The Spotlight Podcast: Drag as an Art Form
This month we’re talking to Kevin Grogan, the triple threat performer behind the Drag Queen persona, Veronica Green, who you might know from Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
Kevin talks about his experiences of performing drag and offers some wisdom for those considering giving it a go. We also talk about drag’s place on the performance landscape and pop culture in general, while having some laughs along the way.
Ilayda Arden: Kevin, hello!
Kevin Grogan: Hi!
Ilayda Arden: Thank you so much for joining me.
Kevin Grogan: It's my pleasure.
Ilayda Arden: So let's get straight into it: Drag is an art form. I would love to know about your story about how you view drag, about what you're up to now…all of the stuff, I want to know everything.
Kevin Grogan: (laughs) Well, how much time do we have?
Ilayda Arden: I mean, I'll edit out the boring bits, but I'm sure that there won't be any.
Kevin Grogan: Oh, gosh, it's gonna be the longest podcast in history in that case!
(They both laugh)
Ilayda Arden: We'll start simple. We'll start with a really simple question, which is when did you start doing drag?
Kevin Grogan: Okay, if we're going to go way, way back, you could… you could argue that I started doing drag when I was like a little eight year old boy. You know, prancing around the house in my mom's wedding dress, you know and things like that. You know when young gay boys wrap the towel around their head thinking that they've got this massive ponytail? So you could really say that my interest in sort of a gender identity, gender ideals, gender ideas, and all that kind of business happened at a very young age very naturally. Because when I was a young kid, as well, seeing films like To Wong Foo, for example - they very, very much interested me in this idea that gender is... it can be whatever you want it to be. And drag, you know, back in those days calling it you know, gender bending as they called it, or gender illusion, or female impersonation… there's so many different terms for it and different ideas. And as a young little kid, I was just like: ‘oh my gosh, those feminine, girly things that I resonate with and am drawn to so much, I want to play around with... I want to play around with those ideas, and strut around the house in heels and things like that. But it wasn't until being an adult that I fully, you know, dived into exploring that and, you know, having the courage to actually... to pursue it as a career in an art form.
Ilayda Arden: Yeah, yeah. So what was the... what was the thing that kind of gave you the courage to do it? Because I know that you've got a background in musical theatre, right?
Kevin Grogan: I do have a background in musical theatre! As they said on the TV show, 15 years experience.
Ilayda Arden: So yeah, how much… I mean, how much of a link is there between that and drag? And what was it that kind of finally nudged you into trying it out?
Kevin Grogan: Well, I think being part of the musical theatre world and the performance world definitely allows you to be more open and more experimental. Not just with gender expression and drag, but discovering who you are as a person. I realised when I moved to London for the first time in 2005, quite a a while ago, that I felt like I could really open up and be who I wanted to be as a queer person. And this was before I started dabbling with, you know, drag even as a hobby. So I just think performers - we’re naturally exhibitionists, we're naturally very extroverted, we’re show offs, and we're definitely loud people. Even the introverted performer is an extrovert to some degree, and I think being part of that world allows you to slowly be bold and courageous.
Ilayda Arden: Right? Right. I mean, it's, it's sort of talked about how when you're when you're moving around in theatre circles or performance circles or anything like that, what's often created as a very safe space for people who often have identities that sit outside the margins, be that a queer identity or a you know, ‘I was bullied at school and I was always a weirdo’ or whatever. I think that there's that stereotype of like, the drama nerds and like American TV shows...
Kevin Grogan: Yeah! Oh, absolutely. And that is the drama school that I went to, I went to the London School of musical theatre, and we were the misfits, we were the misfit school! And we just had every kind of walk of life, we had all the different classes as well, you know, we were just a melting pot of every odd person in an odd person's world. And, and I think that as well allowed us to, to be like, okay, we are like, unique... we're so unique. And then that allowed us to, to just be a little bit more courageous and bold, with our, with our choices. And you know, and for me, drag was one of those things. And I finally delved into doing drag in 2013. And it was, thanks to a group of people. I was away from home, I was working in Singapore at the time, and there was a group of about seven of the lads there. And they were all just discussing, shall we just do a drag night for Halloween. And that's how almost every drag queen that I know, got into doing drag: at Halloween. And I found the courage to do it in a group because I felt like, if necessary, I could slink into the background and, you know, not be noticed, I could experiment with this art form, without being on display as the singular one person who did it. So for me, it was safety in numbers that allowed me to do it turned out to be the best decision in the world.
Ilayda Arden: I love that so much. I mean, it comes back to this idea of having a tribe and kind of feeling safe and all of that. And I've got a lot of friends who, exactly like you said, did their first sort of proper drag ensemble, because of Halloween, and presumably Veronica green wasn't fully formed immediately in that first instance. Did you… Did you dabble at first?
