Center Stage: 'A clown of all trades'

Theatre major Hugo Crick-Furman shares their views on gender identity and incorporating clown performance into their work

ASU theatre major Hugo Crick-Furman shares their views on gender identity and discusses the fundamental problems present in "RuPaul's Drag Race" in a conversation with reporter Peter Vezeau.


PETER VEZEAU

Hello, my name is Peter Vezeau and welcome to State Press Center Stage, the podcast where we highlight performing artists and creative minds here at Arizona State University. My guest today is Hugo Crick-Furman, a theatre major who shares their thought on the drag scene in Phoenix, opinions on casting terminology considering trans and non-binary performers and their new, original work centered around clown drag.

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Hi there. My name is Hugo Antony Ludovic Marmaduke Crick-Furman, but you can call me Hugo. I will refer to myself as a creative. I'm kind of a clown of all trades.

PETER VEZEAU

Thank you so much for coming on. It's really great to have you here. So let's start things off with what got you into performing in general, in any type of capacity?

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Oh, I've been performing for basically as long as I've had, like, a working human mind, and then after I stopped having a working human mind ... after the incident. We'll not talk about that today. But I started performing when I was in my church's play back when I was still into religion. It was in my church nativity back at the age of four, I think.

And then I started doing church choir. Then I started doing school choir, and then when I came here, I started doing theater. 

PETER VEZEAU

So, what brought you over to the States? People might be able to pick up on your accent. What caused you to move on over here and end up at Arizona State University? 

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Oh, well, a lot of factors. The main one is that my father's family is from here. My mom's side is fully in the U.K., but my father's family is from right here in Arizona. Yay! Go Sun Devils. 

Once I was here and I started doing theater and I started realizing that that was a passion of mine, I applied to ASU for theater. It was in-state, it was close. The program seemed really nice and then I ended up here and I've made a lot of really fun connections and got the opportunity to work on a lot of fun things, so I don't regret it. 

PETER VEZEAU

What we're here to talk about is your history with performing in drag here in Arizona. 

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Yes.

PETER VEZEAU

What can you tell us about — for people, like myself, who have never attended a drag show — what can you tell us about what that experience is like?

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Well, my friend, it is not like they show you on the television. People are drunk. It's a wonderful little time. I think that one thing that a lot of people don't get about drag is the sheer variety of it.

There are so many different types of drag. On popular television show "RuPaul's Drag Race," you'll mainly see a very specific kind of it. But outside of that, there were queens who specialize in horror. There are drag kings, there are non-binary drag performers, like myself. Any category of performance you can think of, there is drag for it.

PETER VEZEAU

And what would you say your category would be in that space? You said you were a ...

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

A clown of all trades.

PETER VEZEAU

Yes. 

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Yeah. I view myself as a — I perform in clown in drag shows. The show that I mainly perform at is at Kobalt Bar up in Phoenix. It's a circus themed drag show. And so I go in every few weeks, I pull out a few little clown numbers.

I do some drag, I get some tips and then I leave. I try and blend a lot of the performative aspects of drag with a lot of the philosophical and aesthetic aspects of a European theater clown, or like Vaudeville-style clown. 

PETER VEZEAU

And would you care to elaborate how exactly you work that into your performance?

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Of course. Yeah. The ruling thing for me is that it has to be funny. I've gone through phases where I've been a lot more focused on like, oh, here are the theoretical underpinnings of clown, and these are the things that I need to emphasize. Then I realized that it doesn't matter how good the clown is in terms of technique if it isn't funny and if people don't laugh or enjoy it. 

So basically, what I will do for my creative process is I'll kind of go through a hybrid creative process of clown and drag. A lot of drag performers, at least the ones that I've talked to and who I know in my personal life, will like find a piece of music and then come up with a gimmick that goes along with that.

I will do that, but make it circus clown, basically. Like, for example, one of the recent numbers I did was "Part of Your World" from "The Little Mermaid." I found a, like, fleece blanket mermaid tail in a Goodwill that was too small for me to be able to walk around but it was big enough in the waist that it would fall off of me.

And so I'm like, okay, what can I do with this? What can be funny about this? Because clown is about comedy. Clown is about failure. So how can I fail using this material in a way that is funny. I ended up basing it mostly around like, OK, "Part of Your World," she's talking about these like little junk pieces she's found. What are some funny items that I can pull out of my little bag and like obsess over? 

I'm in this mermaid tail. How can I flop around while trying to perform a drag number? Because if you've seen any drag numbers online, what's popular right now is like high energy, high dance, at least in the U.S. Since it was big enough in the waist for it to fall down, I had a plan that at the end of the number, it would fall down and revealing like comedy boxers. You know, like the heart pattern, heart print. Things that you see in cartoons.

So it's really just about where is the comedy in this? Where's the clown in it? How can I mess this up in a way that's fun for me and the audience?

