Nearly nude bodies and fully beat faces in a wild rumpus finale set to Lady Gaga concludes another group performance at BSP in Kingston—but the heartbeat of Hudson Valley drag lies beyond the stage and back home.
For those involved in the scene, drag takes on a unique and personal meaning for each individual. For New Paltz-based troupe Haus of Peculiar, drag is a homecoming: It means artistic expression, a safe space, and a warm dinner cooking on the stove in a place where you're loved, supported, and appreciated by your chosen family.
“There’s not a big queer family moment happening in drag houses, at least not as widely as one might think,” 26-year-old performer Venus says, reflecting on what sets the Haus, where a number of queens and performers reside, apart. “Here you kind of get that and the added bonus is—we do drag.”
At “Loosey Goosey,” the Haus’ monthly party-show at BSP, Strawberry, 22, dressed in a black evening gown, gives a morose tribute to their long distance spouse, silencing the crowd in suspended captivation.
A black screen descends downstage with projected white text that transcribes a narration in French. Strawberry emerges, beginning a passionate opera-noir set to Mitski’s “Your Best American Girl,” choreographed with wistful, romantic gestures. The voice of the narration was Strawberry’s partner (and fellow performer) Mauve, who had to return to their Canadian home shortly after their wedding earlier this year.
“What we do, it brings back so much childhood—and there’s the way that we play, the way that we dress up, and the way that we embrace that intense release of energy. I think we found our home doing that and some people found their home watching us,” Strawberry says. “I think we’re all trying to escape the trap of trying to be somebody who we’re not.”
Strawberry has been with the Haus since its unofficial founding five or six years ago. Since then, recounting interactions they’ve had with newcomers and audience members in recent years, they say it’s been an “intense, long, and very diverse history that’s led us to the point where people are now coming into our spaces and feeling, in some cases, that they feel more at home than they’ve ever felt in their lives.”
One of those newcomers is Showponii, 24, who has been performing with the haus for about eighteen months and is currently their first and only drag king (a performer whose drag persona is male). In that relatively short time, he’s observed and immersed himself in the close-knit and supportive culture of this particular drag home.
“We're an actual family that wants to build each other up and see each other succeed—instead of tearing performers down out of jealousy,” he says, as the latter can be all too common in other, more competitive drag communities. “We also try to understand each other as people as much as we can, in order to be a better ally to the marginalized queer people in our haus, along with cultivating spaces where everyone can feel safe.”
A number of performers agree that the foundation of support at the Haus of Peculiar gives them the energy and confidence to express themselves onstage. “We all put how we feel on that stage,” says Denime the Queen, 24, another performer. “And having people who help you deal with it while you’re at home and you release that on stage—there’s nothing like it.”
Although their missions as performers are varied throughout the Haus, they all agree that there’s no right or wrong way to define or express themselves through drag. Every performance is an opportunity for a performer to tell their story in a new way.
For Victoria Precise, drag is another instrument for communicating a heartfelt mission as an advocate and crisis counselor by day. “I carry that over and it informs my drag and how I want to convey a message to somebody onstage,” she says. “So for me drag is advocacy, activism, feeling, and relentless and uninhibited self-expression.”
At “Loosey Goosey,” Victoria gave an emotionally-charged rendition of Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park” in a modern technicolor cosmic-housewife ensemble—complete with cake ingredient props. Although wild and jubilant, the campy number was “dedicated to finding solace in heartbreak,” according to Victoria, producing a performance as raw as cake batter.
Although drag often involves costumes, makeup, and wigs, it’s not a disguise or an evasion of a performer's identity. On the contrary, in a world that requires countless other less-fulfilling performances every day, it’s often a chance to embrace and unveil the most real and the most genuine version of oneself.
“Drag seems like you’re putting on a lot, like you’re covering yourself up,” Victoria says. “But, really, it’s a reveal of your true colors and who you are.”
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