Kevin Grogan: Yeah. Oh, so I am very much into villains and femme fatales. So my first drag experience I was like, okay, well, I need to definitely do somebody who is a bit spicy. So Poison Ivy is one of my favourite villainnesses of all time. So I dressed up as Poison Ivy, it was more of a cosplay than anything else. And I followed a few YouTube tutorials for makeup skills and things like that, made my own outfit for the night. And then it was just, it was just a dressing up experience at first. And then, about six months later, I was visiting the UK as part of like, it was a holiday. And my brother said: ‘Oh, you started doing drag, I'd love to do that, too.’ And I was like, well, let's, let's go out in drag. And then that was when I first discovered my first drag name. And oh, gosh, it was horrible. Because I hadn't picked a drag name! I was just like, oh, we're just dressing up and going out for drinks. And then being out and somebody going, ‘oh, what's your name?’ And I went, it's Kev- oh, no, it's not Kev! It's…’ And then I just had to think on my feet, and I was like, well, I'm a singer… And yeah… ‘I'm Melody Sings!’.... TERRIBLE drag name! It was a terrible drag name! Immediately, I was like, oh I don’t know what I’m doing…. This is terrible! So then I- after that night I thought about it, and I… One, realised I don’t want like just going out and being in a space in drag, I like to perform and it’s a persona for me, it’s not a way of life… So that was the first thing I realised after that night. And then the second thing was, I need a good drag name, cause that’s a terrible drag name. And then I eventually thought about - and my brother helped me with this - when we were kids growing up, we used to write comic books. And when my sister was born, nine years after us, we were very jealous. We were very green with envy, as you would say that she was getting all the attention from mum and dad. So we wrote a comic book villain based on her called Veronica Green, because Poison Ivy is one of my favourite villains... She had - this villain- had these plant powers. Veronica is the name of a plant. And we're very intelligent children. So green, you know, plants are green. That's why we called her Veronica green. And because my first drag dressing up experience was a Poison Ivy cosplay. I just thought, ‘Oh, I'm Veronica Green! I am this person!’ And plus, it allows me to celebrate my sister. Because she's, like, the biggest inspiration to my drag and to me. So she's, she's my goddess.
Ilayda Arden: Your muse! She’s your muse?
Kevin Grogan: Yeah, she is my muse! So yeah, I want to celebrate her as much as possible. And, you know, so I've stolen her name. And, I've stolen some of her clothes as well. I’ve got some of her bits and pieces.
Ilayda Arden: Well, she wouldn't be your muse if you didn't, so…
Kevin Grogan: Exactly, exactly.
Ilayda Arden: It sounds like you've set some rules for yourself about how you want to do this. And create your work as a drag artist. I mean, I might be... tell me if I'm wrong, but that's, that's what I'm hearing?
Kevin Grogan: Oh, no, absolutely. I think for me, I wanted, I wanted the persona to be separate from the person. Because I very much… the way that I dabbled with drag, and then realised the road that I wanted to go down was, I very much saw myself as kind of like, what's the best way to describe it? If you think of the comedian, Lee Francis, and he's got his persona, Keith Lemon. Nobody knows him. Nobody in the public eye knows him as Lee. He's just Keith Lemon. And that's how I see Veronica. Eventually I don't want people to associate Kevin with the persona, it's as if she's a real person. And people just don't question anything. Similar in the sense of…very similar to the sense of Lily Savage as well, like, she got to the point where you just, you just never even thought of the man underneath. It was just ‘Oh, Lily is this amazing woman’ you know?
Ilayda Arden: Yeah, totally, totally. I mean, just before we came on, we had to talk, and I asked about your pronouns, and you said he/him, etc. And, and you were saying that there's a lot of kind of interchange still, right now, where people will kind of both call you, Kevin and Veronica in the same breath. And it sounds like, further down the line, you would like to get to a place where when you're in the Get Up, you are just Veronica, and nothing else.
Kevin Grogan: Oh, absolutely. That's something that's in drag circles is very, very common place. If anybody who knew me, before I did drag naturally calls me Kevin, in and out of drag. And when I'm in drag, I don't mind being called Kevin, if we're in a backstage sort of scenario. If I'm out on stage, or if there's the public or fans in the vicinity, it's only ever Veronica. Whereas if I'm in the green room, or whatever, like, you know, people can call me, Kevin and I don't mind. But in drag circles, if people met you, as Veronica, they will call you Veronica out of drag as well. It's just a thing, we don't call each other by our, by our boy names, or as some call it our ‘muggle’ names when we're out of drag - and that's something that I find really interesting. So it's just this world that I live in, where some people will only ever call me, Veronica. And I don't mind that… that's to me, I'm, I'm very easy going with it. But as you say, eventually, once I've got the persona to a certain level, when I am being Veronica, it will only be Veronica, I will be like okay, we need to not call me Kevin anymore, because I need to move past that eventually. But right now I'm very easy going. I don't mind.
