Backstage at the Rialto Theatre in Brighton on a freezing Friday night, Lydia L’Scabies and Rococo Chanel have just finished performing at their Cinebra: Women in Horror Month show.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek variety show featuring skits, original songs and a whole lot of drag, Megan and Sophie (Lydia and Rococo’s respective Cinebra alter-egos) had the audience in stitches with the horror movie-themed performances.
“We wanted to be these nerdy girls who have unicorn backpacks and probably dyed their hair green once and ruined their hair,” says Lydia.
“We started Sophie and Megan by accident at first, we did a lip sync and went on stage with these pedestrian outfits, taking on the social media world and blogging,” Rococo continues, before Lydia adds, “yeah, trying to be like shit Zoellas.”
With the origins of the phrase rooted in early 20th century Polari, the term ‘drag queen’ has become one understood and recognised almost universally 100 years later.
Pioneers of gay and drag culture like Dame Edna and Ru Paul have helped to break stigmas and preconceptions held by society. Now, in 2018, parts of these cultures have crossed over into the mainstream, including the controversial use and monetisation of the term “OKURRR” by the Kardashian sisters, a term which was popularised by drag queen Laganja Estranga whilst on the now hugely popular Ru Paul’s Drag Race.
Drag Race is watched by millions as Ru Paul looks for America’s next superstar, and is seen by many fans as the pinnacle of a career in drag. But what about queens that don’t have the platform of the hit Netflix reality show, and how do they make a career out of their passion for drag culture?
Lydia L’Scabies, self-titled ‘Queen Flea’, has graced audiences with a plethora of characters and performances, including a horrifying Theresa May and Hermione Granger. She is also one half of Cinebra, with fellow queen Rococo Chanel. Rococo has travelled across the UK and parts of Europe performing, often influenced by horror and is a talented musician.
Lydia and Rococo met in 2013 at university, both with backgrounds in musical theatre and performance.“We both started with a mutual interest in drag, and we clocked the American scene and wanted to do more with it and give it more a theatrical edge than, it sounds insulting but, just going and lip syncing to a Britney song,” explains Lydia.
“We met at uni and it kind of happened accidentally, but it all made sense in a very short amount of time. Everything we did together was always movie based or movie referenced. But then we came it up with Cinebra – ‘cinema but with a bra’, cause they’re just as a relevant and supportive,” she quips. “Movie-themed drag is what it is.”
Rococo adds: “We started maybe a year before the Drag Race thing really blew up in England, doing variety shows, which wasn’t exactly my thing, but I broadened my horizons and started doing more theatre-based stuff.”
Lydia agrees, saying: “We started at a very good time, and that’s opened doors for us individually as well as together. The business plan with Cinebra is that we want seasonal shows. We want to have shows for all of our characters all year round so they can grow and grow and get better and better, and to have that outlet because as much as we love what we do as Rococo and Lydia, this is a lot more rewarding, creatively.”
The pair explain that the whole production of the Cinebra performances is carried out by themselves, including the pre-recorded video clips, song mash-ups, and original music.
“We have a green screen in my bedroom, its a bit of fabric taped to a wall, there are so many times it fucks up and you can see it hanging down, but it works with Sophie and Megan because its meant to be shoddy and bit shit,” explains the self-proclaimed “i-Movie wizard” Lydia.
Cinebra shows also feature special guest performances, with horror-inspired lip sync and live music featuring at the Women in Horror Month show. One guest performer, Prudence Rae, says she loves performing in Brighton because “everyone is very friendly and they all like each other and are very supportive; it’s good for me as a semi-kind-of beginner to this industry to be able to perform with my friends, which takes away a lot of the pressure.”
Prudence, who gave the audience chills with her incredible voice, realises the importance of drag culture and it’s influence on her: “Drag has helped me with my own feminism as well, its such a celebration of women. Some people think its very derogatory towards women, but its satire, and its art in many ways too.“People think that drag queens are men who wanna be women, and whilst that is sometimes the case, it’s a performative art, and its opened up and new conversation on gender and performance, which has helped me with my own confidence to perform too.”
Aside from Cinebra, when asked about their individual drag style, Lydia and Rococo decide to describe each others.
“Ro has developed from being this sort of angry, scary burlesquer into, what she’s doing now is taking the whole drag name joke, and its usually occupation based; so you’ve got ‘Debra Crossing’ who’s a lollipop lady, ‘Kate Plantchett’ whose a medium, and pro-vegan acts. A lot of it is very satirical which a lot of people don’t get. It’s still theatrically motivated and its gorgeous and really accessible,” says Lydia.
Rococo explains that “Lydia started a good few years ago, inspired by the ‘West Street Slappers’ of the world.” Lydia jumps in to explain: “West Street is in Brighton, it’s like Yates, Weatherspoons, and ‘OMG YEAH!'”
