Bonus: Crystal Swarovski talks Burlypicks

29415906_605062693166466_4194975436532350976_n23 minutes, 34 seconds
Released: March 29, 2018
Recorded: March 26, 2018

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credits

  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp
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#10: Fire Starter w/ Regina Stargazer

10regina2 hours, 6 minutes
Released: March 26, 2018
Recorded: February 17, 2018

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credits

  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • Interlude Music: “Steppin Out” “Prohibition Blues” “Hep Cat Jive” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • Photo of Regina Stargazer as Cream Victoria by Atticus Media Productions
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp

Exclusive: I’m My Boss – Stories from Essence Revealed

bonus-essence50 minutes
Released: March 22, 2018
Recorded: March 21, 2018

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credits

  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • Interlude Music: “Cafe Bleu” & “Vegas Glitz” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • Photo of Essence Revealed by Ben Trivett
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp

#9: Deeper Nerdy Rooted with DJ Stormageddon

9storm1 hour, 39 minutes
Released: March 19, 2018
Recorded: February 10, 2018

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credits

  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • Interlude Music: “District Four” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • Photo of Matt Storm by Atticus Media Productions
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp

#8: Faux Pas Le Fae: In and Out of The Box

8faux1 hour, 27 minutes
Released: March 12, 2018
Recorded: March 6, 2018

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credits

  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • Interlude Music: “George Street Shuffle” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • Photo of Faux Pas le Fae by Atticus Media Productions
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp

Roundtable: And the Rest is Drag (pt 2)

bonus-dragrace2 hours, 36 minutes
Released: March 8, 2018
Recorded: March 5 & 6, 2018

In the second part of this special roundtable episode of WEBurlesque The Podcast, Viktor Devonne continues his discussions with nightlife performers from New York and throughout the country about RuPaul’s interview in The Guardian and his comments about the gatekeeping of drag performance.

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The first interview is with Daphne Always, a trans woman that identifies as a cabaret artist and sometimes drag queen: “For me, I feel more like a drag queen when I’m performing a character… When It’s a more party sort of room as opposed to a cabaret space where I feel like I’m being a little bit more genuinely myself… for me drag is about the level of artifice to it.”

When asked about her feelings on RuPaul’s Drag Race as a show, Daphne says the public may be given it more credit as a serious vehicle for representation of queer culture than it deserves: “I think it is a fantastic reality television competition. I think it has taken on meaning and a place in the queer community and some straight communities that is maybe a little bit more loftier and a little bit more unwieldy than what it should be taken as. Which is a reality television competition… I think at one point it absolutely was [something I wanted to audition for], it seems like the end all be all…But that was before I actually started working as a performer… and once I did I realized that…it’s just not for me. It kind of really defeats the purpose of [performing] for me. If we are gonna sit around and compare and say this is more valuable than that… I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with competition…I just don’t think I could handle everybody across the world having an opinion about how worthwhile my livelihood has been because I wore hair that Michelle Visage read me to filth for.”

Continuing on to exactly how Drag Race has changed the face of the drag scene itself, Daphne laments that its nature as a reality show has stripped away some of the mystique and personal privacy drag performers used to have in exchange for a “behind the scenes look”  at who the queens are: “It does this thing where people start to claim access to performers and their personal lives and the validity of what they do. And I think that has a lot to do with the show showing the queens in and out of drag… For a long time, the point of a drag queen was that you saw them on the stage, and you saw the fantasy that they [were] creating… and that’s how you [knew] that person. But then RuPaul’s Drag Race introduced this whole idea of quote ‘Who is this queen as a boy?’ Which then, if you pull that thread, which inevitably we all did, it leads to part of what is being consumed here is not just the drag performance, but the person themselves. Who they are as an individual.”

As the interview wraps up, Daphne and Viktor finish the conversation by talking about how Drag Race is a mainstream model that doesn’t necessarily represent the queer community, but rather a much more palatable “gay culture” that straight people feel comfortable with.  Pondering the question of what it would mean to have that large of an audience base, Daphne remarks “I would love to have a platform where I can reach people as a person and not an exciting sort of novelty. At the same time… the goal isn’t to abandon my queer life and so I don’t know what going mainstream actually looks like.”