Ilayda Arden: Okay, so let's talk about the skills involved in drag. And there are so many...there's so many!
Kevin Grogan: Oh gosh, so many.
Ilayda Arden: On RuPaul (Rupaul's Drag Race UK Season 2) everybody kept calling you Triple Threat because of your musical theatre background, you know, the dancing, the acting, and in many ways I sort of see drag as as a kind of similar to musical theatre, very holistic, you’ve got to be skilled at multiple things. For you, what are the most important skills that you think drag needs?
Kevin Grogan: I think that drag needs drag takes so many skills. And I think this is one of the reasons why RuPaul’s Drag Race is such a successful programme, because it reveals that the drag performers are so immensely talented in so many different areas. And it just goes to show as well, to the average person, to the normal person out there, that actually, you can do these things, you know that superstardom is not unattainable. You, all you have to do is just work on your craft. Because anybody can do drag, really, when you put your mind to it, if you want to, if you want to do drag… like Lady Gaga is a drag queen, you know? There are so many people, like you could even argue that Keith Lemon is a drag artist as well, you know what I mean? He’s putting on this exaggerated persona for comedic effect. And just because he's a man dressing as a man, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's not drag. To me that's another form of drag… it’s.... But anyway, that's another conversation! But talking about the skills that you need, like drag artists, for me personally, I sing, I dance, I act, I style my own wigs. Some queens make their own wigs from scratch-
Ilayda Arden: Which blows my mind.
Kevin Grogan: You know, I had to learn to be my own makeup artist. I make my own costumes. What else is there? I do gymnastics as well. Gosh, I do lip sync... So that's another skill as well. Like… putting your own music together. And then the mixes as well. You have to be your own sound tech person as well. You have to be your own video editor. Nowadays, putting content online as well. You have to be your own marketing person. You have to be your own… like it is an art form, but it’s also… you are your own business person as well. Like we’re entrepreneurs. (laughs)
Ilayda Arden: You gotta make a brand, you gotta sell it.
Kevin Grogan: Oh my gosh, we're a… we're a one… We're a one... I hesitate to use the term ‘one man band’ (laughs)...We're a one person band! We are, though! We have to do everything ourselves.
Ilayda Arden: A one-stop shop for…
Kevin Grogan: A one stop shop! Yeah, absolutely. For all different skills. And you know, some people just lip sync, however, they don't just lip sync - they are makeup artists as well. You know, I think everybody likes to downplay their own skills, but this is one of the things I love about drag is that you can do everything, you can.
Ilayda Arden: Yeah
Kevin Grogan: It's hard work.
Ilayda Arden: Oh, I bet. And I imagine, I imagine like with, you know, with traditional acting, for example, someone will kind of say: ‘okay, my American accent is terrible. So I'm going to do a bunch of dialect coaching sessions. Where would a drag artist go to improve their sewing skills? Or their makeup skills or things like that? Is there a culture of drag artists teaching other drag artists? Or is it all self taught?
Kevin Grogan: It depends what circles you run in, to be honest. Myself, my personality type is I'm very much of a lone wolf, kind of… and I am terrified of asking people for help. I don't like not giving people what they’re due. So if I'm like ‘oh you're helping me, I need to pay you for this’, and I can't pay you for this...So I need to just sort out myself. So I'm quite introverted in that respect, where I don't reach out to people for collaborations or whatever. So for me, I will go to YouTube and I'll look up a tutorial or I'll find an online course that I can take and I will learn the skills necessary to make myself a new outfit or doing a different eye makeup technique, I will learn that from the internet. But I do have drag friends that are collectives, there are fashion houses, there are drag houses that live together and they help each other. You know, one of them's a designer, so they will make the costumes, the other person is the makeup artist - so they will help to teach each other how to do makeup and stuff. So there are different circles that collaborate and help each other. I know, I know, that Tia Kofi, for example, was in a girl group, The Vixens. And they would help each other. You know, somebody would be making the outfits, somebody would be styling the wigs, they would all help each other. And there is definitely this community spirit as well that’s in there.
Ilayda Arden: I love that. It sounds like once you've got all these skills, and you've kind of acquired them all, then comes the challenge of actually putting the show together and kind of having something that is presentable to an audience that will entertain as well as kind of fascinating them and all of that. And I wonder what your process is for that?
