Even within the diverse Brooklyn scene, this nightmare babydoll AFAB queen had a hard time finding their niche. So in the tradition of many nightlife greats, the intense performer Ata Racks carved out a whole budding enterprise for their drag, producing events in venues as unexpected and diverse as a coffee house and a barbershop. Now with a growing repertoire of events under their belt, Ata chats with Thotyssey about the tragedy that inspired the art, the gratification of emotionally bearing it all for the audience, and the excitement of what’s to come. Oh, and of course, Chucky
Thotyssey: Hey, Ata! I just watched a (very) short film online featuring Monikkie Shame — of the monster drag competition Dragula — grabbing everyone’s asses on the street. You get to slap her! How fun and crazy was all that?
Ata Racks: Monikkie Shame is one of my best friends..and also a pain in my ass! So slapping her was absolutely great… though I didn’t mean to slap her THAT hard, haha!
How do you know Monikkie? Are you from the Washington area, like her?
I was actually born and raised in the Bushwick / Ridgewood area all of my life. I got to know Monikkie through booking her! I was booking some Dragula girls for my first ever Bi Be Ball that just happened in January, and after I booked her we kept in contact and became close.
Before I ask about the Ball and your other events, what’s the story of how you got into drag and Brooklyn nightlife?
My father passed in January 2018. It was the darkest moment of my life. I was suicidal, and the amount of times I would self-harm sky rocketed. Around this time, my best friend Nix (now my manager) had introduced me to Drag Race. At first I didn’t get it, but I soon became obsessed. It was a coping mechanism. I started going out in drag for fun (I’ve always been good with hair and makeup since around age 16), and started going to parties. But, my looks and my makeup were weird and wild compared to what I was seeing.
Then, Nix introduced me to Dragula. Dragula saved my life. Watching Dragula every single day was my comfort blanket. Because of Dragula, my character grew and grew. And then it hit me. I promised my Dad that I would make something of my art. Growing up as a kid, he always fought with me and said I was talented, and that I needed to share my art. This is what made me get into doing drag seriously.
I went out one night to see Blair St. Clair in Manhattan, and little did I know that my favorite local BK queen Harajuku was going to be there. I met her as a fan, and she was so nice to me, always remembered my name. Then, one night at her Season 10 viewing party at The Deep End, she and her co-host Pepto Dismal let me hit the stage.
Wow, that’s beautiful! How has the aesthetic and performing style of Ata Racks developed over time, and how did you conceive that name?
So, my name is actually really personal to me. Atarax is the sedative medicine that I am prescribed to reduce my anxiety and panic attacks. I broke it up into Ata Racks: a play on words because of my big chest. Ata started off as a depiction of my inner turmoils, demons, and mental health issues.
Aesthetically, Ata is a broken or haunted baby doll. Her performance style is very dramatic, traumatic, gross and crude sometimes, and ridiculously satirical other times. Over time, I’ve noticed I’ve become less and less afraid to be vulnerable on stage. Now, I’m not afraid to cry or break down for everyone to see. I’ve also been a dancer all of my life, so I’m noticing that now I’m incorporating that into my drag more and more.
Is it overwhelming to be so on the edge when you are performing, or is it healthy to give yourself a forum to express that part of your life and psyche?
It’s actually is both! Performing is a healthy outlet for me. Instead of internalizing everything when I’m sad (which I still do, but I’m getting better at it), I will make a new mix that expresses how I’m feeling. I’ll conceptualize a number and a look. I’ll put my energy into that instead of harming myself. So it’s healthy in that sense, but it also sucks because it makes drag so personal to me and I’m often defensive about it.
There are certainly a lot of JudgeQueens out there that love to take a bitch down when they don’t understand what they’re seeing, or aren’t getting what they expect.
Exactly! I agree with that 100%. I personally love weird drag, and it’s usually what I lean towards, but to each their own!
How did it come to be that you started creating and producing your own showcases? Were you seeing that something was missing in the scene?
When I first started drag, I identified with being an alternative bioqueen. There is a barrier to entry for bioqueens. There is a barrier to entry for alternative queens. It seems like I had a double whammy. I didn’t want any crutches or to make any excuses for myself though. So I figured that if there weren’t spaces catering to me or my people, I’d create them.
