Thursday, February 25, 2016

Crêpe Suzette: A Chameleon Drag Queen

Crêpe Suzette takes pride in knowing that she puts everything she has into her performances and tries encouraging others to do the same. She may not perform too often due to a tough work schedule, but she takes her art incredibly seriously. She mixes different types of performances to keep her audience entertained and loves to shock the people watching her show. 

1. Who is Crêpe Suzette as a performer?

As a performer, Crêpe Suzette is eclectic. I like to evoke the emotion of a song; so my performances range from high energy, campy, jazzy "dance" numbers; to erratic, creepy contortion; to live singing; hoop dancing; stripping; and gymnastic flips. I try to use every skill and style I can to compensate for the fact I can't really do any one thing amazingly. I always say, "I'm not a make up artist, I'm not a dancer, I'm not a singer, I'm not an actress; I'm a drag queen." I may not be the best in any one field, but I'm really good at adapting to new things and dipping my toe in every lake- I want to be a chameleon. I think, like many artists, I work through my emotions on stage, so I try to play with everything- anger, sadness, fear, joy, sex. Sometimes it can come off really strange and intimate, other times I just want to cartwheel and drop into splits and do reveals and be more traditional. I like to mix it up.

2. When and why did you begin doing drag?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a fashion model. I was mesmerized by runways and outfits, especially the fantasy designs I would see in video games and high fashion photoshoots; I was really into shows like Project Runway and America's Next Top Model. My mom was also a designer and seamstress, so I was always surrounded by fabric and the sound of sewing machines (even though I never learned to sew...). Getting older, it was obvious my *biological* sex was going to be a hindrance to my fashion dreams, so I vented that energy into drawing. I was really influenced by video games (like Final Fantasy- Tetsuya Nomura was my first fashion idol) and ancient cultures, so I began doing character design and playing with silhouettes and accoutrements. I didn't think of it as fashion design then, but I was laying the ground work for what would become styling my drag looks.
Speaking of drag, I first was exposed to it when RuPaul's Drag Race season 1 came out. I was shocked- suddenly my dreams of being a model were a reality again. I spent years idolizing queens and watching the show religiously, until finally, on February 15, 2014, I got into geish for the first time. I went to a warehouse party with my friends and looked a total MESS. I had a jersey tube dress stretched over a lopsided pair of pads and smeared a layer of L'Oreal Queen Collection lip stick (in Spice) over my unlined lips. Maybe it wouldn't have been so bad if I hadn't also skipped lashes and overdrawn liner... I didn't even cover my eyebrows! As booger as I was, I had crossed into the world of drag and I'm so glad I finally did. At first it was jarring. I was nervous and uncomfortable in the clubs; I always hated clubs as a boy. I don't like crowds and get bad anxiety, so I thought maybe it wasn't for me, maybe I wasn't "hip" enough to be a drag queen. I considered quitting early- stopping while I was ahead- but when BenDeLaCreme won the first episode of RPDRs6 with her Golden Girls look, it showed me that campy queens could be accepted into the mainstream. Jinkx was the reigning queen and this silly burlesque character was leading the new pack. Nearly two years later I'm still in it.

3. How did you come up with your drag name? 

I wanted something campy and feminine. My favorite drag names are always puns, but nothing felt like *me*. I was very close to going with Jen Da'Benda, but I felt like it was trying too hard; it didn't feel natural. I was always interested in French culture and actually am a small part French on my mom's side (like when people are 1/16th Cherokee, *forced laughter*) so I looked at different words and foods. French desserts are really popular, especially in Japan (which is why you see them so much in anime) and after deciding not to go with anything TOO difficult to pronouce (framboise was no longer an option) but still exotic, I picked out crêpes. Classic, iconic, fun to write; I love accents, especially circumflexes (that's the little hat over the E), so it was a driving force. Suzette is already a name, so bing bang boom, I knew I had it. Plus, it gave me my (largely unused) tagline; because much like me, crêpes are thin, sweet, full of cream, doused in alcohol, and FLAMING! Oddly enough, I've never actually eaten crêpes suzette, but they have orange liquer so I bet they're tangy.

