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Shane Janek, better known by drag persona Courtney Act, began the rise to fame in 2003, taking part in the first season of Australian Idol. It was however in 2014 that Courtney Act took a huge stride towards international fame, competing in the sixth season of the ever-popular RuPaul’s Drag Race alongside now friends Bianca Del Rio, Adore Delano, Darienne Lake, and more.
Finishing as one of the season’s runner-ups, Courtney and Shane went on to victory on Celebrity Big Brother 21, cementing both names in the nation’s conscience. Having moved from Sydney to London, via Los Angeles, they are now gearing up to host a brand new Channel 4 series, entitled Dragazine, as well as touring their distinctive brand of variety across the UK.
With the Under The Covers tour set to hit Coventry on the 25 August 2018, as well as a run of performances scheduled at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, we caught up with Courtney to find out more about the show, taking the plunge into TV presenting, and the dramatic changes in the world of drag.
How are you feeling about your forthcoming Under the Covers shows?
Yeah I’m excited! I had a great time doing the show all around the UK and Coventry will be my last show of Under the Covers so far scheduled, so yeah I’m really looking forward to it.
For people who haven’t seen it, how would you describe Under the Covers from your point of view?
It’s a really fun cabaret show. It’s a piano player and some fabulous music, some tracks, some videos, some great costumes, myself and a great set that is traveling around with us. That bit seemed like a good idea when we were putting it together, but less of a good idea when you have to lug it all around the rest of the world, but once it’s set up on stage it is wonderful. I mean lots of cabaret shows have sets, but I think this is the first drag cabaret that I’ve seen with such a big set.
It’s called Under the Covers not just because we’re going under the covers in the bedroom, but also music and life, and looking at why we cover ourselves in so much stuff.
So obviously you’re pretty settled in the UK now. What is it about the UK that you love so much?
There’s just something really cool about. I’ve lived in Sydney and I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and LA felt like a step into the big wild world compared to Sydney. But then coming to London I just realised how much culture there is and how much diversity there is and all around the UK. You can get the beautiful British countryside, you can get the big cities, you can get nature, you can get different accents and experiences and I just love the real culture, as well, the history, and also the pop culture.
In East London, where I live, it’s just like this wild melting pot of genders and sexualities and races and abilities, and everybody just co-existing in this strange utopia – at least as far as I can tell. I know that’s, you know, an isolated community, but it’s just so nice to live in East London and feel that vibe.
You’ve also announced a Channel 4 show called Dragazine. What has attracted you to presenting and how are you feeling about going in and doing that as the next step in your career?
It’s a bit like doing what I do on stage but on television, so there’s a variety aspect on the show. I’ve just been sitting here before our chat watching old videos of The Sonny & Cher Show, and watching Bette Midler and Cher and Elton John all on stage together draped on Bob Mackie and performing songs – and I just love that era of variety television, where you could see people you wouldn’t normally see together on stage doing things they wouldn’t normally do.
It’s not just plugging their new song or their new book, they’re collaborating and creating wonderful moments in song and sketches and performance and I’m kind of really itching to get into that, and I think it’d be so cool. The visions I have in my mind and the picture of what happens on the television screen are yet to be determined, but hopefully some of that fun and spontaneity and glamour gets created.
Do you think that’s something that’s missing in mainstream entertainment at the moment?
There’s a lot more variety on UK TV than Australian TV or US TV, but I think there’s just a lot of promotion on shows and variety shows and things like that.
I used to love reading X-Men comics and when there would be like a crossover, like, Captain America would be in the X-Men comics or when the Fantastic Four would appear, I used to just get so excited.
I suppose I always think there’s something thrilling about seeing different artists coming together and doing things differently.
Is that the element of surprise we’re talking about something you build into your live show as well?
Yeah and I like to surprise myself as well. I have the songs I’m going to sing and the costumes I’m gonna wear, and the stories I’m gonna tell, but I find that the best thing for the audience and I to do is to work together in a way and create something new.
I think a show is 51% me and 49% the audience. It really just depends on how the audience is feeling and how much I am able to bring them into my world and take them on a journey. I find not sticking to the script and just having fun is usually one of the best paths to go down for a show like this.
How do you feel about the RuPaul’s Drag Race experience looking back?
It was wonderful. Being there with Adore (Delano) and Bianco (del Rio) and Darienne and all of the girls… we just had a wonderful time. We just had fun getting up each day and seeing what crazy thing we’d have to create and do.
Adore, Bianca, Darienne and I talk every day in our group text. We’re still friends and we just love hanging out. Making new friends isn’t something you get to do very often, so to come out of that experience with three new friends and be known all around the world is a pretty great result.
How do you think the world of drag has changed since you started?
When I first started drag it was not seen as something you should be proud of. It was kind of like something you did and other drag queens understood, and there was a small community, but other people – even queer people – were like: “I don’t think you should be doing this drag thing if you want to be taken seriously”.
There was no sort of encouragement, even within the drag community. You had to find tooth and nail, do it all yourself, and if someone was nice enough to help you, they were only probably going to help you once. They were only going to do your make-up once. There were no YouTube tutorials, no easy path. You did it because you loved it.
Now people understand the joy of drag and the fun and the excitement and the glamour and everybody wants to have a go. It’s like a 100 drag queens are breeding like rabbits. It’s wonderful to go to different cities all around the world and see different performers using their creativity to make wonderful outfits, performances and music, and seeing how drag has transcended beyond Drag Race and just become this global phenomenon. I think drag is probably the hottest thing in pop culture right now and it’s just getting bigger and bigger.
When you started did you ever thing you’d be saying those words?
Absolutely not. It’s interesting because I remember going to Drag-Con in LA. I came down the escalator with my friend to 40,000 people gathered in the LA Convention Centre and my friend was like: “Wait, all these are here for drag queens?!” Having that sense of perspective was just amazing.
And with drag queens, we all do something different – you know there’s Bianca and Trixie and Bob doing stand-up comedy, and amazing visual queens like Kim Chi and Adore doing her rock. Everyone is doing their own thing and succeeding and it’s really wonderful to see.
So with drag queens breeding like rabbits, how do you stay top of the game?
I chose to just focus on my live show, my live cabaret shows like Under the Covers and doing some videos on YouTube. A few years ago I was sort of spreading myself a bit thin and trying to do lots of different things, and I thought what are the two things you really love doing the most. That was it, I decided to do more of those and just focus on that.
And then that led to different opportunities and now those opportunities will culminate in the television show.
What is life like on the road for Courtney Act and for Shane? Are you a party animal while you’re out on the road, do you like to take it nice and easy?
Nah, it’s really quite tame. Normally we do the show and we pack up. We load it onto the bus and then we go to bed at midnight and wake up at 8am the next morning, and hit the road to the next city. There’s not much opportunity for partying or extracurricular fun because I have to sing and the voice… well, you can put makeup on and cover bags under your eyes but there’s not really much you can do for your voice after a hard night out – so I usually just keep it pretty cute.
Catch Courtney Act keeping it cute when Under The Covers reaches Edinburgh Fringe Festival, followed by a Coventry show in August. Tickets for her headline show are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.