This article first appeared on Linkedin in September 2019.
A day spent with the Manne-Quinns Drag performers
Once in a while, I get away from cockpits, airlines and airports and back to something a little less stuffy and formal. Most reading this article will perhaps be familiar with my work in various aviation magazines over the last few years. However, much of my early adult life was spent in the theatre working both on stage and off. There’s not a job I haven’t covered there, from treading the boards to running the lighting and sound. The latter of which saw myself working on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. So all in all, a theatre holds no fears for me.
The theatre also has a way of dragging you back in when you least expect it. A month or so ago, a friend tagged me in a Facebook post where a local Drag performance company were looking for a new techie to work with and finally replace their retiring tech guy. On a whim, I sent in an application and was lucky enough to get an interview. I met Marcus, a lovely guy who was one of the founders of the Manne-Quinn’s some 22 years ago. He spoke German at speed, while I stumbled along with my broken Deutsch. Then we switched to his English, despite him finding it difficult. Together we chatted and discussed the job. I was then invited to watch a performance and meet current tech guy, Gerhard, and to get a feel for what the job entailed. I did this on the following Saturday, making a few notes and enjoying the show. So far so good. As far as I was concerned, there were no surprises and nothing untoward.
The following Saturday was where things got real. From watching the previous performance, this was a full-on, get in there, get the job done kind of a day. The show was one of many outdoor productions that Vienna’s warm, dry summers make possible. Today the show would take place next to the Danube at a local riverside bar called Jamaica Beach. The bar sat nearly 8km from the nearest U-Bahn so I arrived on my bike, parked up and got ready.
At just before two pm, Marcus arrived with the show bus, a large van packed with costumes and tech kit required to get the show running. The first order of business is a quick coffee with the rest of the performers, known affectionately as ‘the family.’ They are incredibly welcoming to myself and the other tech finalist, Christian. We sit and chat, mostly in Deutsch which means I smile politely. All too soon though, its action stations. The van needs unloading and the first things out are the costumes. Two huge rails appear and we form a human chain to take the costumes from the van to the rails. Then comes the tech kit which we sort out to the various areas we need it. Within ten minutes it’s done and the work really begins. Gerhard, a bear-sized man who’s as gentle as they come, drills us both on getting set up. I’m rusty when it comes to sorting the cables and connections but I quickly get back in the swing of things. What’s not helping is the relentless heat. With temperatures well over 34°C and with us dressed in the traditional ‘Tech Black’, fluids become essential. The heat is punishing though, and soon enough I find myself feeling a little heat stress. A cold drink or two helps.
With the stage wired for sound and the lights set up, we reach the point where we sort out our main work area for the evening. We quickly set up the sound mixer, set the lights for performance and then, with a quick check over the system, we can relax and grab a bite to eat before the show.
Crunch time approaches and it’s decided I’ll run the show for the first half. It’s going to be a challenge as I’ve seen the show just once and knowing where to queue songs and light changes will be fun. Fortunately, Gerhard is close by, offering advice and casting a watchful gaze over my work. In fairness, compared to how I’ve worked in the UK, the Manne-Quinns are cutting edge modern. All the songs and light queues are preprogrammed into a small laptop, running a program called ‘Das Light’. Changing numbers is as simple as clicking the mouse while the computer does the rest. Compared to the days of hitting the right track on a mini disc player and manually setting the lights, this is easy. Working the spotlight is less easy, but fun none the less. At 20.15, the show kicks off and the Manne-Quinns come to the stage. For the next hour, it’s a laugh a minute. Marcus, now transformed into the gorgeous Marcella has the crowd rolling in the aisles, along with a steady supply of Prosecco from the bar itself. The other performers show off some fantastically times lip-synced numbers with beautiful costumes.
For me, the stars of the show are the two sisters from way out in the country, expertly played by Marcella and fellow drag queen André Cartier. The two sisters reduce the crowd to tears as the jokes come quick and fast. It’s an incredibly slick, polished performance from two performers who have seen it all and still love what they do.
Eventually, the first act comes to an end and we on the tech department relax with a cold soft drink. The second act is Christian’s job and I relax to watch the show. Instinct does take over however and I make a quick adjustment to André’s microphone, which amuses Gerhard as he shoots me a wry smile. The star of the second act has to be Laura Adams and her rendition of a song called ‘Mädchen’ (German for girl.) Which produces waves of laughter.
Once the show finishes, we leap into action, striking the kit in less than an hour, loading it back into the van, ready for the next show. It’s now gone midnight and the Danube has gone quiet. For the performers, they’re off to a local bar to relax, still in costume and looking as glamorous at the end of the night as they did at the start. For me, I’m tired, but I had a hell of a night. It was good to be back working on theatre stuff again, though a little stressful. The stress came from running a show I was largely unfamiliar with, as normally I would know a show inside and out before we get to the stage. Even so, there’s nothing like a live performance with an engaged audience.
A huge thanks to Marcella, André, Laura, Caithy, Bambi, Isabella and of course Gerhard for letting me come and have fun with the family.