If there were ever two people to personify the word ‘mood’, it’s Allie X and Sasha Velour. Here they both sit down for BRICKS to discuss the many faces of beauty, the parallels between the music industry and drag, and how theatre transcends barriers across the globe.
As a fellow little bald, non-binary introverted extrovert, my heart is bursting with pride and how brilliant Sasha Velour has been for trans and gender diverse people across the world. Seeing her span the globe with her revolutionary and bespoke talent, truly is mesmerising.
Both stars are climbing ladders double time in their respective careers. With Allie X’s new release Cape God, and Velour’s new European tour of Smoke & Mirrorsthis spring, both needed a sit-down and a breather, but we just happened to be there with some recording equipment!
Sasha Velour spills the proverbial tea with BRICKS on her new 8 part docu-series adaptation of NightGowns coming to Quibi in April. As well as discussing her groundbreaking past, Velour explores the beginnings of an exciting new chapter with Smoke & Mirrors, a new combination of drag, live theatre, visual art, magic and personal storytelling. With a 17 date European tour on her horizon, including a sell-out stint at the London Palladium, I for one am glad the Devil I Know singer Allie X got her claws on her for a quick chinwag.
Allie X: Sasha, you, like me, have a lot of irons in the fire, between your shows NightGowns, Smoke and Mirrors, your documentary series and the visual work that you do on the side. I’m wondering if there is a way you could describe what you do with all your work? Are there words you can think of that tie everything together?
Sasha: Um, that’s interesting. I’ve joked about being someone who solves beauty problems in the world [laughs]. Not just surface-level beauty, like conceptual levels of beauty, clarity of information, things like the effectiveness of lighting you know. My mum was an editor so sometimes I feel myself kind of continuing that family business. It doesn’t quite explain putting myself up in crazy costumes and shoes and running around [laughs] but maybe there’s something.
Allie X: I think that very accurately describes what you do. When you first said it, I wasn’t thinking about surface-level beauty at all. I think more on a community level and on a people-helping-people level; you’re always contributing beauty. What excites you most andkeeps you going? What gets you up in the morning and inspires you to do this?
Sasha: Umm, fantasy to some extent and will power.
Allie X: Do you consider yourself as someone with a lot of willpower?
Sasha: Definitely, I always feel driven by imagination and I guess it wouldn’t be possible to keep creating art without enormous amounts of will power. It’s really not the easiest profession; even if it is intoxicating to be on stage and to have people excited about what you’ve shared. Especially also for someone who for a long time, was doing drag. I did drag and didn’t get much reaction.
Allie X: That’s so crazy to me. So when you were doing drag before RuPaul’s Drag Race, were you not a hot queen on the scene? It’s so hard to imagine that not being the case.
Sasha: I was and wasn’t. I mean people really liked NightGowns from the beginning. People were responding to my performances, like I did this performance of ‘Cellophane’ by SIA, with this projection that goes over my dress and my face. I would do that in bars and people would freak out; they really really loved it. In all areas I have found even now, you really do have to build your own career as an artist. I don’t think there are many opportunities that are really like banging down the doors. If an artist experiences that for any period of their lifetime I think they are so lucky.
Allie X: I completely agree, you really do have to. Even the youngsters that I see out in LA that get the record deal right away, as soon as that first song doesn’t work on the radio, they’re on their own, and then it’s up to them to keep it going, and that’s in a very established industry that makes a lot of money. As a drag queen, it has got to be a lot harder?
Sasha: I mean I think our industries are remarkably parallel from everything you tell me. You really do learn about how to be wilful as an artist very early on.
Allie X: Or, you just stop early on. I can think of a lot of people that were like ‘yep this isn’t for me’.
Sasha: And fair, I think for some people it spoils the joy of the process, they don’t want a career in it, because it does require this constant balancing that we’ve been talking about.
I’ve always been committed to creating that theatrical space that drag requires
Allie X: Do you think you’ve had to make a choice where you choose between being ‘balanced’ and being an artist? Can you have both do you think?
Sasha: I mean I think so, I’d like to believe it’s possible. I feel sort of touch and go with my own success as an artist at all points. So I don’t feel confident giving anyone any advice on this matter. It can be very enjoyable to learn how to play the game and present your work in such a way that it does grab peoples attention and it does get shared, and you are able to continue to build a reputation and a name for yourself. Or maybe it’s a matter of just using every opportunity that you get and making the most of it.
Allie X: I sometimes wonder whether I could be happier doing something else? Then I come up with the answer, it’s almost like what is happiness? What could feel better than when I feel when I’m on stage or how I feel when I’m creating something?
Sasha: I sometimes imagine if there will be a time down the road where I’m just an old non-binary lady, tending to my garden and looking at my fan art with a melodramatic tear in my eye.
Allie X: [laughs] Oh my god, oh my god! I have the same vision for myself! That’s so funny/
Sasha: If that’s what it’s going to be it is going to be gorgeous for both of us. We can have tea and look at each others fan art.
