Coming into drag later in life after a marriage and a stint as Goofy (!), this queen met Brooklyn drag artist Sasha Velour and underwent a rebirth. Now hosting shows in Brooklyn, including a viewing party of Sasha’s adventures on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Olive d’Nightlife is ready to make some waves of her own!
Thotyssey: Olive, hello! So, we’ve all just watched Episode 2 of Drag Race, and you host the viewing party of this season over at Bizarre. Sasha Velour’s your gal, so we know who’s team your on. But what were your overall impressions of the episode?
Olive d’Nightlife: Overall, I felt the episode was entertaining but left me a bit unfulfilled. I’m always a fan of the episodes where the challenge and the runway are connected. Would have loved after watching the contestants as cheerleaders, for the runway to have been something like 80′s prom couture as their individual cheerleader characters.
I also was highly impressed with each of the contestants learning a full-on high energy cheerleader routine. I watched it thinking, I don’t think I would be good at this.
I feel it’s hard to really absorb what’s going on, as a viewer, in the early episodes when there are still so many girls there.
At this point in every season, because there are so many contestants and only an hour time slot, the audience isn’t able to see the contestants’ personalities and really get to know them as a drag artists or member of the queer community at large. Each episode moves quickly, with fast soundbites, and reduces the contestants to one-liners. The catchphrase is what we live for, but for me each season gets infinitely better once we get to Snatch Game.
It’s going to kill this year. It’s funny though, as far as these four NYC queens on the this season go, I don’t really think of any of them as celebrity impersonators, so I can’t begin to imagine who any of them they might be.
I’m most looking forward to seeing what Aja has in store. Alexis and Peppermint are most likely going to be famous singers/performers, either Broadway or R&B–though Peppermint could do a 180 and do something unexpected. Sasha… I don’t know. I expect it to be an unconventional choice, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And it will be a hilarious Dracula.
I would both live and die for that! Okay, we can come back to Drag Race, but let’s get to know Queen Olive! Where’s your hometown, first of all?
I was born and raised in Naples, FL. It’s on the Southwest Gulf coast of FL, directly across from Ft Lauderdale. Mom and Dad still live there.
What was growing up there like… what kind of kid were you?
I was a flamboyant child, and stuck out like a sore thumb. Naples is a town that above all cherishes conformity and rigid guidlines, and I have never conformed nor played by someone else’s rules. For God’s sake, the traffic medians in Naples are landscaped with sprinkler systems. Everything in that town that grows naturally is ripped out of the ground and an artificial facade is planted, which is a complete metaphor for how everyone in that town deals with unpleasantries or anything considered abnormal. And unfortunately, outside of my parents, siblings, and a few adults, I was treated as abnormal.
Understandable that you would leave as soon as you could.
My ffirst stop out of high school was to an even more conservative university, in an even smaller town.
I gave thought about where to go to school… a lot of thought. I’d been accepted to Northwestern on an Opera Performance scholarship, but then I visited Chicago in winter and said “nope, this southern boy needs warmth.”
So I made the move with my high school girlfriend, who became my wife during our senior year.
Oh my! Was this a situation where you were in denial?
I was so far in the closet I was in Narnia.
How long did that last?
Our marriage lasted about 18 months. And I immediately moved to Orlando and joined the Disney Entertainment department, and let my gay flag fly.
That’s what Disney does best! Who did you play there?
I literally got to play Goofy on stage at Cinderella’s Castle for two years.
Was that heaven, or hell?
It was heaven on my young gay waistline; I was thin and fit and 24, and never hit the gym–but pure hell on my wallet. It was also the first time I had ever honestly lived on my own, and could only rely on myself to make responsible decisions… and I sucked at it.
So first Goofy, then New York, then drag?
Drag [didn’t come] until I was 29. It was something that I resisted for a very long time, because my first boyfriend after my divorce considered drag queens abnormal. I can remember him telling me, “be friends enough with the queens so you can get free drinks, but not enough where you’re seen with them.“ Sounds like a real charmer, right?
Ugh, I know a few people who still operate that way. So, how then did Olive come about?
Olive came about only after I had already been in New York for three years, met Sasha, and Sasha started her monthly show in Brooklyn. I was still my original drag creation, who I honestly felt I had outgrown.
What was your first drag name?
Didi Panache… I’ve always loved “bubbly” names. How could anyone not love a “Didi?” I mean… Didi Conn!
I feel the same way about Olive. Jennifer Tilly’s character in my favorite Woody Allen movie, Bullets Over Broadway is named “Olive.” I was lying in bed one morning and the Alicia Bridges’ song ”I Love the Nightlife“ was on repeat in my brain. I’ve always been attracted to drag names that are word play, like Courtney Act and Sharon Needles, so.. Olive d’Nightlife.
Alicia designs refrigerator magnets now, last I heard!
Oh my gosh, I wonder if she takes commissions! Can you imagine an Olive d’Nightlife magnet designed by Alicia Bridges?
Simply Everything! Sasha told us that when she first met you, you were this very glamorous Broadway queen of a “traditional” sort, and that over time you became more edgy and experimental with your looks and performances. Did you realize that was happening, or was it just… happening?
I made the choice to make it happen. I was playing my drag safe, and it never felt authentic. It was definitely more of a male actor playing a female role type of schtick. I was clearly aiming for “passable,” and that was limiting to the artist in me.
