COURTNEY ACT – “I’M CHOOSING TO BE WHO I WANT TO BE”

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Hot off the heels of snatching the nation’s hearts by winning this year’s Celebrity Big Brother, Australian born Shane ‘Courtney Act’ Jenek returns to the UK for the Under The Covers tour. The RuPaul’s Drag Race alum, pop singer and entertainer will play 7 dates between May 29th – June 12th. And with Cardiff already sold out, this is shaping up to be a must-see event. Shane/Courtney chats to us about drag, gender and penises.

TRASH: Tell me about the tour. It’s called Under The Covers. Is it gonna be singing? Comedy? Lipsyncing?

Shane ‘Courtney Act’ Jenek: No lip syncing, lots of comedy, lots of live singing, gorgeous costumes. Marco Marco has designed the costumes, lot’s of reveals, gorgeous wigs by Vanity. There’s a piano and a gorgeous set. The set is actually like a bedroom with a big queen size bed with a gorgeous neon quilt cover. My piano player is sitting in a chest of draws and a bedside table. The bed-head is actually the projection surface for the video content. Lots of comedy. Lots of fun. Lots of laughter and hopefully good singing.

Is this everything you’ve done up until this point in one big tour?

Yeah, every year I kinda do a big cabaret. Every year it gets a bit bigger and a bit better, more budget. Interestingly this was all put together before Big Brother.

Has it developed since Big Brother?

Yeah sort of. I came out of the Big Brother house and went straight to Australia and began the tour of this show, so it was all very much prepared, the set was done, the costumes were done even before I went in the Big Brother House.

So you haven’t stopped? You must be knackered. 

I haven’t stopped. This weekend was the first day off I’ve had in 2018. Every other day was a travel day or a work day.

What did you do?

I kinda did nothing. I slept in and relaxed all Saturday. I am writing a book at the moment, so I guess I didn’t do nothing. I procrastinated a lot.

Don’t we all. What’s the book about?

It’s autobiography, sort of exploring gender. My journey with gender and sexuality.

That perfectly segways into stuff I want to talk about. You identify as gender fluid and that’s a really positive thing for other gender fluid and gender non-binary people to see out in mainstream culture. In terms of drag which is traditionally a man dressing up as a women, what’s the next evolutionary step when we take into consideration that people now are gender fluid?

For me drag is gender fluid ‘coz you’re sometimes a man, and sometimes a woman. So there is a fluidity to the gender presentation of that individual. For most of my twenties I was always quite rigid with my gender. I would be a man and I would be a woman. But now I realise in the last 5 years or so that this whole idea of rigid gender was just a bit silly. In society if we look at the way gender has changed over the past few decades, I mean, Katharine Hepburn wearing trousers back in the day, was an absolutely shocking thing for a woman to be wearing trousers, and that was not all that long ago. And now obviously women wear trousers all the time. It’s not peculiar at all. To me that is a form of breaking down that gender binary. We all live in a more gender fluid world now and for me it just means I’m not going to worry about the expectations of gender when I get dressed in the morning or when I walk down the street. I’m just gonna do whatever I feel like and wear what I feel and act how I feel and do that as honestly as I can.

I think that’s the big step for a lot of people, the expectations put on genders and how we should be acting because we are a certain gender. I think the big step is helping people understand that those constructs exist, ‘coz sometimes people don’t understand it and that’s what’s stopping them accepting gender fluid people.

Yeah, the term gender fluid, I think people think it means something strange and weird and wonderful. To me it just means I am choosing to define myself on my own terms, rather than what society says. I think everybody would probably like to be a self-actualised person. To much extent, many people are, many people do decide that they’re going to dress and act a certain way but I think  they could get stuck in this binary idea of men should do this and woman should do this. But really men do women’s roles and women do men’s roles, and men wear women’s clothes and vice versa all the time in our society. The term gender fluid brings some attention to that and starts the conversation. Someone reading might be like, “oh ok, gender fluid it not meaning you’re living with no gender”. It’s just meaning I’m choosing to be who I want to be. Right now I’m wearing a head-to-toe pink salmon tracksuit, which probably ten years ago wouldn’t be considered all that much of a male behaviour. It’s really being who I want to be rather than what society says I should be.

How do you think drag kings could be integrated into drag shows, drag competitions and RuPaul’s Drag Race?

RuPaul made some comments recently about drag being a fuck you to the patriarchy and the idea when a trans women does drag it isn’t as dangerous. I would love to see a television show, it doesn’t have to be RuPaul’s Drag Race, but a television show that celebrates women doing drag and drag king’s, all forms because I think Drag Race is such a specific thing – essentially male bodied people doing drag. I think there is much more to it. Drag Race has been going for ten years, and in that ten years the conversation has evolved so much. So something that gives a platform to drag kings and trans women, showgirls and even hyper-queens [female bodied persons dressing up in a drag aesthetic]. There’s a lot of girls who love doing drag. I go to RuPaul’s Drag Con and I see so many girls with fabulous hair and make up. I think everyone’s discovering that it’s fun to create your own identity. There should be a space where that can be celebrated more.

Has the danger of drag subsided now that mainstream culture is so accepting of it?

Yes particularly here in the UK. I’ve done news panel shows here on BBC and The Wright Stuff and it actually warms my heart. I’m doing The Wright Stuff next week in drag. I did it as Shane a while back. I get to sit there on serious news shows in drag talking about politics and it not being a wink-wink-nudge-nudge kinda thing. I think it’s a sign of the times where self-expression and creativity can intersect with politics. I think it’s wonderful when we as a society can accept lots of different shapes and colours. I think drag can certainly still be dangerous and exciting and thrilling. The mainstreaming of drag through Drag Race, the drag on Drag Race is still very PG. You can still go to some underground clubs in London or San Fransisco or Berlin or New York and find drag that is very dangerous and edgy and political and sexual and I love that drag is being displayed in such a pop-culture format. Audiences of Drag Race get to see what I’ve always known, and what other drag queens have always known which is how much fun it is to express and create and explore performance and gender and everything else in between.

