An interview with Dr Adam Perchard - an eccentric writer and performer | Wacky Zine
Interviewed and edited by Heather Waterfield.
Illustration by Heather Waterfield. Original photo by Peanut Factory Studio, 2020. 36 Instagram: @peanutfactorystudio
I met Adam through an immersive classical performance of The Nutcracker we were both involved in through Vox Vanguard International. I found his flamboyant nature and positive energy so inspiring and empowering. Long brunette hair flowing, Adam tells me about his multi-faceted creative career. He is many things, but a performer and a writer at the heart. Alongside writing plays and working on his novel, Adam writes comedy for his queer musical sketch cabaret group, Sex Shells. From growing up in India as a child opera star, to moving back to the UK, his wings were clipped for the first time at age 15. The difference in cultural attitudes towards a young boy singing female opera parts was vast. After working as an academic and studying his PHD, Adam went through a nervous breakdown. "It was my body going 'Stop, stop, stop! This isn’t what you want to do!' So I started finding my way back into performing and making things.
“It’s been a question of trying to recapture this little lovely, weird, queenie child that I used to be. I would just wander around the garden in improvised dresses that I’d made, cloaks, endless cloaks, and I would sing songs to the daffodils to make them grow. Little singing, witchy, queenie kid. I didn’t give a sh*t, I just did whatever I wanted… You try on so many different selves when you’re a child, you can be a princess, a fireman (not that I was ever a fireman). Even now I think just flinging yourself into something without fear is wonderful."
Adam tells me about his school days. "I faced quite a lot of bullying, which was to do with my size but also my extreme gayness. I was this incredibly camp opera singer who wore brightly coloured outfits... this weird, gay... I want to say butterfly but it’s probably something more like a flamboyant chicken or something!"
We discuss Adam’s experience of imposter syndrome. "I went to university and I was surrounded by people who were very forceful about their creative ideas, which just made me slightly curl up inside... it was part of the breakdown, this growing sense of this huge list of things that I didn’t know, of my huge ignorance. Worrying that in any of these fields that I like to work in, visual art, costume design, acting, writing or singing, that there were people in each of those fields that were better than me, and that I was this jack-of-all-trades imposter. So, it’s been about trying to believe a bit more. I remember my art teacher saying 'There’s nothing new under the sun, everything has been done.' That was so crushing to 15-year-old me, at the time I thought 'That’s bo**ocks', but it did stay with me. But I realised that we can’t really be anything but original, because no one else has had the life that we’ve had. Everything comes through the prism of you."
Do you find it easy to be yourself?
"It’s quite an active process for me, not letting myself get bogged down by what people think... You know the way that ducks are waterproof because they have some gland? You’ve got to rub your beak and your special gland... These moments when instincts well up, this anxiety or sorrow or fear, and you find you’ve disappeared into it, shrinking. I've found myself deserted by myself at really important moments, it’s always been bound up with anxiety. Back in the day when I was an academic there were a few times where I'd be in high pressure situations, at a job interview or meeting a really famous professor or something, and the anxiety would well up and I would just disappear. Often I would use makeup as a mask, it was a way of trying to keep myself there, but it became a mask because I would disappear behind it. I’d be aware that there was this painted face, but behind it there was just barbed wire of anxiety and a little mouse hiding under it.
"After I came out I had this real sense of 'I’ve come out now, I’m not going to be unhappy anymore, everything is going to be okay, being gay is not going to be hard, it’s going to be fine'. I think I was aware on some level that I’d gone from being a white middle class male who life was going to be pretty easy for, to being gay which is a bit trickier in lots of ways, but I’d never go back.
"Little traumas would happen and some bigger traumas. I’d encounter homophobia and then tuck them away and not think about them. A small boy in York once threw a small stick at me and shouted 'Ga-ay!' Another time I was walking down the road with my friend Liv, and these people wound down the window of a car and shouted 'fag' at me or something... Seeing how upset she was about it made me start to acknowledge that it was upsetting for me as well, and I hadn't let myself think about that, but it’s there.
