The Diet Ghosts: The WL2020 Interview

Purveyors of: Blending punk rock, gender fuckery, drag, theatre, comedy, and gore into an entertaining and subversive show.

File Next to: The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Vincent Price, American Horror Story, and Carol J. Clover.

Performing/Hosting: Thursday, October 29th 2020 with Leucrocuta and Bonnie Trash for our Livescream on Youtube Live!

The Diet Ghosts are a crew of superhero storytellers who shock and inspire with every performance they create. Of course, you already know this if you’ve seen them. They are the answer to Toronto’s West End drag scene, challenging both theatre and drag performance practices. Everything is tied neatly into the genre of horror. It’s perfect. The Diet Ghosts would regularly transport a packed audience at The Beaver (RIP) beyond that tiny space into a spaceship, a summer camp, and anywhere else of their choosing. And we all believed it. 

Simply put: The Diet Ghosts are fuckin’ amazing. 

Wavelength’s Emma Bortolon-Vettor had a chance to ask a million questions to Lady Kunterpunt, Lucinda Miu, Aura Nova, and Kitty Creature about their work and the intersecting worlds around it.

What is your creative process in writing a new storyline?

Kunterpunt: The start of a story can be literally anything — sometime’s it’s a one-liner that makes us laugh and snowballs into a full show, or sometimes it’s a full conceptual world someone’s been dreaming up that we all agree to explore together. The Diet Ghosts are very referential, and between the four of us have an excellent library of pop culture to pull from. We would often spend days in the park compiling song ideas and visual references, then divy up the work to be completed for the coming weeks. We have a group chat that is constantly abuzz with progress updates and new ideas, so I think that supportive sharing experience kinda fuels us all to keep working too. Kitty is our master sound-mixer, and the audio in our shows is SO important, so often they’ll create demos for us to listen to and riff off as the show progresses too. My iTunes is filled with WIP versions of shows; sometimes they’re really different from the final product too! 

Can you tell us a little bit more about immersive theatre?

Lucinda: Immersive theatre for us means using all the tools in our toolbox to create a new world the audience can interact with from the moment they enter a space. At The Beaver we would decorate the entire bar to transform it to whatever setting we were in, from a groovy spaceship to a spooky summer camp to a 1930s speakeasy. Even though we’re clearly still performing in a bar, the audience (who come dressed up in theme, adding to the world-building) suspends their disbelief to join us on a ride that they feel part of. We love making them feel like they’re active participants in this world we’ve created rather than idle spectators. This includes using the entire bar as the stage (which we infamously did in our very first performance), interacting with patrons in character between sets, and creating storylines that depend on the interaction of the audience — like voting in a rigged election between Lucinda and Kunterpunt. 

Is there much improvisation in your performances?

Kunterpunt: I think all drag performance has an element of improv to it, and what we do is really no different. Like YES we come on stage rehearsed with props and choreo and projections, but a lot of the character interactions we have on stage are lightly scripted and left up to us to explore in the moment. One of the great things about The Diet Ghosts is that we really love and trust each other, so sometimes when things go wrong on stage, we can improvise quickly and read each other and support whatever decision is being made in real time. We’re really lucky to have that. I personally think it’s one of the things that distinguishes us as more than just a performance group but really as a family. 

Lucinda: We aim to be in the golden spot between rehearsing enough to put on a great show but not so rehearsed that all sense of spontaneity is gone. Even within our rehearsals (which usually take place behind the concession stand in High Park anywhere between 11pm and 1:30am), we value exploration and improvisation, and will throw out ideas while performing. We start out with a rough road map of what we want the staging to look like but all the most organic and fun ideas happen on our feet.

According to the piece in Culture Trip, the rules for the competition competing for “Queen of Halloween” did not include AFAB performers. Is this barrier still encountered and how has this been challenged in recent years?

Kunterpunt: Absolutely it’s still a barrier! I’m fairly certain that Queen of Halloween still does not allow AFAB performers, though there wasn’t a QOH this year so who knows for next year. There’s definitely been a movement to change this; a new competition popped up last year called Night Of The Living Queers that focused on giving priority slots to performers excluded from the QOH competition. This past summer there was the House Royale competition on Twitch that boasted a cast full of kings, monarchs, drag things, and a queen as well! And you know what? Both of these competitions were SUPER fun and exciting!  

“Drag can be a lot of things, but it’s especially delicious when it’s subversive”. How beautifully said. Would you say that drag is a method of subversion, or can be used as a method for subversion?

