Drag King Profile: K. James

K.james Photo credit Elisabeth Fuchsia Dec

Brooklyn’s K. James is a boundary-shattering transmasculine drag king who is one of the founders of Switch ‘n Play, one of the premier active drag collectives in the US. I chatted with him to get his thoughts on drag and gender identity.*

Ennis F.W.: Hey, congrats on getting nominated for Favorite Drag King by GO Magazine!

K. James: Aw, thank you!

E: Okay, so first things first, tell me about you (the drag king), you (the artist), and how those two identities overlap.

K.: K.James is campy, over the top masculinity, lots of leather, mesh, dancing and a smooth lip sync style. I try to take iconic images of masculinity like George Michael, Elvis and James Dean and re-interpret them through a queer lens and my trans body to create playful performances that push the boundaries of gender and sexuality. K.James photo credit Drag Coven 2

When not doing drag, I’m a shy and reserved person and people are usually shocked the first time they see me perform. Drag enables me to be more confident and outgoing. It’s an important outlet for me.

I think about drag as a hyperexpression and deconstruction of gender, but for me it’s also an expression of my own kind of masculinity as a trans person.

E: There’s been a lot of discussion lately online about trans* and gender-nonconforming individuals performing drag. What’s your experience been like?

K.: Generally my experience has been positive though I do encounter people misgendering me and making assumptions about what it means to be a drag king. I am happy to see more visibility for trans* and gender nonconforming performers because people trans* people, especially trans women of color, have always been a big part of drag community and culture and that shouldn’t be erased.

E: Definitely. I think drag has an important role in opening up that discourse.

K: Yeah! It would be good to see more of these histories acknowledged in mainstream drag.

I recently did a number that was inspired by Zdenek Koubkov, who was a transgender runner from Czechoslovakia. He competed in the 1932 Olympics and then transitioned. Then later in the 30s, he came to New York and performed a “living picture performance” of his gender where he ran on a treadmill for audiences at a club. I ran for 5 or 6 minutes while lip-syncing.

E: Whoa, awesome! What music did you use for that number?

K: Haha. It was a really campy number. A mix of Blues Traveler’s “Run Around”, Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over” and Whitney Houston’s “I Run to You.”

I wore my real race number from a half marathon I did so it combined drag with my real life and gender.

E: So how long have you been performing?

K.James Grace ChuK: I have been performing for 8 years

E: 8 years! Always in New York?

K.: Yes, my base has always been Brooklyn. When I moved to NYC in 2006, I moved into a shared apartment from an ad I saw on Craigslist. One of my roommates was one of the founding members of Switch n’ Play. That’s how I was introduced to the whole drag king community and scene in NYC at the time.

E: It seems to me that New York is one of the most influential places for drag in the entire world. I lovingly stalk you, Switch n’ Play, and other prominent New York performers all the time.

K: Haha yeah, I love it here. There’s a lot of room to be creative. And there are always so many shows and so many diverse types of performers and performance styles.

E: For folks who don’t know (seriously, what are you doing with your life), can you talk a bit about Switch ‘n Play and you all’s regular shows?

K: Switch n’ Play is a Brooklyn drag and burlesque collective, established in 2006. It started off as a drag king troupe and has evolved over the years to include drag queens, femme performers, and burlesque.

We have two monthly shows at a local Western-themed bar called Branded Saloon. Our second Saturdays rotate, and on fourth Saturdays we have Staches & Lashes, which is a variety show featuring drag, burlesque and queer performance.

We’ve been nominated for “Best Drag Performance Show” and “Best Burlesque Show” for the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards. The show is pretty unique for the city; it’s one of the only places where you can regularly see kings, queens, and burlesque on the same stage.

E: Two more questions. First, what inspires you? What’s the process of creating a number like?K.James photo credit- Drag Coven

K: Sometimes it’s a song I hear or a movie I watch that gives me an idea – like a character or pop culture reference that would be interesting to take into a drag context. Sometimes the inspiration is the need to work through something emotionally as a catharsis (dancing it out is very therapeutic for me!). Or collaboration with the other members of the Switch n’ Play troupe as we’re always coming up with new ideas together.

E: Awesome. Second, what’s your advice to new and aspiring kings?

