The ghoulishly glamorous Vinsantos has, in many ways, changed the face of New Orleans nightlife, and southern drag in general, thanks to a profoundly unique perspective and a successful workshop that she helms. Additionally, she’s a recording artist who frequently collaborates with glam/goth legend David J, and a coveted doll-maker. Go out and eat her up this week, New Yorkers, cuz who knows when she’ll be back? Read on!
Thotyssey: Hey Vinsantos, welcome to New York! Pride was a few weeks ago in your home city of New Orleans. How did that go for you?
Vinsantos: I have to say it was a little bittersweet. Only a week had passed since the Orlando shooting, and we had to work overtime to gain some morale. Being in the South, it really hit home. It was beautiful to see everyone out having a good time. There were numerous shows and a fabulous parade. Then you would lock eyes with someone, and it was obvious that you were thinking the same thing: Orlando. There were tears and hugs and intimate conversations sprinkled throughout the festivities.
At the end of the day, we did what we do best: we partied. New Orleans Pride is significantly smaller than major city Prides. You can’t leave the house or go to an event without seeing tons of people that you know. To me, that’s a good thing.
Totally. You’re actually a San Francisco native. When you moved to New Orleans, what were your initial impressions of the drag scene there?
When I moved to New Orleans from San Francisco, it became really apparent, really fast that there was nothing like Trannyshack going on (except when Trannyshack actually came to New Orleans). I had been spoiled by my diverse and hyper-creative drag upbringing. I was in a whole new world.
Just to be super clear, I have love for all drag, from the most traditional to the most avant garde. Moving to the South exposed me to a scene that I had never been around before. The hair was big. Really big. There were a lot of buns. There was attitude, and even a little shade. Okay, more than a little. There was opulence and pageantry. There were lineages. Long lists of Dames with the same last names. And then there was me: a goth damaged drag clown from California.
What were your early gigs in NOLA like?
I started performing just days after I arrived here. I quickly fell into the vaudeville and burlesque scene. There really wasn’t a place for me in the drag community–at least, not yet.
I was content with all of this for a few years. There was a lot of back and forth to SF before I got really settled. Once it became clear in my mind that New Orleans was my new home, I decided that instead of complaining about not having the things or the scene here that I was accustomed to, I would instead just make shit happen. I had a few young friends that were playing around with alternative drag performances, and there seemed to be enough of an audience to make it worthwhile. This is where the idea of the New Orleans Drag Workshop started.
That’s the famed workshop you created to help instruct and diversify the younger drag set of the city. How exactly did you get that started?
I put out a submission call to my immediate community, and was able to put the first group together very quickly. There wasn’t even a solid curriculum. The idea was that I would take my many years of experience on the stage and share it with a group. From there, we would workshop our ideas and put them to the test in front of a live audience. After the first Draguation ceremony, it was clear that we were on to something, and that there was a need and a desire from the community to take the whole thing a step further.
As it stands now, just having completed our 4th cycle, the curriculum is quite organized. We start with about a dozen people, and spend 8-10 weeks together developing characters and concepts, and polishing them up to be stageworthy. It really is an exciting process. It’s especially beautiful to see someone that has never been on the stage before take full command of an audience with their first performance, using the tools and encouragement that they get from the workshop.
What kind of people enroll? Is it mostly beginner queens, or do other types of performers join up to diversify their repertoire?
We get folks from all walks of life. Some that just have an itch to scratch, some that are hardcore drag fans and just want to see what it’s like on the other side, and also those that are interested in pursuing a career in the art of drag. We get queens, kings and everything in between.
Have you learned from the workshop yourself, as a performer?
Probably the most unexpected thing that happened out of all of this was how much I learned from others, and learned about myself. At first, I figured it would just be the weird kids showing up to the program. This wasn’t the case at all. From the start, there was a large variety of styles that the members were into.
Never really having done any “lady” drag, I had to learn to do it very quickly so that I could help the students that wanted to achieve that glamour. In doing so, I developed a whole new side of the Vinsantos character. She wears breasts, and pads her ass and thighs. She stacks her lashes and treats herself to glue-on manicures!
Once this new character was released to the public, that’s when the real gigs started coming, and drag became a full-time career for me. It was like being kidnapped by a beautiful, and rapidly-aging, “woman.”
So whatever Vinsantos was before, she’s now more officially a drag queen?
Currently, I work with both the lady character and the classic dark cabaret Vinsantos character that I now call the Harlequeen. It just depends on what the gig is, and how I’m feeling at the time.
Stepping back to your early performing days in San Francisco for a bit: what sort of elements influenced that dark cabaret style?
My drag character is a mashup of influences dating back to childhood. I grew up in San Jose, California and was obsessed with the lowrider scene. I was born Italian, but I identified as a little cholito. My best friend was Mexican, and I spent most of my time with him and his family. We would build our own mini lowrider model cars, and shop for our clothes at JC Penny and the flea market. I was fully committed to the fashion and music of this old school scene. I was dazzled by the makeup of my Chola friends: the severe eyebrows and eyeliner. the dark lipstick. As most young people do, I went through many fazes and picked things up along the way.