I’ve always played by my own rules, but because I came into drag later in life I felt like I was behind everyone and having to play catch up. So I ended up playing by the rules that had already been written, and it wasn’t until my friendship–and then sisterhood–developed with Sasha that I learned I should make the rules. And could, according to the artistry inside me.
What does your drag mean to you now?
I feel like I am in my teenage years of drag. I’m still “cooking,” in terms of creating looks and honing my editorial fashion eye. Just like a teenager, I’m trying to rebel against what’s around me and make my own path–stand out and get noticed.
I stripped away all of the previous years of my drag, hence why I felt I needed a name change. Except, I have been able to take from my previous years my experience in front of an audience and improvising with a crowd. My drag now is more authentic to my journey and queer imagination, and continues to be more and more a reflection of my experiences and ideas.
I saw you and Sasha gigged with Judy Darling at Barracuda in Chelsea not too long ago. But do you generally feel more comfortable performing in Brooklyn, with the more performance art-influenced drag scene?
I feel more at home in Brooklyn only because I haven’t performed much in Manhattan. The night I was at Barracuda was my very first Manhattan bar/club gig. I had an absolute blast, and even broke my Drag Suicide cherry.
Oh God, how did you like that? Many queens hate it!
It was exhilarating! I was visibly nervous as the time drew closer and closer to the suicide… I know the audience could see it, but once I mentally framed it as an “Improvisation” Game… I gave over to the fun of the experience.
Werk! So, you have been Sasha’s partner-in-crime for awhile, and I believe you appeared in basically every installment of her very trippy and gorgeous “Nightgowns” monthly series at Bizarre. How have these shows been influencing your drag?
Sasha and I have been side by side for almost three years now as drag sisters and close friends. I was unfortunately not present for the very first “Nightgowns” due to performing in the New York Fringe at the time. But I have not missed any other month in almost two years.
Have you embraced “Nightgowns’” multimedia element in your own performances?
I completely embrace the multimedia aspect of the show as a new way of queer expression and to elevate the overall experience. The multimedia and visual “props” allows an artist to express sub thoughts and ideas that often times get lost when performing a traditional drag number.
Sasha, from the beginning of ‘Nightgowns,’ was adamant about having a show that was welcoming and inviting to all drag identities. And it’s due to the diversity represented that I have been influenced further and further with my own drag.
This is probably premature, but is there any word on whether “Nightgowns” will continue at Bizarre now that Sasha is busy with Drag Race appearances?
I know that Sasha wants “Nightgowns” to continue, as do I. How “Nightgowns” continues remains to be seen. She is very busy with appearances, but Sasha is very committed to “Nightgowns.” I have no doubt that it will continue.
Were you completely thrown by her getting on the show, by the way? I know some queens were so ninja about it they they just disappeared without telling anyone! She had a good cover story with visiting Russia.
I plead the fifth. And Russia was a good cover.
Understood! So as mentioned, you’re hosting the Bizarre Drag Race viewing party Friday nights. Is it weird seeing her on TV so far?
It isn’t weird at all. First time we met, I recognized the star quality in her and knew that there was a broad audience that would live for her artistry. Through the first two episodes of the main show and then Untucked, Sasha is representing herself with great authenticity.
I assume the Bizarre audience is all Team Sasha?
The crowd is definitely rooting for Sasha, but her fans will give props to the contestants that deserve it. Week 1 the fans loved Nina, and Valentina was treated to the same love in Week 2.
Another thing you do there now at Bizarre is host #Teambrooklyn, a monthly party after the show! The first party was premiere night, how did it go?
The afterparty was Amazing! I was so pleased to welcome Aja’s sisters Dahlia Sin and MoMo Shade to the evening and party together with all of our fans to celebrate this moment.
We’ll see you there next month!
And on Saturday, April 8th, you’ll be performing with drag king / burlesque collective Switch-N-Play at the Branded Saloon in Brooklyn. Have you performed with them before…. and do you dig the artistry of drag kings?
This will be my Switch-N-Play debut on Saturday. Very excited. Totally dig the artistry of all drag identities. My hope for the future of drag is a de-emphasis on the gender behind drag, and a greater celebration of drag as an art form. Once the queer community focuses on the artistry, the drag community will be more inclusive.
Okay, anything else?
I just want to give a great big thank you to my darling husband. We’ve spoken a lot about my relationship with Sasha and its influence on my drag artistry, but if it weren’t for my husband Dewey, I probably wouldn’t have had the strength to endeavor a drag rebirth. We’ve been together 12 years this coming August, and it really is because of his support, love, and commitment to us that I have the great fortune to pursue drag as an art form.
That’s beautiful! I wish you both all the happiness. Last question: we’re living in weird times now. Should drag get more political?
Absolutely! I’m all for drag and drag artists of all identities to become more political. If not political in terms of the art that they present/create, then more political in awareness and activity.
Sasha says “drag is the art form of the queer imagination,” and I agree and would add: “The queer Imagination can change the world.”
Let’s change the whole damn thing! Thank you so much, Olive!
Olive d’Nightlife hosts the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing party this season at Bizarre (Fridays, 8pm), and a monthly party there during the show’s run on the first Friday of the month (10pm). Check here for her other upcoming gigs. Olive can be followed on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.