Research Stuff – Interview Schedule

INTERVIEWS:

Donna Ria/Ray Miles, Jr. – MONDAY 4/6 Treehouse Coffee Shop 12 pm (in person meeting)

Scarlet Bleu/Jarred Kyser – MONDAY 4/6 4 pm via Skype from Connecticut (met initially in person)

Roxi Starr/Larry Cook – THURSDAY 4/9 at Voyeur Night Club Philadelphia, PA (in person meeting)

Iris Spectre/Dylan Kepp – THURSDAY 4/9 at Voyeur Night Club Philadelphia, PA (in person meeting)

Erika Simone/Erik Koral – THURSDAY 4/9 10 am via Skype from California PT, 1 pm ET (met on Twitter)

Schlomo Steel – FRIDAY 4/10 10pm Skype from Michigan (met on WordPress)

Mary D’Knight – TBD

LOOKINGS

Voyeur Night Club with Ray Miles, Jr. – 4/9 10pm

Wig Shopping with Stacie Luciana – TBD

Drag Queen and Drag Culture Interview Questions

  1. Why drag? What is it about performing in drag that appeals to or inspires you?
  2. What is your drag story? How did you begin performing? Is it your main source of income? Do you have a drag mother or did you begin by some other inspiration?
  3. Would you categorize your drag look, and if so, how?
  4. Tell me about the creation of your character and naming her. What is your relationship with her?
  5. How might you describe your current act and how it evolved?
  6. Describe your preparation process:

*Make up – brands, application, desired outcome *Clothing – costumes vs women’s brands, fashion designers (yay or nay) *Body form – shape “type” (i.e.: pear shaped), foam padding, waist *Rehearsals – music and clips to lip sync and dance to, time and space for

  1. What is your goal on stage? What do you enjoy most about performing?
  2. On a recent episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 7 Ginger Minj was talking about when people ask her why she takes drag so seriously because “It isn’t like curing cancer.” She then told a story of an audience member suffering with cancer who had attended a drag show as to check it off her bucket list. The fan continued to attend shows until she was in hospice at which time Ginger and her fellow drag queens took the show to her. Do you see drag as a healing or comforting agent or do you have a different perspective?
  3. What are your thoughts on RuPaul and RuPaul’s Drag Race?
  4. Do you think drag is becoming mainstream and gaining acceptance in American society? What are your thoughts and feelings on this topic?
  5. Describe the best kind of audience.
  6. Who would you love to perform with if you had your pick of anyone?
  7. Tell me about your most memorable drag performance.
  8. Tell me about the worst drag experience (i.e.: embarrassing, unsuccessful execution, etc.)
  9. Generally speaking is the drag community a supportive sisterhood or a cutthroat industry or something in between? How might you best describe it from your own personal experience?

Venture Inn (to) Beauty

Wednesday night my colleague/friend (BL), her sister (T), and their two nieces (K & D) and I headed out to Philadelphia for their cousin’s drag debut at Venture Inn, one of the oldest gay bars in Philadelphia. The cousin is Billy Cavallo, the National LGBT Ambassador at Stoli USA and host of Venture Inn’s Variety Show. After getting a little turned around in Camden and waiting in deadlocked traffic on the Ben Franklin Bridge we rolled into Old City Philadelphia where the aptly named Gayborhood stands in the city of brotherly love.

Wednesday night my colleague/friend (BL), her sister (T), and their two nieces (K & D) and I headed out to Philadelphia for their cousin’s drag debut at Venture Inn, one of the oldest gay bars in Philadelphia. The cousin is Billy Cavallo, the National LGBT Ambassador at Stoli USA and host of Venture Inn’s Variety Show. After getting a little turned around in Camden and waiting in deadlocked traffic on the Ben Franklin Bridge we rolled into Old City Philadelphia where the aptly named Gayborhood stands in the city of brotherly love.
imageThe bar was in a vintage structure that was not wheelchair accessible, but my friends put their backs into it and lifted me in. Immediately in the door was a 20 foot long bar with stools that curved around and lead to a dining section with ten tables and an open area of about 15 ft. by 15. The bartender greeted us and BL excitedly told him we were there to support Billy and pointed to the shirts they were wearing with his picture (him in silver lame’ hotpants and a rainbow Mr. Venture Inn 2014 sash)  and GO BILLY in gold glittery letters across the top. Someone was already putting a couple tables together for us and I pulled up to the front left corner in order to catch all the action.

