Performance and queer cabaret artist Vijay Patel is currently touring his latest show Pull the Trigger. He tells Ruth Comerford how the show explores his experiences of working in his father’s corner shop while discovering his queer identity…
Tell me about the show…
I started making it in 2015. I wanted to find a way to encapsulate what being queer and of British-Asian descent means, and the right way to explore it. Pull the Trigger was born out of a second-generation migrant work ethic, working in my father’s corner shop and growing and discovering my queer identity. The two narratives sat side by side. The audience can expect a lot of Britney, and a lot of pricing stock. I made the show while I was working in the corner shop, and would use the daily jobs as content for my show. Expect queer cabaret mixed with shopkeeping.
How did you get into performing?
I studied theatre at university and that’s how I got into new experimental ways of making shows and performance art. I built on the foundations of acting that I learned at A level. I wanted a career as a solo performer, and started working in lots of cabaret settings for the first few years [after graduating], such as Duckie at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which was very supportive when I was emerging as an artist. While I was there I noticed the intersections of being Indian and queer were interesting, because it felt to me like there was a conflict between the two identities. I started experimenting with traditional Indian female clothing, putting on make-up and exploring an identity that felt true to me, but was loaded and quite complex. It wasn’t long after that the show came about.
What challenges did you face starting out as a performer?
Over the years there have been more opportunities for people of colour in the arts, and more funding and schemes. For me it feels as if theatre is always moving to be more inclusive. When I was starting out it felt quite hard – the opportunities were few and far between, and it didn’t feel as though there were any schemes or categories I fitted into. It was hard to get work [staged]. I don’t think that’s just because I am a person of colour, I faced the same struggles as any graduate making the transition to the professional world. There were so many periods when there was nothing for me. I was still very lucky though.
What do you hope people will get out of the show?
This particular tour is the most important to me, because the areas we are going to are very high in South Asian diaspora. I know some of my family moved to Bradford after the Ugandan Asian expulsion in 1972. There will be high engagement with those stories, but not necessarily with people who usually go to the theatre. My show is about bringing a new context to the historic, and hopefully will get new audiences in to see that. I want them to [recognise] the representation of the 1970s, but also [the progress] nearly 50 years on. Whenever I make work, it’s about finding my autobiographical side and making that relatable in a wider, political context.
Training: BA (hons) in theatre at University of Chichester (2011-14)
First professional role: Site-specific performance at Hunt and Darton Cafe in London (2014)
Pull the Trigger is running at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford, from February 13 as part of the Marlborough Theatre in Brighton’s touring programme New Queers on the Block. Click here for more