A behind-the-scenes “Get Shit Done Girl” who is helping so many queens achieve higher levels of success simply because she loves drag (so much so that her life depends on it), this woman is spearheading opportunities and showcases that everyone can enjoy. And that includes one of her latest projects, a play that explicitly lays out intimate details of her dramatic, eventful life. Thotyssey goes all the way with Lindsey Kay! [Cover photo: Hannah Spierman].
Thotyssey: Hey Lindsey! Thanks for talking to us today! So you’re basically always busy, but September must be a particularly taxing month in Dragland… what with Bushwig, DragCon, Miss Fire Island and even Halloween approaching. You must be one of those people who thrive on multitasking.
Lindsey Key: Absolutely. I always keep a pretty full schedule, and enjoy feeling productive.
And now that you are actually creating showcases for queens, this must be a very creative time for you as well.
I never though of it that way, but I guess so! The queens are the real creative ones, though. I just like to do my part to make sure they get to fulfill their creative aspirations.
You’re a Drag Merlin! Actually, it’s possible that everyone isn’t entirely sure what your role is in the Dragoshere… how would you explain what you do?
No one is quite clear on what I do, least of all me. It’s different for everyone I work with. But the common thread is really helping people set and achieve their career goals. Early on in my working relationship with any individual, we sit down and discuss their career in great depth: how it’s gone for them, what they enjoy about it, what they’d like to get out of it, what kinds of opportunities they’d like, etc. We create a set of goals, and I help to identify the next steps to accomplish them. Then we see how I can help. Depending on the day, that can mean reviewing outlines of a cabaret, (co-)producing an event, drafting / reviewing important correspondence, coordinating schedules, sourcing props / material… and inevitably at some point stoning a garment or two.
I’ve learned a bit of your origin story from the Three Tall Queens play based on your life story (we’ll get to that), but to educate the children: you’re a southern gal from a colorful family of characters, right?
I prefer to think of myself as an NYC native (I was born here) who got stuck in the south for a while. My family and background are absolutely colorful, to say the least… and I think a big part of that stemmed from being such an outlier in my surroundings. If the southern lifestyle suited me, I wouldn’t have resisted it so hard and I don’t think I would’ve ended up in all the unusual situations you got to hear about in Three Tall Queens. I’d like to say my immediate family is pretty normal, but I think my definition of normalcy is very skewed. How normal can they be? They raised a child who grew up to work with drag queens… and they’re proud of that.
Amen! So in your early years, were you art-driven?
A little. I was constantly surrounded by artists as a kid. My dad is a musician and my mom is sort of a Renaissance woman with a great deal of passion for creativity, so the kinds of people in our lives often had those sensibilities. That said, they also co-own an international manufacturing business, so I saw a lot of their clients who strongly contrasted with their friends. It was really a full spectrum, and I spent a lot of time going back and forth between those mentalities. How to apply creativity to business and business to creativity became an ongoing interest as a result.
At what point in your life did you begin to identify as bisexual?
First in middle school, then in high school. Somewhere in between, I kept hearing the message that bisexuality isn’t real and it’s just a phase and all that nonsense, so I identified as a lesbian for a while and kept the title even after I knew it wasn’t the full story. Sometimes it was just easier to say “gay” and move on than deal with everyone else’s opinions on bisexuality. Plus, I tend to prefer women and always assumed I would end up in a same sex relationship long term… but that didn’t quite go as planned.
You’re married to a man now, and in the process of expanding your family through adoption… congratulations!
Thank you! We’re still in the early stages of expanding our family, but looking forward to continuing that process.
Is it 100% essential that everyone be on board with your orientation in order to be in your life?
That’s tricky. I wouldn’t want to let someone else’s opinion on my sexuality interfere with us becoming parents, but I also don’t want to send the message to a child that it’s okay for others to belittle your identity. That said, I’ve not discussed my sexuality with my in-laws… but wouldn’t want to keep them away from us or their future grandchild just because that conversation hasn’t happened.
You’ve spoken how drag literally saved your life– that’s a moment explained in Three Tall Queens that I don’t want to spoil. What was your first exposure to drag… and what do you think it is that’s so fundamentally joyful about it?