Allie X: We can wipe each other’s single melodramatic tear. I wanna jump into your early beginnings and how NightGowns came to be. The first time I saw the show,I thought it was brilliant because you’re taking drag out of the bar and putting it into a theatrical space where your production capabilities are a lot more vast; drag deserves to have space where it can be seen in this way. Obviously, bars are amazing and so iconic; we love seeing drag in a bar. But it just felt so smart that you did that, so could you please explain how that came about?
Sasha: Ooh, thank you! Well, the thing about drag is it builds a theatre wherever it is. When you see a drag queen sitting on a park bench, it’s almost like she has a spotlight and curtain in front of her already. It brings that theatricality. When we started NightGowns, I was always trying to build a theatre inside of a bar basically. I would go to bars while it was empty before hosting a show and I would get up on a ladder and re-adjust the lights, fix the curtains and pull down the projection screen so it would make a backdrop on these little rickety bar stages. I would clear the cords off the stage so we could have a clear playing space.
I’ve always been committed to creating that theatrical space that drag requires. Drag takes up theatrical space, whether you have a cleared one, a lit one or not. So, my philosophy is why not clean the stage and light it properly? I think theatre developed to have wing space and side lighting and footlights, whatever. I think those work really well to tell the kinds of stories that happen theatrically, and so drag benefits from them as well. It seems fresh because queer people.. there hasn’t been a lot of queer theatre, that sanctioned queer theatre, so it has only existed in bars and outdoor festivals and that kind of thing.
So. I think we’re trying to figure out like how to bring more queer people into established theatre spaces to take advantage of all of that creative potential that exists. NightGowns is one little step. We have like a couple of lights and maybe like a backdrop that can fly in and out. My ambition with NightGowns is to take it like to full-on Phantom of the Opera style, but sometimes I think limitations can be a good thing artistically.
Allie X: Yeah I mean I think so. You definitely use the space to its full potential. Watching NightGowns, there are productions ideas that you do that to me are more impressive than seeing a full-fledged multi-million dollar Broadway show.
Sasha: People are usually shocked when they hear.. like theatre people, when they hear how much my shows cost. In the theatre world, they’re used to spending tons and tons of money and in drag. We really do things for a budget that do look pretty amazing I think.
Allie X: Yeah, that part of drag is like a whole art form within its self. So with NightGowns now, it feels to me kind of like a huge community coming together slash you showcasing the talent that people may not be aware of. Was that something that happened post drag race or was that also always the intention with NightGowns?
Sasha: That was always the mission statement of NightGowns, it was an inclusive look at drag. NightGowns evolved as a book release party for this zine that Johnny (Sasha’s partner) and I were putting together. So the zine was meant to capture the current state of drag. Looking at drag kings and trans drag performers and women drag performers of all kinds. Specifically understanding that RuPaul’s Drag Race is one the biggest and best platforms of drag, did not necessarily showcase the full spectrum of who is doing this art form.
Allie X: And you did that before you went on Drag Race, that’s so fucking cool. You really stick to your guns, it’s so cool, you were doing that before drag race and you’re doing it after to an even bigger extent. It’s really refreshing to see someone with all the notoriety and success that you’ve gained through the show not change and not sell out in any way. Good job. Good for you!
Sasha: Thank you. I think it’s because of my goal, it’s not necessarily like a fantasy of celebrity, sometimes that is the hardest part of it.
Allie X: Something I’ve noticed is that you have a huge drag queen audience at your shows. You seem to attract, more so then any other artist I can think of, a real community wherever you go. I remember seeing on Instagram stories you’d get a different queen to do a takeover of who is in the audience, and what their reactions are and stuff. Where did that idea come from and how does it speak to what you do?
Sasha: I had the idea of reserving a bunch of really good seats for local drag artists, and then if those artists had a show that night, I would tell the audience to head out, for the unofficial- official after-party at the local show. I was trying ways to still have this drag theatre piece speak in dialogue with whatever local queer community is there because I don’t want to be feeling like we’re pulling resources away from local spaces, but rather like mutually supporting each other.
Allie X: Do you think of Smoke and Mirrors as an extension of NightGowns? Was it a tourable version or a whole separate idea for you?
Sasha: For me, Smoke and Mirrors is a whole separate idea. It kind of grew out of… it’s like the last 10 minutes of NightGowns, traditionally with me giving a little speech of what I’ve been up to and tying it into my final performance. Those sections of NightGowns became its own show, which is Smoke and Mirrors, it’s a bunch of NightGowns closing numbers woven together with a narrative. It’s a personal narrative mixed with pure drag fantasy.
Introduction Jamie Windust Photography and direction Vasso Vu Photographyassistant Sebi Bruckner Styling Danielle Goldman Styling assistant Melissa Schwarz Set Design Furmaan Ahmed Set assistants Alex Diamond, James Findlay, Flint J McDonald, Jonquil Lawrence Hair Sam Roman Makeup and prosthetics Sophie G Moore Makeup and prosthetics assistant Jordan Glancy Production Tori West
This article originally appeared in ‘The Rise Together’ issue of BRICKS, available to purchase from our online store.