K: I would tell aspiring kings to be themselves, and to find others that inspire you. For me, it’s important to be around performers with heart, who have an openness onstage and off. Everything doesn’t have to be a competition…I enjoy performers who use their creativity to create community.

 

Instagram Performance Clips:

In the Air Tonight:

 

You can check out more of K. James on Facebook and Instagram.

 

*K. James gave this interview in August 2016. Ennis F.W. apologizes for being a total Toolhead McDoucheface who takes almost a full year to publish interviews. Sorry K.! I love you and your entire collective!

 

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Five Black Drag Kings You Ought to Know…!

In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to take a few minutes to pay homage to some of the amazing POC drag kings that I’ve come across doing their thing across the US.

Miles Long (East Los Angeles, CA)

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Photo Credit: Carrie Strong

Miles Long is a pageant-winning West Coast king who performs regularly at Landon Cider’s Drag King Explosion in Los Angeles, CA. He is Mister Oklahoma USofA MI 2016 and was featured in the drag king documentary The Making of a King. Follow him on Instagram at @the_mileslong and add him on Facebook here.

 

 

 

 

Po’ Chop (Chicago, IL)

12109079_894025937312424_5716734996649008404_nPo’ Chop is a burlesque king hailing from Chicago who is renowned for his provocative, political drag. A trained dancer, Po’ Chop is a festival veteran, the recipient of the 2015 Chances Dances Mark Aguhar Memorial Grant and a performer residency at Links Hall, and a board member of Jeezy’s Juke Joint, now in its sixth year as a showcase of some of the best in black burlesque from across the US. You can view more of his work on his official website, www.itspochop.com, and on Facebook.

 

Bellagio Showers (New Orleans, LA)

13900056_1769769483306374_8259439313384751533_nBellagio Showers is a product of cycle 4 of Vinsantos’ Drag Workshop who, despite being a relatively new king, has made a name for himself in the New Orleans scene. He has performed alongside Big Freedia and was recommended to me by a college friend as her “favorite drag king of all time.” (Of all time!)  Check out his work on Facebook here.

 

 

 

 

Alexander Cameron (Cincinnati, OH)

16651943_704916653015266_1146418127_n This dapper Cincinnati-based gentleman is a dynamic costumer, a charming performer, and super nice guy. He has been selected for both the 2015 and 2016 Austin International Drag Festival and will appear later this year as part of the Fierce! Queer International Burlesque Festival. In regards to being a POC and drag king, Alexander says, “In our current social climate, being a queer, female, POC makes every day a stressful one. Thankfully, this community has come together in solidarity, fully supportive of the disenfranchised.” You can view his work on Facebook and Instagram at @alexcameronmi.

 

 

Switch the Boi Wonder (Chicago, IL)

16298546_1528324917196829_443783792006391227_nSwitch the Boi Wonder has been performing as a drag king for over a decade. Also a regular featured performer at Jeezy’s Juke Joint, Switch is a smooth ladies’ man who challenges notions of masculinity and femininity with his gender-bending burlesque routines. Find him on Facebook here.

 

 

Is there anyone I’ve forgotten? Any black drag kings that you feel deserve the spotlight? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Black History Month!

 

E

2016: A Year in Review & Updates

Holy crap! 2016, thank you. You were one of the most productive years of my entire performance career.

A few highlights, in no particular order:

  • The Austin, Texas International Drag Festival — performiScreenshot_20160501-192439~2ng alongside some of the most talented people I’ve ever shared a stage with, meeting Sammy Silver, Spikey Van Dykey, Laganja Estranga, Colin Acumen, K. James, Vigor Mortis, Goldie Peacock, and a host of other amazing drag performers. And of course eating some bomb-ass Mexican food.
  • Forming the House of TBD, my beautiful and amazing drag house, and working closely with my lovely sisters and drag son.
  • Unleashing my inner Joan Crawford as Mrs. Forrest in Urban Aphrodite’s Psycho Beach Party.
  • Co-producing and performing in five mainstage shows with Qi-POW! Burlesque & Cabaret, including my favorite to date, Seance. We showed our city that we can do both tongue-in-cheek and sophisticated burlesque and sold out almost every show.

So what’s new, then?