Then Billy stepped out as Hedwig from “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, the tortured-transvestite-rock-singer off-Broadway musical (1998), movie (2001) turned Broadway musical (2014). He was well over 6 ft. in 5 inch red heels, black fishnet stockings, and a ripped hem mini skirt. His black sun and moon tee peeking out from his cropped Jean jacket said rock-n-roll while his yellow-blonde wig said fragile. His make up, done by Mary D’Knight (billed as Philadelphia’s premiere Lady Gaga impersonator), brought forth that confused character who wants to be loved. His slight nervousness showed a bit in his face too, but he was thrilled to see his family and himself on their shirts. He went into the streets to promote the show as the seats slowly filled.

From my vantage point at the stage area I could see the entrance and the curve of the bar. As I glanced back to survey the scene they seemed to appear like visions. Amongst the crowd of t-shirt and jean clad men huddled here and there in twos and threes were two majestic queens completely enrobed in their finery. Beverly‘s curves were accentuated by a purple painted-on sweater dress. She was spangled in sparkly jewels and the cutest cat-eye glasses that BL coveted and complimented. Beverly was so gracious in accepting my card and listening to my grad student spiel about researching drag queens and drag culture, and then was off to change for her act. Iris Spectre represented old Hollywood glamour in a high-cut black body suit, black fishnet stockings and a black fascinator in her short adorable flapper-esque curls topped with black plumage. She was giving stunning young Liza Minelli face and sat at the bar daintily with her legs crossed. I spoke to her briefly and said that she looked beautiful. She replied, “Well, don’t you know how to treat a lady.” My response was, “It’s because I am one.”

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Ethereal creatures and me

We settled in to watch the show. Billy started out with the song “Sugar Daddy” from Hedwig and a fun jaunty run around the bar to collect dollar bills that were being offered by admiring audience members. I was prepared with my dollars too, thanks to this post by Schlomo Steel. He was not yet used to standing in heels let alone running in them and was comically out of breath at the end. Later his rendition of “Wig in a Box” got everyone involved. Between his humorous jog and the rousing audience participation he led with lyric cue cards for singing along we were endeared to him even more.

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Mary D’Knight giving us Lady Gaga REALNESS.

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Derriere everywhere

He was followed by Mary in the blue wig and red and black striped dress gyrating and giving us Lady Gaga realness. Most of our conversation during that act was about how great her butt looked and generally how all the queens were representing bo-da-cious! We longed for such curves and I speculated on buying some padding to enhance my own figure, but then realized most of us already do that at the lingerie stores.

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WERK

Then was Zach Ryan an acoustic guitar player who had us jamming to an unplugged version of Sia’s “Chadelier”. He was a finalist in Songbird: The Search for Philly’s Best Singer competition and has definitely honed his chops.

A comedian named Hannah Harkness hopped to the microphone and warmed us with her sex shop and drug paraphernalia humor. I think the funniest turn was when she shared that she is a grad student. It seems all of us have to find a way to feed ourselves. The time of the professional student has passed.

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Beverly disappointed in her candle purchase

Next Bev appeared in an intentionally frumpy get up lip syncing to an edited version of a Youtube video called I MIGHT Boycott Bath & Body Works occasionally cut with some snippets of dance beats. She had us clutching our stomachs with laughter and following her with our gazes around the club as she stomped around with the persona of the angry video poster collecting dollars.

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Thank you for bein’ a friend!

Miss Venture 2013, Scarlet Blue, made an unadvertised guest appearance in a beautiful black and cobalt outfit that brought out the circus ringmaster in her. She gracefully plied and spun to Britney Spears’ “Circus” in the small area like an aerialist and even had she not, her ethereal look was so stunning I think we would have happily sat there and watched her file her nails.

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Scarlet Blue, Miss Venture Inn 2013

Eventually Bev was back out in a polished ensemble of pearls over a black dinner party dress and the ever-present high heels. She entered to Will
Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” and followed it with a Golden Girls’ lip sync number that led to the whole bar singing “Thank You for Being a Friend” and ended with a confetti spray of condoms raining down on us from Bev’s purse to the motto of “No Glove, No Love”. It was the kind of laughing you feel healthier after and that makes the joy in your heart palpable.

Mary D’Knight graced the stage again, this time in full blonde curls, cream colored fishnet stockings and moves to definitely go Gaga over. She was so mesmerizing I forgot to take notes during her act and just kept holding up dollar bills for her to take. She was gold lame’ art in a peekaboo bodysuit. To my surprise and elation at the end of her act she hugged me and said she would look me up and definitely wanted to talk to me.

