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QWU's crowning glory

Mon 10 May 2010 In: Events View at Wayback View at NDHA

Jonathan Smith has raised $145,000 for HIV/AIDS charities and set a Guinness World record with his madcap beauty pageant Queen of the Whole Universe. Though he is proud of these achievements, they are not his proudest achievement. For the event's founder and creative director, the show's crowning glory is the impact it has had on the lives of the more 500 people who have been involved since its inception in 2004. "I'm really proud that we've raised that money.  Because it's quite difficult to put a huge show on in a theatre for one night and come out with a few dollars. And I'm really proud of that we're putting out a covert HIV awareness message," he says. "But I think ultimately what I'm really proud of is the sense of achievement on people's faces. That after they get off that stage on that one night – and I think back to the way they were two months ago, three months ago, six months ago – they might have come to me unsure about their sexual orientation, they might have just come out as being gay or lesbian and not sure where they fit within the community." Smith gives the example of a woman in her 60s who was mourning her husband and joined up with the production seeking something totally new to help her with the grief process. "This is a heterosexual who comes into predominantly a queer environment and gets the support from our community," he says. Tickets have gone on sale for the seventh Queen of The Whole Universe, which will be held at Auckland's ASB Theatre on November 6. Smith says just thinking about Queen of the Whole Universe reaching seven shows sends shivers down his spine. "Who would even think that in 2002, when I watched the documentary where I got the idea, two years to put it together and get sponsorship, then in 2004 we opened. Who would even think, seven years down the track, a show of this type would still be going?" Smith says not only has the show lasted seven years, but it also has productions eight and nine lined up for 2011. The eighth will be held in March to coincide with the launch of the AsiaPacific Outgames in Wellington, and then a Manukau show will be run in October 2011 during the final stages of the Rugby World Cup. Barby Prawn Queen of the Universe pits women of all kinds, whether male, female, straight or gay, against each other in a mock pageant. The contestants represent different nations and their performances are inspired by this. Winners in recent years include Miss Oz "Barby Prawne" and Miss Transylvania "Nora Vein". Smith estimates around 80 percent of the crowd that attends is heterosexual, something which initially shocked him. But he realised it was because many were friends and family of the cast and crew. "This show is actually quite unique, where on stage it's predominantly queer, for want of a better word. But it's more a heterosexual audience." This realisation led him to not only change his approach to seeking sponsorship, but also to think carefully about what the audience would want to see on stage. "They actually wanted to see something that was a little camp onstage – and they didn't necessarily want to see drag either. They wanted to see something quite different to drag." Smith says he never ceases to be amazed at the level of originality among the performers, particularly in the Headgear of Nations section, which he says leaves him blown away every year. He says the performers who make it through to the demanding Act Two, where they each have a five minute artistic piece, also constantly leave him with a drooping jaw. "I just think where the hell did this talent come from?" he says. Smith picks who will make it through to Act 2 months before the show. "I don't take people that are known on the drag scene. I take somebody that I've seen the show the year beforehand that I know has got some skill – and say do you want to give this a go? And every year they blow me away. They blow me away with what they do." The November 6 Auckland show will feature drag legend Carmen as a guest judge, something Smith is excited about. "Connecting with somebody from the past, somebody who has had a major impact on our community -to bring her over while she's still ok to travel is very exciting for us." Queen of the Whole Universe: Auckland, 6 November 2010, ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGE .  Click here to buy tickets Kitten Power - 10th May 2010    

Credit: Kitten Power

First published: Monday, 10th May 2010 - 8:14am

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