Kevin Grogan: Oh, so my process for that is lots of terror, lots of anxiety, and lots of ‘Are they gonna like this?!’ (laughs) Because I love to sing. But being part of the drag scene, you realise that you don't want to just be one note. And there's different scenes and different styles in every area that you go to. You know, the East End is the experimental scene. In the West End, you've got the sort of like the Broadway West and Wendy's where I kind of fit, but I mean, I'm quite eclectic. So like, I like doing weird and wonderful stuff as well. So every scene has its own niche - niches within niches. And, and I've lost my train of thought now, I don’t know what I'm talking about! What was the question?
Ilayda Arden: (laughs) Your process of how…
Kevin Grogan: Oh yes. This, this is my process: confusion! (laughs) And, and, for me, I just think about… Well, it depends what the gig is really, for me, like, back in the competitions - when I first started drag and doing competitions, each each week, I was given a different theme or a different thing to do. So if it's singing one week, lip synching another, we're doing an acting scene this week, then you got to do a 15 minute set. So it allows you to experiment with different styles and different genres, and you figure out what you're good at and where you fit in the scene. But nowadays, when it comes to like: ‘okay, well, what, what's the gig?’ Oh, you have to do an hour set? What am I going to do for an hour? Well, okay, well, I'm going to sing because I can't do comedy, and I can't speak… (laughs) So. I'm just going to entertain people by singing songs. And in order to entertain people on that, okay, well, the best way to entertain people is if they're singing along, they're having a good time. So let's pick the songs that they're going to sing along to. So for me, it comes down to entertaining the audience and not just about ‘this is me and take it or leave it’ kind of thing. I want to make sure that I've got a rapport with the audience.
Ilayda Arden: Making that connection and... playing to your strengths for certain, but making sure that there's enough there that you can kind of say, are you involved in this too?
Kevin Grogan: Oh, yeah, definitely. Like, absolutely. I do not want to be at a gig where everybody's on their phones or walking out, you know, I want people to be involved. I want people to be enjoying themselves. And what better way to do that then get audience participation?
Ilayda Arden: I mean, I think that's really smart. And I think you see a lot of comedians doing it when they go around the country. And they kind of say things like, they start talking about the town that they're in, for example, and like little observations and bringing the audience on board to kind of get them warmed up and feel like they're really part of it. So it sounds like another version of that, what you're doing.
Kevin Grogan: Absolutely, I think, I think drag is an art form is... it can be many different things, there are some queens that do not leave their house and just do makeup tutorials. And that's how they, that's how they run their business. And then, there's other queens like me who - I will sing for people. And like you say, there are stand up comics as well, there are hosts. So it just depends, I think each person who’s wanting to go into Drag and do it, they need to discover, they need to realise what it is that they are good at, and what they want to do. Because you can literally do anything in drag, you can be a successful bedroom Queen, as they call it nowadays. And there's nothing wrong with that at all. If that's what you want to do. And it's going to make you money, then do that! Because why sing for an hour if you don't enjoy it? But do what you want to do, and then your audience will find you.
Ilayda Arden: I mean, I think that's the classic… The classic advice that's given to pretty much any artist doesn't of like, if you're a novelist, if you're an actor, if you're a comedian, if you're a musician, it's about experimenting enough in the early days to be able to figure out what your strengths are, what appeals to people and to find your audience as it were.
Kevin Grogan: Yeah.
Ilayda Arden: And then bring them in.
Kevin Grogan: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you can apply any skill to drag and be successful. So you’ve just got to... I would definitely say you definitely want to try and be as unique as possible. I think that's so, so important. The amount of shows I've been to where there's a lineup of Queens and you just see the same thing, one after the other. It's like: ‘okay, well, maybe you need to have a rethink of what your... I hate saying the word brand, because I feel like that takes away from the art of it... But you do need to find a point of difference. You need to find what makes you special, and you... Because I think especially with the emergence of Drag Race, becoming so popular, I think a lot of people are saying...they take certain elements of the show, and say okay, here's the recipe for success. And then you've just got cookie cutter queens coming out of the woodwork where I just, I think people just need to dig a little deeper and think about what makes them unique and, and do that. Don't do what you think is going to make you successful. Do you! It sounds so simple and so easy.
Ilayda Arden: I know! And it's almost like it's one of those things where a lot of the time in the arts in particular, it's a very commonly touted piece of advice, right? Just: you do you. And it's very easy for people to be like, ‘that's so trite, that's so cliche’, but I think the reason why it keeps coming up again and again is because it's true.
Kevin Grogan: Yeah, it really is. And I think that's where a lot of Queens really start to shine is when they figure out where they fit in the scene and what makes them special. It just makes them more desirable as artists, people want to book them then because nobody else will do what they do.
Ilayda Arden: And what was the moment for you when you were really kind of like okay, I'm going to hone in on the singing a bit - I mean, was there a crystallising moment? Or was it a kind of gradual process that you kind of eventually discovered?