The second interview is with Allegra Spread, a nonbinary drag performer who hosts Drag Race viewing parties in New York. Allegra recognizes that Rupaul has done a lot for the popularization of drag, but at the end of the day, he isn’t the only person who gets to define what drag is: “RuPaul was a very important person in the scene of bringing drag to the mainstream to really give it an elevated platform. But, just because one person does a lot of leg work doesn’t mean that they get to be the end, length, and final say of who is allowed to partake in this community that has grown bigger than him… Specifically for my viewing party, what I actually decidedly did and mixed together when I cast everybody… was I wanted trans queens, black queens, Muslim queens, any kind of queen that wouldn’t be allowed to be  on the show basically,  to be making commentary and to perform and to have a platform to make them money and to do their drag in the midst of that crowd.”

As an assigned-female-at-birth (AFAB) queen, Allegra finds themselves often having to do the work of educating people about what it means to be trans and/or nonbinary and how drag is about more than just a femme persona that cis men perform: “Drag has nothing to do with gender except for the fact that it can be an exaggeration of it if that is what your character or your persona is driving by. It doesn’t have to be…It’s not connected to gender and not ruled by it.”

Unfortunately, teaching people this fact is made harder when RuPaul makes controversial comments and his fans take his word as law: “There are so many people who watch the show and are what I refer to as ‘Ru Girls.’ People who are just obsessed with these queens that are produced by the show and they don’t really have much interest in the local queens. Which is whatever, their choice, but then this kind of thing comes up and the people who live in the boroughs will ask and rush up to local queens ‘So what does this mean?’ Because a lot of the time, people who aren’t actually night life performers aren’t really aware of the struggle for trans performers or femme performers to be recognized in a field that has been taken from their literal history.”

The next performer to chat on the podcast is Velvet Kensington, a queer nightlife and burlesque performer in New York. Like many of the other people in this round table discussion, Velvet admits that RuPaul has accomplished much for drag over the years, but only for a specific subset of drag: “RuPaul has done a lot for the drag queen community- and I say specifically the drag queen community because we all know that she doesn’t advocate for drag kings…I’ll also say that it is her show and her producers get to choose whatever it is they want to do and she has that right, but I don’t agree with the statement that she said. I also think her apologies weren’t really apologies for what she said, they were more like generalized statements.”

As the conversation goes further into what are Velvet’s feelings about drag, she points out that mainstream drag as we know it has somewhat of a misogyny problem: “I’ve always had issues with drag queens because [they] are taking…the femme presentation which has been specifically put on women, whether they like it or not, and using it to excel in the performance world and getting paid for it. How is it revolutionary that cismen are taking what women have been doing for years and (the women are) not getting paid for it?”

While Velvet admits that she is much more comfortable with queerer and less rigid forms of drag, she still feels like RuPaul’s version has overtaken the market and is what people who have never gone to a local drag show believe drag is: “Because drag queens have been more in the main stream, this is what…people in smaller towns are seeing. They’re now expecting their drag experiences to be like Ru.”

Leaving New York for a moment, Viktor connects with Morrigana Regina, an AFAB queen based in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Morrigana’s experience as a queen stands out not just because she is AFAB, but also because RuPaul’s Drag Race was what inspired her to try out drag in the first place: “During (the time I was starting out), there was no space, I only saw RuPaul’s Drag Race on whatever platform I watched it on at the time. And I didn’t see any women or anyone else besides gay men doing drag… So, I would go to my little gay clubs dressed what I thought was looking like a drag queen…People were like, ‘You’re weird, you’re wearing a wig.’… it wasn’t necessarily negative; it just wasn’t acknowledged.”

When asked about her feeling on RuPaul’s belief that only cis men can perform drag, Morrigana feels torn: “I’m kind of frustrated because I am welcome within my community here in Pittsburgh and I feel great and I feel alive and I feel happy. For the first time in my life, I’m doing drag on stage and living my best life. I love it. And then I hear my idol… I love Rupaul, I’m thankful for RuPaul, he has created a lot of paths for entertainers and I will never speak bad of him, I just disagree… I learned form you and now I can’t be in your club… It just doesn’t make sense that he says so much inclusivity talk, but then he says, ‘But you know, not on my show.’”

The final interview of the podcast is with Lee Valone, a trans male drag king who runs BEEF SHOW, an all drag king revue in Brooklyn, and was crowned Mr. Coney Island 2017. Lee has a lot of feelings about RuPaul’s statements, but he is far from shocked by them: “The worst part of [the situation] me, anyway, is that it’s not even a surprise. It’s continuing disappointment of this person who is supposed to represent everything that the artform that I love more than anything in the whole world represents and it’s both disappointing, irritating, a little disgusting, but overall, just not a surprise which is why it hurts so much.”

