Nominated for a whopping four Brooklyn Nightlife Awards this year (one as an individual, three as part of an ensemble) for a ceremony which she will be co-hosting, the dazzlingly vamp “femmecee” of the drag / burlesque collective Switch n’ Play is coming into this summer on an all-time high. Miss Malice impales us with the story of how she got to this strange and marvelous place.
Miss Malice: Yes, I was door babe for the The Miscallaneous GranSparkle Switch n’ Play Takeover Show on Saturday, and it was so much fun. I haven’t been at the door in years since I’m usually in my role as femmecee, and I had such a great time interacting with folks as they came in. Plus, I got to watch an amazing show and cheer on my drag fam.
You must’ve made quite an impression to the folks as they first came in! What’s the origin of these witchy, gothy looks that Miss Malice is known for?
Miss Malice’s aesthetic is inspired by lesbian pulp novels, b-movie femme villains (especially the witches and vampires), and working class femmes hanging out in dive bars in the 1950s and 60s. I’ve also been described by an audience member as “Kristen Wiig meets the B-52s”
You’re one of the principal veteran members of Switch n’ Play, along with Divina, Zoe Ziegfeld and your partner K James, plus an extended rotating family of players. Is it crazy to think of all the members who have come through SnP over the years? It’s like the Drag Burlesque Saturday Night Live of Brooklyn.
Yeah, I’ve been a part of Switch n’ Play since 2010, so I’m the second longest running member–after K.James who joined in 2008, and then Pearl Harbor joined in 2013, I think. We’ve had the same cast for over two years now, including Divina GranSparkle, Vigor Mortis, K.James, Zoe Ziegfeld, Pearl Harbor and Nyx Nocturne. We’re definitely proud of our long history and the amazing variety of performers we’ve worked with, and we’re still in touch with the kings who founded the group in 2006.
Switch n’ Play was one of my first queer community homes when I moved to NYC in 2009, so I love that it’s continued to evolve and thrive over the past decade and become that home for so many other people, too.
As you said, the troupe was originally made up entirely of kings. Were you the first non-king member?
No, there was a performer before me named Vera Wylde, who lives in Vermont now! But I was definitely one of the earliest non-king members. I think that the kings in the group at the time didn’t love to host, and I had always wanted to develop my skills on the mic, so our collaboration grew from there.
Where’s your hometown?
I grew up in a pretty sad and conservative town in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Definitely an angsty youth who couldn’t find a place to fit in! I couldn’t wait to leave.
A lot of Pennsylvania is like that, unfortunately! Were you always a performer?
I wasn’t always into performing in this way! I was a choral singer, where you’re performing but you are meant to stand still and blend in. My high school drama teacher told me I was “too tall to be an ingenue”—which I find so endlessly hilarious now—but that quashed my early theater dreams. Most of what I’ve learned about being onstage, I’ve learned from other drag and burlesque performers over the last 8 years.
Do you sing solo ever?
I have! I’ll be singing at our Coney Island show on Friday, and I sang a few shows back.. I’m thinking about trying to incorporate it more often. The Switch n’ Play show I sang at was called ”Baby, One More Time,“ and it was a show where we all did our very first acts, no matter how embarrassing. That meant I had to sing “Blue Jeans” by Lana del Rey, which was the first non-hosting thing I did! I sang it when I was playing Penelope in a “drag Odyssey” show we did; I thought, well, I’m doing the ultimate classic lit sad girl, so it has to be Lana! The audience responded positively to me bringing that back, so hopefully you’ll see some more singing from Miss Malice in the future.
How did you first find yourself in Brooklyn, mixing it up with Switch n’ Play and all the other BK night creatures in 2009?
I moved to BK to be with my boo K.James–so I ended up being introduced to queer Brooklyn nightlife through him, since he was already a member of Switch n’ Play at the time. I’d never experienced anything like what queer NYC nightlife had to offer…it was a life-changing experience to see powerful femmes, queens, kings, and queer performers of all gender expressions and identities owning the stage. And I felt so welcome! Switch n’ Play felt like queer church. We still say that all the time.
I bet that the “brand” of SnP has evolved quite a bit since then, as far as what happens at the shows, what people have come to expect, etc.
Yes and no! The whole nightlife scene has changed a lot since then, and I think there are so many more opportunities for collaboration between different kinds of performers and performance communities, and so many more possibilities for what we can imagine and dare to bring onstage. Brooklyn is breaking all the molds. But I think that our shows also still feel really familiar to me, and retain a lot of the original spirit and energy that I remember as a baby queer. And I love that!
In Brooklyn, it seems the worlds of drag and burlesque are heavily intermixed. Are we at the point where we have a whole new performing genre here?
It makes so much sense for these worlds to intermix, and I’m so happy to see this happening in Brooklyn. Drag and burlesque have such entwined histories already, especially if we think about early drag king and burlesque performers in vaudeville. I think we are seeing both of these genres evolve through mixing of performance conventions and styles. So yeah, maybe it is a new genre. I definitely think these entwined histories are being re-animated in exciting ways.