Kevin Grogan: Well, with me, I did a lot of gigging as a singing waiter. So I was thrust into this environment where we were having to choose songs that we're going to get people up and dance and sing along with us and be entertaining because the act itself was not background music. It was very much involved with people. So learning those skills... I just transferred those to my drag, basically, and that's how I discovered: okay, well, this can work in this setting as well, where I'm... it's not exactly the same, but I was like, I need to entertain the audience first and foremost. And the way that it naturally comes to me is to take the skills from those things and apply it to this.
Ilayda Arden: That makes a lot of sense, I think. I mean, everyone does that, don't they? Where they're like, Oh, I used to do this, and I was pretty good at it. Let's see if I can transpose it.
Kevin Grogan: Exactly. There's no point in me...there's no point like...I want to have like a one woman show at some point. I'd like to have a full on script, I want to have a musical as well...I mean, there's so many different things I want to do. But in the here and now, I don't have the access to… I'm not a good writer. I'm not a good comedian. So I'm going to have to outsource those things in the future. But, I'm getting booked for gigs, you know, this week, next week, week after, week after that. So in the here and now it's like: ‘okay, well, I've got to draw on the skills that I have right now, to do the short term stuff. But, um, you know, I'm reaching out to, to friends and to writers and to musicians to get some sheet music for for future projects. Because the skills that I don't have, now that I've been on Drag Race, I realised, okay, well, I can't learn to transpose songs. I can't learn to write the sheet music to, to my own songs, I'm now half I'm forced into this place where I have to ask for help. And that's going to help me in the long run. But for the short term, I'm just like, okay, quick stick to what I know, for this, this first six, seven months to make some money because like we've we've not had any jobs for, for now for over a year.
Ilayda Arden: This is the next thing that I was going to ask as we've talked about the idea of drag being a safe space, and there being such a community around it. It's obviously been massively hit. What do you think the future of it could be? Do you think it will bounce back? If it does bounce back, what kind of shape will it take?
Kevin Grogan: Oh, gosh, it's so hard to say at this point, because I think we're still in a very sticky situation, where the arts and entertainment industry as a whole has been - we've been left… We've been hung out to dry. We've been left to drown. We are very under appreciated. And I truly think it comes from that notion of as a kid growing up, you know, being in the careers office and saying to the Career Development person, ‘oh, what, what kind of job do you want to do?’ ‘I want to be an actor.’ ‘Oh, yeah. But what about a real job?’ So I think society just doesn't realise how much they rely on entertainment, and how much they rely on our sector to be happy. Like being in lockdowns, we consume so much entertainment…
Ilayda Arden: Constantly
Kevin Grogan: To keep us happy! And I think people very easily forget that...people need to be paid to entertain you. Like we can't we can't do it for free, because then how are we going to feed our families? So I think the industry in general is just looked down upon by society as not being essential when it is one of the most essential businesses for well being and happiness… like having had no work for nearly a year was terrible. And now we've come back and...I don't know about you but I had my first gig in like over a year and I'd lost my voice by the end of it. I was like, ‘I don't know how I'm going to carry on!’
Ilayda Arden: (laughs)
Kevin Grogan: It took me a week to recover. But slowly I built my stamina back up and like okay, I'm back in the zone, now, let's go let's do this. But we're still at like, venues are at half capacity, you still can't sing at weddings. There's still so many restrictions in place, and it's just, it's just like, oh, let's try and get this industry back up and running again. It's so, so hard. A lot of things have changed. And I'm just hoping that we can thrive again. It's it's been devastating
Ilayda Arden: Have you done any drag during the time? Have you tried your hand at being a bedroom Queen as it were? Or have you kind of taken and just said, like, no, I’m hanging it all up for the time being because!
Kevin Grogan: So we filmed the first four episodes of season two of Drag Race. And then we had… and then the pandemic hit. And I went through a very, very dark period of like... it was fear, at first. I spent 12 weeks in my bedroom locked away. And I was scared to leave the house, because of the pandemic and because of the situation that was happening. And then that turned into sadness and depression because I had no work. It wasn't just the drag gigs that were gone, all my singing waiter gigs were gone. And the rug had been pulled from under me and I just didn't know what to do. So the summer last year was one of the worst periods I've ever had in my life. I was on top of the world on Drag Race, and then all of a sudden it came crashing down. So I didn't, I didn't do any drag at home. Because I was just in a state of… I was in a state of depression for the summer. And then I couldn’t film the second half of Drag Race because I caught Coronavirus! So… So it was like, kick me while I'm down!
Ilayda Arden: Salt in the wound, yeah!
Kevin Grogan: Yeah, exactly! And then I've just had to pick myself up and I had to stay strong. Because I was like: well, what else have I got? And you know, I've got my family, I've got my friends, I've got my health. And, okay, I don't have any work, but I need to pick myself up now. And then slowly this year, I've gotten back into the groove of performing now that we're allowed to. So I am hoping to do some some drag at home! I want to do a YouTube series called ‘How to be a Drag Queen’.
