Artist Profile: Paris

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Paris. Not “Paris Mc Insert-ghastly-name-here”, or even “The Divine/Fabulous/Outrageous Miss Paris”.

Just Paris.

Like Prince or Madonna, Paris is sufficiently confident about what she does to let her actions, and the content of her character speak for her, without that smacking-of-insecurity need to hype or ‘sell’ herself.

I suppose having been performing for 25+ years, you’ve either achieved a reasonable level of confidence or you’ve given up whatever it is you were doing. I ask if she ever did go by a “Divine Miss Paris McYuk-yuk” (or similar) earlier on in her career.

“No, sweets, and I didn’t give myself the name, either. Mum just took to calling me that from about the age of seven, and it somehow just seemed… appropriate.”

Growing up on the Gold coast, Paris moved to Melbourne in her early teens, and has been here ever since. It didn’t take her long to establish herself as a cornerstone of Melbourne’s Drag Show scene.

“The late 70’s Glam Rock vibe had sort of morphed into a mainstream fascination with androgyny

by the early 80’s, which is when I hit the club scene in Melbourne. Bowie had paved the way for Boy George, and the term ‘Gender Bending’ was being used by the popular press.”

I ask what this meant at the time.

“It meant that going out wasn’t just for drink, dance, and debauchery. The whole thing had turned into a strange sort of performance piece combined of extreme fashion, lots of make-up, and the ‘night-creature-persona’. Everyone had a clique that they belonged to, and every clique was trying to out-do each other with edgy-ness. People would start working out on Wednesday what look they’d be wearing that weekend.”

Did this relate to your decision to start drag performances?

“Given what we already looked like on weekends, it wasn’t a huge jump – we just added wigs and frocks! Melbourne didn’t have a drag show circuit at the time. There were female impersonators, of course, at venues like Les Girls and Bojangles, but those performers were generally transsexuals who lived full-time as females. There were a couple of drag queens out there, but not actual drag shows as such.  A friend of mine, Rita Le Coquita, and I, decided to have a crack. We got the nod from Gavin Brown a.k.a. “Hot Coco” (he was getting round in blackface drag), the manager of the Cadillac Bar, to put on our first show.”

They went completely over the top. Called “Beehives in Space”, their hair was so big they had to make wire frames for the wigs to go on, and shoes so high they were constantly at risk of doing major damage to their ankles. A showcase of singing, dancing, costume and comedy, the show was a hit with the punters. In the crowd that night was another high-profile drag queen, Kerry Le Gore. Kerry worked as MC at Mandate, in Carlisle St, St Kilda, and booked them on the spot.

And that was proverbially that – Paris has been doing it ever since. I delve a bit more into the arts involved. “So out of singing, dancing (in heels), choreography, costume design, make-up, and comedy, which do you find the most difficult?”

“Yes, all of those aspects are involved and dancing in heels can be a bit tricky,” she smiles, “but the hardest thing is creating the persona. That is the single most important part of the whole act, and everything else flows from it.” I am reminded of comedian CJ Fortuna, whom I interviewed a couple of months ago, saying it took him about five years to find his ‘stage voice’. I raise this and ask if it’s a similar thing.

“Very much so. Any bloke can put on a dress and lip sync  ‘Like a Virgin’ into a hairbrush. It takes quite a while before your drag persona develops, and requires constant work. The more detail you add to it, the more real it becomes. That level of detail takes time, and you have to evolve with her.”

Decades on, the sum of all of Paris’ stage fantasies have been made real at the Greyhound, post-renovation. The owner, Will van der Linden, asked Paris and the other venue staff what was required to deliver world-class cabaret acts and hospitality, and then gave it to them. And Paris made good use of the result. The payoff includes Boylesque (Fridays), Velvet – a piano cabaret act (Saturday), Classics, a classic colour and movement drag show, after Velvet. Paris hosts them all.

Whilst setting the scope, finding the talent, and stage managing all these new acts from scratch – and being incredibly proud of the performers and the results – Boylesque is her Citizen Kane.

“As far as drag shows go, it is unlike anything else in Australia.” (Paris smirks here, having quite deliberately not referred to Sydney.) Working with renowned choreographer, teacher, and international dancer (having worked in the Moulin Rouge in ‘gay Paris’) Todd Patrick, they have created a show involving ‘actual’ singing (not lip syncing), contemporary and classic dance, circus acts, striptease , and comedy.

“It’s like Crazy Horse meets Cirque du Soleil. This really is the show with everything.”

I ask how she manages to pull it all together, given the large scope of it all.

“Well, I have to give huge credit to the technical crew, the venue staff, and the wider Greyhound Family, without which none of which this would be possible.” I gently remind Paris that this is an artist profile, not a Tony award acceptance speech. She picks up a copy of SKN and holds it like an award. “I’d like to thank gaaaaad…”

So what is the most important thing you’ve learnt about executing your art in 25 years in the game?

“More than making a headdress that balances? Just kidding – the most important thing is chemistry on stage, and being able to judge at audition time which candidates will gel with the cast you’ve got. We lose people all the time to stage shows and cruise ships, so we’re constantly auditioning. Someone can be brilliant technically, and also have the heart and vision of a great performer, but if they won’t bounce off the current cast, I won’t put them on.”

I ask if she can explain how she knows what’ll work, and in trying to explain her language breaks down – as I have found with most artists trying to describe what makes the difference in their art between solid and sublime.

The GH is open every day except Monday, and every night there’s something on. You can catch Paris on Fridays and Saturdays.

Readers are strongly encouraged to check out the outstanding lineup, and so by mentioning this article, readers will be offered $5 off the cover charge on Friday and Saturdays for the month of May.

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By Aaron Webb

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