I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I wasn’t around drag. It’s hard to identify a single moment as the first, because it was just part of my childhood like cartoons or coloring books. The childhood nostalgia factor probably contributes to the fundamental joy of it for me… but I also deeply admire the complexity and artistry involved. Drag is the art form that combines all other art forms. For that reason, I think it’s the most engaging. I can see the same number 100 times (cut to Boudoir LeFleur’s gypsy mix) and appreciate something new about it each time.
When did you find yourself taking an active role in NYC queens’ professional and creative development?
I guess it started when I was in college. One of the first friends I made when I moved back to NYC was Honey LaBronx, and while I don’t really think I had a hand in her career in any way, seeing it grow and helping out in little ways when they popped up (serving as a sounding board for a new mix, helping pack her bags for an out of town gig, etc.) was probably the closest thing to a starting point. When I was in grad school doing clinical work I got a call from Honey saying there was an emergency with the DJ for her show that night, and she asked if I could come by to run sound. I was honestly just so happy to be useful to my friend and her art that I think it sparked an interest in getting involved in the behind the scenes aspect of this community.
When my health declined and forced me to leave grad school, drag was a way for me to stay connected with the outside world. The people who made time for me when I was in and out of hospitals were predominantly people I knew through nightlife (either drag queens or patrons from Marie’s Crisis), and when I needed a night to mentally escape, a lot of queens stepped up to make sure I could could attend their shows safely and comfortably. When I started to get well enough to work again, I couldn’t return to my prior career, and there were several queens gracious enough to offer me work. That snowballed into the full time hectic schedule you see me balancing today.
Among the projects you’ve produced: a cabaret showcase for Flower Tortilla, an opera-themed night for Gilda Wabbit and a pair of all-lip synched pop culture tribute showcases with large casts led by Heidi Haux! Do projects like this begin with you suggesting “here’s what I think you’d do really well,” or by the queens telling you “this is what I’d like to do”?
The latter for sure. It always starts with what a queen wants to do, and from there I can suggest ways of going about it and things they might want to consider along the way. Gilda once dubbed me the “Get Shit Done Girl,” and I think that’s the most accurate description of my role in these projects; an artist wants to create something, and I help identify the tasks involved and take on what I can while following up on the rest to make sure things are progressing smoothly.
The Iconic drag competition, co-produced by Michael Block and yourself and hosted by Heidi Haux at Icon Bar, is about to enter it’s third season. That has been an incredibly successful showcase for the Astoria scene, and a great starting off point for many queens… and I think it’s fair to say that it’s one of the more challenging competition shows out there. How impressed are you with it’s progress, and with the work the queens have put into it each season?
I’m in a constant state of excited bewilderment. When Michael and I started this, we knew it had the potential to be something significant, but I don’t think either of us expected it to grow to what it is now so quickly. It’s mindblowing to see what the contestants put into it. Since Iconic involves a mentorship component, we have the privilege of getting to know each of their creative processes–and for me, that makes seeing the results of their labor so much more meaningful. I’m in awe not just of what these performers display on the stage, but in all the moments leading up to it.
And your cast this season looks stellar, with so many new queens who are already killing it throughout the city. It’s a little overwhelming how many talented queens there are in this city, isn’t it?
Oh, completely. This season we had to reject more than we could accept and I know all of us took that a little hard. We just want to see all these fabulous performers flourish!
Several established queens both local and visiting will be part of a showcase you’re producing at the Broadway Comedy Club this Thursday! Unseen on TV stars Gilda Wabbit, Heidi Haux, Hibiscus, Lucy Stoole, Miss Toto and Samantha Echo, who are all in town for DragCon. What can we expect from this night?
There are so many different styles of drag, and each of the queens involved here brings something unique to the table. Most simply, the audience will have a chance to see local and visiting performers showcase each of their approaches to this wild art form. But I also think there’s also something inherently wonderful about performers who may not have had the opportunity to cross paths getting to know one another in a show setting. It’s one thing to walk around a convention center and meet people in your field, but it’s another to meet fellow artists by seeing them in their element. I know as an audience member, I’ve always enjoyed watching the dynamic between performers as it unfolds, and I think this audience will be in for a treat in that regard.
So we’ve referenced it enough times, lets get into it! Last month featured the Duplex premiere of Three Tall Queens (a title derived from Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women) written by Justin McDevitt, who also co-directed the production with you. It’s based on stories of your life, and the premiere starred Lauren Ordair, Chandilier and Whendy Whaxwood, all playing… versions of you? Tell us about the origin of this play.
