Battle of the Vaccines: Karen vs. Dolly Parton, 2021
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Hannah Lawless (she/they) is an NHS nurse by day and a professional wrestler, drag king and performance artist by night. They use wrestling in cabaret and digital stages to make satirical, political and queer performance. Whilst counterbalancing the intensity of their job with the silliness of their art, they carry that tension through to their process, juxtaposing potent messages with the ridiculous and camp. By framing wrestling in a Live Art context, they politicise violence in a literal call to action, whilst contradicting it with an irreverent tone.
"Wrestling is essentially drag: a physical performance with elaborate costumes, storytelling and characters. Wrestling is always good guy vs bad guy – and it is almost always guys." At a Hannah Lawless show, expect to cheer, boo and dive deep into social, cultural and political issues via pro wrestling – the ultimate form of queer physical theatre.
Lawless started wrestling by embodying concepts (Brexit, the patriarchy, Karen) because wrestling is an absurd way to explore cultural discourse with humour and spectacular delivery.
Lawless's work enables the audience to participate by exploring rage: how it is expressed and who is allowed to do so. They make space for the pro-wrestling trope encouraging spectators to scream, boo and cheer. The audience has a voice and their role in the piece is vital – they can make or break a performance. Lawless wants people to scream about injustice, Covid and the inequalities in our society because it's cathartic, good for mental health, and particularly important in the context of the pandemic, as people are angry and isolated.
"Wrestling is essentially drag: a physical performance with elaborate costumes, storytelling and characters. Wrestling is always good guy vs bad guy – and it is almost always guys."Hannah Lawless
Stills from Hannah Lawless, Battle of the Vaccines: Karen vs. Dolly Parton, 2021
Filmed performance (10 min 38 sec), PANIC! Bursary, courtesy of The Tetley
Image: Hannah Lawless
Creator, Karen and Rich Tea (commentator): Hannah Lawless / Rich Tea @richtea_drag
Dolly Parton: Marie Sophie Koehl @mari_e_onette
Editing: Jenny Handley / Janina Smith / Richard Energy @richard_energy
Hair and Make-up: Donna the Domme @donnathedomme
Filming: Elliot Farrell @bforreal92
Dolly’s Voice: Mabel Syrup @ms_mabel_syrup
Location: Centre for Live Arts Yorkshire @clayleeds
Funding & Support: PANIC! At The Tetley
Discover the other PANIC! bursary artists
This work is presented as part of the PANIC! (Promoting an Artists' Network in the Crisis) series of bursaries.
Earlier this year, PANIC! awarded four artists in Leeds City Region £5,000 and £1,000 bursaries to support the making of a new contemporary visual artwork or project. The bursaries offered space to create a voice and help us think through the new psychological, social and cultural conditions we face today.
For the £1,000 bursaries:
Kevin Devonport and Hannah Lawless
For the £5,000 bursaries:
alabamathirteen and Thahmina Begum