Lucinda: In a world obsessed with labels and identity, drag serves as a giant middle finger to societal constructs like gender. The modern commodification of drag has taken away a bit of the discomfort and created an easily digestible version of drag for the masses, so leaning into the subversive nature of it takes it back to its roots. Drag has always been subversive and political.

Kitty: I always feel my most beautiful when I know that I’d piss off the greatest number of homophobic people. Even subverting traditional tropes within drag, like using my facial hair or showing off my hairy legs is something that pushes my own understanding of what drag is, and how limitless the art can be. Sometimes I feel like being a beautiful woman, the next day I feel like presenting like a goblin, and sometimes it’s a little bit of both.

Should drag be accepted within the realm of “theatre” or should it stand in its own hybrid space?

Lucinda: Arguably, drag has been “accepted” (read: employed) within the realm of theatre for a long time going back to Shakespearean days when men dressed as women because women weren’t allowed to perform. There are many drag characters in plays and musicals, and a lot of times serve as the problematic “man in a dress” trope. I believe what we’re seeing more and more of in all our media are queer stories told by queer people. My first experience with drag was doing a scene from Angels in America where Prior Walter dresses in drag in a dream sequence. The playwright, Tony Kushner, created a piece of work about gay men in the AIDS pandemic from an informed and lived place. Contrast this with the pantomime I did that same summer where most of the laughs came from two men dressed as Sleeping Beauty’s fairy godmothers (spoiler alert: it was a terrible production). We as The Diet Ghosts create queer theatre for specifically queer audiences.

Kitty: I think a reluctance to accept drag as legitimate theatre is gatekeeping from an industry structured to cater to a non-queer audience. I came up through classical theatre training alongside Lucinda, and the instances of drag and gender performance were definitely reduced to easy punchlines. Within our training for the industry, gender non-conforming performers and their stories were actively ignored. It was ingrained in you that you had to present your assigned gender, and any sense of queerness was actively critiqued out of you. This was all to prepare you for the professional theatre world, which is a bit discouraging to say the least. We’ve definitely aimed to carve our own space for our brand of queer theatre, but I think that at the end of the day, Drag is Theatre, whether the institutions terrified of it are willing to accept as a reality or not. Our goal is always to challenge that.

There is something that feels so right about the combination of drag, gender-fuckery, punk rock, queerness, and theatre and I don’t know what it is. Maybe you know? 

Aura: That’s the kind of magical energy that is formed when you fill a space with people who have finally found who and what they’ve been looking for. Where they can truly thrive and let out what’s been burning inside of them for their whole lives. Every aspect of performance and expression you mentioned have been used as tools of rebellion for generations, creating harmonious unison that heals and inspires young people who have the power to make a difference.

Kitty: Drag is the ultimate protest for me, and celebrating queerness like that is such an empowering experience. You get to stare down systems in place that would rather you be quiet, and dial the volume way up. I just can’t see a way for myself to not feel punk rock every time I put on lashes and heels. It’s like putting on armour. Have you ever tried to fight a drag queen? She’ll win every time.

In what ways do you think this pandemic will shape the future of performance, especially drag performance?

Aura: I like to think that we’re going to experience such a boom in nightlife and live performance after realizing just how much everyone missed partaking in it. Overall, I just hope that, when they can get back to it, the general public channels all their feelings of missing live performances into filling bars, tipping performers, and enjoying each other’s company. And that artists keep making music videos from home, because there have been some legit masterpieces coming out of this.

Why do you like horror? 

Kunterpunt: I like horror because it’s almost therapeutic in a way. Horrors in real life have a way of haunting us, traumatizing us, sometimes lingering in our souls in a permanent and very real way. When I experience horror on a screen, it’s in a controlled environment, and at the end of the show I can wipe my hands clean. It gives us resolution to emotions and feelings that are mimicked in the scary parts of our real lives, and I think in a way helps heal us from the real scars we have. 

Lucinda: Even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I adore ghost stories. For as scary and malevolent as they’re portrayed, it’s nice to imagine some things aren’t lost forever. 

What are your favourite horror movies?

Kunterpunt: Alien, Aliens, Friday the 13th Part I and II, and Coraline if you’ll allow it! 

Aura: Anything that is charmingly low-budget. Aluminum plate UFO’s, plastic skeletons, bad acting, serial killers in silly masks chasing dumbass teenagers. So this would include Plan 9 From Outer Space, Slumber Party Massacre II, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, and the OG House on Haunted Hill

Kitty: The Ring, Bride of Chucky, The Babadook (to name a few), and I recently enjoyed the new Ju-On Miniseries on Netflix

Lucinda: Trolls World Tour.

Missing The Diet Ghosts? You can catch them October 29th at our LIVESCREAM!