Irish drag superstar Panti has performed with Cyndi Lauper in Japan, run a fetish club in Dublin and hosted the Alternative Miss Ireland Pageant for 18 years, and now you can see her in 'All Dolled Up'.
The show is part stand-up, part theatre-lecture and is a behind-the-scenes look at the life and times of Irish gender-illusionist Panti. Panti grew up in small-town Mayo (Ireland), discovered drag in London, conquered the Tokyo club scene and wound up back in Ireland running her own pub (Pantibar) and performing in theatre and drag shows.
How did you find your drag name, Pandora 'Panti' Bliss?
By accident! In the early ’90s I was one half of a double act in Japan with an American queen called Lurleen. At the time I went by the name Letitia Bliss (after a pet sheep I had as a child!) but it quickly became apparent that Japanese people had terrible trouble remembering or pronouncing our names because they have trouble with the letters ‘L’ and ‘R’. So we decided to choose a group name that would be easy for Japanese audiences. We called ourselves CandiPanti because they are both English words that Japanese people use, and they have the cutesy quality that appeals to the Japanese sensibility. However, everyone started to call her Candi and me Panti, (I wore a lot of short skirts at the time!), and like all nicknames, over time it became impossible to shake. Then when I came back to Europe a few years later, I realised that people tended to hear my name and imagine I was a stripper or something! So I expanded my nickname to Pandora. Et viola! Pandora 'Panti' Bliss.
Your show is about your own life. Do you self-censor, or do you believe that it’s the performer’s responsibility to be honest with an audience?
No. I might occasionally 'massage' the truth for theatrical effect but the stories I tell are true. I’m pretty shameless, so I’m an open book. And I find that if you tell the truth brazenly with humour, audiences are prepared to go along with you. I’m not afraid to reveal my flaws because nobody’s life is perfect and audiences relate. Sometimes I’ll find myself in weird or embarrassing situations, and I’ll just think, 'Oh well. It’ll make a good story'.
How do you define yourself as a performer, gender illusionist or drag queen? How do you like to be referred to?
I think of myself as a drag queen. Sometimes other people have a very particular idea of what a drag queen is, or is supposed to be, which can limit their perception of you, but I’m proud to be a drag queen. I just don’t let other people’s idea of what drag is define me or limit me.
See 'All Dolled Up' at the Brisbane Powerhouse for a short season from October 9-11.