Joshua “Shua” Potter is a talented musical theatre actor who has graced stages on and off Broadway. Schwa de Vivre is a fabulous queen who slayed Miss Fire Island and “So You Think You Can Drag?” Now it’s Schwa who will be hogging the spotlight once more, appearing as a contestant on a special episode of the hugely popular Food Network reality series “Chopped,” and hosting the “Chopped” viewing party at drag mecca Boots & Saddle. Lets schwing with Schwa!
Thotyssey: Hi Schwa! Thanks for talking to us! Are you excited for your big TV premiere?
Schwa de Vivre: I am so excited! We filmed in January, so I’ve been itching to see the episode for 9 months!
Drag queens, of course, have dominated one particular reality TV competition, and quite a few have crossed over into America’s Got Talent as well… but you’re the first queen to go the competitive cooking show route!
What made you decide to try out for the show?
A good friend of mine has contacts in the casting department at Chopped, and they contacted him looking for “cooking queen” referrals. He immediately thought of me and passed my info along. As a huge fan of the show, I was thrilled at the prospect and immediately submitted. Two weeks later, I was cast on a special Halloween episode of Chopped.
What’s your background in food?
My father is a chef, so I was always tasting everything growing up, and really learned to appreciate food. Once I was on my own I started teaching myself more about cooking and just fell in love with it! It’s so relaxing and fun, and I love eating delicious food knowing everything that went into it.
What’s your specialty, cooking-wise?
A lot of people like my cookies, but I don’t really have a “specialty.” I’m really good at looking in the fridge and throwing something together without a recipe, which helped a lot while I was competing.
So, you’re in drag for your entire time on the show.
Yes. You’ll only see me out of drag at the very beginning when they introduce me, and show me in my every day life. Otherwise she is dragged up for the entire competition.
I can imagine there are a lot of challenges to cooking in drag, especially in a high pressure time crunch! Did you do heels and nails?
No Fucking Way [laughs]. For safety reasons, the producers asked me to wear flats, and I never wear nails because they annoy the crap out of me. I also selected an outfit that was comfortable (and that I didn’t have to tuck in), and had my wig styled so it would never be in my face. I was prepared, henny!
Let’s get to know you you a little better! Where’s your hometown?
I’m from Erlanger, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio.
Do you think “southernness” is a big part of your personality today?
I consider myself more of a Midwesterner. The part of KY I’m from has more of a Midwest feeling than that of the south. Unless you go to Walmart–everyone is southern there.
And you always had aspirations of performing?
Yes. I told my mom in 7th grade, “Mother, I will be an actor, and I will be on Broadway.” I was hooked ever since.
Did you go to school for performing arts?
College, yes. I have a BFA in musical theatre from Point Park University in Pittsburgh.
Is it true that you you were in a touring company of Mary Poppins, and eventually joined the Broadway cast?
Yes sir! I was on tour from 2009-2012, then did a 6 month stint on Broadway. Dream come true!
Amazing! What is a detail about working on a Broadway production that surprised you the most?
Nothing really surprised me, but I loved being in a production where no expense was spared. They did everything right from the start, and it really showed in the value of the show. All I had to do was show up and perform, everything else was taken care of.
That must be wonderful! And now of course, when you do drag shows at bars, everything always goes wrong, from bad mics to light problems to drunk assholes disrupting the show. Was that an adjustment for you, coming from the well-oiled Broadway machine?
YES. But I do drag for fun, so I don’t let that stuff bother me. All I care about is giving the audience a fabulous show, and having a great time myself. If the mic fucks up, I just talk louder. If a drunk person disrupts the show, I read him for filth and move on. The fuck-ups can be a big part of what makes a drag show fun!
So, when and where did you first do drag?
The very first time I did drag, I was five years-old. I wanted to play with the girls in the neighborhood, but they didn’t want to play with a boy. So my mom dressed me up in one of her shirts, a belt, and a mop on my head. I looked sickening!
Wow, most queens are created by their moms symbolically, but yours went full literal! And I understand that you were always called “Shua” as an abbreviation of your name “Joshua,” and Schwa de Vivre was eventually born from that.
Where did Schwa first appear?
Well I did drag a bunch of times over the years. In high school to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and for Halloween, in college for fun, in shows like La Cage Aux Folles, etc.
But Schwa first appeared the summer of 2012 out in Fire Island. I was inspired by the queens working out there, and wanted to give real drag a try. I loved it from the start! But I always love performing in any capacity.
It was such a fun experience! I won the Odyssey Award. Woot!
Did you find that on Fire Island and beyond, the NYC queens were pretty quick to take you in to the fold? Or did you have to kinda work for it?
Most queens were wonderful, and totally ready to help me in my drag journey and offer advice. I was all ears, and tried my best to stay humble and pay attention.That’s how you learn and grow, and other queens appreciated that I was willing to listen to them.