Ilayda Arden: Oh my God, yes.
Kevin Grogan: Yeah! So I'm going to teach myself how to do drag all over again. Because my drag look is very real, I’m very realistic. And I've started learning how to change it up and do some different eye shapes with makeup and making some new different kinds of outfits. So I thought why not? Why not teach myself to do drag all over again and share it with the world? So that's what I'm working on at the moment.
Ilayda Arden: That's such a good idea. That's SUCH a good idea! I would watch that. Ten times!
Kevin Grogan: Yes! Because I got a really good reception on my Instagram when I, week by week, when I would show people in my Instagram Stories how I made the outfit that week. Because it never got brought up on the show that I made my own outfits and I was like, ‘I feel so offended right now!’ Ellie Diamond is the queen that makes all her own outfits, and I’m going: ‘Excuse me, what am I chopped liver? Like, excuse me, I made this! I made nearly every runway! It’s not being talked about here!’
Ilayda Arden: (laughs) There was one moment in the show where you were like, ‘look at the seaming that I did, isn’t it amazing!’.
Kevin Grogan: ‘This gown is hemmed, this gown is lined!’
Ilayda Arden: Let's talk about the perception of drag, and the kind of cultural shift that's occurred since the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Kevin Grogan: Yes.
Ilayda Arden: How have you witnessed it from afar?
Kevin Grogan: Yeah, so myself and the Season 1 queen Vinegar Strokes, we were touring together in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in 2010. And we were backstage about to go on stage. And we turned and we saw on the TV, Drag Race, the U.S version, season two was on on e4 at the time. And we saw this lip sync happen. And I was just like: ‘Oh, my gosh, this is amazing! This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen!’ I was like: ‘Oh my gosh, you can do this as a job?! Queens do this as a job?!’ And I just couldn't get it out of my head. For weeks and weeks and weeks. I was like, I need to find out what that show was. And it wasn't until a year later in 2011 that I discovered what the show was called. And I was just like, this is the most amazing thing in the world. I told everybody about it. I was like: ‘Oh, my God, this show is amazing. You're gonna love it!’ And it took a while for the world to catch up. But I was like, this is gonna be something in this country soon. And I just could not stop thinking about this show. And then a year, another year goes by so like, what - 10 to 11, 12, 13- three years go by before I'm like, I've been obsessed with this show for three years. And then this opportunity where there's like, six lads going ‘oh, let's do drag for Halloween. Kevin, do you want to do it?’ And I went, yes this is it! This is my chance to, sort of, like get this obsession out of my head, and experiment! And try it out for myself. And, once I did get to grips with what my drag was then … and that took a couple of years itself - I didn't enter my first drag competition for the three years after that. And so like because me as a person, I'm very much a wallflower: afraid, scared to take the leap, to take a leap of faith to do something that is out of the ordinary because I was very much of a ‘oh gosh, but if I do that, my musical theatre career will be over, casting directors won't want to see me again!’
Ilayda Arden: So interesting.
Kevin Grogan: It was very, because I come from a very repressed childhood, sexuality and anything that is not, quote unquote, normal... I was very, very afraid of doing things that I wanted to do. It's ridiculous, so, so ridiculous - but it took me years and years and years to find the courage within myself to just do it. And that's advice that I would give to anybody. If I could, if I could have done drag in 2010, if I'd had the self belief and the self confidence to just do it, I would, I would be 10 times better than I am now, I would be happier earlier, because I'm very, very happy now. But why put yourself through so much torment and so much pain when you can just… like for me, it was just a case of getting over my own fear, and my own prejudices, and caring too much about what other people think about me that that's another thing that held me back for the longest time.
Ilayda Arden: That sort of internalised stigma that we carry with us.
Kevin Grogan: Absolutely. I was very repressed and had this sense of internalised homophobia towards myself. Yeah. But that's psychology into what makes Kevin, Kevin. Like, afraid to rock the boat. I'm very...I was, I was afraid to rock the boat. I'm not now... as we all saw.
Ilayda Arden: I picked up on the thing that you said about, you know, what will happen to my musical theatre career? Because I was doing research for this. And obviously, I came across a couple of articles of people who have set up a label - I think, Jim?
Kevin Grogan: Record label?
Ilayda Arden: Yeah!
Kevin Grogan: Oh, yeah. Me, Viv and Tia! Yeah!
Ilayda Arden: And, there was an article talking about how, you know, the quality of the tracks are wonderful that you're making. And they are legitimately good songs, but there is still a certain degree of stigma in the music industry about sort of having to separate drag performances and put them in their own sort of tiny little boxed up genre. And have them be separate to regular chart music, for example.
