Amelia Cavallo is a queer, blind theatre practitioner and academic. Preparing for her disabled-led cabaret show Unsightly Drag, she talks to Ruth Comerford about her company Quiplash and audio-described stripping…
What’s the show about?
Unsightly Drag is a showcase of what my company Quiplash does regularly, and in March we are performing it as part of the And What? Queer Arts Festival. It’s really looking to promote and connect queer artists and art, and it’s a chance to broaden our audiences and take up some space. We are a group of D/deaf and disabled, blind and visually impaired artists, presenting drag accessibly.
What inspired Quiplash?
I co-founded it with my partner [Al Lander] in May 2019. We both saw a lack of queer culture integrating with intersections of identity, in particular disability and queerness. I would often find I could go into queer spaces and celebrate queerness, but they were never accessible to me or I would often go into disabled-led spaces and my queerness was not taken into account. We basically got tired of trying to find someone who would provide that, so we said we are going to do it. It’s first and foremost for queer, disabled people. The first project we’ve done is drag-related. Drag is a super visual style of performance, so if there was no audio description I wouldn’t know what was going on. For me the audio description is part of the creative process. That can take a lot of different forms. I have a burlesque piece, where I describe myself stripping, then get the audience to do it. It’s really interesting – it brings up all this political stuff around gaze and objectification.
How did you get into the industry?
I started as a musician and did a lot of singing and classical music. I also play quite a few instruments. I took up acting as a teenager and went to university, and then came to the UK to do my master’s. I started working as a performer and entered into this world right around the time that everyone was gearing up for the Paralympics. I really integrated with disability-led work and got opportunities to work in circus, burlesque and cabaret.
Is enough being done to support disabled, queer artists?
The short answer is no, because if there was, Quiplash wouldn’t need to exist. We are a really new company but we feel like we’ve gained momentum quite quickly, and I do think it’s because there is a gap in the market. Queer disabled people get excluded from multiple spaces – privilege tends to rise to the top, even in marginalised spaces. Disability, in particular, is very often tied to the charitable sector. We have had points when we have approached organisations who focus on queerness, and I think they misunderstand what we are doing. I’ve had people tell me what wonderful things I am doing for the disabled community and I’m like “I’m in the community”. That’s not malicious, it’s just a lack of awareness.
Training: Theatrical Studies BA, University of New Mexico (2001-06)
First professional role: Local commercial for Comcast in Albuquerque, US (2000)
Agent: Advocate Agency
And What? Queer Arts Festival runs from March 13 to 29. Quiplash will perform Unsightly Drag cabaret on March 25 at Jacksons Lane in London. Details: andwhatfest.com