The idea of drag has always been around in this country. We’ve had Danny La Rue, Lily Savage, but it seems to be in the past 5 years that drag has been accepted by the mainstream. Why now?

I think that drag does intersect with gender. Different drag queens, y’know, for someone like Bianca Del Rio she’s a man who dresses up as a women. Well, she doesn’t really dress as a woman, she dresses up like Bianca Del Rio. I don’t think anyone mistook her for being a woman. Then there are performers like myself or Jinxx Monsoon or Violet Chachki, where the drag and performance intersects with gender a lot more. I think the conversation around gender at large has become so much more evolved. I think a lot of that has to do with trans women in pop culture. Look at Lavern Cox. Kaitlin Jenner, love her or hate her did start a global conversation. Munroe BergdorfParis Lees, Janet MockChaz Bono. There’s so many visible and positive trans role models now that I’ve certainly been inspired by. And they’ve created a space around this conversation of gender. Whilst those trans people are quite conformist to the binary, they’re all men or women. I think that created an acceptance and understanding in a conversation that enabled the grey areas to perhaps to be more accepted and explored. It’s interesting that the drag identity and the trans identity, although completely different have at the same time gained a similar amount of speed because it’s about societies acceptance at large, the willingness to have conversations and discuss things and explore the nuance. it’s not just binary and black and white. Drag Race started 10 years ago, it’s been a long journey for Drag Race to get to the place it is. I’m so glad that it is and people love it and celebrate it and get this wonderful art form of drag.

I think it’s definitely the grey areas that people people need to learn. I think the binary side, the idea that someone would have gender reassignment surgery, it’s not necessarily fully accepted but it’s understood more than the grey area. So let’s move away from the serious questions and have some fun. Which musical character would you play in drag and why?

I just got to play Teen-Angel in drag, in Australia which was a lot of fun. I think my Mum would absolutely love if I ever played Peter Allen in ‘The Boy From Oz’ or Joseph And His Amazing Technicolored Dream Coat.

Ohhh! In Drag that would be wicked!

In drag it would be even more weird. I could play Peter Allen in drag. Who would I want to do in drag? Glinda! Actually I had a conversation with Kristin Chenoweth. She had said that she wanted to see a drag queen playing the role.

You know what I think would be cool? If someone manages to tackle a non-comedy role in drag. So let’s say the lead in The Colour Purple was played by someone in drag, that would be a massive step forward. 

Oh wow that would be. Sandy in Grease, she’s not a comedy role. Playing Sandy in Grease has always been a dream of mine.

Who’s the most supportive queen that you know. 

Bianca Del Rio is such a supportive friend. It’s funny because her comedy is, y’know, an insult comic but she has a heart of gold beneath it all and I think that shone through on Drag Race. It’s interesting, after I won Celebrity Big Brother, I was like ‘oh wow I won’. There was no higher accolade I could have achieved in this process than winning. And I suddenly had this feeling of ‘how can I help?’. I’ve always been keen of lifting other people up, its just interesting that this idea of winning gave me this feeling of altruism and Bianca certainly possess that quality. A lot of it I learnt from Bianca. I watched her be a winner so gracefully and so wonderfully and so generously that when I won Big Brother I already had a blue print as to how to act graciously as a winner.

Who is the shadiest queen you know and what did they say to you?

Willam. She’s a pretty shady queen.

What did she say to you?

Oh god what hasn’t she said! She was messaging me the other day, I’m just scrolling back. She called me the Wiki-Wombat-Woman. She knows how to push buttons and she likes to push them.

If you were a Netflix original show what type would you be?

If I could do any show it would be a variety show. Like an 11pm sort of variety show.

Like a James Cordon type thing? A late show?

Yeah, like a Chatty [Alan] Carr, or a Graham Norton or a Lily Savage or a Dame Edna. Actually a Sonny & Cher to be honest. A 2018 version of a 1970s classic variety show.

So it would be quite family friendly?

I don’t know, I feel 11pm’s a good time slot, you can be a little bit risqué at 11pm.

You can be very risqué! In this country you can be risqué at 9pm.

You can have penises on television in the UK! I saw Wayne Sleep’s penis on Celebrity Big Brother. I was taken aback.

The rules are a bit lax compared to America. What are they like in Australia? 

They’re pretty up tight there. Very loose here. I quite like it. Not even from a perverted point of view. From a body positivity, let’s talk about these genitals that we carry around on our bodies everyday but refuse to acknowledge or talk about. And it’s funny you do think of those two extremes of British culture, the uptight person who isn’t able to talk about their emotions, and then the drunken ladette vomiting in the street. I think the UK society at large is actually so much more nuanced and also developed. There’s a lot of grey area in the UK and I really love that.

How would you like people to view you? What’s your lasting impression you want to leave on people?

I want people to think of me as a friend. That person who they can hang out with. Have a good time with. Have a good conversation with. Who looks glamorous and has great hair.

Click for tickets

TOUR DATES 

29th May Tramshed Cardiff

4th June O2 Academy Glasgow

7th June O2 Ritz Manchester

8th June O2 Institute Birmingham

10th June Troxy London

11th June Tramshed Cardiff (SOLD OUT)

12th June Tivoli Dublin

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