A fan favorite from Brooklyn’s recently defunct venue This-N-That, the whip-smart queen known as Ragamuffin is back in her borough with a vengeance. Join us as as she dishes about her drag journey, the shitstorm of 2016, and having hope that 2017 will be better!
Happy New Year, Raga! There’s a lot of heavy stuff going down in the universe and I wanted to open with your thoughts on a very serious subject: Mariah! WTF? And, does she deserve our wrath? It was just a technical glitch, after all.
Happy New Year! This is the perfect question to start our conversation because it was the perfect public transition into 2017. We have to admit, regardless of how you feel about Mariah, that performance was everything we wanted and needed! Y’all! It was bizarre, painful, and absolutely spectacular. So basically 2016.
I think wrath is a particularly extreme response. Mariah proved that even when she isn’t in control and everything falls apart… she is still in control, and not bothered. It was a spectacle that only a true diva could deliver. She is creating culture and that is fantastic! She knows how to keep us talking.
It’s true! And I have to admit that I love that she has no fucks to give. It’s been a pretty shitty year, all things considered. Is there a sliver of an iota of a chance that 2017 might be a little better?
Absolutely. We have to nurture an aggressive hope this year. We are about to enter a period of dramatic and potentially devastating political change. How can we hold people accountable, support the oppressed, destroy systems of oppression, and ultimately forgive those who actively work to limit/dismantle our lives? These are some questions that I have been struggling to answer.
Ultimately, my goal is to cultivate community and healing through art; art that is rooted in expressing rage and fear as healthy and essential to our growth. And participating in these spaces, being aware of my specific power and privilege as a white man.
As a native Nashvillian, do you have political divides within your family?
Not within my immediate family. I have a close supportive relationship with my parents and sister. I see my extended family about once a year (on Christmas Eve). My queerness, and my professional life as a drag queen is acknowledged, but not actively discussed. Neither is politics. I am open about my life and my passions.
I think they don’t have the information/experience to feel comfortable in that space and my goal isn’t to provoke confrontation. My goal is to educate. Hopefully by being family, I can invite them into a space of understanding. Baby steps… maybe next year I’ll bring home a lover!
That would be great! Growing up in Nashville, was your art and performing informed by country music at all?
Country music is all about tears and beers.. just like my drag! My parents raised me on Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Johnny Cash, Alison Krauss, Dixie Chicks to name a few… brilliant artists who have a special ability to turn heartbreak into power. It’s a transformation that speaks to our humanity. That heartbreak is inherent in queer people. I think the similarities between country music and drag are often overlooked. It is a beautiful thing when those seemingly conflicting demographics unite!
So, what put you on the path to drag?
I studied dance in college, so I come from a performance background. Three years ago I was working for several choreographers, making my own work, and managing a flagship retail store in Soho. It was exhausting, and my social life was nonexistent. I was miserable here. Why live in NYC if you can’t take advantage of the opportunities? But going out to bars is terrible if you don’t know anyone. Drag connects people, and as a drag artist it is your job to be social. So I started drag to make friends, to make going out easier, to find joy in living in this difficult/terrifying/wonderful city.
A woman I was dancing with said if I wanted to explore drag, I needed to find Thorgy Thor. So I went out and met Thorgy and Ruby Roo. They invited me to their new show at This N That (TNT). So I got some cheap makeup at Duane Reade, smeared it on, showed up and never left! They gave me an opportunity that truly changed my life.
Brooklyn drag is generally known for being more performance art-oriented than Broadway-influenced Manhattan drag. Do you feel like that very specific Brooklyn scene strongly influenced what kind of queen you are today?
Ah, the long standing Brooklyn vs. Manhattan question! I think the proximity to Broadway absolutely dictates some performative choices. At the end of the gig, it’s still the same art form, just in a different package.
I think the defining difference is actually the audience. In Manhattan your audience is generally older, and therefore more established with more money to spend. They also might have specific/traditional ideas about what drag is and should provide. I think that audience has a huge influence on what Manhattan queens value.
The Brooklyn audience tends to be younger people working in the service industry, and as artists. They have less defined expectations, and love to be surprised/challenged by performance. There is also less money in their pockets, so a performance is less about tips, and more about an emotional experience. Brooklyn is an incredibly generous audience. They truly value risk and vulnerability. I am absolutely a Brooklyn queen!
I do wish there was more communication/interaction between NYC queens. Aja is someone who really stands out in bridging that gap. She is performing everywhere and turning it out! I really respect her work ethic and drive.
