shrek 666 is the drag star making ogres sexy
The Scottish performer tells us why we should all go be going green.
Photography Trackie McLeod
Fort William looks fucking idyllic. The peaceful town sits on the shores of Loch Linnhe in the Scottish Highlands, right next to Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom. I’d like you to imagine growing up there. Are you joyfully hiking its forest trails and skiing its nearby slopes? Or are you hating it because you’re queer, coming of age, and nobody bloody understands you? Sorcha Clelland, now happily based in Glasgow, identifies with the second scenario. “It was a town like Twin Peaks, surrounded by mountains with a big saw mill,” they tell us. “It felt very still to me. Not a lot happens in Fort William. It was not easy growing up queer there... it’s got space to feel, but not space to be.”
It was through watching movies like Party Monster and Pink Flamingos that a then 13-year-old Sorcha discovered the kind of drag that they related to; the kind that got them thinking “get me on the first Stagecoach oot the highlands!”. That Stagecoach ultimately dropped them off in Glasgow, where they studied at Glasgow School of Art and fell in with the good people at the city’s queer club night Shoot Your Shot, which they’re now a resident performer at as Shrek 666.
But how exactly does one wind up doing ogre drag? “In the beginning, there was a want to work around Scottish identity and a Scottish ‘masculinity’,” they explain. “Then I was into keynote green as a skin tone and the parallel to a greenscreen and the possibilities that holds. This worked with the idea of that Dreamworks cartoon Shrek too. Besides, an ogre is really just your average Scottish da.” After a few short-term projects -- including a solo exhibition called Sex at the New Glasgow Society, for which Sorcha designed clothes and masks from PVC, latex and meat; and their GSA graduate show, which doubled as Shrek 666's funeral, with Sorcha laying in a smoke-filled tank for 30 hours -- they decided to keep the character going.
When pondering the reason why, there’s a quote by gender theorist Halberstam that Sorcha refers to: ‘The gothic monsters that threaten and terrify us are never gothic unitary, but always an aggregate of race, class and gender.’ “Terror is accessible, people love horror, but also to laugh,” Sorcha reasons. “In many ways our fears unite us, but to make that funny is to relieve us. So it’s this understanding of a self-made impermanently altered body as cultural and disturbing, and displaying that in an obvious and silly way.”
Fear and fun, that's what Sorcha (AKA Shrek 666) is all about.
First up, when somebody asks what you do, what do you tell them?
I make club work that’s accessible because art institutions won't accept it yet. We are humans, but to be human is something unnatural and alienated from its landscape. That’s why we should all go green, and save the world.
Indeed. Can you tell us about Shrek 666 and how you developed the character?
My dissertation unpacked transnormativity through representation in the sub-genre of psycho-trans horror film. It analysed performing a kind of trans rage that Susan Stryker writes about; embodying the aggression of a trans identity. The contradiction of obvious opposites. It’s a version of that association; self-defined versus subject to a professor or mob. When you lack representation to the extent that me and my friends do, to reach to this rejection of realness and correctiveness became important, so did refusing to remit a stability.
And where did the name come from?
Mythology and folktales always interested me. The original William Steig book SHREK! conveys this supper relatable ogre, y’know? He looks big and scary but he’s just tryna live his life. The 666 came from straight from hell.
Do you remember your first time performing as Shrek 666?
Yes. I edited “Like A Virgin” to ‘like an onion’ and ate some onions.
Delicious. And these days, what should people expect from a typical show?
It really depends on the venue and their health and safety regulations. I don’t put up barriers. I just want to make a live art swamp anyone can wander into, and be polluted or inspired.
How do you feel when you’re all dragged up?
Uncomfortable, underneath all that. It’s like there’s a barrier between me and another person. I need an event to focus toward to do what I need to. The character excites me and I always find some way to do something for someone who makes me welcome and that gives me real energy.
Do you make your own masks and costumes?
Of course! No one else could. I feel I need to make it myself because there’s little else I would or could buy. I make all my own prosthetics and about 80% of the clothes. I love the visceral process of sculpting out the next incarnation. The opportunity to reconstruct the face before I put it on is part of the process I love. I’ve been constructing a few things in latex recently and loving that. It’s impossible to find decent quality fetish wear in my budget and size.
Have you always loved dressing up?
What does Shoot Your Shot mean to you?
Shoot Your Shot is an independent queer club night founded and run by Bonzai Bonner, a super talented DJ & promoter. It’s a club that goes beyond venue and location, it brings together a community. When asked to perform I was so excited, and over a year later I’m a resident. They never let me go. Shoot Your Shot actively facilitates a space as free from transphobia and misogyny as possible, both issues I’ve dealt with working elsewhere extensively.
How’d your funeral go? It looked fab.
My degree show-slash-funeral was intense. I was lying in that tank for hours each day, surrounded by smoke in a full body latex prosthetic. Most people thought it was a body cast or sculpture, but I was in there! 30 hours over 10 days, dissolving the lines between subject and object in the ultimate act of submission! The public prodded and poked me with no consent but at least now, through that, I am reborn. RIP
What did Glasgow School of Art teach you?
Not a lot. It was an institution in the right place at the right time that helped me do what I needed to. I met some great people but the institution is failing its students. I was met with dissonance at first, making club, cabaret and drag work, and I think that really pulls into question the social value of queer labour and practice.
If Shrek 666 was a wrestler, what would their theme song be?
Minty, “Useless Man”.
Last but not least: why are ogres like onions?
We are complicated!