My next obsession was the band KISS. Again: the makeup, but this time coupled with the costumes and theatrics, really spoke to me. You can see some pretty heavy KISS influence the Harlequeen character that I do. Take special note of Ace Frehley’s lips.
Moving into High School, I got deep into deathrock. Robert Smith and Siouxsie Sioux were my style icons. I wore full face all through high school: white, or very pale foundation. charcoal blush and eyeliner and red-red lips. If you take all of these influences, and then throw on top that my parents were avid opera freaks, I think it is fairly evident where my aesthetic comes from. Also, I almost exclusively like vintage or antique items. And no, that doesn’t include my face!
I see a lot of that gothic style in the gorgeous dolls you create and sell. Can you tell us about how that got started?
My doll making career is something that developed quite by accident over the last five years. When I move from SF, I was an experienced mosaic artist. Part of moving was about leaving a lot of the old behind. I had been a collector of unusual odds and ends for many years. I had trunks filled with vintage and antique ephemera, hardware, jewelry, and bric-a-brac.
I moved to New Orleans with no work prospects. There are several open air markets here, and I found myself working at one of them. I started using my old mosaic supplies and creating these little tableaus that I could sell to the tourist. As time went on, the characters that were the main focus of these pieces began to develop. It went from mosaic to assemblage, and then into full on sculptures.
I studied sculpting with Sheri DeBow after seeing her work in an art show. From there, I took all of the mediums that I was working with and smashed it all together to create the one-of-a-kind dolls that I’m doing now.
The characters are influenced by my life on and off the stage. As a musician and a drag artist, I have had the good fortune to be surrounded by interesting and beautiful people all of my adult life. Doll-making is also an extension of drag for me. I use my cosmetics to paint them, my old gowns and jewelry to adorn them and my old wigs and lashes to top them off.
I get all the kicks that I get out of putting the drag on without having to shave. Did I mention how much I hate to shave?
I read a Facebook friend’s account of a recent concert you performed in a New Orleans venue with David J of Bauhaus and Love & Rockets fame. My friend loved the show, and was struck by an original witchy number you did. How do you know David, and what was that song?
Back in 2007, I was working on my solo music career after having been in several bands dating way back to my high school years. It was at the same time that the bassist of Bauhaus, David J, was scouting around San Francisco for new projects. We were connected through a mutual acquaintance. Of course, any goth damaged deathrocker like myself was a HUGE Bauhaus fan. Before I actually met David, I was very excited at the prospect, but figured it would just be one of those things that was talked about but never became reality.
Well, it did. After a few email exchanges, I went to meet up with him in Los Angeles and gave him the demos that I was working on. He was very taken with the material, and offered to produce my first solo full length album. We went into Tiny Telephone Studios in SF and recorded my first, and so far last, masterpiece titled A Light Awake Inside. It was decided that the only way to go with this mostly organic cabaret material would be to record analog on 2 inch tape.
Not only did we make a beautiful album, but I made a new friend. He really is one of the most charming men that I have ever met, and he tells a great story. We have played several shows together, and are regularly in touch. He was just here in town for an intimate concert with me at my home club, The Allways Lounge. Your friend was there, and I did do an original piece about a witch that eats and does other things to children. The ones that don’t behave. I will be playing that piece at Harlequeen Nights when I arrive in NYC.
More on that in a bit! I will always be a closet goth, and I’m kinda disappointed that there isn’t more of that aesthetic in modern drag.
As an old deathrocker, the goth elements of my drag come naturally. I think there are quite a few of us out there that carry this influence into our drag work. The nightclub Dark Room is SF is devoted to Dark Beauty. I have friends from all over the country, and different parts of the world, that would identify as goth-damaged. A lot of us grew up in that scene. We were doing drag before we even knew what drag was!
I was hoping Sharon Needles would inspire a renewed interest in that aesthetic with the baby queens, but I guess it hasn’t. What do you think?
Sharon Needles has a goth side to her, but she’s way more diverse than that. She’s super camp, and a great comedian. While her looks might have come off as spooky, just listen to her music. The song titles give the impression of darkness, but when the “needle” drops, you’ll find yourself up in the gay club.
I’ll give you that! So, New York! You’ll be in town this week. What’s your history with this city, and the drag scene here?
My first experience with New York drag was actually at Wigstock, The Final Blowout. I was there with Heklina and Peaches Christ and was, at the time, the reigning Miss Trannyshack. I was there promoting the Drag Flag, and taking in the scenery.
There were lots of artist there that I was already familiar with, either from them coming to SF or from TV and film. All the big names were there: Jackie Beat, Joey Arias, some Lady called Bunny, but there was one queen that left a lasting impression in my heart. That was Glamamore. There were loads of large scale productions with dancers and lights and scenery. But not Glamamore. She took the stage all by herself, in this strange costume adorned with flowers, and proceeded to tear me a new performance art asshole that I’ll never forget. We later became good friends when we were both living in SF, and she is a constant source of inspiration to me.
