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Grace Carroll and Joseph Winer - Drag Baby Interview

Following the critically acclaimed Wet, Grace Carroll’s new play will be coming to Pleasance London this June. A compelling blend of drag performance and theatre, Drag Baby follows the lives of misanthropic drag queen Dan, and his estranged ex-girlfriend, Sally, who reappears in his life to make an all-important request. The pair rekindle their long-lost friendship as Dan decides whether or not to be Sally and her girlfriend’s sperm donor.

Directed by Joseph Winer, this heart-warming story is sprinkled with outrageously entertaining drag. Winer is known best for VAULT favourite I F*cked You in My Spaceship, which won the Origins Award for Outstanding New Work before transferring to Soho Theatre last year. Following a 5-star work-in-progress run at the King's Head Theatre in 2022, Drag Baby is now set to impress at Pleasance London’s Downstairs Studio, for a 3-week run.

Drag Baby is a queer-led and hilarious narrative, telling a story of friendship, legacy and chosen family. Grappling between his old and new life, Dan must put his fame obsession to one side to make a life-changing decision. Now, he must think about more than getting on TV and decide whether to follow a nobler pursuit: sperm donation. Relationships are renewed and strained, and while drag mentee Nathan struggles to come to terms with Dan’s arrangement, chosen families come together.

Ahead of the run in London we caught up with writer Grace Carroll and director Joseph Winer to learn more.

Where did your arts career begin?
GraceI’ve always written in some form or another, whether it was short stories, poetry or just general ramblings. In terms of my playwriting journey, I first began writing in collaboration with a friend, Bryony Cole, who is now doing great things in Amsterdam. We wrote a play ‘WET’ together that we produced in London and then in Amsterdam about female sexual pleasure. I then started writing short pieces by myself, which I toured around various scratch nights in London. ‘Drag Baby’ actually began as a short scratch piece!

JosephI joined a local Youth Theatre when I was 11 and then a few years later began directing productions with them in a voluntary role. In the years that followed I basically turned my volunteering into my job, working a lot in arts education at theatres such as Shakespeare's Globe and The Old Vic. Whilst this was going on, I also started working Front of House at my local theatre, and joined a "Young Producers" scheme that they were running, which gave me a great understanding of all the different roles in the arts. I've been working in some capacity in the arts ever since!

When did you know that this was the career for you?
Joseph: I'd say probably from a pretty young age. I attended a local youth theatre which was really supportive and gave me loads of brilliant opportunities. I directed my first show, a musical with a cast of 7–11-year-olds, when I was only a young teen myself, and knew from then I wanted to work in the arts in one way or another. I loved working as part of a creative team and collaboratively bringing all the elements of a production together. I remember turning 16 and trying to get a job in my local theatre - it took a bit of perseverance, but they let me in eventually! I'm not sure what I'd do really if I wasn't working in the arts. I'm not very good at much else!

Grace: I’ve always loved writing stories. I have a memory of someone asking me what I wanted to do at five years old and I said actor and writer. Then the acting fell away but the writing has always bubbled up in the background. My dad was very involved in am dram theatre and used to write the local pantomime when I was young, and I would sit beside him watching him write the scripts. I imagine this might have been a bit unnerving to have a silent eight year oldbeside you whilst you’re trying to write, but I was just fascinated by the process. My dad was also a musician and because of that I never felt a creative career was out of reach for me, but I also knew it would mean a lot of hustling and would never be easy, but it would always be worth it.

What can you tell me about Drag Baby?
Grace: Drag Baby is weirdly a very personal play. Although I am nothing really like the characters in the play, there’s little pieces of me in all of them. On the surface it’s a play about a drag queen deciding whether or not to give his sperm to his ex-girlfriend and ex best friend, filled with fun drag sequences, laughs and twists and turns.It’s a lot about Sally and her relationship with being a bisexual woman wanting to have a child with her female partner, and the feelings that can come with that. But on a deeper level it’s about the want we all have inside for family and connection. And how sometimes, if you’re queer, you have to construct a little family for yourself. It’s about love and growing up, and allowing yourself to be loved by the people that want to love you.  

JosephDrag Baby is a play which interweaves drag performance into the writing to tell a story about a drag queen having to decide whether or not to become a sperm donor. It feels a bit like a soap opera episode, with huge drama but also hilarious one liners all packed together in a 75 minute rollercoaster of a show. I don't want to give much away, but there's lots of twists and turns in the story; you'll be laughing in one moment and then be hit with something really poignant the next. I think it's about lots of things all at once, but probably most prominently about what it means to have a family as a queer person.
Where did the inspiration for the piece come from?
Grace: I was in a place in my life where I was obsessed with drag queens and wanted to write something with a drag queen character. I was devouring Ru Pauls Drag Race and watching documentaries and Paris is Burning on a loop. My friend was also working in a fertility clinic at the time and was working with a lot of LGBT+ couples. I remember this one story in particular where two women in a relationship couldn’t agree on who should carry the baby. This and drag queens became fused in my head and ‘Drag Baby’ was born.

What attracted you to this piece?
Joseph: I was so excited when this script landed in my inbox back in 2020. I'd been searching for a new project and a mutual connection of mine and Grace's put us in touch. There was so much that got me excited on a first read. Firstly, the fact it interweaves drag performances into the script I thought was really original and innovative. I love musical theatre and how music or dance can be used to help tell the story, and felt this was doing a similar sort of thing. I was also starting to get really into drag, cabaret and more alternative performance at the time, so it was really cool to see this blend with new writing. I also found myself really attached to the themes and the characters, particularly Dan's central conflict: he's a gay man who has to decide whether or not to become a parent, which is a theme that comes up a lot within my work. I've always been really interested in biological legacy - what it means to pass on your genes - particularly as a queer person. Lots of this play is really tackling this head on. 