PETER VEZEAU

Yeah. That's very interesting how you have this way of finding discarded or used items and incorporating them into your act and being able to find this way to create this new persona and this character and this performance, when people usually associate with something with very high in class, glamor, glitter, sequence and silk, everything like that and being able to find these new textures and new aesthetics, at least that aren't exposed to the mainstream here in America.

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Oh, absolutely. I'm very, very passionate about trash art, for lack of a better phrase. I really love the poetry of the discarded. I love the artistry of the unintentional and I like art that is trash.

There's a theater company up in Vermont, Bread and Puppet Theater that put out a set of manifestos called the Cheap Art Manifestos. "Why Cheap Art" is basically the thesis of it. And it's basically talking about like, oh, for too long, we've had the idea that art is something for museums. When really it can be done anywhere, it can be cheap, it can be quick. It's an expression of the human spirit. 

It's been a long road for me to get there. And I still find myself sometimes being like, oh, I wish this were more polished. Or I wish this were more, like, high glamor. But really what I'm trying to do is express something. And I think, in a lot of ways, when you express something using these lower materials, it can feel more meaningful in some ways.

PETER VEZEAU

I do think that is something very potent in performance art, especially nowadays when we have this idea of everything needs to look polished. Everything needs to look clean and be very systematic and formulated. When in reality, when you kind of discover what you can and can't use, and what's in the backyard, what's even in the dumpster, what's in the thrift shop, you will almost have this ability to create a new reality with these new articles of clothing, these new props and these new gimmicks.

You've talked about how, in North America at least, there is this big focus on drag race being this very grand polish look with lots of makeup, large hair. We talked about RuPaul, who recently won Emmys this past weekend at the time of recording.

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

And good for her. Good for her.

PETER VEZEAU

Definitely. But you seem to have this opinion about why sometimes RuPaul might not be as beneficial to the drag scene. I don't want to put words in your mouth. So would you mind to elaborate?

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

I've got words in my mouth. I can throw them out here. I'd like it to be understood that I obviously believe that what RuPaul has done for queer visibility and for the visibility of drag as an art form, that is incomparable and inconceivable.

Like, I know that this is a sentiment mirrored by a lot of people. And I was lucky enough to partially come of age in a time when queer representation on television is at an all-time high in quality and amount. And so like me as a 13 year old, when I was just finding out what a gay person was, I could not have imagined that there would be this much queerness on television, that there would be, like, this much emphasis on such a specifically queer art form as drag.

However, this is not an opinion. This is a fact. "RuPaul's Drag Race" focuses on a very specific and very narrow type of drag. That is very polished. That is very family friendly, let's say. That is expensive. I think that's my main problem with it. It is an expensive enough form of drag that it alienates a lot of performers, both because of the class that they may come from.

Some drag race fans will know what I'm talking about. There was a girl on season eight, Chi Chi DeVayne, and may she rest in peace, who came in, like, wearing duct tape for bracelets because she couldn't really afford like designer garments, like the other contestants. And while she achieved great success on her season and after, she's very much the exception.

A lot of queens on "RuPaul's Drag Race" will face the criticism that they are not polished enough, that they, basically, their garments are too quote unquote basic, no matter how fierce their performances may be. There's a lot of focus on this kind of high glamour, polished aesthetic.

And there are alternative drag competition shows that are attempting to push back against this. Like there's "Dragula," which focuses on horror based drag. Where "Drag Race" has sequins, "Dragula" has like, gore and fake blood. But none of these have the success that "Drag Race" does and being on "Drag Race" provides a lot of socioeconomic benefits for a drag performer that being on these alternative shows or being an amazing queen in your local community really doesn't.

A lot of drag performers, which is a term I'm using very intentionally because "Drag Race" also tends not to include drag kings or drag performers whose goal isn't to represent femininity. So a lot of drag performers have gone on record as saying that the girls who have been on "Drag Race" get significantly higher booking fees and are prioritized in bookings over local performers.

This happens mostly in big cities. We don't get it as much here in Phoenix. But in big cities and, again, on the internet in that kind of discourse bubble, these queens are prioritized and it is seen as the be-all-end-all of a drag performer's career to be on "Drag Race." In a lot of cases, it's the only way that a drag performer can make their art into a livable career because without "Drag Race" and without the tours and high profile bookings that it gets you, it's very difficult to impossible to make a living as a drag performer. 

PETER VEZEAU

Before we elaborate on the performance scene here in Phoenix and Arizona, would you like to elaborate on what exactly a drag king is for some of our listeners who might not be as familiar with that term.

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Oh yeah, of course. A drag king is a queer woman performing masculinity in a very exaggerated way. And that's not always true. A lot of wonderful drag queens I know are transgender women and thus are women performing femininity in an exaggerated way. And a lot of wonderful drag kings I know are trans men by the same token.