First, Last, and Only!
How was that experience for you?
It was terrific, really. I did it for a year and a half. I learned so much about my drag aesthetic: what worked, what didn’t. I worked with some incredible queens (Alexis, Brita Filter, Holly Box-Springs, and so many more) who all taught me a lot.
And Ritzy Bitz said her first performance ever was at your show.
I love Ritzy!
What else was rewarding about “Superwoman?”
I was able to experiment and play, and grow in a safe space with a very giving audience. I also honed my hosting skills there, and that’s something that will serve me the rest of my life.
You were also a cast member of Season 5 of “So You Think You Can Drag?” around that time, which was a huge year for that competition. Lots of great queens and moments, and of course winner Alexis’s big reveal from one of the challenges went viral from that season. You, Dusty Ray Bottoms, Holly Box-Springs… what was in the air that year that brought such fierce talent from all you girls?
SYTYCD Season 5 was fierce and competitive, henny! Everyone had something going for them. So much talent, and those bitches were out for blood. Including me! I walked in there thinking “oh bitch, I got this, henny.” I brought it every time and rarely made it into the top two! Because everyone else served it. I mean, Holly Box-Springs literally fell out of Chelsea Piers’ pussy backstage at SYTCD and into the top two. She crushed it! So everyone brought it harder and harder, week after week. It was a blast.
And it looks like after that season, and after your show finished at the West End, Schwa kinda took a backseat to Shua for a bit. You were doing lots of theater and singing gigs, and running a business on the side: Broadway Maids!
Yeah, Broadway Maids is awesome! All our cleaners are NYC artists: dancers, actors, musicians, writers. They’re all incredible cleaners, plus friendly and communicative! it’s a great option for regular cleaning in NYC, which almost everyone has done from time to time.
It was cute. My boyfriend and I put on suits and sang some jazz while folks brunched. Great excuse to go to Fire Island for the weekend!
Are you observing the family friendly-fication of the Island, or is that trend exaggerated?
There are kids here and there, but no more than I’ve experienced in the past. It’s not like there are kids sitting at the bar, so it’s all good!
Speaking of kids, tell me about the play you’re in now, Daddy Issues! What’s it about, and where and when can we see it?
The show is about a gay guy who hires the kid downstairs to play his son, so he can fool his parents to get them off his back.I play his best friend, who dresses as his ex-girlfriend and mother of his son. Hijinks ensue! It runs through November 6 at the St. Clements Theatre.
So, during this past year or so, as you’ve been working these jobs and boy gigs, were you pondering the possibility of leaving Schwa behind, or were you always going to try and make room for her?
Schwa de Vivre and drag has been a great gift. The opportunities that have come my way, the people I’ve met, the lessons and skills that I’ve learned, all of these things are thanks to drag and Schwa. She will always be a part of me, and you’ll see more of her. In what capacity? I don’t know yet. But this won’t be the last time you’ll see Schwa on TV–I’m sure of that.
I bet it won’t! So this coming Monday at Boots & Saddle, Schwa de Vivre will be hosting a Chopped viewing party, and you’ll be watching yourself compete on TV! First of all, are you dreading the possibility of a Phi Phi Bitch Edit?
[Laughs] yes! I’m a little nervous to watch it, but I had a great experience with my producer and think the episode will be great. I had a lot of fun filming it!
It’s a hugely popular show. I don’t know much about their demographics, but I do know that my parents watch it, and they definitely do not watch Drag Race! Do you think the non-drag foodies of the nation will embrace Schwa?
I hope so! The other competitors were in costumes as well, and the set was all spooky for Halloween, so my “costume” shouldn’t phase anybody. It just adds an element of fun!
Viewing parties at bars with drag queens are everything these days. I’m glad it’s branching out to other shows besides just Drag Race. Do you have any bits planned for the live viewing party at Boots?
I can’t wait! I’ll be there in drag and I’ll be on the mic, so we’ll see what happens.
Okay so last question: what is your dream role to play onstage someday?
Hedwig would be a blast– I’d love to do that. I’ve always wanted to play the Emcee in Cabaret, and Mark in Rent. Seymour in Little Shop… [laughs] I could go on. I love theatre, I love acting, and I’ll do it forever.
I can see you as all of these and then some! Great thank you so much Schwa, fave fun at Boots… and I hope you win on Chopped!
Shua Potter stars in “Daddy Issues” at the St. Clements Theatre Thursdays through Saturdays (8pm) and Sundays (3pm) through November 6th. As Schwa de Vivre, she’ll be hosting a viewing party of “Chopped,” starring Schwa as a contestant, at Boots & Saddle on Monday, October 3rd through ? Schwa can be followed on Facebook Twitter & YouTube.