Absolutely! So this is a painfully broad question, but what have been some huge highlights of your time with Switch n’ Play over the years?
Ooh, interesting! Starting our regular residency at Branded Saloon in 2014 was a big moment for the group and for me as a host / performer. The frequency of shows allowed us to start to build something really powerful and established, and it allowed me the space to focus on building my skills as a host. And our first Brooklyn Nightlife Awards win came last year – it felt so great to receive that kind of community recognition from our peers.
The biggest highlight / accomplishment for me as a host / producer is knowing that I contribute to creating a space that is entertaining and also emotionally valuable and sustaining for the audience and performers. As a host, my job is to hold space, to figure out what every single person’s needs to feel invited in, and to facilitate a relationship between the audience and the folks on stage. Anytime I can feel that I’ve done that well…that’s a huge accomplishment!
There is so much artistic freedom available to BK queer performers, which is great. But it’s hard for everyone to make a living out of it, especially when you’re part of a large troupe that has to split what comes in admission fees and tips. Is that ever a deterrent for continuing to perform?
Most of us in SnP have other day gigs / projects to pay the bills, because it is so hard to make a living as an artist, especially in this city! At this point, my motivation is to do good work that moves people, makes them feel good, and makes them feel connected and valuable. I’d love if we all got paid more to do this kind of work, but the experience of being in this collective and being in BK nightlife is so personally gratifying that it’s worth it, no matter what.
Do you get to perform as a solo act outside of SnP often? Is that something that interests you?
It’s not something I seek out often, because SnP keeps me busy and because hosting is the job I love the most! But I’ve got some things coming up in June, like Veronica Viper’s Wormwood Burlesque & Divina’s “Hot Face.” I’m also the regular raffle babe over at Sasha Velour’s Nightgowns, which involves some hosting/crowd work. I love that because it enables me to participate in fundraising work for social justice organizations that I am passionate about.
Hasn’t it been fascinating to see the evolution of Sasha and Nightgowns since Sasha’s Drag Race win? It kind of dangles the possibility of what a BK queer show can be with on a larger scale.
It’s been so amazing to witness! She’s always had such a beautiful vision, and it’s absolutely thrilling to see what Nightgowns has become. I love that she’s continued to work with her drag fam and local performers, and how Brooklyn drag is gaining an even bigger audience.
So last year’s Brooklyn Night Awards was a milestone for y’all as you mentioned, but this year’s edition might be an even bigger deal! First of all, Switch n’ Play are nominated for Best Drag Party AND Best Burlesque (talk about the intermixing of those genres!) for the twice-a-month show you guys do at Branded. And Switch n’ Play is also up for nomination to be entered into the Brooklyn Nightlife Hall of Fame, which is huge! Meanwhile, you yourself are nominated for Best Emcee, and on top of all that you’re co-hosting the whole ceremony with Merrie Cherry! You are all over this thing! What about that night are you the most over the moon about?
I’m excited about co-hosting with Merrie because we always crack each other up when we’re together, and I’m excited to see so many deserving members of our community be recognized! It really is an honor just to be nominated when your peers are the ones telling you that they value your work! Congratulations on your nomination, too!
Thank you! Super excited for the evening. It’s cool that the show is at Gold Sounds this year.
It is! I think it will feel more intimate than in years past, and I’m excited for that.
In the meantime, SnP will be making their Coney Island season debut on Friday, June 1st with a show called “Escape From Outer Space!” This is bound to be pulpy and fun.
Yes, I love a pulp aesthetics! I’ll be working a Barbarella vibe. We’re super excited for Friday’s show at Coney – it’s maybe our third or fourth year being a part of the “Burlesque at the Beach” programming there. The show will feature Divina GranSparkle, Vigor Mortis, K.James, Nyx Nocturne, Pearl Harbor, and special guests Kita St. Cyr, Sweet Lorraine and Heart Crimson.
And then Switch n’ Play is back at their Branded Saloon residency twice this coming month.
Yes! We’re every second and fourth Saturday, so I’ll be there on June 9th and June 23rd!
I’ll also be performing at Bizarre for Divina Gransparkle’s Hotface on June 15th, and Veronica Viper’s Wormwood Burlesque on June 29th.
On June 19th, Switch n’ Play is doing a Pride Takeover at the Fuck You Revue at Bizarre.
June is cancelled, lol! Well congrats on all the shows and nominations, and have a great summer! Last question: if Miss Malice were officially a supervillain, what would her power be and what colors would her costume be?
Hahaha! I think her superpower would be terrifying straight white cis men (actually, I think I already have that superpower), and I think I’d either be wearing something black and slinky or pink and sparkly.
Either works! Thanks, Miss!
Miss Malice emcees the Switch n’ Play shows at Branded Saloon every second and fourth Saturday (9pm). Check Thotyssey’s calendar for a full list of her scheduled appearances, and follow Miss Malice on Facebook and Instagram.