About a year ago, I started going to the Duplex fairly regularly to see some of the upstairs drag shows. I got to know the bartender Justin McDevitt and, on nights when I was drinking, he really got to know me. I have often been told I need to write about the unusual things that have happened in my life (and you’ve seen the show, so you know there’s a lot), but I’ve already lived it and never really felt the desire to write it myself. Turns out the friendly bartender who had been listening to pieces of my life every week was a playwright, and wanted to write the story.
We sat down and recorded sober versions of our conversations (which, as it turns out, is a much different experience than just casually chatting at 3am over chocolate martinis, Grand Marnier, and more shots of Fireball than I care to recall). Justin selected a few that could fit into a narrative, and turned them into a show told from three different perspectives.
I had no interest in being on stage–and to have anyone but a drag queen portray me would just be wrong–so we reached out to Lauren, Chandi, and Whendy. Justin took inspiration from what he knew about each of the queens’ personas and what he knew about me to create the three characters that, while radically different from one another, all reflect who I am with almost unsettling accuracy.
Were these three queens that you knew particularly well before the show?
I want to say this as inoffensively as possible, so my apologies to these queens if it comes across poorly. I was initially quite intentional about not selecting people I was very close with. I’ve always adored Lauren and Chandi as performers–and we were casual friends before the show–but not close enough that they would’ve felt obligated to take on the project. That was my biggest concern in casting this. I didn’t want to create uneasiness in asking someone to sign on to a personal project that they may not want to do, but would feel compelled to say yes to. For that reason I was reluctant to ask Whendy. We’ve worked together for awhile, and I worried about how something like this could affect our working relationship… but (and I swear this isn’t a read), Whendy is very blunt. She has no trouble saying exactly what she’s thinking, so I trusted that she would communicate issues if they arose. All that in mind, I’m sure this was a very interesting way for these queens to get to know me!
And to clarify: they were all playing different Lindseys, I guess from different stages of your life… but all in communication with each other.
I think so. At different stages I’ve reflected on things differently, as I think we all have in our lives. Sometimes I’ve been bitter and snarky, sometimes I’ve been confused and vulnerable, and almost always I see the humor in the absurdity. I think the different Lindseys in the show are characterizations of these different approaches.
The stories they tell are quite personal: accounts of your health problems, family craziness and being assaulted. Is it scary to have that out there?
A little. I’ve always been very open about my life, but this is certainly a much different degree than I’ve experienced before. I’m a big believer in radical vulnerability, and this has definitely pushed that to a new level.
It’s a fascinating show regardless, and not without it’s very funny moments! And some musical numbers, cuz duh… drag! I understand it’s returning next month.
Yes! After a sold out show, I’m happy to announce we’ll be back at the Duplex on October 7th.
What else is on the horizon that can be shared?
Right now, a lot of my energy is going into Iconic. But beyond that, this week I’ve been chatting with Whendy about her upcoming Miss’d America package, Heidi about her next major production (I’m sure you can find clues as to what that is on her social media), Gilda about her tour schedule and what’s next for Big Gay Opera Show, and countless other projects that I’ll let the queens announce themselves.
If a baby queen or even a seasoned queen at this point wants to work with you on something in the future, what’s the best way they can go about doing that?
I like to get to know someone before I commit to working with them, so the best way to start that process is to start a conversation. If we’ve seen each other a few times in passing, reach out and see if we can grab coffee or lunch and get to know each other. If we already know each other at least casually, ask if we can find time to talk about what a working relationship would look like for us. I’m a big fan of trial periods, and often insist on it to make sure we’re a good fit for one another.
And for those not looking to work together, please know that I’m in no way thirsty for clients and I’m always happy to just get to know people in the community. I may not have an abundance of spare time, but I’m happy to set aside a moment or two for anyone who requests it.
All very good to know! Final question in honor of your almost-namesake… Lindsay Lohan is releasing new music! Yay or nay?
Ha! I haven’t listened to anything she’s done (except when she faked an accent and kind of tried to kidnap a homeless person’s child?) but I imagine I’ll hear it at a drag show soon enough.
Definitely no doubt about that! Thank you, Lindsey!