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Grace and Face

Billy rounded out the show without the wig and heels, only wearing the silver shorts pictured on his family’s shirts and singing “Wicked Little Town”. As he says Hedwig bears himself as a boy to his lover which he fears most.

The fanfare was great, as in big and brilliant in scale. The entertainment was perfectly timed with friendly banter between the host and performers. Heels, feathers, gems, legs, wigs, and make up aside what shines most among these people for me was not the hoopla, but the heart.

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Venture Variety March 18, 2015

E’rybody Knows a Queen

You would be surprised how easy it has been for me to connect with drag queens. Sure there’s the obvious social media connection. Type drag show into any search bar on any site and you’ll connect with queens of all categories, and I am learning there are many categories. But then it turns out, at least in my life, that everybody knows a queen.

I am an elementary school teacher by day, graduate school writing student by night, so you might think, like I did, that I might not have much connection to the gliteratti of the drag world. And then, like me again, you would be wrong. I can not keep my mouth shut about much. I mean, if I promise myself that I won’t tell people about something, by lunch time I have told everyone I have run into. Naturally, I have been blabbing about my drag culture research project for my Research and Technology for Writers class and the most interesting thing has happened. People know drag queens!

If you’ve read my research proposal then you know how I met one queen who is just starting out through my family’s business. That story was uncanny, but it didn’t stop there. My workplace, an elementary school, was the last place I was thinking I would make any kind of connection. In fact, it turns out it was the second place! While catching up with a colleague friend who teaches second grade I happened to mention my topic and she piped up, “My cousin is getting into drag!” Soon after she was telling me he has his first show coming up and as of yesterday we have plans to attend my 2nd drag show experience in Philadelphia at the Venture Inn on March 18th! Imagine that. Ooh, I need to come up with another outfit.

Now besides this project I am also working on a multimedia writing/painting/photography show called Scars and Tattoos: Our Stories on Our Skin. You can follow that progress on my Facebook page. I was talking about this show with my usual barrista, Steph, at my favorite  local coffee shop Treehouse Coffee Shop, because she has tattoos and I handed her my card. She liked the quote I have on the back of the card, “Can I get an Amen?” by RuPaul, drag queen mogul extraordinaire. I said in response that I also have a research project going about drag. “I have a friend from high school who is a drag queen!” she replied. Who knew, right?

I have also made some connections online. There’s the wordpress blog by Schlomo Steel where I have learned drag show etiquette. It’s a must read before you go to your first show. The first rule of drag is you don’t act drag. I’ve also connected with the lovely ladies Roxi Starr and Donna Ria on Facebook, who have assured me they’ll introduce me to their drag sisters, and many others on TwitterEven my conservative principal was able to rattle off a few venues in Atlantic City where I might see a show after I timidly hemmed and hawed my topic to him.

Sources are popping up everywhere, so I am telling everyone just in case. I’m getting really good at 6 degrees of drag queen. The connections are endless and I never know who might know a queen, because actually E’rbody knows a queen!

Post 3 – Hair and Reflections

Description of a Head of Hair
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While I am sitting in the student center Pit noticing the pattern of the carpet, blue and green leaf pattern, and the lights, groups of three cylindrical lamps suspended high above, a young woman sits at the next table. She swoops passed me, drops a large bag on the floor, and places her laptop on the table. She settles herself into a chair facing the pit and back to the wall. Her full, dark brown, almost-black-in-this-dim-light locks are cut in layers around her circular face with the longest layers in the back grazing her mid-upper arm. It cascades toward her face and into her eyes like curtains in a breeze. It is mostly straight from the roots down, but twists into fist-size curls at the bottom. She flips it out of her face over her left shoulder daintily with her left palm down fingers together in a tai chi slow motion. Then she rakes the fingers of her right hand from the roots at her forehead through her center part to the whorl on her crown. It’s a real supermodel move. The dim lighting showcases the iridescence of the thick and plentiful strands, dark as pitch one moment then suddenly streaked with browns: chestnut or bronze.

I have been observing from afar, but go up to her now. “Excuse me,” I start and then explain I am a graduate student who has to observe someone’s hair for later description. Would she mind if I ask her a few questions? She has about five minutes before she has to go to work she says, but will answer my questions. I ask her the color and as she describes it as a transition between a dyed black and her natural dark brown I try to concentrate but am mesmerized instead by the darkness and thickness of her hair close up. I cannot see the highlights and lowlights she is describing and that I saw previously from the adjacent table. Her hair is everything mine is not. I innocently covet thick dark masses of mane, reams of Rapunzel ringlets I can braid into ropes and configure into elaborate updos. This is why I have developed an appreciation for wigs. I realize I am lost in her hair, not looking at her, and redirect my eyes to her face nodding at what she is saying about not using any hair products beyond shampoo and conditioner and some anti-frizz serum in the summer. I engage in the conversation again asking if it is normally curlier and she says yes. I tell her it reminds me of my daughter’s hair and imagine it wet and sprung up and out into spiraling tresses as my daughter’s much lighter brown hair does after a bath or in the midday heat at the beach. I jot down keywords and thank her for her time. She wishes me luck on my assignment and I leave her to her laptop and locks.

