Can you tell us about your journey into drag so far?
I am very much at the beginning of my drag journey. I went to see a friend perform at SOHO Theatre’s Drag & Cabaret showcase last Christmas, and afterwards told her how inspired I had been by all the performances. She said “applications for the next course close tomorrow, go home and write an application”. So I wrote it overnight, and got accepted onto their ten-week course. I learnt so much from everyone doing the course with me, as well as the guests that came in to teach us, and our amazing course leaders Len (King Len Blanco) and Leah (Cyro). When it got to our showcase, I’ve never been so nervous. Before going onstage I thought “I am never doing this again”. As soon as I came offstage I thought “I’ve got to do that again”.
What drew you to drag as an art form?
I’d been thinking a lot about gender and certain characteristics that I feel I have, in some ways, inherited from growing up in a male-dominated friendship group at school. I got the nickname ‘Ian’ in year 9 and have had it ever since. I am interested in the inherent parts of myself that are typically ‘masculine’ that have always exceeded my more femme side, and how this seems to be a help and a hindrance depending on where I am and who I am with. Alongside this I wanted to push myself as a performer: I’m an actor, and have been working professionally for four years. Doing drag feels much more exposing than any other performance I’ve done because I devised it, I directed it, I’m performing it and, most importantly, I’m showing the parts of myself that I often try to hide.
Drag plays a large part in queer history and culture. What does drag mean to you?
Since I’ve started doing drag, I’ve had lots of conversations with myself and others about whether this is a space I should be taking up. I am bisexual, but have lived most of my life not labelling my sexuality. I’m still working it out. I know that for a lot of people, drag means something very different than it does to me, due to the experiences that they have had. As long as I am doing drag I want to continue having conversations about this.
But drag is about a lot of things and one of those things is celebration: celebrating queerness in all its forms. It’s about queer JOY. It’s about silliness, freakishness, creatures-and-things. For me it means a space to explore and challenge ideas of gender, as well as my sexuality and identity. I am grateful to have that opportunity. Especially when it’s so fucking fun!
How did you go about creating your drag persona? What's your process there?
Len and Leah helped us a lot when it came to knowing where to start. I began with what interested me, what I wanted to say. I wanted to approach the idea of who is allowed to take up space and how. I was thinking a lot about the aggression and force behind taking up space, but I knew I wanted to create a comedic act. Following Leah’s advice I then picked a song that I wanted to work with. I listened to DJ Manny’s Wants my Body and was instantly obsessed. I knew my drag persona was going to be called Ian because of my nickname, and I settled on Ian Beer (my name is Iona Champain, like the drink).
After this I had a long period of being completely stuck, not knowing how to translate what I was thinking into a performance. The thing that helped me break through this was costume: as soon as I put on a suit Ian Beer came alive (why did no-one tell me how powerful and hot you feel in a suit?). I decided to focus on the hilarity behind the performance of masculinity, power and sex appeal, and the reality behind the persona. Ian became a hybrid of rampant, pervy confidence and vulnerable, wanking teenage boy. It’s stupid and fun and that’s exactly what I wanted.
What advice would you give to aspiring drag artists?
Keep it simple! Less is more, don’t try and tackle too many things in one piece. You don’t need to have loads of props and ten tracks and vibrating arsecheeks for it to be entertaining. Keep pushing it even when you think it’s finished. Go to the extremes!
Go to as many drag performances as you can, and chat to people after. For inspiration, but also because they are the people who will become your support, and vice versa. ENJOY IT!
Iona Champain is an Actor, Drag Artist and Poet from Suffolk. Currently living in London, her performances aim to address contradictions of masculinity with humour and absurdity, as well as tackling themes of who takes up space and how. Having recently completed SOHO Theatre’s Drag & Cabaret Lab, Iona is now devising some new drag pieces alongside performing in several independent films.