PETER VEZEAU

So we were talking about how a lot of times in the theater department, we are faced with audition notices that includes stuff like female-presenting or male-presenting performers. This seems to be a way for people to try to be more inclusive to trans and non-binary and queer people in general. You told me that this isn't exactly the terminology that makes you the most comfortable. And would you mind either correcting me if I'm at all wrong about that and elaborating on that point as well? 

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Of course. And I would like to clarify again that I am just one queer trans person. My official stance on gender is that I don't really do the whole gender thing anymore. I feel very alienated from it and I feel divorced enough from it that I don't really consider myself a man or a woman or any third gender. I just consider myself kind of outside of that. But my point is, I'm just one queer trans person, so what makes me uncomfortable might be the perfect way to make someone else feel included. 

What gets me about the female and male presenting things is it still just feels like it's enforcing the gender binary. Well, two things. First of all, my ideal world is one in which gender is completely irrelevant. So already I'm like, oh, why can't we just like, why can't we just do full gender blindness all the way, but I understand that for some theater companies that is not the goal and it's not maybe feasible in the socioeconomic environment in which they exist. But what gets me about presenting specifically is that it seems very focused on the concept of passing, which I can explain for some of our listeners who may not know what that term means in a queer context. 

Passing in terms of gender basically means your ability to pass as someone who is not trans. If I were to go out in like drag makeup and like high heels and a dress, and no one could tell that I was not a cisgender woman, I would be passing as a woman. Presenting to me implies, is kind of an ability on the part of the casting directors to decide that you don't present well as a woman or to decide that you don't present well in a masculine way, which makes me very uncomfortable. I think that the biggest step that we need to take is just including more trans and queer people in running theater, on the casting panels, on the directorial panels. It's often ignored in favor of language. A lot of tangible change is often ignored in favor of language.

PETER VEZEAU

Thank you so much for clarifying and elaborating that. 

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

And again, just my opinion.

PETER VEZEAU

Of course. I think that an important part of having these open conversations is understanding other people's viewpoints and seeing what makes them comfortable or at least the vast majority of people in that group comfortable. I think that expressing ideas within the community and talking that through is definitely something much more helpful than having it forced upon you. So more opinions and more views are valid. 

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Oh, yeah. In terms of gender neutrality, there's a lot of those going around now. "Folx" with an "x", for example. Girl, it's already gender neutral. You don't need to do that.

PETER VEZEAU

So let's talk about the scene here in Phoenix and Tempe when it comes to drag performance. Are there any specific performances or locations that you want to shout out and have people check out if they're new to the style?

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Well, first, I have to go to bat for my home show, which is "Cirque Du So Trey" headed by my lovely friend Trey. And it's a circus theme drag show, as the name implies, and that's where I tend to perform. But, so that's my first one and Kobalt, which is the bar that it is at up in Phoenix, also has a lot of other wonderful shows. They've got a show called "Facelift," which is a competition show for new and up and coming drag queens. I have a few friends who have recently done their first performances there, which is really fun to see. Charlie's is a Western themed gay bar up in Phoenix where there's a lot of good drag. Boycott is a lesbian bar in the same area that has a few wonderful shows. "The Queer Agenda" is a good show to look up if you are into that more edgy and alternative style of things. We have a surprisingly diverse scene here, and I think that it should be more appreciated. 

PETER VEZEAU

And that's something I noticed just from moving up to Tempe and sort of seeing this community. And so I hope that some of our listeners will be able to check out some of their shows. Maybe some of them involving you, yourself, Hugo.

And while we're talking about shows, let's talk about your thesis work that you're working on right now. You were mentioning about how clown drag is something that you're very passionate about and how you work that into your own performance. Can you tell me how that relates to your thesis?

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Oh, well, it is basically the core of my thesis in a very real way. My thesis is — I used to frame it as a clown show about gender or my experiences with gender specifically as an assigned male at birth non-binary person. But recently, I've been thinking of it more as a gender storytelling show through the lens of the clown.

And that coincides with that shift that I mentioned earlier, where now my goal is just to make things entertaining and funny. Previously, I was very, very entrenched in the idea of it being deeply involved in like clown theory and like high-minded intellectual content, which does still provide the basis of the show.

Now it's more about being genuine and sharing and trying to represent the journey that I have had and the journey that I'm going on in hopes that will be relatable to someone or help someone see themselves in a performance. 

So my short little elevator pitch is that it's a clown show about gender. It stars my clown persona as he goes through a bunch of let's say tests, trials and tribulations regarding gender, gender performance and the expectations that are placed upon us by society. And if we are the kind of person who cannot live up to those expectations and fail at them, where do we go from there? 

PETER VEZEAU

That's incredible. Thank you so much for coming on and being here with us, Hugo.

HUGO CRICK-FURMAN

Thank you. 

PETER VEZEAU

My thanks again to Hugo. Be sure to check out some of the drag performances that they mentioned in the Phoenix area and for The State Press, I'm Peter Vezeau.


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