She’s amazing, and had a great 2016! So, is there a story behind your drag name, or did it just kinda happen?
“Ragamuffin” is English slag used to describe a dirty child up to no good, a scoundrel! I remember my grandparents using that word, but it has disappeared in modern conversation.
Ragamuffin has a genderless quality that I love. I wanted a name that didn’t limit the possibilities of transformation. In the beginning I didn’t have the technical skills to become a beautiful woman, so I opted out of claiming a beautiful woman’s name.
And now you’re gorg!
What can an audience generally expect from a Ragamuffin performance?
I’m always trying to improve and change it up. Boredom is my biggest fear. If I reach that point, I know I’ve fucked up. I feel the same way about performance.
Lately I’ve been incorporating my modern dance training, which can be a challenge in a dive bar! I really love using common household objects. I perform Gwen Stefani’s “Used to Love You” while covering my body in clothespins. She repeats, “I don’t know why I cry…” It’s campy and painful (physically) and subversive. I try to walk a fine, maybe impossible line of entertainment, art, vanity, nihilism, and hope.
That’s definitely not boring! So, you hosted a bunch of shows and parties over the years at TNT. Was it a devastating shock to you when the bar abruptly closed in October of 2016?
I was in London when TNT closed, so it was painful not being there with my queer family. But in some strange way it was an important lesson. Bars come and go, and there is no security in drag. I am a small business, and if I want to work, I have to put in the work.
The end of TNT was a wake up call. So many queens have leveled up because of it. We thrive in adversity. It forced me to adjust my goals as a full time performer.
Personally, I am interested in quality gigs over quantity of gigs. But TNT had a unique energy, and it will always be my home bar with a leaky roof, doorless bathroom stalls, and a tiny stage that was open to everyone. And I will always miss those after-hours substance fueled fantasies with my people!
Now I feel pain for the new queens struggling to get a foot in the door, because those spaces are dying out.
Just when we need them more than ever.
Well, one very popular show there that you co-hosted there with Ruby after her original co-host Thorgy went to RuPaul’s Drag Race was Mondays on Mondays, which has since moved to Macri Park. Do you think the show has changed at all since the move?
Yes and no… the physical space of TNT was very specific, so it was challenging adjusting to Macri. I love the special partnership Ruby and I share: we are both opinionated, stubborn, and passionate about drag, which makes for successful shows and spectacular arguments! Our audience has stuck with us through it all and continues to grow. I am so grateful for that strong sense of community. It’s a safe space and my favorite night of the week.
Glad it’s going so well! And you’re also bringing back back another TNT show, your monthly “Failure” to Bizarre this week! Tell us about what this is, exactly.
Yes! It is now called “Failure! a Queer Workshop”… every first Thursday of the month at Bizarre Bushwick. Originally, the goal of Failure was to create a space for drag artists to experiment with new ideas, and to open conversation with the audience about queer performance and viewership. This has expanded into a curated night of interdisciplinary work featuring local artists exploring drag, dance, spoken word, music, burlesque, comedy, anything! Failure’s ultimate goal is connecting a network of artists who build together, protest together, hurt together, heal together, thrive together. It is absolutely a labor of love. So come out this Thursday, January 5th! 10pm.
Yay! So, the return of the Mr(s). Williamsburg pageant/competition–now known as Mr(s). Brooklyn–was just announced! Are you going to be involved at all, do you think?
I did see that! I will absolutely show up and support. I’m not much of a pageant queen… I think it brings out the worst in me! So I don’t compete, but I think this is the perfect time for the return of [that pageant], with so many new drag creatures emerging in Brooklyn. I love any event that celebrates the freaks! I can’t wait to see what happens.
Cool. Anything else coming up for you?
There is so much on the horizon… so many developing partnerships. Hopefully more travel! I’m ready to make the most of 2017, ready to fail beautifully, ready to fall in and out of love, and ready to destroy the Empire (of course).
Which brings me to my last question, which I’ve been asking everyone and can’t seem to stop: what do you think a drag queen’s role might be in Trump’s America?
BURN IT TO THE GROUND. Seriously. And support our people, and all people ready and willing to embrace joy and queer debauchery.
Cheers to the New Year! Thanks, Raga!
Ragamuffin co-hosts “Mondays on Mondays” weekly at Macri Park with Ruby Roo (11pm). She also hosts “Failure: A Queer Workshop” monthly on first Thursdays (10pm) at Bizarre Bar. Raga can be followed on Facebook and Instagram.