This lovely queen and dancing machine has been gracing NYC venues for over a decade, is a staple of the Lips drag dining experience and has been a member of the Queen revue at Industry since its original run with Shequida. Thotyssey checks in with the luminous Skyla Versai before her final NYC gig of the season as she prepares for a Grecian summer.
Thotyssey: Hi Skyla! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! I know you must be super busy with packing and handling your affairs, as you’re leaving in a few weeks to live and perform in Greece the whole summer. As wonderful as that’s going to be, is this part really hectic and crazy?
Skyla Versai: Yeah. It’s getting down to the wire now. For about two months before I leave, I get crazy with getting my numbers together and my outfits. We work on a two-week cycle, and do the show seven days a week where we can’t repeat numbers. So I need to bring a minimum of 28 costumes and numbers with me, since I do at least two in every show. There is lots of communication between the four of us girls in the show, so we don’t have repeats. The best part is when I’m on the plane heading to paradise. I know the work is mostly over, and the fun is about to start.
So, you’ve done this several times before. When was your first time working in Greece?
This is my fourth year, but my second full season. I started working at the Elysium four years ago, the first year that Epiphany was there. I went for the Excelsior circuit party with my best friend and his now-husband. Epiphany and I have been friends for about ten years, so she told me to bring some drag with me. I was only supposed to go for five days, do one or two shows, and then travel more around Europe, but ended up falling in love with it and stayed for three weeks. Thank God I overpack, or I wouldn’t have had enough [laughs].
And what is the gig exactly?
The Sunset Cabaret, which is without a doubt the best show in Greece, if not the entire Mediterranean. We perform seven days a week for audiences varying from Americans getting off a cruise ship, to literally performing for royalty. You never know who will be in the audience.
Who are the other two queens you and Epiphany are performing with?
I know that Roxy Brooks, another NYC queen, is going out there the same time as you. Where does she work?
Roxy works at a club called @54, which is a newer venue, but one that really is a fun place to go. The staff there are great. We all kind of support each other. They all come to our shows, and we go to theirs. Kind of a big, happy, extended family.
That’s cool, so maybe you never get 100% homesick because there are familiar faces.
Well, I do still get homesick, but it helps feeling like I have a family in Mykonos.
So… do Greeks have a thing for American drag queens, or does this venue just try to get the best from all over?
I think it may be a little of both. The shows are in English, so I think it’s easier for an American or another native English speaker to host the show. But the venues definitely look for the best, as well as diversity. We are all different, but seem to work well together. Some are glamour girls, some comedy, some live singers or dancers.
What do you do on your downtime there? Greek guys are pretty hot, just sayin’.
Yes, they are [laughs]. I spend a lot of time at the different beaches. Sometimes with friends, or sometimes by myself, just to get away from the partying. Or I walk around town and grab coffee. There is also an open air movie theater that’s fun to go to. I’ll go for a ride on my scooter around the island, or take a short ride to the neighboring island which is called Delos. It’s an amazing archaeological site in Greek mythology: the birthplace of Apollo.
Also, you can’t forget the awesome restaurants and the partying. The bars and clubs are open all night, so you are literally dancing with hot Euro boys until the sun comes up.
Oh God, I would never leave. Okay, let’s talk about you! I see you’re from up in Spring Valley, what’s it like growing up there?
Well, Spring Valley is in the suburbs of New York, so I totally had a normal upbringing. Went to school. Played football in middle school and high school. I was president of the Gay-Straight Alliance in my high school. I was also a ballroom dancer, so that took up a lot of my evenings, too. Only difference is that it’s so close to New York City that I started going out to clubs when I was 16, running around Manhattan after my Mom went to sleep. So that’s when I started working in nightlife.
Where did you go when you were running around, and what motivated you to be in drag?
Well, I started going out to places like Heaven, Stonewall, the Roxy and the Tunnel. But I was just a regular twinky boy. I didn’t start drag until I was 20 and doing the door at a club. They decided they wanted a drag queen, so it was either do drag or be eating ramen noodles. At the time I was also in college, so you do what you have to do.
My best friend and I started doing it together, and I wound up liking it. This being about 11 years ago; drag wasn’t as popular to do as it is now. There was a lot of misunderstanding about why I was doing it. And honestly, a lot of bigotry towards the queens around then. Boys liked to watch a show, but dating a queen was weird. At least in New York. I’ve been told it was different other places. It’s very different now. Mamas gotta get her trade [laughs].