The big news is that I am currently competing in the first-ever televised competition for drag kings, King Me: Rise of a Drag King. This bi-weekly competition will culminate in a cash prize and a cross-country tour for the winner. I am one of two kings competing from Asia and one of three kings not representing the UK or US. It’s kind of a big deal! You can watch the episodes from their Youtube channel here.

Otherwise, we’re back in the swing of things for Qi-POW! and the House of TBD. We are currently working on our eleventh QP! production, Professor E’s Museum of Time, and just added two performers to our House of TBD roster: Erica Balenciaga and Dorian T. Fisk.

Participating in King Me has me thinking a lot about my performance goals for 2017 and beyond. I really feel like performance-wise, drag is my home– it is the crossroads of so much that I love, including costuming, acting, dance, and music. The great drag artists that I admire are the ones that are polished but still push the envelope; this year, I want to beef up my styling, polish up all of my old acts, and conquer my personal beast of burden: choreography. I’d also like to add two specialty skills to my resume: playing an instrument and using a whip. I’m hoping to add another festival to my performance resume, with an eventual (bucket list) goal of headlining a festival some day.

What are your performance goals, both short and long term? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time. ❤

Advice from the Producer’s Chair: How Can I Get Booked for More and Better Paying Gigs?

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Let’s not kid ourselves: being a performer takes money, honey! Here in Shanghai, we have a fair amount of performers who are in the in-between stages of their development– while they aren’t total beginners, they are still in the early stages of their burlesque career. As a producer, it is often my job to decide if and when somebody is ready to make the leap from amateur to paid talent. This week, I spoke with fellow performers and producers to round up some advice for those searching to increase the quality and quantity of their gigs.

Five tips to get booked more often and for better-paying gigs:

1. You don’t have to be a professional to act professionally.

aflThe thing to remember is, it’s a job,” says Anna Fur Laxis, executive producer of Qi-POW! Burlesque & Cabaret. “Even if you are still in the early stages and aren’t getting paid yet, you should treat it like you are. Show up on time, behave yourself in the dressing room, and respond to any requests from your producers in a timely fashion.

Even if you only think of what you do as a hobby, chances are this is your producer’s job. That said, they’re your boss, and you should strive for great work. Be punctual, courteous, and well-prepared in all your interactions.

In regards to the dressing room, it’s important to treat it like a work space. Be considerate with your things– keep your costumes and personal items contained and tidy– and be courteous with your behavior. Just as you wouldn’t bring your friends to office, you shouldn’t assume it’s okay to invite your people to join you backstage before or after the show. Bringing your boyfriend, sister, or bestie backstage not only violates the privacy of your fellow performers, it serves as a hindrance to those getting ready in a limited space.

2. Put in work.

kevinmaximYou have to be willing to do free gigs for a while. Start with the small opportunities in your area and build from there. To put it simply: do what you can until you can do what you want.” -Kevin Maxim, professional singer.

It’s easy for most novice performers to get caught up in dreams of headlining festivals, entertaining hundreds of people at a time, or performing on TV. All of the performers you see doing that, however, started small, performing in their communities at free or low-paying gigs to refine their craft. While the idea of performing for $9 plus tips (my first paying gig!) when you’ve spent a pretty penny on a costume might be discouraging, stage time in front of a live audience is invaluable.

My advice: work on a few solid acts or looks and use whatever opportunities you can to get yourself out there. Savvy performers look at gigs like a pool player looks at a game of billiards: it’s not always about the next shot but sometimes about the position you’ll land in to take the shot after that. Remember that even small gigs can lead to new relationships and bigger opportunities.

3. Document everything!

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-9-57-28-pmThese days, we are too busy to audition everybody who wants to perform. The best thing to do is to have a few good quality photos of yourself and a few sentences about what you do. If you have a link [to a profile] or a video, even better.” Rami, Event Producer, HUNT Shanghai

Remember those free and low-paying gigs I talked about? Use them as opportunities to build up your promotional materials. Although high-quality video is worth the investment, even a three-minute iPhone video of you performing in front of a live audience is going to help producers understand you better.

If you are in it for the long haul, images and video will allow producers and festival committees to see evidence of your experience and growth. I keep all photo shoots, show images, and act recordings in the same folder on my computer so I know exactly where to go when preparing a pitch or applying for a gig.

