A researcher at Edge Hill University will take a film about his alter ego – Gale Force, drag queen and former child star – to the International Federation for Theatre Research Conference in Barcelona this month.
Now senior lecturer in performance, Mark Edward has had a long career in contemporary dance and also worked as a drag queen in the 1980s. As he came off stage one evening, somebody mockingly called out: “Council house movie star!”
He was offended at the time, “but later I said to myself: ‘I’m actually going to have that title’ – Gale Force was a reaction against the predominantly white female classical dance background I have experienced. The persona started to come from that.”
Reaching his mid-thirties had also caused Mr Edward to re-evaluate his life, since he “felt in a state of flux and didn’t know where I wanted to go within the UK’s youth-driven agenda for dance”.
This led to practice-based research on ageing performers and drag queens’ “precarious relationship within contemporary gay culture”. Last year Mr Edward secured funding for a 30-minute film, Council House Movie Star, starring Gale Force in a run-down flat smothered in kitsch 1970s decor. Her only interaction is with a rat that she occasionally chases with a meat cleaver.
“The house is like an archive of her that is deteriorating,” he explained, “and she’s clinging on to memories from the past.” In the film, she remembers how as a young boy in the 1960s she was “beaten up by a guy who jumps off a Chopper bike and gives her a bloody nose in the alleyway in a terraced cobbled street”. Although she now looks “horrific” in the mirror, she dreams of herself looking “glamorous on stage in her heyday”.
Council House Movie Star was screened at the launch of last year’s Homotopia “festival of queer arts and culture” in Liverpool. The film’s set then moved to the city’s Camp & Furnace gallery, where Mr Edward lived in character for two weeks. Visitors found Gale Force asleep, drunk, in a strop, singing old favourites with a friend or “re-enacting her Omo washing powder moment” as the child star of a television advertisement.
Despite her grotesqueness, Mr Edward found that “people do relate to her. When I did the installation and Gale would tweet ‘I could do with some vodka’ or ‘I’d love some jelly babies’, people would come by with vodka bottles and jelly babies.”
At the Barcelona conference, Mr Edward plans to show Council House Movie Star and to discuss the research behind it. Unlike academics who can write their papers and “shelter behind a desk”, he declared, his form of embodied research means “putting myself out there as a queer marker”.