4. What has been your biggest accomplishment so far?

In terms of drag, or in terms of life? As a drag queen, I don't think I've really accomplished that much. I'm still putting in my dues, so my biggest achievements are simple things, like getting paid gigs, being known by people I haven't met, always doing my own styling and make up, and making my own headpieces. Oh! And I just made an outfit entirely out of garbage bags and duct tape, I'm really proud of that. However, I feel like my biggest accomplishment so far is committing to my own happiness in spite of my busy lifestyle and mental health issues. Like many people, I struggle with anxiety and depression and have a full time job (a night shift, no less, crippling my ability to go out and perform) and I would hide behind my drag character to keep from getting close to people. It wasn't working for me, drag felt like just another chore, and it was killing my fire. I knew something had to change, so I decided to make 2016 the year of growth and I started embracing my boy side, going to clubs out of drag, coming out as a drag queen in my personal and professional worlds, and being more open and honest about my issues and desires. I started exercising and tried to eat healthy and think positively. It really does feel like I'm happier and more authentic as a person, and I want to put that into my drag. It feels like a new chapter in my life, and that's an exciting feeling.

5. Do you ever get nervous before performing, and if so, how do you cope with it? 

I think everyone gets nervous, but for me, it can be really terrifying. Ironically, I have performance anxiety, so I'm always terrified of messing up. I try to leave my body, feel the music- get out my head. I've gotten a lot more comfortable, so at this point I just make sure I know my words, take a deep breath, and DO IT. If you trip (I do a lot), if your hair gets messed up (mine does a lot), if you flub the words, miss your cue, get stuck on your costume (you get the point), keep going. Your job isn't to worry, it's to perform. Wait until you're backstage to be a wreck, but while the spotlight it on you, remember you're a performer- your job is to entertain people. If something goes wrong, turn it into part of the performance. There are no accidents, just last minute additions! Ultimately, it's a matter of experience. If you get nervous, just keep doing it. You'll never not be nervous, but eventually, you'll stop freezing up or fumbling. It also helps to not be too hard on yourself... if you treat mistakes as lessons, they becomes positives. Every fuck up gets you a little closer to greatness!

6. What is your favorite part of doing drag?

The transformation. It's a big costume party! Bringing to life the characters I see in my head is always the most enjoyable aspect of drag. It's such a compliment when people tell me I'm always different, and in the first year of my drag I tried to completely change it up every time. The second year was more about "polishing" up my look, but I still put a big emphasis on the visual story... the pieces should all compliment each other, even if it's just because of how disparate they are. I also really like to shock people with my performances; I want the crowd to gasp! I like climbing on things, hanging upside down, twisting my body around; it's just fun to feel like you managed to leave an impression on an audience. Whether it's my look or my performance, my goal is to be memorable- for better or worse. Ain't no half-steppin' in drag!
Another thing I love about drag is the community. Being part of the machine, meeting other queens. I love being around artists and creative energy, so I try to bask in the aura of other styles and personalities. If you can get them to love what you do, it's just the icing on the cake. It really breaks down gender roles, too. Growing up I was picked on a lot for being feminine and weird, and generally NOT a "normal guy". The drag world lets me express myself authentically; it's a place where I'm celebrated for being different. It really taught me to stand by myself in the public world. Yes, I wear flower prints and neon pink baby tees. Yes, I speak differently than most people. No, I don't care much for cars and sports and guns. Don't like it? Oh well! I pay my own bills and buy my own heels, so I don't have time to worry about people who don't get it- I'd much rather spend time with people who DO get it. Get it?

7. What is something not many people know about you?

I once open mouth kissed a horse. Just kidding (unless you count my ex-boyfriend...) I'm not sure what people do or do not know about me; in general, I'm pretty open about things. I've been pretty vocal about my big family (6 siblings) and mental health issues (although I won't bore you with the specifics). Maybe that I'm actually a pretty shy person? It sounds sort of cliché, but I'm fairly insecure. I know a lot of people see me as flamboyant, sassy, and outgoing, but I really need to work on my confidence and nerve. If you study astrology, you know that even though your sun sign affects your personality, your moon sign affects you thoughts. I'm a double Leo with a Gemini moon, so I have all the passion and bravado of a Leo, but mentally it's all inverted. Many drag queens use their character as a way of overcoming insecurities, shyness, and/or fear. I'm happy to say that drag has done that for me. I still have a long way to go, but it gives me an outlet.

