A Conversation with Jessica Lemes Da Silva, Playwright of ‘God’s A Drag’

We recently had the privilege of sitting down with Jessica Lemes Da Silva, playwright behind Playwright Theatre Centers New Play Prize winner “God’s A Drag,”. In a heartfelt conversation, she shared her journey as an artist, from a background in music and sound design to the world of playwriting.

The play, exploring the intersection of drag performance and divine worship, invites audiences to reflect on themes of identity, faith, and acceptance. Through Nevaeh’s journey of self-discovery and the genderqueer pastor’s narrative, Jessica hopes to spark meaningful conversations about the intersections of queerness and religion.

Congratulations on winning the New Play Prize competition. Can you share a bit about your journey as a playwright and how it feels to receive this recognition for your work?

My original art was and is music, I studied oboe performance and then later on sound design at Vancouver film school. However, I’ve always written in secret, and it was usually focused on writing for screen. It was in the SFU Writer’s Studio in 2019 that I started to play with writing for audio dramas. Then I found PTC, where they have so many amazing programs for writers! I went to their Block A and started writing for stage. I owe PTC so much! Receiving this recognition was like validation that I should keep going. It was a real cheering on of “yes, people want to talk, see, hear, and/or discuss this work. Keep going.”

What excites you most about showcasing “God’s A Drag” at the Vancouver Fringe Festival?

It’s a coming together! Coming together as an artist, coming together as an audience, it’s going to be a party (I hope). As a queer woman who is deconstructing and reclaiming her Catholicism, I haven’t been to church/mass in a long time. So, I kind of want this to be a “calling in” for all the queer folks who have been pushed out of faith spaces, to be like “Let’s come together today and show our communities — both queer and faith— that we are here!”.

What inspired you to explore the intersection of drag performance and divine worship in this play?

One of my best friends, delfin bautista (they/them) growing up wanted to be a priest. As they grew into knowing they are Trans, they couldn’t be that in the Catholic church. And one day, delfin asked an online community, “who would be interested in watching a sermon in drag?” And then a light bulb went on in my brain, and I was like, yes! It’s been an idea of mine to write this story ever since.
Your synopsis mentions themes of coming out religiously and sexually, as well as reclaiming faith.

Can you elaborate on the significance of these themes in “God’s A Drag,” and what messages or insights you hope audiences will take away?

The play follows the gender queer pastor, but also the journey of a young adult, Nevaeh, who’s in their late teens, and is in the process of figuring things out about their identity and sexuality. They know they like doing drag, but they also know they like going to church. They’re just beginning to understand their queerness through drag, and then they’re kind of coming out to their secular parent as being a Christian. 

The message I’m hoping younger queer folks take away is that – YES, be queer – And yes, be religious – you can hold a set of religious values and be queer. And if your religious space DOES NOT support that…find the allies, the communities, because they are out there.

What challenges did you encounter while writing “God’s A Drag,” and how did you overcome them?

Have I overcome them? It’s a process. I needed to do a lot of research in Drag and figure out how I can put this beautiful art in a space that is reverent, and I’m still exploring and defining this. I want to make this play a bridge, specifically for queer Catholics. That’s hard. Especially when church teaching is so clear. 

I realize the change I want to see in the church – it’s going to take more than writing a play. It’s going to take time and relationship building and cracking the old ancient ceiling of the church. But maybe the play is my hammer, one crack at a time. If this play can reach the kid at the Catholic School who secretly (or not in secret) does Drag in their bedroom, AND loves singing in the church choir and loves praying to St. Anthony, AND they want to create change…that’s a crack.

As “God’s A Drag” prepares for its debut at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, what are your hopes for the impact it will have on the local community and the broader theatrical landscape?

It’s honestly hard to see beyond September, but I hope it’s a conversation starter. Bring your grandmas, your conservative aunty, your gay uncles, your neighbours, your religion teacher who’s an ally. And if need be we can say “I disagree with you, and I still love you’.  I’m hoping church-going folks can start conversations in their parishes about how to make their places of worship safe, welcoming, and affirming of 2SLGBTQ+ people and their families.

And for the theatre landscape, Drag in Vancouver is incredible! Local Drag artists are pushing the boundaries of what Drag is, and that’s exciting. We have some phenomenal Drag artists here.

What are you most looking forward to most about the Vancouver Fringe Festival, aside from your show.

Oh I love the Fringe! I’m so excited to see what else is on the radar, what are other artists thinking and feeling. I can’t wait!

Catch God’s A Drag this September 5-15th at our 40th anniversary Vancouver Fringe Festival. Want to help? Donate to support Jessica Lemes da Silva in bringing her first play, God’s A Drag, to the 2024 Vancouver Fringe Festival. Donate here: bit.ly/gad-fundraiser


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