Sporting club looks that are equal parts darkly dramatic and campy, this Lady of the Haus of Femanon strikes a towering, memorable figure as she vamps across the dancefloor on stilts. An actress of stage and screen and a performance artist across all media, there are few people in the city’s nightlife more compelling than Magdalena Borlando, better known on the scene as the incomparable Magdalena Femanon.
Thotyssey: Thanks for talking to us today, Magdalena! So, crap, it’s already the second week of August… how’s your summer been so far?
Magdalena Femanon: Hello! Yes, summer’s definitely ending; however, the next and last few weeks will definitely be the most exciting for me out of the season. But so far, it’s been pretty solid. Got to film a couple projects, see one of them premiere at a distinguished film festival, and Pride was wild this year. Working hard, playing harder.
Exciting! You’re an actor, a visual and performance artist, a makeup artist, a nightlife personality…. I’m sure there’s even more to add here, but when somebody asks that terrible question “So, what do you do?” how do you usually respond?
I typically respond with “actor and performance artist.” I think those two really encompass all I do and include the other tools I use such as makeup.
Did you have any idea, growing up, that your life and career would be so diverse, and encompass so many different elements of expression?
Oh, I was always a performer, and knew I wanted to pursue performing professionally. But I definitely jumped around among the art forms before I chose to be an actor. However, in college I started to feel a bit stifled. As an actor, I feel that at this point I have to keep a certain physical “brand,” and I am getting called in for roles that suit this physical “brand.” Discovering and entering nightlife was so special and fulfilling because it gave me limitless self-expression visually, and gave me a space to create these characters! My constant goal is always to be able to merge the two–that is, see these characters on stage and film, which I have thankfully been able to do a bit over the past year.
Where are you from, and how long have you been in New York?
I’ve been in NYC for six years now. I was born in Argentina, and moved to the states when I was around three years old with my parents to outside Philadelphia.
Always my surprise fun fact.
Do you feel an attachment to that Argentinian heritage, still?
Definitely. My whole extended family still lives there, so I’ll visit every few years. And I continue to speak Spanish at home. When I was in college I helped form a bilingual theatre company, and was focused on devising and / or producing Latin theatre. I’m always down to incorporate Spanish language into a piece if it works, like I recently did in a piece I helped create, actually… with a couple other members of my drag family, the Haus of Femanon. I would like to be doing more of that.
That sounds fascinating! You certainly have tons of credits on your acting resume, both stage and screen. But of course I have to be Basic and focus on your two episodes of Law & Order: SVU! What was it like working on that show? I bet production is a pretty well-oiled machine.
Haha, that was pretty sweet, yes! Well-oiled machine is right. I mean, 20 seasons! They know what they are doing, and how to do it quickly. The couple episodes I shot aired two / three weeks after I shot them.
That must’ve been extraordinary to watch them from home, I bet the whole family was watching!
Oh definitely… all while trying not to cringe at the subject matter, haha!
Speaking of family…. the Haus of Femanon! First of all, how were you introduced to the world of NYC nightlife, and then how was Magdalena Femanon born?
The Haus! Well, four out of five of us–Peroxide, Détroit, Mr. He, and myself–attended Pace University, studying within the performing arts department. We were not close at all as a group yet, but we each knew that each other wanted to create looks / try drag / express herself in another, different way than we were getting from school. So we found a flyer for Ladyfag’s Holy Mountain (RIP), and we went out in these terrible looks. We were so ugly, but we discovered something special that night–as well as meeting a very special person, Lick, our last member. We started going out all the time, to every party, and immerse ourselves in this world. After a while, we started collaborating on stage and in film as well.
I think Magdalena Femanon was born out of frustration. I was trying to discover who I was / wanted to be, struggling to feel comfortable with myself. And then on top of that, no one could see me! Literally. I am a very petite gurl, to put it graciously. Even in the tallest of heels, I couldn’t talk to anyone as they towered over me. No one wants to bend down for more than five seconds to talk to anyone, especially with music blasting. Within a few months of starting to go out with the Haus, I was at a theatre / performance festival and saw a street company perform wearing stilts. I got home that night, and ordered a pair of my own. I also did it to be Extra; I live in a world of extremes. So now I have metal legs for dayz, and the constrictions of them actually really influence and allow for more creativity in what I do. Stilts definitely changed the game for me and were probably the official birth.
[photo by Peroxide]
Stilt-walking in these crowded spaces must be a challenge!
At first I was definitely a bit wobbly…and CRAZY, when I look back on some of the things I did. But you find balance quickly, and it’s mostly mental–telling yourself you won’t fall.
