[photo: Jovanni Jimenez-Pedraza]
Despite being one of New York’s most talented and respected drag queens, Terren Wooten Clarke aka Kizha Carr will always tell you that as much as he loves drag, he is an actor first and a queen second. And with several screen and stage roles under his/her fabulous belt–including a current run on the smash Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon”–this performer has certainly got the goods. But it’s Kizha who wins Sunday nights, and after a brief hiatus she’s back to her beautiful, newly-bearded business!
Thotyssey: Hi Kizha! Thanks for talking to us! So, I see that since returning from your time off, you’ve become a Bearded Queen! What inspired that?
Kizha Carr: Ummmm…Life inspired it. I took the time to grow the beard because I had literally never had one in my entire life. I ended up really loving it, and saw a big
difference in the kinds of auditions I was getting. So, I talked to my managers about it, and we made the decision for me to keep it. So, Kizha became a bearded queen!
You’re known for your dynamic drag looks… is the beard giving you new ideas for new faces? And do you think a queen with facial hair automatically becomes a different category of queen?
Thank you! I do try to be do different things aesthetically, and the beard is really
helping with that. I’m constantly thinking of things I can stick in my beard or ways to color it or give it a different texture. I was trying to figure out how to glue sand to it the other day!
It’s hard to say whether or not I feel like I’m in a different category of queen, though. I mean, I’m a performer first. So, I feel like people still see me that way.
Aside from being a drag superstar, you’re a Broadway star as well, performing several days a week with the cast of The Book of Mormon. And before we get into the specifics of that, I wanted to pick your brain on some Broadway casting news!
GO FOR IT!
J. Harrison Ghee, who has performed as drag queen Crystal Demure, has now been cast as the lead in Kinky Boots! Have you ever gotten a chance to see him perform in the show, and do you think that casting is a good gonna open doors to more drag casting on Broadway?
Well, J. is an amazing performer. He’s not playing Lola because he’s a drag queen in nightlife. He’s playing Lola because he can sing, act, and dance his ass off. He would have gotten that opportunity whether or not Crystal Demure existed. I firmly believe that. And
quite frankly, I don’t think casting directors in this city take drag into consideration when calling people in to audition. I cannot wait to see him do the role!!!
Sara Bareilles playing the lead in Waitress, yeah or nay? And in general (she’s a special case, since she wrote and composed the show’s music), does it annoy you
when pop stars or Hollywood actors with little or no stage experience are
given lead roles on Broadway?
I freakin’ love Sara Bareilles. I enjoy that casting decision. It’s her music. I think she’ll be great. Most of the time, however, I AM annoyed by celebrities being given opportunities over really hard working actors. It really sucks because a lot of the time the show suffers because of it.
And what did you think of the Hamilton cast’s post-performance confrontation with VP Pence right after the election? Was that a golden opportunity that couldn’t be missed, or was it inappropriate “fourth wall” breaking?
ABSO-FUCKIN-LUTELY they should have made that speech. The theatre addresses everything in our lives: sex, money, family, religion. Why not politics? Mike Pence had the audacity to sit there and enjoy the fruits of the labor of a lot of men and women he seeks to marginalize; he can take a little constructive criticism.
Lots to talk about, but lets get to you! You and Rue McLanahan are the only Oklahomans I know. What was life like growing up there? And, I recall you returning there for a visit not too long ago, what was it like to be back?
First, you probably know a lot more Oklahomans than you realize. Kristen Chenoweth,
James Marsden, Megan Mullaly, Kelly O’Hara. All from Oklahoma.
Anyway, life in OK was just that. Ok. Nothing really exiting happens. It’s super routine-based living. But it is EASY to live there. It’s so cheap.
I could never live there anymore. I’m a completely different person than I was when I lived at home. I don’t really fit there. When I do go back, it’s nice to see family and friends for the first two days, and then I’m clawing at the door to get out.
Was the desire to be a performer of some sort always there?
I grew up singing in church, and was ALWAYS a ham. I didn’t get into theatre until my freshman year, and that happened by accident. I needed one more elective in my schedule, and my guidance counselor suggested the “Competitive Drama” class because they traveled to different contests in and out of state. I loved (and still do) traveling. So, I got in. I was good. I was bitten by the bug. The rest is history.