(Side note: once you settle on your performance name, snatch the FB profile, Instagram name, Twitter handle, and domain name as soon as you can! Conversely, all new performers should Google their name with any obvious spelling variations to make sure it isn’t in use. And yes, it’s bad form to use a name that’s already in use even if you make a slight change. You want to be easily found on social media!)

4. Remember: you are always ON.

Be nice to everyone and try to be the easiest person to work with in the room, from both producers and fellow performers points’ of view.” -Dolly DeStory, Burlesque performer and alternative model

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From the moment you make your first promotional post on social media, you are building a reputation for yourself. That reputation will follow you from city to city and precede you to venues you haven’t even worked with yet. Remember: in the dressing room, backstage, at the bar after the show, in the audience of someone else’s show, on social media– you are always ON. Everything you do in the presence of producers and fellow performers affects your ability to get booked for future shows.

Recurrent attention-seeking nervous breakdowns in the dressing room? Forget about it. Hounding your producers over text with questions that have already been answered via email? No thanks. Arriving late, being a diva, or getting wasted or high and acting a fool before, during, and after a show? Girl, bye! Trust me, any producer will tell you: we would rather book a solid performer who conducts themselves well than an amazing performer who’s going to embarrass our company or antagonize the other performers.

5. Focus on constant self-improvement.

barneyAs artists, we should always continue to get better and try and keep perspective of where we really are level-wise. Be humble and realistic– some people want to run when they just learned how to walk. If a person starting out wants to get to that next level but just can’t seem to break through, they need to ask someone in their discipline what the problem may be. Asking for this kind of advice takes a lot of humility and you have to be prepared to take criticism but you can learn much more from failure than success.” -Barney Rivera, stand-up comedian

As artists, we all struggle with feedback on our work. Great art is personal, labor-intensive, and vulnerable. If you don’t learn how to take criticism, however, you just aren’t going to go far in this industry. In theatre school, we called it “Take the f—ing note.” Meaning, if someone tasked with your improvement gives you a suggestion on a choice you’ve made, listen genuinely and avoid the temptation to argue or explain. Sure, as your aesthetic and skills develop you can start to take people’s opinions with a grain of salt, but do your best to find the lesson in the opinions that people share.

 
There you have it, fam– a few points to remember for beefing up your bookings and making those sweet, sweet dollars, euros, renminbi, free booze, or whatever else you accept as payment. Additions, suggestions, or comments? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time!

Glitter, love, and mustaches,
E

Drag King Profile: Sammy Silver

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King Sammy Silver is a London, UK-based drag king and YouTube personality serving sass, sex, and surrealness across multiple social media platforms. We sat down with him to learn a bit more about performance, sexuality, and doing drag as a non-binary individual.

Ennis F.W.: Sammy, you realize meeting you at the Austin International Drag Festival changed my life.

Sammy Silver: I hope in a good way?

EFW: In the best possible way! So first, tell me about you (the drag king), you (the artist), and how those two identities overlap.

SS: Ok, maybe a bit of a long winded answer, but here we go. So when I first started drag I created Sammy – a sassier, more confident, more carefree character than me – Sammy was someone who I wanted to be rather than who I actually was.

However, over time I have found my true identity and the character of Sammy are really now blending into one – my sensitivity, my more concerned side as an artist has definitely projected onto Sammy. For example, Sammy did do a lot of big show numbers – just something to entertain a crowd and get them pumped, but now I have been creating acts with Sammy that have a lot more to do with my life outside of drag such as Sammy trying for an interview, Sammy dealing with heartbreak, Sammy goes dating, et cetera.

EFW: It’s interesting how when you first start, you have this big idea of your persona as something separate from yourself but the longer you do it, the more it dials back towards who you are as a person.

SS: Exactly! And alongside discovering that I’m not a cis-woman, drag helped me A LOT when it came to dealing with my gender and body dysphoria.

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King Sammy Silver

EFW: Interesting. How do you mean?

SS: Well, all my life deep down I’ve known I am not a woman despite having a biological female body. When starting drag it was very much of ‘Yes, I am a woman dressing up as a man’ because that’s what everybody else seemed to think it was so I just went along with it although I knew that description did not fit me.