8. Who would you love to work with in the future and why?

I really look up to queens like Jackie Beat and Coco Peru. They were the first drag queens that I had ever seen, and they really epitomize the "whole package": they have a look, they have acting skills and a defined character and message, they've really worked to get where they are, and they're HILARIOUS! From Drag Race, I really connect with Jinkx Monsoon, Alaska Thunderfuck5000, BenDeLaCreme, Katya and Trixie Mattel. They have such iconic looks and personalities, and are the epitome of witty bitches. To me, drag is all about that over the top humor and impeccable comedic timing. Stylistically, they're all a lot of fun to watch, and they ooze confidence- even as they tear themselves apart for the sake of a joke! It would be fun to feed off their energy, and would be a good way to learn how to work a crowd.
Closer to home, queens like Ursula Major, Valentine Anger, Frankie Doom, Thursday Addams, Xochi Mochi, and Pinche Queen are goals af. Unlike my campy inspirations, these queens really push the envelope on the darker side of drag, incorporating elements of genderfuck, horror, circus performance, and really daring, over the top performances; yet they manage to entertain the crowd with big personalities and genuine personality. Whether it's Ursula stapling tips to her arms, Valentine juggling fire, Frankie disemboweling Thursday, Xochi bringing full clown face, or Pinche whipping out a strap on, you KNOW you're gonna be shocked and amazed at one of their shows- I wanna to be part of THAT show! Obviously there are many other performers who bring it (shout out to Foxie Adjuia, Missy Vee, and Robbie Osa for their polished dance numbers) and local celebrity inspirations (Psycadella Facade is fucking hilarious), but my drag crushes tend to be the freaks and creeps. Club kids to the front of the line.
Oh! If we extend this question beyond "drag queens", I would kill to work with John Cameron Mitchell. My favorite movie is Shortbus, and Hedwig is such a huge part of the drag continuum. His process is so cerebral and it would be awesome to be part of his work.

9. Who would you say is your biggest inspiration and why? 

I don't know if I could pinpoint one person... but obviously my mom is up there. She raised me basically alone, but never left me feeling like I wasn't provided for. She's supported and accepted me in everything I've tried, and taught me what I know about honesty, drive, and rolling with the punches. I'm really blessed to have someone in my life who gives me so much unconditional love and acceptance; not everyone, especially drag queens, have that gift. Hell, she gave me my first dress. She's the epitome of a strong woman, and my goal is to make her proud and pay her back. In my mind, she's an old woman living in an Italian villa, lounging by the pool surrounded by oiled, olive skinned poolboys in tiny speedos, feeding her chilled grapes, slathering her skin in expensive lotions, and fanning her with ostrich feathers. I probably won't be able to afford all of that, but maybe I can get a gogo boy to pick leaves out of a kiddie pool or something- it's the thought that counts.

10. What is your opinion on Rupaul's Drag Race? Do you believe it is helping or hurting drag and why?

Both. It made drag mainstream; one the one hand, it made drag more accepted, but at the same time, it made drag commercial. If I had to pick one answer, I would say it's helping more than hurting- now the entire world can enjoy drag and be part of the revolution. I wouldn't be a drag queen if not for the show, and the queens who get on have their lives changed forever. The problem comes when people think the show represents everything there is to know about drag. The show is a good representation of a some styles of drag, but it in no way encompasses all there is to the art of drag. Also, it doesn't give credit to the PROCESS of becoming a queen. Getting on the show turns you into an overnight celebrity, whether you've been in the game for a few months or for several years. It's a wonderful equalizing force for a SHOW, but drag is born from clubs. You need to pay your dues. I hope as the show progresses it gives more credit to bar queens and performance artists, and that those aspects of drag are more publicized in general. It's the fans responsibility to do their homework, though.
That brings me to the hot topic of the season: fans of drag versus fans of Drag Race. At the end of the day, it's a reality show. It doesn't show you what being a drag queen is any more than Project Runway shows you what being a designer is. I love it, but if the entirety of your references are limited to the race, you're leaving a huge portion of what drag is out of the equation. Do your homework, people- RuPaul is just one part of the herstory of this wonderful artform. Also, RuPaul didn't start out as a TV star- he fought and clawed and WERKED his way to this point. Dig a little deeper and you'll find a wonderland of crossdressers and visionaries, from the club kids of yesteryear to the pageant queens of today.
Tl;dr: I love the show, it's really put drag out there, it just made it too easy for people to *think* they're experts or that they're too good to pay their dues as a queen.