Lee is in the singular position of running the only all drag king show in New York City, and therefore is offering something that audience might not have seen otherwise if they just watch Drag Race or go to the viewing parties. Yet, just like many other performers, Lee first introduction to the are form was indeed through the reality television show: “Anytime someone comes up to me and starts talking about drag, inevitable they either ask about how I got started or what were my influences… My first experiences with really getting nose deep into drag was through RuPaul’s Drag Race… my roots for drag experience was watching this show and by watching this entertainer who is a deeply problematic individual and a deeply problematic icon. Though, still an icon…I mean, when RuPaul first started he was a very genderfucked performer… but…his politics and his views didn’t keep up with the world around him. The world around him is changing and the queer community is changing- [into] what its always been but more in the open… Drag no longer belongs to cis men and it never did in the first place, so what I’m looking for is an apology that it never belonged to anyone. But I doubt we’ll ever get that.”

When asked if he thinks Rupaul can change his views on what drag is, Lee is skeptical, but believes that the art form will do just fine with or without him: “I think the only thing that will change his mind is the money…Right now, the Rupaul’s Drag Race story is one of exclusion, meanness, and breaking people…To me, drag is- it’s so many beautiful things. It’s storytelling, it’s costuming, it’s textiles, it’s movement, it’s dance, it’s acting, it’s all these different things. But above all, it’s just a person on a stage or not showing you what they want to say…gender performance with intentionality… [RuPaul] is worried that [queer drag] is going to infringe on his brand, and his money, and his point of view. He is afraid of change and it is time to grow up.”

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credits

  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • Interlude Music: “Cuban Sandwich” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp

Roundtable: And the Rest is Drag (pt 1)

bonus-dragrace2 hours, 8 minutes
Released: March 8, 2018
Recorded: March 5 & 6, 2018

In the first part of a two part WEBurlesque special, Viktor reaches out to drag performers across the country to get their takes on RuPaul’s then-recent interview in The Guardian where he claims drag is more “subversive” when cis men do it as opposed to any other gender. Many artists had a lot to say on the topic and these two episodes are the recordings of the mini interviews Viktor had with all of them.

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The first interview is with Crimson Kitty, a nonbinary drag queen who is the creative mind behind Lady Queen Collective, a showcase entirely devoted to featuring assigned female at birth performers.

On the subject of Drag Race, Crimson Kitty believes that it has been both a blessing and a curse to the drag community as a whole: “There are a lot of opportunities I would not be able to have had it not been for the popularity and the rise of drag in our society. That is a fact….it definitely has changed it, it definitely has opened up new avenues, but at the same time, because we are getting such a linear version of what drag should be it has also closed doors as well. So honestly it’s a double-edged sword.”

When it comes to their career as a “hyper queen”, Crimson Kitty has struggled to find a place in what is now considered “mainstream drag.” They also have unfortunately had to go through the task of explaining their identity to others repeatedly.: “Being someone who is an educator you have to put forth a lot of emotional labor to explain to people calmly and I struggle with the word calmly…. Because it’s very easy to get defensive. I tend and I have gotten defensive in the past. For me as I grow into my character and myself more it’s very important for me to be patient with the children. But ‘Lady Queens’ started as a joke… [it was] a kind of compromise. And while I shouldn’t say I compromise in my drag career; I’ve had to out of necessity of wanting to be on stage…it was about going through the back door.”

At the end of the day however, Crimson Kitty strongly believes everyone can perform drag who wants to: “No one gets to define your drag but you. Everyone is able to perform drag whether they want to or not. Everyone has a place on stage.”

The next performer Viktor calls is Gloria Swansong, a trans drag artist who mostly does shows in Manhattan. Like Crimson Kitty, Gloria talks about how the work of coming out as transgender is never really finished. It’s a process you go through again and again: “As a trans person, every day is education. Every day with my family, with my friends, with people I don’t know… as much as you don’t want to, you’re always having to educate people around you….So any kind of situation like this I always approach it with education and empathy…. That being said, I also strongly believe that the brand of RuPaul’s Drag Race is separate from RuPaul’s own issues and whoever he is as a human.”

While this issue is obviously very upsetting, Gloria also feels the need to point out that humans are flawed, and while the urge to “cancel” someone may be strong when things like this happen, you shouldn’t necessarily write someone off completely: “There are a lot of people who want to burn the barn or just completely dismantle everything the moment that we decide someone is problematic… and that’s not how change happens… We should look to renovate before we try to burn the whole thing down…People watch RuPaul’s Drag Race and that is the only exposure they have to drag and they start equating gay male cattiness with drag, or they start equating things that have happened on the show with drag queens. But I don’t necessarily blame Rupaul’sDrag Race for that. I blame people who only watch reality tv and that’s all they care about.”

