In a solo show championing gender euphoria, while sharing his experiences of being a refuse collector during the pandemic, Joe Leather's show, Wasteman, explores the role of drag alongside this complete contrast of a job.
Explaining more about how the comedy came to be, Joe has brilliantly answered the following questions, so make sure to read on.
Can you tell us a little about your show and what made you want to share your story? Wasteman, is the story of a bin man who dreams of being a drag queen. The inspiration for it came during lockdown, when I took a job as a bin man while simultaneously running drag quizzes to entertain my friends. I realised that although these two worlds seemed incredibly distant, they didn’t have to be. There are queer politicians, there are queer footballers, and there are queer refuse loaders. The show is a comedy drama which pits plenty of laughs alongside a strong emotional core, showing the triumphs and traumas of what it’s like to grow up different. It’s a love-letter to hard-working people far from Greater London like the ones I grew up around. I wanted to tell a story that was different to those we’re accustomed to seeing in mainstream media, while still being accessible and relatable to people of any identity or heritage.
How have these vastly different roles both brought something to your life, and helped to build your current identity and gender expression? I was fortunate enough to be raised by strong, Jewish women and so it’s been a long time since I felt any shame in exploring or expressing femininity. To me, drag has always been something liberating and exciting. In many ways, wearing a bin-man uniform felt more like ‘drag’ than wearing a ball-gown, as it had been many years since I’d occupied such a predominantly cis and heterosexual space. Living these parallel lives only confirmed what I already knew to be true- that gender is a spectrum that we all experience and express differently.
Which parts of your production are you most looking forward to sharing at the Vault Festival? I play a lot of characters in the show; including a French bulldog called Caitlyn who I’m very excited for people to meet. While I don't want to give too much away, the play’s final moment took me a lot of training to achieve and I think is the ideal ending to the journey we’ve embarked upon together… Not to mention the fact I’ll be serving some looks, honey!
How has your approach changed from performing to just your friends on Zoom, to now a live audience? My makeup takes a lot longer without those Zoom filters! Honestly, while theatre offers very different possibilities for expression and connection to an online platform, my approach is the same: I seek to combine the unifying effect of communal laughter with the gender euphoria that drag provides to entertain, empower and educate an audience, whether they’re watching at home in their PJs or at the Vaults in a Louis Vuitton gown. I prefer Primark myself, but each to their own.
How do you think life would be different if the pandemic had never hit, and would you have still got to where you are now without it? I was actually living in Shanghai when COVID hit, and had planned to only be coming home around this year… so I think it’s safe to say my life would have been extremely different. As many experienced, the pandemic brought a lot of new challenges into my life. However, the down-time from performing really got me writing in earnest and passionate about creating my own work. The show reflects this; it’s about finding treasure amongst the trash and making something fabulous in less-than-fabulous circumstances.
What have you learnt about yourself while creating this show? At conception, I expected Wasteman to be a pure comedy. What I ended up with was something more personal. Writing the play has been a healing process for me; the obstacles to Wasteman’s happiness mirror those I’ve overcome in my own life as a queer person, so creating it really did feel cathartic at times. I hope that the piece can bring strength and comfort to those watching with similar lived experiences, or indeed anyone who ever got made to feel like they were less than just for being themselves.
What message do you intend to promote through performing?
Whether you’re picking up trash or gender-bending for cash, you can always take the garbage and making it gorgeous!
What a perfect way to end the interview! Thanks so much to Joe for taking part in this- it sounds like an excellent show, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it soon.
Get your tickets to Wasteman here:
Additional thanks to Lydia Savva for coordinating this interview.