely to encounter carnivorous vaginas, angsty vampires and werewolves, marauding Tories, a pack of kinky Boy Scouts, and an out-of-control, parallel-universe version of Gok Wan.
A box of tissues … amongst all the fun, you’ll also be hearing about some of the ways in which growing up QUILTBAG today still messes people around. When we channel Buffy’s Willow and Tara to talk about the ways in which queers in media are stigmatised, or sing about queer youth suicide and the It Gets Better project, we sometimes end up needing them too.
Kaberett: Cake to share with the rest of the audience goes down well, especially if it’s covered in edible glitter and accessible to people with dietary restrictions (this goes double if you cover the rare ones!). It’s a fantastic way to make new friends and an equally brilliant way to get recognised if you announce your intentions to Twitter in advance!
Galatea: And don’t forget a spare pair of pants … if the sensational Sally Outen does her comedy bit about moles, there won’t be a dry seat in the house!
Lashing of Ginger Beer Time is performing for OxFringe on June 8 and June 10 at the Old Fire Station.
Chloe Stopa-Hunt graduated in 2010 with a BA in English from New College, Oxford. She is a senior editor of the Oxonian Review.