By my people, I didn’t only mean other alternative bioqueens, either. I meant anyone that believed that drag was for every soul and every body. I work with tons of glamour, Top 40 queens on the daily basis. But they believe in me, and I believe in them, and that’s all that matters.
Getting a budget together to put on a big show and bring in all this out-of-town talent can be daunting, especially for someone new to the scene. How do you do it?
Sacrifice. I don’t get budgets from any of the venues I work with. My manager and I do this all on our own. We have normal day jobs just like anyone else. We live off of ramen and water the majority of the month, actually!
That is commitment!
So a few months ago, you started these “Lips & Hips” showcases at the unlikely location of the Flower Power Coffee House in Glendale, Queens. How did that all come about?
So Flower Power Coffee House, run by the amazing Dorothy, was the first venue that allowed me to have an event in their space. I wanted to have a drag party for my birthday, and getting a bar was impossible, so I started to look elsewhere. Dorothy had always been supportive of me coming into her shop in drag, and wanted to support the LGBTQ+ community more. I pitched my idea to her for my birthday party, and she gave me a great price. After that first party there, Poppers (a private kink-themed version of my touring alternative drag party Pop AWF), the rest was history.
We kept having events there, and eventually she not only made me manager of any and all drag events happening in her space, but she gave me a monthly that I am super grateful for!
Important question: is alcohol served there?
Alcohol is served! We do not sell alcohol, as it is a private event and that is illegal. But this is a BYOB event and serving alcohol, as long as it is not sold, is perfectly lawful. Everyone is carded — we stan queens that don’t break the law in 2019!
Monikkie does crazy shit like drinking blenders full of pulverized worms, and I’m sure the other performers that come through there go all the way as well… how does that go over in a coffee house!?
So, this coffee house actually has two separate rooms, and a beautiful outdoor space which is where the performers perform. All of the shenanigans happen out there! Everyone watching are party attendees, or Dorothy and her people — who are always recording and just as eager and intrigued as our guests! We are a very eccentric bunch of people, so it goes over really well. We’ve actually sucked in and converted average day coffee house attendees as well — even senior citizens! I guess it all goes to show that everyone has a little weird in them.
Lips & Hips returns to Flower Power on March 29th with Monikkie and many others for an Emo edition!
Lips & Hips is a show in which myself, Monikkie and Nicky Ottav (our third cast member) showcase our personal drag styles as well as highlighting things like alternative drag and k-pop, which is a personal interest of myself and a lot of the members of my haus/party collective. It’s a three-part show in which you get a set from your cast, a set from our special guests, and then an open mic for any and every type of performer: queer or not, drag or not. You also get sick sounds from our in-haus DJ Lucky Casper, along with a k-pop set from the lovely Dream Boi. It’s a true variety show, with some extra perks.
So that’s a normal show, but sometimes, we theme them! This time, everyone will be serving their emo and scene fantasies through their look and their number. It’s going to give you all of the MySpace and Tumblr life!
YAAAAS! The Bi Be Bash is actually the monthly party version of the yearly ball I started in January, called the Bi Be Ball (pronounced “bee bee”). “Bi Be” is actually short for [B]abes [I]n [Be]tween. A “babe in between” is a phrase I created to represent anyone that feels left out in the LGBTQ+ and/ or nightlife community. It’s the non-binary and genderqueer folk. It’s the trans folk. It’s the folks who have a sexual identity that is not so popular or not so clear. It’s the creepy-cooky-spooky performers. I started this ball to popularize and uplift these types of people. We can be sickening, important, and perfect too.
The Ball did extremely well in January, and so we reached out to Bizarre to get a monthly mini-competition going. The winners of each mini-competition will become an official Bi Be Babe and will move on to the semi-finals in December, where we will pick the best of the best to compete in the next ball in January for the grand prize. Shanita Bump was our first ever Bi Be Royale (winner of the ball) receiving $500, a stunning crown, a super special top secret booking happening this September, and the responsibility to uplift the queerdo community. Phallic Cunt won fan favorite, and a $150 booking to any of my shows. The first winners of the Bash this month — our new Bi Be Babes — are Janus Barong, Medulla Oblongata, Glitter Macabre, and Johanna, who will all be competing again in December.
Aside from the competition, we always have sickening alt drag shows and an amazing DJ set from Casper. I’m really looking forward to our March show. We have an amazing line-up of queens and of course, none other than Dorian Electra as a guest performer.
