Theatre and Drag Identity

By: Suzania Brahmacharimayum  

What is notable about drag performances is that given the challenge they make to the hetero-normative values of society, they are obliged to construct an identity career, often under the condition of stigmatization.(Goffman, (1963) The extent to which drag performers in Western and Eastern theatre traditions, exemplified by case studies drawn from New Zealand and Manipur, draw on the traditions of performance for support. How do factors such as styles of performance, peer support, public attitudes and conceptions of selfhood work for or against creating a haven for “transgressive” gender identities? In the latter, the various elements of performance multi-dimensional and do not follow fixed ritual patterns. Dramatic performances are required to address competing definitions of social “reality”. (Alexander, 2004). So, for example, performance practices of Manipuri theatre, the dress and cosmetic codes adopted by Nupi Manbi (effeminate males) are proscribed by religious rules as well as theatrical traditions. This, indicates a fusion of ritual practices and provides performers with a protective screen, as long as they stay within the confines of the theatre. In New Zealand by contrast drag has emerged as a niche theatrical style that signals a discontinuity with religious practices but asserts the right to acceptance within the context of “normal” street behaviour and comportment. Utilizing a comparative ethnographic methodology, this study explores how issues of identity are “managed” in Manipur and New Zealand and how the experiential connection between self-identity and performance identities vary across the different social contexts and theatrical traditions.

Media Cultures
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Suzania Brahmacharimayum

PhD Scholar, School of communications, Auckland University of technology, New Zealand
Auckland, New Zealand