I had the pleasure of hearing Abril Latrene speak at Huddle tonight. Abril is a drag queen, fabulous blue hair big as her bosom. By day she’s Shaun, working at a big corporate in change management. Incredible symbiosis, eh? Abril spoke tonight about her journey through the different motivations of doing drag. At first it was boredom, then as he got shows up for free, it became about a profession, getting people to see the show. Like many an artist, Abril then wanted to be paid for the performances, and ultimately, the motivation was for Shaun and Abril to be whole, one person, because that’s who he is. All through that, the villains of those who live the life they truly believe they should live popped up, forcing Abril to quit drag several times. Beautifully, the more Abril performed and Shaun’s workmates and friends learned he was Abril, the stronger and more confident he became.
Abril mentioned that he had to come out several times in his life, as a gay man, as a drag queen (with each new person and in particular each new boyfriend). Even tonight’s presentation for Huddle had him confront the coming out question, as Huddle has a national distribution list and that list had his name on it – boom, suddenly managers were aware of the Huddle event before he’d uttered a word. Tonight, Abril was honest, raw, vulnerable, fabulous, bawdy, funny and warm. She opened up to us – scared, she admitted she’s always nervous before anything, which she’s acknowledged as important to her to maintain – that no one would give a shit about what she had to say. Instead, we all connected with that fear. Abril talks about organisational change and comes out for performances, events and speaking engagements. She knows how to read a crowd. I tell you, friend, to get her in.
Of the many interesting angles Abril showed us, one thing I kept thinking about was work place bullying. Something that pushed Shaun out of drag queen shows was the bitchy atmosphere and, even more so, the shitty attitudes of venue owners. Abril, clearly, is bulletproof, but if Shaun felt like he was being treated like shit, venues couldn’t give a flying fook. When he stood up for that behaviour, he was kicked out. This is a thing in the arts. I spoke with Abbie about it, she was totally in agreement that the arts is shocking at workplace safety. If the attitudes, words and actions she faced in her drag job were displayed in her corporate job, people would be managed, told off or fired. There’s so many reasons artists and the arts ecosystem allows this shitty behaviour to continue: we’re disempowered and talked out of self worth so much we don’t speak up or seek change; we’re exploited by those in power (even the tiny amounts of power they wield); we’re channeled into competition for shrinking pools of money or time; we aren’t organised; we aren’t educated in certain ways; we don’t have protection; we’re sensitive.
How might we reconfigure our disparate workplace cultures so that artists are protected and encouraged instead of exploited and crushed?
What if Abril had an arts representative that came in with her and negotiated, so she could leave early and perform on Friday nights while still meeting her job requirements?
What if venue managers had to pay for their talent if they made any money from the event, including the bar?
What if artists were trained better in empathy and support systems, so they looked out for one another in their practices?
What if the standard blood bath attitude of the arts was replaced with one of nurturing?
What if artists were paid more than arts administrators?
What if we didn’t accept the shitty status quo we have helped build, or at least allowed to perpetuate, and changed it for the our betterment?