BWW Interviews: Wade McCollum Gets Us Ready For TUTS' PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL
Houston, it is a new theatre season and Theatre Under the Stars is kicking off theirs with the fabulously fun PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL. This heartwarming musical follows a trio of friends as they embark on a life-changing journey to the Australian outback, and it incorporates genuine themes of self-acceptance, belonging, community, camaraderie, and family. Comprised of popular hit songs from the 60's to the 90's, PRISCILLA is one glitzy party from beginning to end with a little something for everyone. Playing Tick/Mitzi, Wade McCollum took time out of his busy schedule to talk PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT THE MUSICAL and to let Houston audiences know what they can expect when the party comes to town.
BWW: It seems like you are drawn to sexually ambiguous/complex roles, such as the Emcee in CABARET and Velociraptor of Faith in TRIASSIC PARQ. Has your interest in redefining heteronormative gender/sex stereotypes and roles lead you to these roles or have these roles lead you to explore these ideas?
Wade McCollum: Hmm...what came first the chicken or the egg? That's a good question. I think early on, I would have to say that it was from me because during very early parts of my career I was drawn to into roles that explored complex issues around gender; for instance, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH was one of the first professional, big-time things I ever did. I even did stuff in college, and I also, in high school, actually did the TORCH SONG TRILOGY in speech and debate and went to all of these competitions, national competitions included, with the opening monologue of the TORCH SONG TRILOGY while he is getting in makeup. Yet, I was doing it in a suit in the classroom kind of in the format of speech and debate, and I was talking about getting into makeup and all of these things that weren't obviously actually happening in the classroom. I think from early on I was just really interested in the non-binary characters because they spoke to that kind of grey area that I think everybody exists in whether they want to admit it or not. But, I really felt from early on that gender expression and sexuality were two different parallel and often related tracks, but also somewhat mutually exclusive. So, I think early on it was a curiosity of mine, but also just kind of a passion. I felt like it was a missing voice in the chorus of stories being told and there is an inherent drama in occupying the grey area. Androgyny has inherent drama in it because just the mere fact that it exists is sort of causing this beautiful tension between both the polar aspects of gender, and that to me is really exciting both from the inside and as an audience member. I think it is a really important story to tell, so it appeals to the activist in me, the artist activist that wants to tell stories that forward evolution and keep humans thinking about themselves in ways that maybe they haven't contextualized themselves in before and therefore they grow more compassionate, more empathic, and those things I think will help us survive as a species.
BWW: What roles do sex (i.e. male and female) and gender play in PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT?
Wade McCollum: It's a huge piece of the puzzle because you have your three main protagonists who kind of are all three very different in the way that they express gender and sexuality and could all be, from an objective point of view, lumped into one category of just drag queens or crazy, queer people. Yet when you spend time with these humans, you see that they are just as rich and complex in dealing with perennial tropes of any human, and I think that gender plays an enormous role for all three characters. I don't know if I'd want to say more importantly, but I think I do want to say most importantly Bernadette who is transgender and was transgender in the sixties. I think to have that amount of gumption and knowingness in an era when it was so taboo and so not a part of pop culture... So, I think you know, for her character gender is one of the seminal tropes of her being. She was born into the wrong body, to the point where she needed surgery and for her inner gender expression to match her outer gender expression for people to see her the way that she always saw herself. She has such a strength and dignity, and I just think that character is so beautiful. And Scott [Willis] as Bernadette is just exquisite; he's just absolutely divine. So I love her relationship to gender, and I think Tick's relationship is very different in that he very much keeps them separate. Early on, I was trying to find clues into this man. His drag name is Mitzi Mitosis, and Mitosis is a process of biology where the cells divide. It's a process of division, mitosis, and I thought, "Well there's the ringer. That's the key, is that he himself, where he is his most powerful super hero self, his most liberated aspect, he is named Miss Divided, and that divided nature I think is something that he is trying to embrace and celebrate. So I have really made the choice that he, I have come to terms with the fact that he, is divided. He keeps his male aspects, his heterosexual life very separate from his drag queen persona and his whole life in Sidney with his community of drag performers, and all of that. I think that his bisexuality and his bi-genderality is what makes him so cool to me. He is obstinate and won't fit into any box, but I also think he doesn't fit into any box, and that there's this incredible beauty in that. Of course it is not explored in a large way in the play because it really is just about singing these awesome disco gems (Laughs), but as an actor who is performing the show hundreds of times, it's a great thing to have percolating under the surface of this very glitzy musical, this really deep complexity, and it keeps me interested. It keeps me engaged. It keeps me making discoveries. That, to me, is very important as an artist. So I think gender plays a very pivotal role in PRISCILLA, very pivotal.