How did you approach the writing and development of this piece?
Grace: I started with the characters, which I always start with when writing anything. You’ve got to know your characters before you know what they would do in any situation. ‘Drag Baby’ started as a short piece, and I just had the characters Dan and Sally. I spent a lot of time, thinking about them, what their childhood was, before I even thought about the plot. Then I worked on Nathan. I wanted a character to explore the more alternative world of drag. Nathan was my embodiment of the real “F U I don’t care if you like it” style of drag I love, where Dan is very much the old school camp style that is designed to be entertaining. Nathan and Sandra’s personality was heavily borrowed by people close to me. Then the plot was figured out very slowly, mostly with a lot of iced coffee and notes from Joseph. It feels like a joint project as he had so much input in its early development.
How has it been working on the show together?
Grace: It’s been great! What you want as a writer is someone who pushes you to write your best work. Joseph is not the type of person to flatter you and tell you something is great when it’s clearly not. He’s got strong ideas about what works and doesn’t work, and he doesn’t let you run with something that isn’t the best it can be. We also both have a real sense of fun, and that theatre should be entertaining above all else. I love that he’s not a snob, the first thing we properly bonded over was ‘Desperate Housewives’, a truly iconic camp show. We’ve bonded over the process. Sometimes it’s hard to form real friendships when working together

JosephI have loved working with Grace on this project! We gelled really quickly when we first met, which was in 2020 just before the first lockdown. We ended up working together over zoom/email and I supported Grace with some script development. I love working with writers on new plays and Grace is a super collaborative playwright who was really open to feedback to push her work further. I think we have a lot of overlap in the kind of work we like and what we think makes good theatre (as well as what we think is a bit cringe!!), so our working relationship has felt very natural. We're really good friends now as well, which is a nice bonus!!
How have you approached the blending of styles in the piece?
Joseph: I think part of it has been treating the drag performances as I would any other scene in the play. Grace has written them with quite a lot of detail in terms of the movement, music etc, and you get a real sense of what the character journey is just from reading the stage directions in these scenes. We spoke a lot about Dan and Nathan's different performance styles (Dan is very traditional, Nathan much more experimental) and how we create this contrast on stage, through everything from movement to costume and lighting. I also had the pleasure of working with a fantastic Movement Director, Olivia Heggs, when originally developing the show in 2022, and also with a brilliant Drag Consultant, Rudy Jeevanjee. As with any piece of song or movement in a show, you think about what's driving the character for the moment to exist, what objective drives them through it, and where does it leave them (and the audience) at the end. 
Grace: I was really keen at the beginning of the process that ‘Drag Baby’ should blur the lines between drag performance and play. I was seeing a lot of amazing drag performances in bars that were so inventive and evocative and wanted to incorporate this. The songs and the clips used in the drag pieces are a lot of what inspired me when writing the play itself. There is a bit of James Baldwin, a bit of Paris is Burning and a lot of Dolly Parton! Joseph, the actors,and our movement director really got what I was trying to do, andhave created something quite beautiful based on my initial ideas. 
If you were a biscuit, what would you be and why?
Grace: I would have to say a chocolate digestive, I’m classic, dependable and I go great with tea. 

JosephI think I'd be a Penguin. I love making people laugh with a terrible joke
What keeps you inspired?
Grace: Everything really; theatre, films, books. I’m a culture vulture. I love a bit of everything. I see a lot of fringe theatre, some of the best plays I have seen have been above pubs. I’m always looking there for writing inspiration. I love anything female and queer. As I think a lot of LGBT theatre work in the past has focused on the male perspective. I love music but I’m really not a musician, so I can listen to great songs and just think about how they make me feel and not think about how they were made. A lot of ‘Drag Baby’ was inspired by certain songs I loved. I created playlists for all the characters and thought about what they would listen toI’m inspired by queer musicians artists and bands such as Boygenius, Chappel Roan, Muna. I love seeing queer woman taking more of a centre stage culturally and taking on the world. 

JosephI'm always inspired by good theatre! Especially by the sort of work I wouldn't necessarily make myself. I think we can learn a lot from other art forms, and I'm trying increasingly to draw on television, film or even paintings or gallery work when making theatre. I'm very inspired by other artists, especially brilliant writers who have exciting new stories to tell. I'm also really inspired by young people! I work a lot in arts education with children and seeing how they work together and particularly how free their imaginations are is really inspiring. 
What do you hope the audience takes away from seeing Drag Baby?
Grace: That’s a tricky one! I hope they come away not thinking they have wasted their money and they should have gotten a couple of pints in instead! I kid. But seriously I hope they come away feeling seen on some level. I’ve tried to create characters that have a lot of flaws but are real and vulnerable. The play is about how we all have the right to love, connection and family. I think queer people in particular can struggle with feeling like they do deserve these things. I hope they come away feeling affirmed, moved but hopeful and joyous.

JosephFirst and foremost, I hope they are left feeling really entertained! I think this is theatre's main purpose. I think theatre can educate, galvanise, inspire, and do all sorts of things, but I think keeping an audience engaged, excited, etc should be the first priority. I hope it gets them thinking about what it means to have a family, especially for queer people. I think if there's one message the play leaves you with it's that you can actually choose your own family. Family doesn't have to be the people who raised you, or gave birth to you etc. Family can be the people who support us in our day-to-day lives, who love you for being your true, authentic self. I also hope audiences leave debating in the bar afterwards! None of the characters in this play are two-dimensional. They're all super complex and flawed and I don't think it's super clear-cut who is right or wrong in this show, which I think makes for great drama!  

Drag Baby plays at Pleasance London, Downstairs from Tuesday 4th until Saturday 22nd June. Tickets are available from

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