I understand that drag started for you in your home state, with an amateur contest and an Oklahoma drag mom?
Yeah. A couple of friends of mine had been telling me for years that I would make a
great drag queen, and I kept refusing to have anything to do with the notion. But they wore me down. So, I decided to do this monthly competition ONE TIME AND ONE TIME ONLY. I ended up winning the contest, and part of the prize package was a booking at the bar. I did the booking. It went amazingly well. And within 3 months, I was hosting a Sunday night show, and was regular cast member in the Friday night show. It happened so quickly.
My drag mother, Bebe Adams, came into the picture about six months in, when I was backup dancing for her at a pageant. She started allowing me to rummage through her closet, and I pretty much forced her to adopt me! Love that bitch to death.
Was it a debilitating culture shock when you first moved to NYC from Oklahoma, or did you sync in pretty easily?
Not at all. I got off the plane in NYC and just felt like this is where I was supposed to be. I felt like I fit in here.
What’s the worst job you had here, pre-drag or Broadway?
I worked at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in Time Square for three weeks. If there is a Hell, mine will be working there for eternity.
What was your first NYC gig as Kizha Carr?
My first paid gig was Queen at Industry Bar. I had been in the city about a month when the now deceased Dallas Dubois (Wig Cancer…. shame), saw me in a competition and booked me as a regular cast member on the spot.
And when did you start hosting your Sunday night solo show 1999 there at Industry?
It’s a been a long, crazy, and fun four years doing that show.
Can you describe 1999 to the uninitiated, and maybe how it evolved over time?
Oh wow. Most people don’t know, but 1999 started as a 30-minute Happy Hour show. I
was supposed to start at 8:30 or 9. I would do two numbers and host a bit. That lasted for about three weeks until I booked Book of Mormon. I was no longer able to be there at that time. So, it got pushed back to 11. As they crowd got bigger and my looks got more involved, it got pushed back even more to midnight. Nowadays, we’re lucky if we start before “last call.”
But it was very slow going in the beginning. Fifteen people in the bar. I was running
all over the place, trying to get people involved. I used to do, literal, conga lines around the bar, picking up people as we passed them.
With a lot of hard work by EVERYONE that works there on Sundays, it’s become sort of a staple in Hell’s Kitchen. Now, people have come to expect a two-hour show with several numbers, a giant “intermission” game show, the dreaded Drag Suicide, and at least one surprise. It wears me completely out, but I love that gig so much. It’s my baby.
You’ve been doing a Rosa Parks mix for awhile now that’s sharply funny, and a few months ago you guest co-hosted “The Help” with Monet X Change at Therapy where you two performed a very emotional Black Lives Matter number. Drag has always been political, but should it be now more than ever?
Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes! I mean, yes. Seriously. Satire. You name it. YES! We
have to talk about these things.
What do you look at for inspiration to create your very elaborate looks? Does anything just come out of thin air?
My closest friends know that 8 times out of 10, I have ZERO CLUE as to what look I’m going to give on Sunday until Saturday night. Sometimes, Sunday morning. I, often, wake up on a Sunday rummage through my fabric bins, and something will hit me. I’ll sew the outfit then. If it needs embellishments, I’ll do those during the matinee of Book of Mormon backstage.
How long were you Kizha before you got Book of Mormon, and how did you get that role?
Kizha was born Dec 15, 2010. I booked BOM on March 24, 2013. So, not quite 2.5 years
as Kizha beforehand. A friend who was on the national tour of BOM called me up at 3 am asking me to send him my headshot and resume because someone was leaving the tour, and I’d be great to replace him. Two days later, I had an audition. Three callbacks and
a week and a half later, I had booked the show.
What is one thing you’ve learned/experienced about being part of a super-successful, well-reviewed and fine-tuned Broadway production that might surprise the average civilian?
Broadway dressing rooms are NOT fancy.
Where does more backstage drama exist: Broadway or the drag community?
The drag community. Hands down. More generally, just nightlife. DRA-MA. I mean, I’m
chasing people out of bars. Logan Hardcore is throwing heels. Tina Burner is flipping tables. Shequida. I mean, it’s just all so much.
You had a role in Orange is the New Black! What was that experience like?
