Mason Alexander Park on The Pansy Craze at Underbelly Boulevard

Fresh from treading the boards in the leading role in the critically acclaimed West End production of Cabaret, and following on from receiving critical acclaim in New York, Mason Alexander Park is getting ready to take their show The Pansy Craze to Soho’s Underbelly Boulevard.

Written with Hunter Bird, the show chronicles multiple periods in history where queerness was celebrated before being made illegal. Playing for just three performances this weekend from Friday to Sunday in Underbelly’s new space, we caught up with Park to find out more about the show.

Q&A with Mason Alexander Park

What can you tell us about the inspiration for The Pansy Craze?

The main inspiration for writing this show has been my own realization that we are currently living through what I would consider a contemporary Pansy Craze. The original Pansy Craze of the 1920’s and 30s was a period of time in which queerness was celebrated, commodified, consumed, and then criminalized… some of the highest paid performers in New York City at the time were female impersonators, pansies, and drag acts.

Prohibition forced people of many social classes to get their booze from the same speakeasies, many of which featured LGBTQ+ performers, leading to a surge of popularity in queer entertainment. However tolerance quickly waned after prohibition, and a moral crackdown that targeted queer people, and especially gender non conforming people swept the nation, effectively ending The Pansy Craze and the lives of countless queer people.

I’ve always been drawn to the music of the time, and can’t help but feel an eerie parallel to what we are experiencing today with such a harsh anti-trans rhetoric becoming mainstream in politics here in the UK and in the US… with many laws being proposed that mirror some from the 1930s. So the show came from a place of wanting to be in dialog with a period of history that many people don’t know about… especially in a time in which people feign ignorance about queer history in favor of pretending that gender non conformists and transgender people are a contemporary concept… when history begs to differ.

What can audiences expect from the show?

Audiences can expect to be taken on a quick tour of mainstream music that toyed with gender and sexuality from the last 100 years… beginning with some of my favorite pansy songs of the 20s and 30s and leading up to queer songs from the last decade. It’s part history lesson, part cabaret, part rock concert. You can expect some wonderful guest performers like Sally Frith, Joe Black, and Divina Di Campo to stop by and lend their gorgeous voices to a song or two… backed by an amazing band led by my brilliant musical director Tom Knowles!

How does it feel to be taking the show to Underbelly Boulevard?

After working with Underbelly on the brilliant West End revival of Cabaret, I was honored to be asked if I had any interest in performing at their Underbelly Boulevard space. Immediately we looked for a gap in the schedule to find time to bring The Pansy Craze to London as soon as possible. The space is absolutely gorgeous, and I feel lucky to get to be a part of the early days of the venue.

Is there anything you hope audiences take away from the show?

I hope that audiences leaving the theatre will have a better understanding that queer history isn’t composed of a series of isolated events, and instead is a continuum of moments characterized by patterns of expression and moralistic backlash. If we can acknowledge the patterns and understand that these conversations around sexuality and gender have been happening for centuries, we can finally break them.

How does performing your own work compare to performing in something like Cabaret?

I think it’s way more anxiety inducing to be performing something you’ve written rather than someone else’s work… if someone doesn’t like the story or the book of piece of theatre I’m a part of like Cabaret, I don’t feel personally responsible. However if someone starts falling asleep during something you’ve written yourself… it’s hard not to take it personally. I’m lucky to have a brilliant co creator in my friend Hunter Bird, who has directed the show with such joy and continues to shape it into something that gets better each time we mount it. I care deeply about The Pansy Craze and the community the show is able to create in such a small amount of time, that I tend not to think too much about anything else other than making sure everyone involved is having a good time. It’s meant to be a party, but one that I want to curate and enjoy simultaneously.

The Pansy Craze with Mason Alexander Park is at Underbelly Boulevard from 29 March to 31 March 2024