Thursday, 8 December 2022

Drag Syndrome

The starting point is the art.
Before Downs Syndrome,
before extra chromosome, before disability,
before anything.

Drag Syndrome is a London-based collective that uses the power of drag to promote "a message of radical acceptance for those with disabilities". All performers are artists with Down syndrome, each constructs a drag personality that helps make them visible, be judged on their skills rather than their disability, and - as director Daniel Vais says - celebrate who they are. Drag Syndrome now performs regularly at festivals in the UK and Europe and already has a large fan base (via).

"A producer had invited me to see a space in East London. So I went with Sara Gordon, one of our models and dancers, to the Christmas party last year. During the event there were performances by drag queens, which prompted me to ask Sarah if she would ever be open to experimenting with drag. And she replied straight away saying it would be absolutely fascinating. Right on the spot I came up with the title, Drag Syndrome. 

From there, I spoke with all the artists and asked them if they would want to try it. They were all very enthusiastic about it. But I told them that drag is not just a costume. Drag is about transformation. It's an art form. So the performers started researching it and each began developing their own characters.

Drag is all about empowerment and transformation. It allows you to be a bigger version of yourself and express yourself in a way that's more surreal. There's so much fantasy and freedom to it. This is an opportunity for our performers to express themselves in a way they don't usually get to on a regular basis, in these kind of settings. They love it. They are really enjoying what they do and the characters they play.

We've received big support from the drag world. All the biggest and most influential drag queens and kings have connected with us and supported us. Beyond this, many celebrities and really famous people, including top dancers and photographers, have been really supportive and understand that this is a special performing arts project.

This is just another layer of drag, and it gives our performers a chance to hang around with young audiences and be a part of arts and culture, which is what they really want. It allows them to show their talents. This isn't really a social project, but we do give opportunities to performers and artists who have Down syndrome and put them into a mainstream context. Yes, these are artists who have Down syndrome, but it's not the main issue. Audiences see beyond that. That's why we get loads of great responses and people really enjoy it. The extra chromosome is only a bonus."

Daniel Vais

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photographs via and via and via and via