11. Biggest pet peeve when it comes to the drag community?

Everyone always answers "the cattiness". Of course I agree, but since everyone sort of knows that the drag community can be shady boots the house down, I'll go with my second biggest pet peeve. LAZINESS. When I do drag, I put a lot of effort in. Hours are dedicated to shopping for the right pieces and supplies, studying techniques and styles, learning songs and steps, stretching and exercising my body, working on my skills- it's not easy. There are stylistic exceptions, of course, but in general, I want to see lashes, nails, hair, LOOKS, darling, looks. If you're calling yourself fish, you better be snatched for the gods. If you're genderfuck, make me feel something with your look. If you're glamour, gag me with your eleganza. Whatever you do, whoever you are, put 100% into it, earn your crown. I've seen performers stand in one place and SLAY a performance; I've seen queens work every inch of a stage and look a hot mess. Ultimately, drag is about entertainment, so whether you're walking art or a dancing queen or a great hostess, be the best one you can be; otherwise why are you even doing it? Show me some passion, inspire me! Again, AIN'T NO HALF STEPPIN'.

12. If you could travel anywhere, where would you choose to go and why?

I wanna go where there are queens. I really want to go to France, just for the experience, but I would rather go to Manchester or Chicago or Seattle to see the talent there; I love what those cities are doing with drag and it would be great to experience it in person. I'm not really interested in city life, aside from drag shows, so it might be nice to travel the world to walk children in nature; I don't know, I never really think about travel much.

13. How long does it usually take you to get ready to perform? 

The actual drag usually takes three to five hours. I like to leave myself a good bit of time to shower, shave and eat before I start painting, just to center myself. Doing my make up takes about three hours, but I'm usually running late... I can do make up in 45 minutes if I need to, but I'm pretty slow with painting, and when I'm rushing it shows. Getting dressed can take 15 minutes to a half hour, depending on how complicated my outfit is, and putting together my look can sometimes take an hour on its own! If I'm good, I'll have my look planned and prepared a day or two in advance, but sometimes I'm just a chicken without a head; I really need to work on time management.
Performances are more than just the look, though, and I like to take a few days to a few weeks to learn my song and plan a routine. I don't really do choreography, but I like to loosely plan my performances, just to have a guideline. I like to be spontaneous, but I learned long ago not to trust my ad-libbing skills for the entire song- you gotta have a gameplan! I rarely repeat songs, so I spend a lot of time listening to music and seeing what speaks to me; almost all of my performances are organic. I'll hear something and get struck by inspiration and suddenly I *KNOW* what I want to do. It helps to plan ahead, though, so I try to keep a catalogue of young ideas for the future that I can clean up when I get a booking.

14. What is your most prized possession? 

My drawing notebooks. It's not one thing, but I would just die if anything were to happen to them! I have years of creative evolution between those pages, and they're the only constant in my life. No matter what changes I go through, my notebooks are representative of that part of me that has never changed. It's fun to just flip through old books and see how creative I was (or wasn't). It reminds me that I really am an artist. It's important to reflect on your accomplishments, but at the same time, it shows me that practice makes perfect! We all start somewhere. Maybe I'm not where I want to be yet, but if I keep working at it, I'll get better and better.
Also, I NEED my phone. I'm not proud of it, but I am totally addicted to it. I don't think that's a bad thing, though, because I use it to do research, keep in contact with friends, network... it's a wonderful tool when used productively. (I could spend less time on Buzzfeed, but at least I don't watch cat videos... that much.)

15. What would you say is your favorite piece of makeup that you absolutely cannot live without?

LIPSTICK. I never learned to do make up properly, so I just use what I think will work. I can do my entire face with lipstick- I use it as eyeliner, eyeshadow, eyebrows, foundation, countour... Eyeliner is pretty important too, but since a black lipstick makes a great eyeliner, I'm definitely going with lipstick. Is it dangerous to use lipstick on your eyes? I hope not, because I do it very often, haha. Plus, lipsticks have great pigment. You don't get the wonderful blending shadows can achieve, but I can't use shadows right anyway, so I like to use lipstick as much as possible, especially since I have so many bright colors. If I could only use one product for the rest of my career, it would definitely be good lipstick. Besides, my mouth is my money maker, so I better dress it up all pretty!

Follow Crêpe Suzette:
Instagram: @crepe_suzie

The Drag Enthusiast:
Twitter: @DragEnthusiast
Instagram: @dragenthusiast

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