Kevin Grogan: Oh, it's nuts, it's crazy to me that people have these stigmas and these things… It's like, why can't they see that drag is not just a singular thing? Like, what some people think drag is they look down their nose at it, they're snobbish about it, but they don't realise that there's all these different styles and different areas of drag… It blows my mind that the music industry for one is very snobbish against drag music and drag performers. And like okay, well, I'm not what I'm not gonna lie. Some of it is terrible music, but like Tia’s, Tia Kofi’s single, has charted! Like she charted at number 10 I think. Like she is a popular music artist…
Ilayda Arden: That’s a big deal!
Kevin Grogan: And she's working with some really good producers, some really good, she's collaborating with some really good artists, and she's got good songs. And I think I think the industry itself just needs to get over that and yeah, there is going to be drag music that's terrible. There's going to be some trash. There's a lot of trash! (laughing). Throwing a bit of shade, there! But music like Tia’s should be… it should rightfully be charting because it's good. And like, if it's good music, who cares if it's a drag artist, like that's just that's just an added flourish.
Ilayda Arden: I love that. And I mean, the thing about art, in any capacity in any genre in any form is that there's always going to be rubbish examples of film, TV shows, theatre shows, you know, anything, even, you know, stuff that you go see in the Tate, and you're like…
Kevin Grogan: Oh, my God, I saw the Spice Girls musical. Yes, if we're talking about rubbish theatre.
(They both laugh)
Ilayda Arden: Exactly! More shade.
Kevin Grogan: I can say that, they’re my idols, I love them to pieces. But they are a girl band that defined my sexuality and my love of...like I hold the Spice Girls in such high esteem. So I can absolutely call them out on that terrible musical.
Ilayda Arden: It’s said with respect. With respect.
Kevin Grogan: Yeah!
Ilayda Arden: But these bad, these bad examples exist across all art forms. And I feel like, what you're kind of saying is that, you know, drag should also have permission to be both excellent, and also rubbish.
Kevin Grogan: Oh, absolutely. Well, that's the whole point of art itself! Like we, you put things out into the universe, you put your art forward, and sometimes it's going to be rubbish. Sometimes it's going to be mediocre. But sometimes it's going to be phenomenal and use, like, drag artists should not be penalised because they're drag artists. If they put out some amazing stuff, it should be consumed by people, we should be allowed to enjoy it and not have this stigma of ‘Oh, yeah, but, it's not really serious because they're a drag artist.’
Ilayda Arden: Right, right.
Kevin Grogan: Yeah, well, I do think… I do think that as well like... I think drag artists themselves are starting to see, oh, actually no, we are a can be Artists, we you know that word, we can actually be Artists - we don't have to be comic relief, or the butt of everybody's joke or not taken seriously - we can actually do something meaningful and, and help to shape the world. I mean, it goes so much deeper than just being onstage singing some songs.
Ilayda Arden: Totally. I mean, the way that you described it is, you know, you saw your first examples in film and TV and you're like ‘woaah!’ and actually felt something that you could identify with?
Kevin Grogan: Yeah!
Ilayda Arden: And I think it isn't, isn't that amazing that that drag can do that for people from all sorts of shapes, sizes, creeds, backgrounds, cultures?
Kevin Grogan: And genders!
Ilayda Arden: And genders!
Kevin Grogan: Yeah! Like drag is not just for, you know, male bodied people, like drag is for everybody. And I think people need to understand that drag is playing with gender ideas, and expressing yourself in, you know, extraordinary ways. It doesn't have to be just one singular thing. You know, anytime you anytime you dress a bit more extravagantly than normal… You're doing drag.
Ilayda Arden: Yes.
Kevin Grogan: I think like… Kim Kardashian is a drag queen! She is, I swear she is! I think that it's when you're at home, just in your pyjamas being your out of drag self, I’m like, okay, well, obviously I'm out of drag when I'm when I'm at home, and I'm just chilling out, you know. But then when I go out and as the persona, that's me putting my drag on, and I think that any normal, any normal person, every ordinary person, they do put their drag on to a certain degree when they leave the house. And it's just that we are what's the word? We're sort of what was the right word for it? I guess we are the face of drag. But, but but drag is a lot more than us.
Ilayda Arden: I love that. You guys are the kind of the trailblazers of it. They're kind of at the forefront of spearheading the movement and bringing others along in your wake, which is amazing.
Kevin Grogan: Yeah, absolutely. Drag’s for everyone. And don't let anybody tell you differently.
Ilayda Arden: Okay, amazing. So, final questions… you've already sort of touched upon this, but if anyone is listening and tempted to give drag a whirl, what kind of advice would you give them? What should they know going into it?