It was through drag that I discovered terms like non-binary, gender queer, etc. For a long time, I really did hate my body– of course I still dislike it to an extent– but when first starting drag I was in quite a bad state because it was bringing up lots of things about my gender identity that had been pushing down for such a long time. But meeting like-minded people and people who also identified with these terms through drag made me feel a lot more comfortable.

EFW: That’s awesome. How did you get your start doing drag?

SS: I had played about with drag at various parties at Uni and it was a friend who was putting on a feminist cabaret and she asked me to perform in it in drag. I quickly cobbled up together a song about biphobia (which I still perform every now and again) and I’m glad to say it went down a storm.

EFW: That’s right! You write your own songs, correct?

SS: Yes. I love writing lyrics. I find it’s good way to process thoughts and express yourself. I tried a bit of stand up comedy once, never could quite hack it. I find I tend to be a lot funnier and wittier through my lyric writing.

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Sammy Silver performing at BoiBox, September 2016

EFW: So which of your numbers– song, dance, or otherwise– are you most well-known for?

SS: I think a lot of people know for my song about biphobia, my robot routing (which I am performing this week at Bristol Burlesque Festival and super excited) is also becoming quite a popular one.

Whenever I go to gigs and people have seen me before they usually ask, ‘Sammy are you doing your bisexual song? Are you doing your robot routine?’ Which of course is lovely to hear and nice to know your work is appreciated but I always try and be creating new acts, gotta keep things fresh.

EFW: Is the robot one the one I saw you do the Saturday of AIDF?

SS: YES! The very one!

EFW: Oh my God, that number was EVERYTHING.

SS: Thank you! I do thoroughly enjoy performing it! I don’t bother working out in the day when I know I’m performing that one, it’s certainly a great cardio workout! Hehe.

EFW: Obviously, you’re already a great dancer. What are your goals for yourself as you continue to develop as a drag king?

SS: Thank you! I do love dancing, but there are A LOT of things I want to improve on. I really want to do some more break dancing in my acts. I’m teaching myself various things from video tutorials at the moment, I would to be able to do the turtle spin and the downrock. I know I haven’t mentioned the videos I do yet, but I want to keep creating them, keep making people laugh. I know this may sound a bit of a silly dream to have but I would LOVE to make it big on YouTube!

EFW: Why is that silly? I think that counts as being an international celebrity.

SS: I say silly because I know it’s a very small chance to go viral with so many people out there putting new content up, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Just gotta keep on working hard, focus on your goal and not be afraid to sometimes take risks. But yes to be internationally known would be pretty cool!

EFW: Alright, last question. What advice do you have for new and upcoming kings?

SS: There are gonna a lot of people who are ready to tell you that drag is this and drag is that, my best advice is to NOT LISTEN TO THOSE PEOPLE! I strongly believe drag is what you make it, drag is an art form and can be interpreted in many different ways. There are gonna be elitists who think drag needs all these rules, and it really doesn’t, if you wanna perform something and you wanna look a certain way, then go ahead and do it because that’s the beauty of drag. I’ve seen so much variety within this world and it never gets boring.

Adding to that whatever your gender identity you can still do drag. I’ve been told quite a few times that I can’t be a drag king identifying as non-binary but yes I bloody well can. So can you!

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Sammy serving rabbit realness, August 2016

Check out Sammy’s song about being non-binary below and be sure to like him on Facebook, subscribe on Youtube, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

Advice from the Producer’s Chair: Five Essential Points for Being a Kick-Ass Host

The cornerstone of any great cabaret is a capable host. As both a producer and a performer, I recognize that while good hosts make it look easy, being one is hard work! Here are five essential points for being a kick-ass emcee:

1. Cultivate a strong, distinctive presence.

You are the audience’s first point of contact and tour guide for the journey you’re about to take them on. Good hosts fill the room with their presence; great hosts bring something unique to the stage. When crafting your hosting persona, ask yourself, how would I define myself in three words? Are you dirty, sensuous, flirtatious? Snarky, sharp-witted, and stern?

Having a clear idea for your persona can then inform your costuming and material. For example, Qi-POW Burlesque’s beautiful Miss Jade is racy, bitchy, and lovably slutty, giving herself carte blanche to make sexual innuendoes and hit on audience member’s boyfriends. (That isn’t shade, I promise!) 

