Because surely two men in wigs are the foremost experts on female friendship.
Tom Sainsbury (Snapchat comedian) and Hamish Russell (winner of Auckland’s Drag Wars 2016) have created Wigging Out, a show about high school frenemies Ann Xiety and Dee Pression, who reunite in a doctor’s waiting room.
The show, which opens at Basement Theatre tonight, involves lip-syncing to Madonna and Lady Gaga, dancing, and a heart-warming story about female friendship. Because, as Hamish says, surely two men in wigs are the foremost experts on female friendship.
The Wireless catches up with Tom and Hamish as they get ready for a television interview. In front of the mirror Tom gets a quick lesson on how to apply a full face of drag makeup while Hamish, who knows his way around a contour palette, already has his face on, and his bright orange Rita Hayworth wig is ready to help him transform into Ann.
The pair describe Wigging Out as “a show of firsts”: Tom is a first-time drag performer, Hamish a first-time actor, and their friend Kate is directing a show for the first time.
Where did the idea for this show come from?
Hamish Russell – I love coming up with drag names. My old flatmates and I used to come up with medical-based drag names. When I did drag in Auckland I was Colostomy Hag and I just kind of kept rolling with that. We had a family of horrible drag queen names, like Anna Phylactic, that kind of thing.
Tom Sainsbury – Oh, that’s genius!
Like when drag queens are performing together or there’s a collective or something, they always have a similar theme.
H – Yeah, it’s always nice to match. Then I just thought how funny it would be. I think originally it was Ann Xiety and Val Nerability, and imagine if they performed with the weight of their mental illness on their shoulders, like the anxious queen, as soon as the song finishes she apologises, like, ‘I’m so sorry, that was so much better when I did it at home!’.
Tell me about your Wigging Out characters.
T – I play Dee Pression and she is depressed.
H – [Referring to the foundation Tom is caking on his face] And pale, very very pale.
T – And pale, look at this. Who do I look like?
H – Voldemort.
T – Voldemort, look at me. Isn’t it great? I love it. Hi guys! I play Dee Pression and she is depressed and she has made some cowardly decisions in her life, which have dictated her depression.
H – And I’m Ann Xiety, and I’m kind of a super jittery high-functioning and successful, but holding together veeeery, very lightly, like I’m about to crack at any given second. They were pals in high school and had a falling out and they meet each other years later and see if they can salvage their friendship.
How did you decide on these wigs?
T – I’ve got a whole collection of wigs back home and we had a photoshoot to do for the hero image of the play and this was the only one that was reasonably appropriate, so necessity dictated it.
H – And I think it informed [the character] as well, I just love that wig. The fringe kind of sticks out, it’s not a real haircut, it’s just someone had a go at cutting their own hair.
I bought [my wig] for the character, and when I put it on it is very bouncy and frantic and I am a very anxious character.
My problem when buying wigs and hats is that I have a really big head and nothing ever fits.
T – Oh really? Well girlfriend, I’ve got the biggest head there possibly is. Some of them definitely fall off, so you’ve got to pin them down. Some of them just precariously rest on top of your head and not really cup it like a good wig should, so I feel for you.
Well, in your experience owning… how many wigs?
T – Maybe… 50?
What makes for a good wig?
T – A good wig… well, because I’m into bad aesthetic as well…
H – I was going to say, I think a good wig for Tom Sainsbury is the worst one possible. Just, as much of your real hair as you can see through it. The patchiest wigs.
T – Yeah, and you can see the netting and things as well. But, I’ve got my hands on three high-class wigs and they’re just so good. One’s like an old man - full character wigs.
Have you used this brown wig for any of your other characters before?
T – My Snapchat, yes. I’ve used her. That kind of character, in this play she’s quite dowdy…
H – Is she Jacinda?
T – Yeah, I can adapt that one to be Jacinda, but they’re usually quite sassy, up themselves kind of characters.
Tom have you done drag before? Would you consider what you do on Snapchat drag?
T – I guess technically it is drag, but it’s not the kind of lip-syncing performative drag. I’ve done drag maybe three times. Just little acts. So this is all very new to me.
Hamish, what’s your experience with drag?
H – Still a very light touch compared to a lot of the drag queens in Auckland, but there’s a monthly competition that they run called Drag Wars and a couple of years ago I went to the January edition of it. I love drag, I’m a big fan of drag and I didn’t feel like there were any true, true drag queens. They were all beautiful and walking around the stage to songs but I never laughed and it wasn’t that kind of excitement you expect from a drag queen, so I thought that you couldn’t judge them that harshly and then not do it myself, so I entered the next month myself and won. I had to do it a couple of times to get practised, and then I did a final, which I took out as well. It’s quite a lot of fun, but I’ve never made it a consistent thing, I’ve always just done it here and there.
So you brought more of a whole performance to it?
H – Yeah, I just like making people laugh, and I think that’s what drag queens should do because at the end of the day it’s dudes in wigs and that is always a nice base for a joke, so that is what I always aim to do when I put a wig on. Make people laugh, have a good time.
What pieces of advice have you passed on to Tom in regards to drag?
H – I don’t think I have passed on anything…
T – Padding.
H – Yeah, padding’s fun.
T – Like, hips and things.
H – Yeah, hips and boobs are, for me when I do drag, I could have a beautiful face of makeup and still feel like a man but as soon as you put these big hip pads in that completely change the shape of your body that is when you completely get into it, so that’s what I’ve passed on.
T – You’re very inspirational. He’s very inspiring, because he wears heels the entire rehearsal and I wear heels for five minutes and I’m like, I can’t go on!
H – If you clock what Tom is wearing on his feet now, this is what he has to wear for most of the show, which is what I would describe as… it’s not even a kitten heel, it’s a kitten wedge.
Tom, how have you helped Hamish with his first-time acting?
T – “Louder!” Things like that.
H – Immeasurably. He’s been great. My biggest fear is that I’m not going to remember my lines, and then he’s like, you wrote the script, you have the story in your head, so even if you don’t know the exact line, you know what’s meant to be portrayed in the scene, so I’m just going to really mess everyone else up by ad-libbing most of the play.
That’s a lie, I remember all of my lines.
What have you noticed about the rise in popularity of drag, like with RuPaul’s Drag Race?
H – It is massive. I think it’s great. It’s opening up a really fun form of performance to a bigger audience and it’s great that even in Auckland – because Drag Race is quite American – in New Zealand you can tell since that show drag has come a long way. I think it was two-and-a-half years ago that I was doing that competition and they were kind of scraping together enough entrants to do a monthly competition, but now, there are new queens every month giving it a go. Some might only do it once, but some might do it for the rest of their life, it’s just really great to see people trying.
What is your perception of the drag scene in Auckland?
H – I am of two minds about it. If I step out and don’t consider myself as part of the drag scene I love it and it is really great and there are some amazing drag queens and amazing young drag queens – there’s one called Yuri Guaii, who is insanely good at makeup and he is 21 I think and just incredible. His performance and his wigs and his makeup is so well thought through.
Then there are other queens who maybe buy a bit more into the whole attitude of a drag queen and they’re a little bit mean, so that’s why I didn’t go full into it, because I don’t have the emotional strength to do that!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Wigging Out is on at Basement Theatre from 27 February – 3 March as part of Auckland Fringe Festival.