This lovely vintage vixen is fairly new to the drag scene, but she’s already won us over with a solid musical showing in the “New York’s Next Top Drag Queen” competition, as well as a cabaret showcase she co-hosted with her partner-in-crime Vicky Boofont. Now she’s holding strong week by week in “So You Think You Can Drag,” having survived the first round of eliminations and winning the latest runway challenge. Take a big gulp of Gina Tonic!
Thotyssey: Hi Gina, thanks for talking to us! Last time I saw you was late September, guest performing for Ari Kiki’s show at Boots & Saddle. You had this gorgeous red vintage-looking polka dot dress… is Gina basically a vintage-styled gal?
I’m a modern gal in vintage wrapping!
Thanks! The theme was Gay Pride, and I wanted to show off my pride in being a crafty queen… so I made a 20’s inspired flapper dress out of paint chips.
Gorgeous! Have you always been a designer/sewer?
My mom was a big sewer, so I grew up watching her make all of my costumes for Halloween and class plays. It wasn’t until I started performing as a drag solo artist that I learned how to sew. Although I’ve been sketching ideas since before the drag bug bit.
Did you used to be part of a drag collective?
No, but I got my start performing drag roles in theatre. Back then, I had directors and writers and costume designers; now I do all of that on my own. It’s quite a change.
You’re a renaissance woman! So where’s your hometown?
I’m from the sunny streets of Los Angeles
Daisy dukes bikinis on top! How was your LA childhood?
I’m so grateful for it, actually. My parents were always so supportive of my artistic endeavors. My sister and I were definitely the type to put on shows in the living room, which is probably why I find it so easy to put on shows in bars today.
Did you have any trashy Hollywood celebrity run-ins as a younger person there?
It doesn’t happen like it does in the movies [laughs].. I usually bumped into celebrities at the grocery store or coffee shops.
Don’t crush my Hollywood Babylon dreams!
So, what prompted your East Coast move?
I actually came here shortly after school. I was trying to get my theatre career started in LA, but there simply isn’t enough opportunity out there, so the bright lights of New York came calling.
What drew you to theater, as opposed to the LA movie machine? Was it the musical aspect?
The musical aspect is definitely a big, big part. What I love about the stage is the magic that you can make on it. With computer animation in movies, it’s easy to make someone fly or to make a rain effect. When magic like that gets pulled off on a stage, there is nothing more thrilling to me! And like many stage performers, I can’t resist the cheering of the crowd.
So how long have you been a New Yorker now, and have you gotten used to our general crabbiness yet?
It will be three years in February. And yes, I’ve not only gotten used to the crabbiness, it’s started to rub off on me a little bit.
What’s something that annoys you now as a New Yorker that probably wouldn’t have annoyed you before?
Probably waiting. In LA, you become conditioned to waiting in your car during rush hour traffic every day, so we get used to the zen of waiting. In New York, people don’t want to wait for anything. We don’t even wait to cross the street!
Too true! Stillness is agony. So, how have auditions and stage boy gigs been treating you since you got here? It’s a tough nut to crack.
I’ve left all that behind for drag, for the time being. I moved to New York to pursue directing and producing. Now that I’ve built up a great network of performers and other artists, it might be time to merge the drag and theatre careers.
How did drag and Gina come about, exactly?
Drag came about in my sophomore year of college. I auditioned for the big school musical, which was The Threepenny Opera. I got a callback for the female ensemble and thought they had made a mistake. Turns out they wanted to cast a man in drag–and I got the part!
After that, I only did drag for Halloween until I was cast as Betty in the play Cloud 9, which I did with the Illyrian Players Theatre Co in Los Angeles. At that point, I was still performing under my boy name.
When I came to New York, I didn’t do any drag for the first year or so of being here, although I did see a lot of drag. It was after seeing queens like Sutton Lee Seymour and Marti Gould Cummings performing week after week that I began to miss drag. I was also in a complete creative rut, so Gina Tonic was born out of my love for gin and tonics.
You know, there’s a Ginny Tonic in New Jersey. Is the world big enough? Or the tri-state area, for that matter?
It’s kind of like Sharon Needles says: “There’s one in every city, but I’m the president.”
Four more years! So what was Gina’s first gig?
Aw, we love Ruby! How did you know her?
I met Ruby through one of my exes! She and I have remained really good friends.
So, lots of us got to know you from your great turn in the ”New York’s Next Top Drag Queen” competition at the Metropolitan Room this year, which was all live cabaret singing. What motivated you to enter that?
I discovered the competition through Ruby, who was a finalist the year before. I was at a point where I really wanted a chance to develop my drag act and meet some new queens, so “NY’s Next Top DQ” felt like the perfect place to do both.
What did you learn about Gina in that competition?
The biggest thing I discovered was the age of Gina Tonic. I set out to make her a middle-aged woman, very much inspired by my mom. I soon learned that Gina is much younger lady, maybe more like my sister.
It’s interesting, too, how the commentary from the judges and other viewers really informs the character. Witti Repartee, one of the regular judges, once said that I’m the kind of comedian who’s willing to throw herself under the bus for a really good joke. Hearing that really made me run with self-deprecating humor and physical comedy, much like Carol Burnett or Gilda Radner.
Lots of you girls formed close friendships during that competition, and you particularly clicked with Vicky Boofont. Shirley U. Jest won the competition, but you two still got your own cabaret night at the Metropolitan Room after the contest ended that was well-received and attended. How did you enjoy that experience?
It was terrible! Can you believe Vicky expected me to sing with her on beat and in the same key!?!? Just kidding, it was a dream. Vicky has a background in writing and I have a background in directing. So it was a match made in heaven.
No plans yet, but I’m itching to put up another cabaret soon. I’m full of ideas!
So, now you, Vicky and a few of your judys have survived the first cuts of SYTYCD! How have you been handling the creatively and physically demanding schedule of this competition so far?
I have Fridays off from my day job, so I take all day Friday off from the competition to rest. From there, it’s all about time management. I use my lunch breaks to go shopping for things like accessories, and I study lyrics while I’m sitting on the subway.
Make it werk! How has the dynamic of competing with friends been for you thus far?
It’s been really fun. I’ve been approaching this competition in the same way that I did the last one: putting on the best show possible. We all create this imagined [idea] on social media that we’re cutthroat. But behind the scenes, we’ve been letting each other borrow costume pieces and talking through ideas for numbers.
Was it a weird feeling to see two of your friends cut from the competition last week?
What’s this week’s challenge theme?
I’m really excited. This week is Viva Las Vegas. In addition to all the rhinestones and glitter you’d expect from Las Vegas, we’ve also been challenged to include dance in our numbers this week.
I invite everyone to come #drinkwithGina at New World Stages for “So You Think You Can Drag?” Thursdays at 11pm. I’ve met several people at the show who’d never seen a drag show before, and they’ve come back every week. It’s a really great time!
Okay, lastly: what’s something about Gina Tonic the world may not know yet, but should?
I can cook, too! I’ve been trying to figure out how to fit that in to the talent portion of a pageant [laughs]!