I have tons of love for the classic (old) and up and coming (young) NY Queens. Jackie Beat was always one of my favorites. I almost died in a taxi going to see her in a blizzard one year. I’m in love with the children of Brooklyn and Bushwig. My NY homegirl is Severley Mame. She’s Severely sweet, and I can’t wait to work with her out at Coney Island!
The first time I heard of you was when you brought your show Seyance to Easternbloc a few months ago. I didn’t get to see you perform, but the dark, tribal music that the DJ (you?) was playing was really intense.
Seyance was a party that I started in New Orleans, out of my love for all music from the dark side. My son Christian lives in Brooklyn, and he was raised with impeccable taste in music. He shared the DJ set with me when he was visiting me. Shortly after that, when I was on a trip to New York, we came up with the idea of Seyance NYC. I ran the idea past my homegirl, Mame, and a night of Black Majic was born. The two of them have had one without me since then, and I hope they will continue in the near future. As for me, Seyance is just an excuse for me to blast the music I love really loud without my own neighbors complaining. I already have a full time career as a performer and as a doll maker. Let’s not get greedy and throw DJ into the mix!
So, tell us about where in NYC we can see you this week! Starting with Harlequeen.
On Thursday, June 30th at 7:30 in the evening (doors at 7pm), I will be presenting my one man-ish show, Harlequeen Nights – A Vinsantos Introspective. This was a show that I put together for New Orleans Fringe earlier this year. This is most certainly a cabaret show. I will be at the piano and microphone most of the time. I will be doing both original and covered songs, and telling stories about myself and even a witch or two.
Harlequeen Nights is basically a series of some of my favorite acts that I have accumulated over the last several years. Expect laughs, expect tears, demand a lot of makeup and at least one or two costume changes. This all takes place at Sid Gold’s Request Room. Unfortunately, this show will not run on drag time as there is another event at 9pm.
Sid Gold’s is a great new venue in the city. How did you get wind of it?
I found out about Sid’s through my good friend Fauxnique. She performed there last year and gave it rave reviews. Severely Mame and I did a show there and I just love that venue. It’s also the home of The Amber Zone run by another one of my fave NY performers, Amber Martin. It is adorable and extremely intimate. Needless to say, seating is limited!
And then the following evening, you’ll be in Coney Island?
On Friday July 1st, I will be hosting a completely different kind of show at Burlesque By The Beach, Coney Island! This show starts at 10pm and again, the seating is limited. This will be a variety show with a stellar cast of characters. Vinter Vunderland is a winter themed cabaret set in the dead of summer.
I am importing two of New Orleans’ finest. First up, Bella Blue. She is a goddess of the burlesque scene and currently ranks number 8 in the world. Bella and I have been working together for years, and I couldn’t love her more. This is where style meets beauty meet grace. It’s worth the price of admission just to see her work.
Next up, Neon Burgundy. She is the shining star of the New Orleans Drag Workshop. This queen is a true original. This is where grace meets gospel meets hard livin’. I could not be more proud of this drag daughter. She currently produces two of her own shows in the Big Easy, Gag Reflex and Ratshit and is a constant force behind the drag scene of New Orleans.
If that wasn’t enough, what would a Coney Island show be without some good old fashioned New Yorkers? Darlinda Just Darlinda is one of my favorite burlesque queens that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. I am fan girling out over this one! This is were sex meets comedy meets sensuality. Way too hot for TV. Bring a blanket cause she’s sure to give you chills.
And last but not least, speaking of chills, the one and only Severely Mame. Quite possibly the hardest working drag thing in NY right now. This girl is non-stoppable. Just following her Instagram makes me feel like I need to get my shit together! This is where classic meet contemporary meets in a vintage trailer park. Come just to see what or who she’s wearing!
Oh, and I’ll be there running the show and doing some live and lipsych drag-ishness. Roll in early to get sick on some roller coasters and eat then throw up some funnel cakes before taking in the best show so far in.
We’ll be there with bells on! Creepy, rusted cathedral bells! Final question–actually a request: How can we keep you in NYC forever, Vinsantos?
Believe me, if I could I would. You could start by injecting large amounts of cash directly into my bank account, all the while renting me an apartment in both Manhattan and Brooklyn and a small vacation home on the Jersey Shore where I could spend my weekends hanging out with Snooki and gagging over all the hot guidos!
Or, just a plane ticket and a gig with somewhere to stay will get me to town just about anytime you want!
Good to know! Thanks so much Vinsantos, enjoy you stay here and see you this week!
Vinsantos is a New Orleans queen with regular gigs there, but will be in New York City this week. She will perform her cabaret retrospective Harlequeen Nights on Thursday, June 30th (7pm), and on July 1st (10pm) she will be hosting the Vinter Vunderland drag and burlesque revue at Coney Island USA. Vinsantos can be followed on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. View and purchase her hand-crafted dolls here, and also read more about the New Orleans Drag Workshop she runs.