After finishing up with Gloria, Viktor gets on the phone with Vylette Tendency, another nonbinary drag performer who comes from the Brooklyn scene. The moment the conversation starts, Vylette is very up front and open about their view on the situation: “I will say this completely on record: Fuck RuPaul, fuck what money has done to RuPaul…. The Rupaul that I had learned about when I was a kid, the club kid RuPaul that did not have an empire, was a punk. RuPaul had a mohawk and like did her makeup in a fucking car….to hear that person… it’s got to be money…. This is what he has based his entire empire off of, is very pretty female impersonators. As shitty as it is to hear what he said, it’s not that shocking.”

Vylette laments what Drag race has done to the drag scene and how formulaic it has become. While some spots in the boroughs do cater to more alternative and queer friendly drag, the majority apparently do not: “What Drag Race has done to drag in the bars, there’s like a science now… Pop song plus death drop plus jump split equals you are probably going to get booked again.”

From there, Viktor moves away from the New York contingent for a moment to reach out to Ophelia Nightbird, a performer in San Diego who recently moved from New York City. Ophelia basically agrees with what a lot of the other artists have said about RuPaul as both a performer and a symbol of a capitalistic brand: He and his show have been great for the business of drag, but not necessarily for the art: “While I do love Drag Race from an entertainment standpoint, and I’ve had many friends on the show and I think it’s been wonderful how it’s advanced the careers of so many girls and given so many people chances and taken drag and kind of elevated it to a certain level… I also feel that it’s been kind of a hindrance in that the awareness that it’s brought to the mainstream is… very feminine presenting.You know padded, fishy looking, it’s very certain aesthetic in a way. It’s very branded to the RuPaul brand if you will. Which is not consistent with what drag is. Because drag is so many things, it goes so far beyond that RuPaul’s Drag Race brand.”

When it comes to the topic of RuPaul claiming it is more political and “punk rock” to do drag as a cis man, Ophelia believes that the entire concept is rather ridiculous and tone deaf to what is going on in our current political climate: “What is more punk then having to fight to be acknowledged? And fighting against people who are saying you are not worthy? What is more punk than that?… To not give a chance to someone just because they are trans or because they are assigned female at birth is really hypocritical.”

As a follow up to that sentiment, Viktor gets in touch with Bronze Bettina, a drag and burlesque performer who grew up in the south with the same cultural touchstones that RuPaul himself had: “He comes from the club tradition that I come from. Anytime you went to Oz in the French Quarter or the Common Ground in Ithaca, NY or fucking Limelight, and he still has that attitude. He hasn’t changed that much from who he is and there was no incentive for him to change because the allure of his level of attitude was part of his brand…. I never expecting RuPaul to be…. a civil rights role model? RuPaul puts on really nice dresses because they make him money. RuPaul’s drag in the beginning was very like gender fuck, very DIY, very ‘yes I made this out of construction paper.’…and he made a conscious decision to go towards the evening gown version because people were paying him for it. So that’s not really who he is. So, the idea he’s dumping shit on trans people and gender queer people and stuff like that A. doesn’t surprise me, and B. sounds like sour grapes.”

Bettina echoes previous sentiments that the drag that Drag Race promotes isn’t the kind of drag that has historically been so important to queer people: “My experience doing drag was that it was a celebration of all the things the queer community is about artistically and [promoting a sense of] family.”

To finish the first half of this two-part round table podcast, Viktor closes the episode with some short antidotes from Faux Pas Le Fae. Mostly a circus and side show performing artist, Faux Pas is a trans woman that has occasionally dabbled in drag kinging with her wife and performance partner Aurora North.  She sees RuPaul’s comments as dangerous for furthering the invalidation of trans people’s identities: “I feel a lot of respect for what this artist has accomplished. I cannot fathom what it is like to grow up a gay person of color and I think they have overcome a ton, and so there are a lot of things I think are amazing about this person’s life. That said, we all sometimes need to be confronted- to me not in an antagonistic way- but in a respectful way. And that becomes harder when you have more power and privilege…. [he added] fuel to the heteronormative argument that there is just something wrong with trans people and it shouldn’t be accepted or allowed… It’s disturbing, it really is.”

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credits

  • Synopsis written by Raina Sinclair for WEBurlesque
  • Intro and Outro Music: “On A 45” by This Way to the Egress – used with permission.
  • Interlude Music: “Apero Hour” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com); Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • everything else (c) White Elephant Burlesque Corp