Rococo continues, “It’s the girls who go to Przym and Oceana, and it kind of developed from that. Her name came from well, having scabies, and a lot of sexually transmitted diseases have come into your work, and there’s a lot of inspired looks from disease.”Lydia adds, “I wanted my drag style to be a different kind of sexual threat, because people think drag is sexually threatening, but I wanted to literally wear it.”
“You take the sexual threat and still make it sexy,” says Rococo.
“This sounds really Disney and crap, but I came from a musical theatre background which is quite superficial and I was told that you need be this person and that’s what you’re gonna be typecast as and that’s where you belong. It will have an expiry date – kind of like an athlete, but with drag, you can be any age, any personality, you can be what the fuck you are capable of creatively,” concludes Lydia.
Since its addition to the ever-growing line up of binge-watchable series on Netflix, Ru Paul’s Drag Race has become one of the most talked about reality shows in recent years. As the popularity of the show has continued on the ascendance, so has the popularity of drag culture as a whole.
“It’s very handy in terms of work because we get work with ‘Drag-Racers’, and people who have an interest in Drag Race find us locally, but in another way, its sort of umbrella terms drag,” Rococo says, addressing the extra attention on drag culture since the hit American TV show launched.Lydia agrees, saying, “In a lot of ways it’s great, and it’s so great that a lot of people can have the fucking balls to try it, because I was walking to and from places, and my mum would be like ‘why are you walking home in full drag’, and I’ll be like ‘its Brighton, calm the fuck down, I’ve only been followed home like twice so its fine.'”
However, she also thinks that Drag Race hasn’t been entirely beneficial for drag culture. “I’m not going to put on a boiler suit, carry a wrench and call myself a mechanic; a lot of people go out to the club and are like ‘I’m a drag queen’, well you’re in drag, but there’s a difference.
“We started doing what we do to steer away from the whole bitchy, catty need to be horrible to everyone just because you got ready three hours before any random fucker in the club,” Lydia says.
Rococo continues, “I think we are quite blessed in the sense that Ru Paul’s Drag Race hadn’t blown up when we started, so we came into it with a different edge, because people who are starting it now have seen Adore Delano on Drag Race – ”
“And they’re like ‘I wanna wear denim short and a jacket and I slay’,” interjects Lydia. “As soon as they learn to death drop it’s just like what-fucking-ever, how many death drops have we seen in our time?”
“A few,” replies Rococo.
Alongside their Cinebra work, the pair have a residency at Revenge, a nightclub in Brighton, which has allowed them to perform alongside countless Drag Race superstars, including the ‘current fucking reigning’ Sasha Velour.“It’s really helped over the years to get that Drag Race audience, we get the traffic onto our social media profiles, and then we can move that onto the Cinebra brand,” says Rococo, who believes are benefits from working with the likes of Courtney Act, Latrice Royale, Jinkx Monsoon, Shea Coulee, and Katya.
Lydia agrees, “It‘s nice, people have followed, obviously some people haven’t but I’m just putting that down to stupidity,” she says sarcastically.
“Equally, I have a lot of sympathy for a lot of the ‘Drag-Racers’ because they’re passed around like spliffs across the country, like everyone’s having a big old puff. Meet-and-greets are no fucking laughing matter, having to stay in a pen and a new fucker comes along and cries at you and says ‘I love you so much’, that’s fucking heavy,” Lydia says.
She goes on to say: “Seeing some of them perform, it kind of makes you feel better about what you’re doing. You see some people and you think ‘I fucking love them’, but then you see them live and think is that it? Some people ace it though, like Valentina [on Ru Paul’s Drag Race], all she needs to do is stand there and move her mouth, she even puts five different perfumes on before she goes on stage,” says Lydia.
“Fun fact,” adds Rococo, “she has an entire suitcase of really ugly shoes.”
“She lines them all out, its Valentina everywhere in the dressing room and I was like ‘Kudos, you do you, I’m so okay with this’, she was really lovely,” Lydia adds.
When asked if they would be interested in appearing in a UK version of Ru Paul’s Drag Race (the show’s current format is only open for American applicants), both Lydia and Rococo were hesitant.“Personally, I’d want to watch a season to see how they’re doing it before even thinking about applying. Alaska [Thunderfuck] has said to me, Pearl [Liasion] has said to me, and Sharon [Needles] has inadvertently said to me ‘dont be a part of the machine, just do you’,” explains Lydia.
“It’s difficult because we do want to tackle television, but for different reasons. Building on the Cinebra narrative, episodically, with horror and Christmas and new genres – were seeing it as a television series in the future,” adds Rococo.
Lydia expands on this: “I wanna follow in the footsteps of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who did Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, cause they tackle genres. Equally, the League of Gentlemen guys, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss, its all very skit based but it’s got a feeling and you recognise it and you know it and you love it.”
With the popularity of drag culture only set to increase further, coupled with the blistering ambition and fabulous talent of Lydia and Rococo, the future looks incredibly bright for the Brighton-based drag queens, and for the Cinebra brand.
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Featured image via Cinebra on Facebook