“You have to create a funny, memorable character. Great hosts know how to find a handful of signature lines/jokes without making it seem like they just repeat the same material for every show.”

Dick Dijon, Producer/Emcee, Vaudezilla (Chicago, IL)

 

2. You drive the course of the evening. Captain the ship.

Photo by Studio X Photography

Tito Bonito (Photo: Studio X Photography)

“The most important thing for new emcees to know is they are the master of ceremonies. The producer trusts them to keep the pace of the show moving, to keep the show entertaining and to gauge the audience correctly.”

Tito Bonito, emcee for the Bootleg Bombshells (Los Angeles, CA)

The emcee is there to tie the separate acts together into a cohesive show. This includes being on the ball with timing. Unless your producer tells you otherwise, you should be reconnecting with the audience as soon as the applause starts for the end of a performer’s act. If you’ve got a wireless mic, consider taking it with you and starting to speak from offstage while you enter.

“When I think about the good and bad hosting that I’ve seen in my life, the people who are really good, what they’re doing is managing the flow and atmosphere in the room.”

Anna Fur Laxis, Executive Producer, Qi-POW! Burlesque (Shanghai, China)

Pay close attention to the set-up and technical process. Don’t leave the stage until the next act is ready to go— always be prepared to stall! Sometimes performers have last-minute costume malfunctions, stage set-up takes longer than expected, or the DJ has a problem with the music. Jump on these occasions. Don’t wait. Even just a few minutes of dead air feels like an eternity.

It’s much easier for someone to give you a wave when things are a ‘go’ than to recover the loss of energy that comes from bringing the show to an unexpected full stop.

3. Get to know your acts and set the appropriate tone before they come on.

“Get performer notes from the producer ahead of time (day or two before the show)! They almost always have them and almost always forget to pass them on. Performers often spend a good amount of time giving them a blurb – don’t make them try to remember what they came up with on show day!”

Colin Acumen, drag king and producer

As far in advance as you can, reach out to the performers and ask them about what they’re going to do. Having a good idea of what their act is like will 1) allow you to prepare enough material in case of complicated set-up and 2) inform the kind of tone that you should set before the performer comes on. No need to wait for your producer on this one— if you have access to their email or Facebook, you can reach out to them directly. At the very least, make the rounds before the show once you get to the venue and speak to the performers personally. Ask about their music, choreography, and general tone of their act, then make sure to tailor your introduction to their number. 

Dick adds:

“The really great hosts are the ones who understand that hosting is not something you can just pick up and do off-the-cuff. It takes planning and preparation. The jokes need to land (and be BRIEF), the intros need to be crisp, and in an ideal world, you wouldn’t need notes. Great hosts also know how to mix things up. A serious/message act should not be presented the same way as a hard-rocking or comedic act.”

Anna suggests:

“A good host knows that if the next act is high-energy, then they’re going to build it up and whip the crowd into a frenzy. If they know the next piece is a low-key performance, they’ll bring the audience in.”

My friend Erin FM, stand-up comedian and experienced host, notes: 

“You owe it to your performers to set up the crowd for them. If the last act bombed or ended on a down note, you have to bring them back up before you can hand the audience over to the next performer.”

4. Connect with the audience.

Look directly into the eyes of your audience members. Seek out different people in the room for different lines. Novice emcees sometimes freeze under the glare of the spotlights and end up delivering all of their lines above people’s heads. 

“I would say the biggest DO as an emcee is to make sure that you’re engaging your audience.  If the audience doesn’t feel connected to you in some way then they won’t be interested in anything else that is being presented on stage.  Talk to them, make them feel like you’re actually interested in whether or not they’re having a good time, this can be hard to do without holding up the show but it’s important!”

Alexander Cameron, drag king (Cincinatti, OH)

Talk to the audience. Ask them questions. Some questions you can ask include:

  • Who’s never been to a burlesque/drag show before?
  • Are there any birthdays or special occasions in the audience?
  • Who are you here to see?