Loved every second of it. We shot in December. So, it was FREEZING in those exterior
shots, but Samira Wiley was a great scene partner. I really enjoyed working with her and the fabulous Jesse Volt. The party scene that ended up being about 45 seconds of the episode took ALL DAY to shoot. I was in drag from 8 am till 1 am the next day. I was so tired, but it was worth it.
And you hosted Broadway Bares a few years ago… I have to imagine that’s
probably the best “for charity” gig anyone can get, right?
I mean, that was A LOT of fun and work, and I think BC/EFA is and amazing organization. So, I was incredibly honored that they would ask me to be a part of such a long-standing and important event.
As far as it being the best “for charity” event, I might have to disagree because **SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION** I produce the Miss Industry Pageant each year, and it’s a benefit for The Trinity Place Shelter for homeless LGTBQ Youth. I love that organization. Over the past two years we’ve raised several thousand dollars for it, and put on two incredible pageants! This year’s pageant will be held on April 23 at Industry! We’re looking forward to an even bigger and more amazing night of philanthropy and drag!
You have many successful drag children! Jasmine Rice is a bona fide pageant queen, Terra Hyman is gigging all over the place, and I understand the Jessa Minute and Lisa Carr have great drag-adjacent careers as well. Are you scrap-booking all of their accomplishments like a proud mother?
I am very proud of my drag daughters, and grand-daughter, even though they all get on my damn nerves. Jasmine has really jumped into pageants full force, and we are headed back to Chicago for Miss Continental Plus in April. Terra has really come into her own, especially having taken the reigns of Look Queen from Bob.
Terra’s daughter, Carmen Sidemi, has been on the scene for a few months now, and has proven that she’s willing to listen and do what it takes to be noticed and rise up the ranks.
Jessa is a superstar voice teacher with multiple students on Broadway, and some huge things lined up for the near future. Sadly, Lisa Carr died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Drag Syndrome). We’re just all glad that she didn’t suffer. RIP, bitch.
Is it better to be a drag “helicopter mom” and just be all over a new queen in every part of the process, or do you leave them with a lot of room to figure things out themselves?
I let my daughters come to me. If they need help, they know I’m here for them. But
they’re all pretty seasoned at this point. So, I can sit back and watch. When they were starting out, I was definitely more hands on.
What’s the worst mistake a new queen can make?
Confusing shade and cuntiness. BE A NICE PERSON. We all throw light-hearted shade at each other, but there’s no room for just being plain mean, or rude.
So, you returned to 1999 (and drag in general) after a two-month hiatus, while Tina Burner filled in. Do you want to talk about the stuff that made you realize you needed a break?
You know, I realized that I was operating in a state of exhaustion for about 7 or 8
months. I wasn’t really sleeping, and was running myself ragged. I mean, A five
show weekend at Mormon right into 1999 at Industry? It’s crazy.
I also, had been stressed about some private family issues. Fucking Trump won the election. I was diagnosed with a genetic foot condition that causes a lot of pain in my
toes. I just had hit my wall.
Do you feel refreshed and inspired now?
I feel so great now. I’m focused. I’m more creative. I’m rested. It’s been really great, and I’m so incredibly grateful to Tina for filling in while I was gone.
Who are you excited to see in RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9?
Of course, I’m excited and rooting for our hometown girls. Outside of that: Shea Coulee, for the win.
And I know this is a cliché question, but I’m generally curious in your case: would you ever consider trying out for a season, or does the Broadway stage conflict with that too much?
I think I’m the only queen in America who has never auditioned for that show. I’ve always said, “Drag is my hobby. Acting is my career.” I think RPDR is for queens who want to make a career out of drag, and that’s just not for me.
Anything else coming up to discuss?
Be on the lookout for KIzha merch coming within the next month! #BeardedBitch
AAAAAAND I’m excited to record my first single and subsequent music video. It’s
something I’ve always wanted to do. So, I’m really happy that I’m going to get
to do it!
Okay, last question: What would the title of your autobiography be?
Between a Cock and a Hard Place.
Get on that, Amazon! Thank you Kizha!
Kiza Carr hosts “1999″ at Industry on Sundays nights (midnight). She will host Miss Industry 2017 on April 23rd. As Terren Wooten Clark, he is a castmember of Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon.” Kizha can be followed on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
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