Reflections on Observations

In thinking on my experience of observing and taking fieldnotes in the student center I have come to the realization that initially I felt anxious and probably went into the ladies room because of that anxiety. On second review, however, I know that I was reflecting the feelings of some of my group members and regressing to the more timid and apprehensive self I was in my late teens and early twenties. I soaked in the intimidated energy of my group and manifested that in my own approach at first. That would soon change though.

I felt uncomfortable and annoyed waiting for the handicap accessible stall as I normally do when an able-bodied person uses the stall. I think it is only fair if there is a line and an able-bodied person uses the stall as long as she is ahead of me. When many general stalls are open though I get aggravated. This is why I added my comment “I observe there is only one handicap stall” to the banter of my cohorts humorous comments. It’s probably why I mentioned that the person who used the stall did not wash her hands, something initially that one of my classmates noticed.

Once out in the hall above the Pit I was confused about how to get down. I initially assumed I would use the elevator, then noticed the chairlift only to find that was out of order, but finally to be directed to the more modern chairlift/elevator. In the past I would have been agitated and frustrated by the fact that it was not readily transparent to me how to get down to the Pit. Now however, after years of using my wheelchair I find that whoever is with me is usually more upset about the lack of handicap accessibility. The fact that two people were willing to point me in the right direction , literally, helped me feel relieved. It also made me feel appreciation for their kind and friendly assistance without even being asked.

Using the chairlift harkened me back to a time when I have used other chairlifts at my previous place of business and gotten stuck midway up or down a staircase. I pushed passed that though and did not let it deter me. I followed the instructions on the wall even though in instances in which I am unsure in public I get nervous. I blocked out the fact I was in a public place as is my coping skill to do and got myself into the chairlift/elevator and down into the Pit. I even felt a little giddy at the fact that I got it all to work without help, much like all the technology I am learning these days from my research class to PARCC testing in my own classroom.

In the Pit it was comforting to see my classmates and instructive to follow their lead in finding an unassuming spot to observe from. I never settled in one place for too long because I had lots of energy coursing through me by that time. The longest I stayed still was first while talking to the worker who was closing down the Starbucks Café and she told me the medallions around the Pit’s uppermost walls were club insignias. I learned that she heard that during orientation. The second time I sat put for a bit was while observing the young woman’s hair I described above and then a few minutes later while taking to her.

I was glad and proud of myself for speaking to her, because I proved to myself what I already knew. I am no longer as timid and anxious as I used to be even if I tend toward more reserved behaviors in most instances. I was able to glean more information about her hair and observe it up close. I did briefly consider asking her to touch her hair, but I did not want to get so bold as to border on creepy. I was genuinely impressed that she uses minimal amounts of product because my sister, a curly haired girl I grew up with, was always trying different products to tame her hair.

I appreciated the muted lighting and could imagine getting comfortable on one of the upholstered chairs and having a cold or hot drink from the Starbucks when it is open. The environment reminded me of when I was working on my undergrad degrees and how as a commuter I never really felt part of campus life unless I was in the cafeteria or the library. I became sentimental about being a commuter and my thoughts that I do wish I had lived near campus at leat one year.

Soon I reconnected with classmates who were winding down or finished their own observations as was I and we headed back to class. I was comfortable on the chairlift/elevator on my way back up and am glad to know it is there for  future use. Once back in the room we were using for the evening I decompressed and let the “on” energy of the assignment drain out of me as I relaxed and began to reflect.

Post 2 – Two scenes

 

SCENE 1 – The ladies Room

Prior to going out into the Student Center I discussed where we would observe with my team members. I jokingly expressed interest in the Starbucks Coffee Bar and the bathroom, saying that I had to use the ladies room and then needed a coffee. I knew, too, that I would need the elevator for anywhere I might go off the floor I was on.