Or questions related to the content of the show. For example, during our most recent Cosplay! burlesque, Miss Jade asked the audience members which fictional character they fantasized about the most. (#teamsnape)

MissJadeHosting

Miss Jade (Photo: Grant-Oh! Buchwald)

In between acts, glance around the room for the most interesting characters (clothes, reactions to the performance, general energy) and don’t be afraid to interact with them. Questions you can ask specific audience members:

  • Name and job?
  • Where are you from?
  • Who is that? (indicating their date for the evening)

Good hosts have a roster of one-size-fits-all jokes, while great hosts are able to riff on the spot. You don’t have to have extensive theater training to be a great host. Some of the best hosts I’ve ever seen developed quick wits through bartending and serving. If you really want to get great at saying funny things on the spur of the moment, consider taking an improv class or two. 

5. Serve the show. 

Fantastic emcees keep the audience engaged, provide an energetic crowd for the performers, and entertain the audience in their own right. Start working on your own hosting bits well in advance of the show. Good hosts don’t always have to be stand-up comedians, either— I’ve seen great hosts who play the ukulele or guitar at some point during the line-up. 

Serving the show means respecting your performers and audience. Be courteous with the timing of your material, make sure to clear up any questions such as where a performer is from or how to pronounce their name before the show, and don’t host drunk or high (it isn’t a necessity, just an excuse). 

Alexander Cameron adds:

“The biggest DON’T for me is being rude or making fun of people.  I’ve seen emcees spend a lot of time focusing on throwing shade at other entertainers or audience members and it’s a huge turn-off for me.  Joking is fine as long as it’s not hurtful but I’ve seen people get personal and it made the show uncomfortable for everyone involved.”

Your professionalism backstage is also appreciated. Like any member of the cast, show up on time and be reliable. If a performer is busy getting ready for the show, let them be! Don’t interrogate your producer while they are preparing for their own performance. Keep the backstage transmission of radio waves of anxiety to a minimum.

Remember: great hosts are made, not born. The most important thing for any performer is to self-reflect and continue to hone his/her craft. A great cabaret would be nothing without a great host, so a big thank-you to all of the hosts out there who help us do what we do. You are the spirit gum to our mustaches, the double-sided tape to our pasties. We need you!

How about you, fellow performers? What are your essential do’s and don’ts for emcees? Comment below to share. Until next time!

E

That face when you’re too busy performing to update…

Hey friends. Been a little quiet around these parts recently, hasn’t it?

May 21 saw yours truly heading down to Hangzhou to perform with fellow #HouseOfTBD member Honey West at the Vogue cabaret.

May 28 saw the House of TBD presenting it’s second successful resident show at Happiness 42, titled World Tour, featuring special guests Fantasia Valentina and Miss UniVers.

On June 10 & 11, my amazing company Qi-POW! Burlesque mounted its sixth original cabaret, COSPLAY!. I performed a brand-new group act with House of TBD, a duet with Anna Fur Laxis, and my own new Peter Pan solo.

June 16 was the first-ever Qi-POW! Burlesque Laboratory, an experimental show designed to encourage existing and up-and-coming talent on the Shanghai cabaret scene.

The Laboratory

And to round out an awesome few weeks, the House of TBD was invited to perform at the ShanghaiPRIDE 8 Opening Party as the Wizard of Oz.

What an awesome few weeks. Now it’s time to take a little summer break. I have loved performing so much but I worry about quality control when I’m busting out original piece after original piece with a full-time job. I want to really lock down and strengthen the choreography for my Peter Pan piece as well as turn my scarecrow act into a solo. Qi-POW! is also in the very, very early planning stages for our spooky October and cheeky December shows.

Stay tuned. ❤

Shanghai LQ (LesQueers) Launch Party

Feeling fresh and fierce after the Austin International Drag Festival, I rounded up a few of my bros for a special guest performance at the launch party for the logo of LQ (LesQueers), my friend Gabby’s community project aimed at building community for the queer women of China and elsewhere.

I was super excited to be joined by new kings Dorian Fisk and Jinghua for a rocking lip-sync to Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer.” Let me tell you– there is nothing that makes me feel like more of a rock star than performing for a room full of beautiful queer women. AMIRITE.

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Congratulations Gabby and the rest of the LQ team! Can’t wait to see the LQ continue to grow. For more information, be sure to check them out and like their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lqshanghai.

Until next time!