Kevin Grogan: I would say anybody listening that wants to try doing drag, go for it and do it. Because even if it's not something that you stick with, as a performance or an art form, it will teach you more about who you are as a person. That's what I discovered that doing drag allowed me to be comfortable in my own body, because it somehow helps break down inhibitions and being in drag gives you this sort of super confidence, that then when you take the drag off, you realise: oh, actually, I can apply that to my true self, you know, underneath it all. So I would say anybody that will want to try drag to, to do it. You don't even need the best makeup, you don't need the best wigs, you don't need the best costumes, you just need the passion for it. And the rest will come. Like, you know, eventually, when you decide that, okay, yeah, I'd like to do this further. Then maybe invest in the good stuff. But initially, you don't have to, you don't have to be the best at everything. You just need to do it.
Ilayda Arden: Do it and be excited about doing it?
Kevin Grogan: Yeah, that's the most important thing. And definitely find like minded people, because they will help you along the way, as well.
Ilayda Arden: It circles right back round to what we're saying at the beginning about having a tribe and having a safe circle.
Kevin Grogan: Absolutely, because the thing is you share ideas with each other. And that helps you discover new ideas and new things. Whereas if you're stuck with people that are totally against everything that you even want to experiment with, like, okay, these can maybe be your friends for other things. But if you want to do drag, find people that are going to support you with that and and do it with them, because you'll find as well, that along the way... I've got friends now getting back in touch with me who were really not into drag in the slightest 10 years ago. And now all of a sudden, they're like: oh, my gosh, this is really interesting. This is really cool. And I'm like: okay, I'm finally the cool person for a change. I think that you've got to break away from negativity and people who don't, are not interested, because that they're not interested because they've either got their own hang ups, or it's not for them. But if it is for you, you should just do it.
Ilayda Arden: Amazing. I love it. Yeah. So for anyone who, for anyone who you know, would want to do a bit of research for maybe their own reasons, maybe looking to get into drag or just to kind of watch more of it in a live setting. You're based in London, what venues, what clubs, what places will hopefully be open again, in the future where people can go and enjoy lots of drag.
Kevin Grogan: Oh, there's so many venues where people can enjoy lots of drag. Off the top of my head, the few that I can think of: the RVT is probably one of the most legendary venues for drag performers. You can always see drag there. I perform a lot at G-A-Y Heaven at the moment. When they're at full capacity though it might be a little bit different. But definitely, they have a lot of drag performers on there. You’ve got Freedom, in Soho, that has drag performances from time to time? The Admiral Duncan is another legendary venue that has lots of drag on. The Clapham Grand and has drag quite often as well. So, I think it's just about finding who the drag artists you enjoy following them on their social media, and then finding out where it is that they perform.
Ilayda Arden: So I'm going to ask a final question, which is, I don't know if you're allowed to tell us… But are you going to be back for the next season of RuPaul?
Kevin Grogan: I cannot confirm or deny.
Ilayda Arden: I had to try!
Kevin Grogan: Well, it's because you know, we've signed this thing called an NDA where we're not allowed to talk about anything. So...
Ilayda Arden: Well, thank you, Kevin, you've been so lovely to chat to. And I'm so thankful for your time and your insight into drag as an art form.
Kevin Grogan: And I'm thankful that you didn't get bored of me just talking and talking and talking!
Ilayda Arden: No, not at all. Where can people find you on social media and sort of doing things at G-A-Y for example, what are you up to now? And what do you want to plug?
Kevin Grogan: So you can find me on my Instagram. My handle is Veronica Qween. And it's spelt Q-W-E-E-N. I'm doing it the cool way. So yeah, Instagram is where I am mainly, I'm also on Twitter as well from time to time. I'm performing at G-A-Y Heaven every Saturday at the moment, with my show Defying Musicals. It’s a musical theatre night, where I have two musical theatre guests every week. So we sing some legit musical theatre stuff, some pop songs that have been in musicals, and then we just do sing along stuff as well. And then we defy musicals by not singing some musical theatre stuff. So like, it's basically an excuse to just sing whatever we want. It's proved to be really successful so far, though, there's four, four more weeks left, so you can catch me up until the 17th of July, I think.
Ilayda Arden: Amazing. Okay, brilliant. Well, thank you so much, Kevin. It's been a pleasure.
Kevin Grogan: It has been a real pleasure. I've really enjoyed it. Thank you very much!
Ilayda Arden: Thanks!
We have lots of content on our website for young performers, and the casting process in general. If you want to have a look at that, go to Spotlight.com and navigate to the news and advice section. Until next time, goodbye
- Guests: Kevin Grogan / Veronica Green
- Producer and host: Ilayda Arden
- Production: Nicholas Peel and Ilayda Arden
Headshot by Jennie Scott