Thotyssey knew in 2016 that our very first On Point Interview needed to be with somebody dynamic, colorful and fascinating. Who better then Erika Klash, then just starting to make a splash with her wholly original brand of colorful cosplay drag? A year later, we’re delighted to catch up with Erika – now a Californian – a few days after her debut on the second season of World of Wonder’s thrilling drag monster competition, “Dragula!”
Thotyssey: Erika, hello again! Thanks for talking to us! How was your Halloween?
Erika Klash: My Halloween was great! It was a whirlwind weekend. The Halloween Ball on the 28th, The Dragula Season 2 premiere on the 30th… and then yesterday, the premiere episode dropped!
OMG I just watched it today! I’m gonna ask you all about it, but first, let’s catch up… we miss you here in NYC since you left us for San Francisco! Did you basically have to start over when you got there, or did people already have an idea of you from Insta & YouTube?
I am fortunate enough to have had a good online presence before the move. A few girls knew who I was before I got to town, but in a lot of ways it was like starting over. The drag is very different in SF, and I’ve done my best to embrace the differences. Peaches Christ and Heklina I had had the privilege of working with prior to the move, so I definitely had them in my corner from the beginning.
Building a whole new local network from scratch was tough, but I’m really happy with how I’ve grown from these challenges. I’m still getting to know the girls in SF, but they have all been super welcoming.
Can you describe the San Fran drag scene for us?
The San Francisco scene is very community oriented. A lot of queens are activists, and there is a real focus on punk rock / subversive drag. The shows here are such that you end up doing only 1 or 2 numbers, and you are expected in some way to make a production of those numbers, whether that’s with backup dancers or props.
That’s interesting! Aesthetically, you must fit in pretty seamlessly there.
I don’t fit into any box, so as long as I can understand what works performance-wise, I can always make it work.
Have you and your boyfriend been able to establish, like, a whole San Fran routine yet? Favorite places, a circle of friends, etc? It seems like you were barely there before Dragula happened.
That’s right, I was only here for a few months before Dragula, and have only recently returned! I’ve definitely made a lot of friends in the drag scene. I’ve been taking sewing and costume design lessons with Bea Dazzler, one of the pioneers of Trannyshack, along with Peaches and Heklina. We have favorite restaurants and parks, stuff like that.
So, when you first watched the debut season of World of Wonder’s Dragula – a California-based drag competition web series presented by the Boulet Brothers where contestants and challenges explore more alternative, “darker” realms of drag – did you immediately want to be a part of the new season?
Actually, it hadn’t really entered my mind that Dragula was an option. Truth be told, I was actually auditioning for [WoW’s flagship TV show] RuPaul’s Drag Race, when I saw that there was going to be a Season 2 of Dragula. When I watched Season 1, I was under the impression it would be LA queens only for Season 2 as well. Vander Von Odd and Darren Stein both encouraged me to audition, and I was lucky enough to get on! I’ve always wanted to expand on horror and filth elements in my drag, and this was the perfect opportunity. Now I consider myself to be a complete drag monster.
The more I thought about it, the more Dragula made sense to me. Dragula is a huge breath of fresh air. For a long time, I’ve felt that drag was getting too straight-oriented. The queerness was blanching away. So it felt disingenuous to say I wanted to be a Drag Race girl.
Drag Race, as wonderful a show as it is and for all the opportunities it has provided for queens, is partially responsible for that mainstreaming or “straightening” of drag.
To me, Drag Race and Dragula are two different but complementary visions of what a successful drag career can be. The more opportunities we have, the better. And we all owe so much to Mother Ru and what’s she’s done with Drag Race.
For all the variety of drag performance that exists throughout New York, you can see the result of that mainstreaming of the genre in a lot of venues here, for better or worse.
In NYC, I adapted as best I could to make my work suitable for a wide range of crowds. As you know, drag in NYC is about hosting long shows and adapting to the interests of the crowd. Sometimes it’s a bunch of jaded gays who don’t want a drag show in their bar. Or you get tourists, etc. Dragula was a way for me to grow in a different direction and gain some new skills that were more in alignment with what I wanted for the future.
What was the audition process like for the show?
I can’t go into too much detail about the audition process, so I’ll recap some common knowledge stuff. You have to submit photos representing your best personal drag style, as well as the three tenets of Dragula: horror, filth, and glamour. You also must do an acting scene, edit in some live performance videos, and answer some questions.
Was it hard to keep the secret that you were cast for however long you needed to keep it prior to the official announcement?
Absolutely. There was some time when I was gigging in SF and had been cast, and I of course had to keep quiet. Also, we were taping the show in LA, so I had to avoid being seen out and about in LA during taping.
And were you familiar with any of the queens on your season prior to the taping of the first episode?
James and I learned of each other shortly before taping. Abhorra, Bitch Puddin, and Felony Dodger I had worked with once each in LA. Other than that, the girls were a surprise!
