The creator of the Theater in the Now blog and the Block Talk podcast (as well as Thotyssey’s fellow on-call judge for the Lady Liberty drag showdowns) is producing what will be one of Astoria’s most exciting new additions to weekly nightlife in quite a while. It’s Michael Block!
Thotyssey: Michael, hello! How are you holding up in this post-Pride, post-Drag Race existence?
Michael Block: Oh I had such a great time with Pride and Drag Race, but boy I’m glad it’s over! Daddy needs a break!
I hear that! I can’t to wait to go to bars on Thursdays and not have to pay attention to anything! Where are your favorite haunts in the city?
You’re about to make your mark on that last one… we’ll get to that!
Oh, we will!
So, are you a native New Yorker?
Not really. I am from Mahwah, New Jersey. It’s a big town in North Jersey. That being said, NYC was just a hop, skip, and a jump away, so I spent a lot of my childhood coming in with my family.
Have you always been involved with theater in some way?
Theater entered my life after my parents took me to see Beauty and the Beast when I was, like, 7. From there, I caught the bug: did the fifth grade play, did a biography report on Bob Fosse in sixth grade. But I always, when I could, stayed behind the scenes in some capacity.
I started writing toward the latter part of college. I didn’t think I could be a playwright until I had a reading of my first play and had some incredible feedback. If others say I’m good at it, it must be at least half true!
Through my experience writing and producing my own work, I knew I could utilize those skills to put on a cabaret. For Dragaret, I didn’t do much writing, it was more curating the evening to help showcase the three individuals.
I’m inspired by giving artists a place to grow and explore. Collaboration is the most important word in my vocabulary. That and “Miss Vangie!”
Your blog Theater in the Now reviews theater in the city and spotlights interviews with people in the biz. Did you ever have a huge Star Struck moment during your time running the site?
I love him! How long have you been running that site now?
As of this June, 7 years.
Congratulations! You’re known for reviewing the stage shows from Drag Race girls that come through the city, particularly those at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Who among those girls is really, really good at doing that type of show, and who… isn’t so much?
What’s really cool about those shows is you are given a chance to see these queens without editing. You get to see them at their authentic self. Some of my favorite shows are from Alaska, DeLa, Trixie, Latrice, and Miz Cracker. As far as the not so good? Well, go head over to Theater in the Now and find out for yourself!
You’re trying to see 365 Drag Shows this year! What’s your number as of now… and what will happen to you if you fail!?
199! I’m ahead of pace! And honey, I can’t fail! It’s become an addiction! [Editor’s update: as of this writing, it’s an even 200.]
Most of the shows you see are courtesy of the West End queens–Ultimate Drag Pageant contestants and weekly show hosts–that you’re friendly with.
We can thank friendships and timing when it comes to seeing all those shows up there! Nothing like knocking off three shows in one night and not having to leave one space.
How did you fall in with this particular group of queens? Many of them seem to have known each other pre-drag, from the theater world.
I happened upon UDP after becoming friendly with Bijoux, through Lady Liberty. She competed in season 4, which was almost a year ago. I really respected the platform and opportunity that [UDP hosts] Marti, Nedra, [venue owner] John, and The West End gave to emerging queens… so once I found myself there Week 1, I basically haven’t left!
Whether you’re a fellow queen, friend, collaborator… whatever your title may be, friendships will emerge, and that’s what happened here. I met a lot of like-minded artists through watching UDP week after week. And having that common ground of theater, we all seem to get each other.
Speaking of Lady Liberty: you and I have been co-judging that in its many incarnations for over a year now! Tremendous performances have come through there. What stands out for you as a Lady Liberty highlight?
Oh, it’s been an honor and a joy being invited to be a part of Lady Liberty! There have been so many incredible moments, it’s hard to pick just one. The first time I was invited to judge was the finale of season 2, and I distinctly remember Avant Garbage’s “Bang Bang” number. It was only months after Pulse, and at first I sat there feeling so uncomfortable… but the way she spun it, gold. I also loved watching Rosé‘s seemingly underdog journey in season 4. And how can I not mention some of the insane numbers from the one-offs? Between Jasmine Rice LaBeija’s orchestra to Aviva Dickman’s silent West Wing number, Lady Liberty has had some historic numbers indeed!
Yes to all! And I’m still shook from Jasmine’s live orchestra myself!
Oh, we’re good. Would I have preferred a Cracker win so my pre-season prediction would be accurate? Yes. Aquaria’s win was for the young kids who literally grew up with Drag Race. She represents something special. She knows that in the talking department, she has some work to do. But she is a tremendous artist who I’m confident will do great things for our community.
Let’s talk about “Iconic,” a new weekly competition Sundays at Icon in Astoria, that you are producing with noted Drag Wrangler Lindsey Kay, and will be hosted by the incredible Heidi Haux. Its format seems to be along the lines of the Ultimate Drag Pageant and So You Think You Can Drag, where a set group of contestants do weekly challenges until a winner is crowned at the end of the cycle. How did all of this come about?
Serendipity. I had always had aspirations to produce a competition. I had floated around a few concepts in my head for many months; it was just finding the opportunity and venue to do so. Lindsey and I had been chatting one day, and she too had similar hopes and dreams. We went to David at Icon, pitched him a few different formats and ideas. Ultimately this long form drag competition is the one that was picked.
Each week, our contestants will be given at least two challenges. One will be a lip sync set to a theme, the other is a mini-challenge ranging from a drag suicide, to a twist on Snatch Game, to the “Chopped Challenge” where the queens will be given three random items the previous week they must incorporate into their number. There will be two elimination points: one halfway through, and one before the finale.
In this day and age of drag there’s more than just going up and doing a number, and that’s our goal with Iconic. We want to test our performers in all aspects of drag. You’re going to see them dance, you’re going to see them serve looks, you’re going to see them be funny. We want to help groom talent that will be ready to host their own show.
It’s going to be!
And wow, lots of drag queens live in, or near, Astoria!
We are lucky to have a few Astoria locals in the competition.
What else do the children need to know?
If your readers are not following me on Instagram, Twitter or subscribed to “Block Talk” on iTunes or SoundCloud, then I expect a little ka-ching sound because ya just Venmoed me for not doing so!
Heard! Okay, so all-important last question: What would your drag name be?
Oh no. Don’t get me in trouble! I am not doing drag. I can’t. Cannot. I have bad knees. I did, however, write a drag queen character for a web series I was developing. Her name was Cassie O’Peeonya. She’s Irish.
Top of the morning! Thanks, Michael!