I did want to use the ladies room, but even more wanted to have a moment of down time before plunging into a situation that was making me anxious. My cohorts and I entered the ladies room along with a young able-bodied woman who noticed I was in a wheelchair, because she grabbed at the door when she thought it was shutting on me. However, she then proceeded to use the only handicap accessible stall even though there were 7 general stalls. While I waited my classmates called out random observations from their own stalls, “I observe the beige and brown tile”, “I observe a lack of toilet paper”. I added, “I observe there is only one handicap stall.” In the next minute the young woman exited the stall and rushed out not washing her hands. She may have felt guilty for using the stall meant for the width of a wheelchair when there were plenty of others she might have chosen. I found her behaviors conflicting as she obviously wanted to help me get through the door but then used the only stall I could have used. I interpret her strange native behavior as a default setting in which, as I have often observed in other settings, people use the furthest stall which is almost always the handicap stall for privacy reasons.

 

Scene 2 – The Chairlift – Elevator Dilemma

Once back out in the public area above the Pit where the coffee bar is situated I headed for the elevator, realizing halfway there that the Pit is not accessible from the elevator. A classmate pointed out that there is a chair lift near the far right stairs from the front door vantage point. I tugged on the door thinking apprehensively about the many times I was stuck on one of those things at my previous job where the chairlift was dysfunctional. I felt relief to discover the door locked.

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“Maybe I need to go to the information desk, ” I suggested to my classmate.

“Do you need to get down to the Pit?” asked a polite young man on the center set on steps from the entrance, “There’s another one over there.”

“Oh, where?” I asked and a second polite young man along with the first pointed to the farthest left corner of the area above the Pit.

I was impressed by their keen observation of my struggle even though I was not very verbal or loud in reaction to my situation and noted also their awareness and knowledge of a handicap accessibility solution even though they were both able-bodied.

I thanked them, agreed to meet my classmate at the bottom, and headed over to what looked like a metal closet door with a large window. This was the fanciest chairlift or smallest elevator I have ever scene. I decided to call it a chairlevator, but only in my head. I wouldn’t tell people that.

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There are two buttons to push beside the contraption one to open the door and one to close it, I suppose if the wheelchair rider has a helper on the outside. Once inside the space that just fit me and my chair with enough room to pivot around 360 degrees I saw two more buttons with directions to lower the chairlevator to the Pit. First I had to press the bottom button to shut the door and then I had to hold said button pressed to begin my descent. It was best that I was in there alone as conversation with another person would have been futile. The thing made a whirring noise similar to the sound of a high powered blender and as startling as the caw of seagulls swooping down on a wayward slice of pizza at he New Jersey boardwalk.

When I reached the Pit the door behind me swung open, I turned around to exit, and rolled down a short ramp. I found a third set of double buttons outside the door on the wall and pressed the appropriate one to close the door. Now the work of real observation could begin.

 

Post 1 – Fieldnotes: Jottings Translated

Below are my fieldnotes from my Student Center observation.
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Four of us from class enter the ladies room with a fifth woman we do not know. My three classmates enter stalls and the other woman takes the handicap stall. I am left to wait and observe my surroundings. As my classmates call out humorous observations about the bathroom I note the beige and brown tile, the fact that there are 7 stalls only one of which is handicap/wheelchair accessible. I mention this as an observation.

The woman I do not know exits the stall I need. She does not wash her hands and exits the restroom from the door we entered which is thee only door for entry and exit.

After using the facilities which I notice do not have an automatic flush option I wash my hands and exit with my classmates who are waiting for me. We exit into the public area of the student center. I see the elevator and begin to roll toward it until it occurs to me I will not be able to get to the Pit (common/social area) of the student center from there. Because the Pit is centralized in the construction of the building there are two staircases on either side to enter.

I notice a chairflift that a classmate points out, but quickly decipher it is out of order as the door is locked on it and there are many folding chairs stacked beneath it. I head toward the information desk to find out if there is any way for me to get down into the Pit, but am stopped by a man asking if I need a way into the Pit and pointing out another newer looking chairlift that resembles a small exposed elevator (no elevator shaft). I do not see it at first and a second man points to it and I roll over.

I press a button of two on the wall by the elevator/chairlift that opens its door. I enter the small space and follow the directions of pressing the down button to shut the door and then again pressing and holding the same button to descend to the floor of the Pit. When I stop at the bottom the door opens. I turn around and exit from the elevator/chairlift on a small ramp. I find two more buttons on the wall and press the top one to close the door.

 

(This is a translation of the first two pages of fieldnotes above. I note that I was able to write 403 words, 5 paragraphs, 19 sentences from my notes and memory. I find this interesting as what I thought was the meat of my observations came from  being in the Pit itself, but rather I got a lot from how I got down there.)