I was taken aback when these queens came hard for each other immediately in the dressing room. There was quite a lot of personal beef between many of them prior to the show, and they weren’t shy about laying it all out for us. You were trying to be the peacemaker, but was it very awkward to be in the middle of that?
It was not awkward at all. I always have a very specific and strong point of view. But as a writer, I have learned to word myself in a way that is firm but fair. It’s easy to get your point across if you don’t back down from your opinion, but also back up what you say with reason and objectivity. Being a monster has less to do with being a bitch, and more to do with being a strong person. And I wanted to represent that in that first boudoir scene.
I was definitely not expecting the claws to come out that quickly, though.
OMG, I have to ask…. Disasterina! Is that really her voice???
You will have to see! The thing about Disasterina is: she is a straight male playing a character. She has a lot of other characters, and a lot of experience in different kinds of art. This is just one creation of hers. And everything is so well thought out!
I also loved that blue-bearded look of yours when you all had to jump out of your body bags in the beginning of the episode. How long did you have to be in that bag?
We were in that bag for a long time! After a while it got really warm in there. So I spent the whole time terrified my beard or nails would come off!
You kept it together! So for your first main challenge, you had to create a Cenobite look a la Clive Barker’s Hellraiser that still represented your personal drag style. The judges came down pretty hard on your take. I loved it overall, but I saw what they meant about it not being Cenobitey enough. It was an obvious challenge for you to incorporate Erika’s aesthetic into that, though, because you’re generally so colorful while Cenobites are so dark and demonically fetishy. In hindsight, can you think of what you could’ve done differently?
Well, there are definitely certain things about that look that could have been better executed. I think I was also lacking in terms of performance. I needed to make stronger choices as a character.
I initially had an instinct to go way outside of my box, but I was concerned that I’d miss the mark on the challenge requirements. The challenge is not just to be any old Cenobite. The challenge is to turn yourself into one. So, there was just a fundamental disconnect between what I am and what a Cenobite is. It was a lot easier for the other girls in the competition. It was an uphill battle from the start.
That being said, the more I see the look, the more I love it. It’s so cool.
I have to confess, I couldn’t watch the scene where they stuck you with needles, as the final challenge for the bottom three to remain in the competition. I could barely even listen to the scene’s audio – it was nightmarish. But you handled it really well, and even said that you found it exhilarating! What was really going on there?
Well, when I knew that I would be in the bottom, at first I felt very angry. If I’m such a bad fit, then why did they cast me? What was my purpose? And then all of a sudden a fire lit up in me. I was so determined to stay and prove myself. And I knew that I’d need to do something I didn’t think I could do in order to grow from this experience.
Once the needles started coming in, I learned to compartmentalize the pain and the fear. It’s only going to affect you if you let it affect you. This competition tests more than just creativity. It’s about true monstrosity in one’s character, and their personal strength.
So is the physical pain of that situation real, or is it mostly mental, do you think?
Oh, the physical pain is real. You can’t deny that it fucking hurts. But is it within my ability to do it? Absolutely. The focus then becomes what can I achieve instead of what can I endure.
Was that a sanitary situation? Like, were these “needle piercing experts,” or whatever, and were they doing it safely?
Yes, everything was done in the safest way possible. We all consented to participate, and we are all happy and healthy today (I keep reminding my mom this).
Just making sure!
Well, congratulations for surviving the episode and moving forward in the competition! Another device of the show is that all the eliminated contestants film a gory “death scene.” Are those all filmed at once for everyone, or does the queen already know she’s eliminated when she films the scene?
I’ll plead the fifth on that question!
Fair enough! And there really isn’t much more I can ask about the show at this point, or else I’d be looking at my own death scene! Is there anything you can say about what we can expect from the rest of the season?
Just to tune in and enjoy the show! Every Tuesday 7pm Pacific and 10pm eastern on World of Wonders’ YouTube channel!
I see you’re travelling around the country for some shows pretty soon. You’re gonna be in DC this month… any trips back to NYC planned in the near future?
Yes! I will be in NYC from November 14th through the 28th! Stay tuned for info on viewing parties in NYC featuring me. On November 17th, Crimson Kitty and I will be co-hosting a show together at Bizarre Bushwick called Kitty Klash, a drag and burlesque cosplay show.
Can’t wait! And you’ll be back at the Austin International Drag Festival this month also?
Yes! That will be from November 9–12 in Austin, Texas! Myself as well as the Boulet Brothers and Loris will be headlining.
I’m so honored to be your first interviewer post-premiere, especially considering you were our first interviewee ever! Okay, so in closing: what is your best piece of advice for a drag performer who just doesn’t fit into a neat box, and doesn’t want to conform, but still wants success?
Biggest advice that I take every day is: have a unique perspective on your drag, but keep finding new ways to express those perspectives. Broaden your skill set, and expand on what you do.
Thank you Erika, and congratulations on all your success! You do New York and San Francisco proud!
Previously: Erika Klash (3.12.2016)