"I’ve got a really lovely group of friends now who are all weirdos, a couple of them have real jobs but most of them are weird, lovely, artist, writers. I think you can build a little community of other eccentrics and that way you can become a little flock and its easier."
Adam tells me about his regular trips to the Edinburgh Fridge Festival with the other members of Sex Shells, arriving with suitcases filled with outfits. "I wear a different costume every day, maybe a medieval prince silhouette made of barbie iridescent pink fabric, or I’ll wear massive platforms and have this huge feather ruff and be this golden superhero god. It’s that dressing up is when I feel the most me... It’s something I adore, when you’re just dressing up to go about your daily life, in town."
“It’s quite scary when you go out, it’s like a political statement.” Adam tells me what it's like dealing with the attention he gets on the street. "Sometimes you feel brave and ready, and you want to leave the house wearing something fu****g nuts and you know people are going to look, and that’s fine let them look. Sometimes you feel like you’re going to feel that way, and you leave the house wearing something mad and you just think 'Ugh... Jesus Christ, everyone’s looking at me. Don’t look at me! I know I’m wearing a fascinator made of pasta but I’m shy!' This going out dressed up and being very visibly queer like me, I’ve got to do it because if I wear black and stand in the corner, it doesn’t work for me."
Adam explains how although people react positively, having experienced homophobia sometimes makes him feel defensive. "I was so ready for it to be there, because when you’re ready for it then it’s less shocking because it doesn’t hurt you. It’s been part of my journey back to my flouncy youth, trying to tear down some of the walls and be a bit more vulnerable, get upset about it if it happens, but also not expect that it will.”
Adam tells ‘Wacky’ about the historical inspiration for Sex Shells, and the bleak underside to the crazy druggy sex parties back in the day where people lost their lives. "Sex Shells was a really good way of us being able to meditate on what had happened, but also being able to talk about it. Comedy is a really powerful way of talking about things, because there's so much nuance in there, you can be funny but also heartbroken at the same time. It was therapeutic for us but it was for a lot of people who came to see us who’d been in that scene, to be able to laugh. It’s painful and it’s hilarious, most of life is like that really, isn’t it?"
What does Eccentricity mean to you?
"For me it's joined up with the idea of creativity, for people to live off-centre like that requires a certain amount of creative thought, even if they’re not making art. Am I an artist because I’m eccentric, or am I eccentric because I’m an artist? There’s something about not living in that centre of society, living on the margins, being able to look back at the people, that’s a really good place to make art from. That’s why there are quite a lot of queer artists, they’re already a bit of an outsider.”
We discuss separating our own desires from those given to us by society. "To what extent are we reflections of our society? It's so hard to tell the difference. We can never know that we’re entirely free, we exist within so many little, tiny filaments of control. There are always little threads linking us to these awful power structures, and notions of hierarchy, we can see some of them and snip them off, deliberately free ourselves, but many of them we never even know about, we never see them working."
Adam and I discuss society's expectations, marriage, having a house, children, and the pressure on straight males to provide enough money to support the family. "Suddenly it felt like their lives were on rails, rather than being able to flap about in any direction they wanted, suddenly there were these steel train tracks heading over the horizon, that they had to get on... it just felt and it still feels very oppressive."
Image above by Soho theatre.
Above: Instagram post by @dr.adam.perchard, at Soho Theatre. Our big opening last night was bloody glorious, 2019.
Follow Adam on Instagram: @dr.adam.perchard @sexshells
'Wacky Zine' is a mental health magazine that challenges societal norms, celebrating eccentricity, creative expression and authenticity. This zine aims to delve deeper into what eccentricity really means, by speaking to people who have the ability to express themselves more fully and authentically than many of us. ‘Wacky’ explores the effect creative expression has on mental well-being and overall happiness. Through interviews with the 'black sheep', the people who 'go against the grain' and don’t conform to society’s expectations, ‘Wacky’ attempts to uncover more about the lifelong journey towards self-acceptance we all face. Let's reclaim the word eccentric, a label which is so often used negatively to describe people who are strange or crazy.
Being different is nothing to be ashamed of.