So much has changed! So, what sort of woman is Skyla Versai today? How would you describe her?
Well, onstage I tend to be kind of vulgar and funny, and love doing a dance number. I like to have fun when I’m performing, and try not to take myself to seriously. Drag isn’t curing cancer, but it is something that’s meant to make people happy. It shouldn’t feel like a chore to watch or perform a drag show. Drag is a job that if you don’t love and enjoy, what you do its just ruffff. So I try to always have fun, and keep a positive attitude.
Offstage, I’m pretty much the same in and out of drag. I like to go to a dive bar, sit in the corner and have a cocktail with friends. For me, the alter ego is onstage. When the lights are off, I just go back to being regular me.
How did you start working at Lips?
One of my first drag experiences was at Lips, for my 16th birthday. Although I thought it was a little scary, I still loved it. So when I started drag, I thought it would be a natural fit. I went into the audition on a Bitchy Bingo night. The owner Yvonne Lame really liked me, and I started the next week as a door hostess. That was about 10 years ago.
It’s probably the most steady drag job a queen in NYC can get. Many of the girls have been there longer than I have.
What do you do there, exactly?
At Lips, you’re both a waitress and a performer. I say it’s kind of like a messed up version of dinner theater. We keep the show going on and off the stage. Basically, we banter with the customers at the table, and then perform a show. We also do theme nights, like impersonation nights, karaoke, Bitchy Bingo, and Broadway Brunch.
Actually, all of the above [laughs]. I like to bar hop. I tend to go to the Ritz, Industry, Posh, Stonewall and the Monster, But it’s always fun to have a late messy night at the Cock, incognito. I usually just head to one of the bars and see where the night goes.
I see you just did your final night of Queen at Industry this season. How did you hook up with the ladies of the Queen revue?
Wel,l I was the only original cast member left in the show. I started there when Industry had first opened, and Shequida was doing the first drag show there. I had been in the show for over five years, with four different hosts.
In my opinion, it’s the best show in the city in that it really is a production show. I’ve gotten to work with so many extremely talented and legendary queens on that stage through the years–some them are no longer with us–and I’m glad I got the opportunity to be in the show and grow with it from start to now.
I love all the themes you gals do there every week. Have you had a favorite theme yet, or maybe a favorite number that you did there?
I loved doing Alice in Wonderland, just because I think it’s pretty original. And I love the different ways the girls in the show portray the characters. My other favorite was the country western theme, because I always do my Dolly Parton impersonation. I’m a big Dolly fan, so anytime I hear her music it makes me super happy.
So on May 8th, you and fellow expatriate Epiphany are sharing a Stonewall Invasion! That’s rare that two queens split hosting duties for that night, but I guess we gotta get what we can before we lose you two for a whole season! What can we expect that night?
Well, we both have been doing Stonewall for years. In fact, Epiphany is a past Miss Stonewall. So Mike Salinari, who organizes the show, thought it would be great to do our farewell show there.
I’m thinking there are going to be shenanigans that night. Epiphany and I have been friends for a long time, and essentially work and live in the same place for half the year, so we got lots of dirt and funny stories about each other. We also have pretty good mike chemistry, so I’m thinking it’s going to be a night of comedy, cocktails, and just a great time… Oh, and lots of shots [laughs].
And then that’s it for NYC, right?
That’s all, folks, until October! But I’m sure there will be lots of stuff when I’m heading back. If anyone is heading over to Mykonos during the summer season, head over to Elysium Sunset Cabaret to see the best drag show in the Mediterranean.
And finally: When you’re in Greece, what will you miss the most & the least about NYC?
Honestly, besides my friends and family, I miss New York pizza the most [laughs]. I know it’s so stupid, but it’s totally different in Europe. It’s my favorite food, and that’s the first thing I get when I get home from a long trip like this. In fact, my last night in the U.S., I’m going out to this little pizza place I’ve been going to since I was a little kid with my mother and grandmother.
The thing I’ll miss the least is definitely having to deal with the MTA and hot subway platforms for the summer!
Sounds like a fair trade-off! Thanks for talking to us, Skyla, and have a great summer!
Skyla Versai’s last New York show of the season will be the Invasionat Stonewall on Sunday, May 8th, with Epiphany. She will perform all summer at the Elysium’s Sunset Cabaret in Mykonos, Greece, and will return to NYC in October. Skyla can be followed on Facebook.