I don’t want you to completely rehash this business you had at the Ball with contestant Foxy Scamazon — who had some sort of alleged racism-related objection to the process or the results — partially because I don’t really know what happened at all, and partially because you two have since happily and peacefully resolved the matter. But being aware and open-minded about all of these issues must be a stressful aspect of being an event producer in nightlife today, right?
Yeah, totally, especially for me. I pride myself in creating SAFE spaces with a family vibe, for queer folk and beyond. That is the most important goal of any of my shows. As a mental health advocate, “safe” doesn’t only mean physical. It means emotional, social, and mental as well. If I see or hear anything that violates what I would want to represent, I will speak up about it. Foxy and I have since talked it out. She did her best to understand why I made the decisions I made as a producer, and I did my best to understand her side as well. I don’t know Foxy as a person so I can’t speak to her character, just as I’m sure she won’t speak to mine, but the effort was made to resolve things and I truly appreciate that. There’s no beef or bad blood, and I wish her nothing but the best!
Speaking of unconventional venues for drag shows… New York’s Greatest Barbershop in Brooklyn! You just started a new weekly event there, “321 Bushwick.”
321 Bushwick is a show I created to blend the urban, inner city community and drag community. I feel we need more representation for our queer folk in the Bushwick/ Ridgewood area.
Unfortunately, it won’t be a weekly anymore. When I started the show, I didn’t have the Bi Be Bash and I wasn’t traveling with my drag as much, so I had a freer schedule. It will now be a monthly as well. But, the theme still applies! We tried the Barbershop as a fun and exciting venue option. The space was great. My cast and I will be trying a new space in March, only a few minutes away. We really want to find the perfect spot for this type of gig.
We’ll keep our eyes open! By the way, congratulations on your two Slammie noms for “How Did You Get a Show?” and “Best Nightlife Drama!” The Slammies are a time-honored tradition started by Bob the Drag Queen herself, and now The Nobodies have taken over! How do you feel about the nominations?
So being new to nightlife, I didn’t know that the Slammies were. Someone reached out to me about nominating me for the “How Did You Get a Show” award. I was at first a little confused, and wanted to answer that I got a show because of hard work and determination, but then the person explained that it was not meant to be malicious. I told them it was okay to nominate me, as long as there was no bad intent. As I mentioned before, this is where it get’s sticky for me… because most people say “it’s nothing personal, it’s just drag.” But it is personal to me.
I was unaware that I was nominated for “Best Nightlife Drama,” and I’m a little confused about that one, honestly. Again, I take pride in doing my best to create drama-free spaces for our community, since there are so few. However, sometimes things happen and my team and I do our best to handle it. Out of all of my events, something only popped off at ONE, and it was handled quickly. It wasn’t the fault of myself or anyone in my team, and we were actually the victims. I’m just not a dramatic person, and drama does not excite me. The only drama I ever want to give is during my performances, henny!
What else is coming up for you?
I always love to plug the parties that started it all. Pop Awf / Poppers were my first successes. Now, I’m touring the country with Pop Awf! I’ll be in LA at Redline on June 27th, and I’ll be having my second installment of Pop Awf Boston in September! I love traveling with this party, so if there is any state that needs an unfiltered (yet respectful) shit show, let me know! We always headline a Dragula talent, and there will always be me.. the biggest shit show of them all!
Would you ever do Dragula if you had the chance?
Haha, I always get asked that! It’s actually more of an expectation at this point! I think in the future, why not try out? The show will always mean a lot to me, so I don’t see why not! I’m just really not a competitive person by nature… but I would love to share my ridiculousness with a wider audience!
And regarding that Other Drag Show… who should win Season 11?
I know everyone is expecting someone like me to say Yvie Oddly.. and guess what… I WILL! Haha, but I also really really love Plastique Tiara, I’m a mega fan! I’m interesting in seeing what everyone brings to the show.
Ooooh, so one last question that you might be unusually qualified to answer: The Child’s Play remake looks like it might be creepier and less campy then the original series. Could that be a good thing, or will this suck?
I’m super excited about any Child’s Play remake! The creepier the better! I do love the campy version, but it’s had it time… and I would be more upset if a new campy version was done poorly. I’m ready to see something new. If it’s done well, I don’t think it’ll suck! I’m all for a doll’s fantasy!
Thank you, Ata!