So, did you sort of build your looks and fashions around being this tall creature on stilts?
It’s usually the first thing I think about when I have an idea for a look. It was challenging at first, especially since I’m not a damn seamstress in any way… but definitely fun. I make it work.
By the way, how did you come up with “Femanon” as a family name?
Mr. He actually coined it officially. It takes from the words “femme,” “phenomenon” and “anonymous.” We wanted to be a Haus as a way to collaborate and perform as a unit, even though we each do our own individual projects as well. I see it as paying homage to the houses of the NYC Ballroom scene. I still gag a bit when I think about how I get to host Battle Hymn with, like, Grandfather Hector Extravaganza or Javier Ninja.
Oh yes…Webster Hall. That was a really fun time. Really a shame it needed to close… I read it will be more of an arena now, and less dance nights? Lame. A part of New York and gay / queer history. Yes, Kayvon’s party was great…the kids were HUGE in size at that time… getting up those stairs was not a joke, haha!
It’s hard to explain the appeal of those types of parties (Holy Mountain, Battle Hymn, etc) with club kids in these extravagant looks to people who have never been. How would you explain what makes them great?
It IS very difficult to explain, and people ask all the time. I do not think there are too many places that could full-on celebrate us for being freaks. It’s like the watering hole–the place where you go and meet up with a community of people like yourself. The parties are freeing, even if you are not dressed up. Everyone is welcome… unless you’re a Nazi. It’s a place to meet other artists and collaborators. All of these things add to the appeal.
I was just talking to the Haus of Sterling, and they were marveling about Femanon’s edgy, dark looks. Is that a good description?
I would say that’s pretty accurate. With the exception of Détroit (who herself is so over the top campy) none of us go for very human-like personas. I mean, we are glamorous the way a blood-sucking alien is glamorous. We love horror, we like looking other-worldly, we like black and white, we would rather scare you than make you swoon over how elegant we look.
Tell us a little more about the kind of performing art that the Haus does.
For short nightlife gigs and for events such as Bushwig, we usually do campy numbers involving interpretive dance, usually something relevant in pop culture at the time, and there’s always a slight element of gross.
Mr. He was part of a theatre ensemble last year and invited Lick and me to join for the last few productions, where we played characters also very similar to campy nightlife personas. Very much about the look. Very queer. Very camp.
Recently, Peroxide and I starred in a short film which was set within the frame of nightlife called Like Glass. The project was very close to Peroxide and me because although the characters were fictional, the themes were very much those of our lives and something we were eager to share through this medium. It’s gotten into a couple of festivals at this point, and I hope it goes farther.
As far as this weekend goes, it appears that the Haus will be up in Sugar Loaf, NY for an August 11th festival called Dusklit, What is that exactly, and what will the Femanons be doing there?
Dusklit is an annual one-night interactive art festival. The art ranges from immersive performances, to pieces in site specific environments, music, puppetry, poetry, sound installations, etc. We performed last year and had a blast, glad to be back this year.
This year, we are doing a piece called “INTERWEB:secrets” about the comfort of anonymity on the internet. Participants can share their secrets in the web we create for them, as well as take a secret back with them from an unknown person. We hope to create a massive web of secrets by the end, and have it be an amusing–if not cathartic–experience for people.
The Haus will also be camping in upstate New York together. CAMPING. Five clowns in a tent. It will be quite a show for all involved.
That would be something to behold!
Yes! I like Kunst because it’s in an immersive Brooklyn venue, there’s good DJs, and Ithere will be several performances. My babe Baby Yors is performing this time, so can’t wait to see him.
Yeah he’s great! Looking ahead, on September 8th at the Paramount Hotel, Susanne is presenting Belladonna, a party and lewk contest. This is a great idea! And it should be epic. Are you hosting, or actually competing?
Belladonna will be epic… I’ll be there as a host for sure, but everyone better bring their best lewks. I hope to see those few nightlife gems that only come out once in a while for special occasion look parties, that always slay us. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Anything else on the agenda?
Well, my nearest project after Dusklit is my trip to Black Rock City in a couple weeks for Burning Man. I’ll definitely be bringing the stilts and a few looks I have as I stomp through the desert. Focused on preparing for that now.
That’s gonna be so Fury Road! Okay, last question… if the Haus of Femanon ever decided to take in a new member… what would her required credentials be?
“Adheres to Slender Man, willing to submit to cult rituals, and NOT vegan (as our vegan quota of two members max has been filled).”
Very reasonable! Thank you, Magdalena!