Both a throwback to a punkier, edgier drag scene and something altogether new, actor and poet Alex Scelso became Sitanya Face after a breakup; she now brings laughter and tears along with all the furry C.U.N.T. to our virtual and actual stages! [Cover photo: Elmer Quintero]
Thotyssey: Hey there, Sitanya! So, Pandemic Valentines Day is right around the corner! Are you ready?
Sitanya Face: I don’t think I’ve ever been prepared for Valentine’s Day, lol. But this time around–after being truly isolated, living alone in my little apartment–I’ve started to truly embrace not having a “special guy” for the occasion–or for any holiday, really. I’m my own Valentine, and it feels good to say that.
Many of us had to learn that lesson this past year! Have the isolation and boredom of social distance and quarantine taken their toll on you at all, or were you able to stay productive?
I’m a Brooklyn born and raised guy, so I’m always go-go-go and my mind is always running. So being alone with my thoughts was difficult. I was lonely after ending an engagement ring-sizing the year before; I lost my acting gigs as my boy self, and I was just introducing people to Sitanya Face… so it was all about starting from scratch. I wrote all my ideas down in a journal and performed my spoken word poetry on Instagram Live a lot, in different poetry open mics and feature nights. Basically I connected with other artists, and put my pain or sadness into art. And I found time to edit my one person show I ended 2019 with, The Unicorn That Discovered Self-Love. Art always was something I could count on; performing made me feel like I had purpose.
Tell us a bit about Unicorn, which is also available as a publication!
So I wrote this collection of poetry and semi-autobiographical information because I remember seeing so many people getting married. My relationship was on the rocks. It was like, “yay, I’m so happy for you and your engagement video made me cry, but do you have to share it so publicly with everyone!?” That bitterness made me think….hmmm this could be a fun character. I imagined, what if this engagement he was so happy to finally achieve didn’t work out, and that the ex decided to get married….to someone else? I wanted to play a character who felt like his dreams were taken from him. How do we know when we’re ready to dream again?
That story arc became about coming to terms with other feelings of loss: familial, in love. So the play starts with this guy coming into this wedding venue–the audience are the guests–and he decides to try and take back his day. The journey of reading it is sharing my own personal stories under the guise of a character. A self-love journey. The fiction is the setting of the wedding; the truth is mixed in.
The Unicorn That Discovered Self-Love is available for purchase on my website. If you buy from me, I’ll mail it to you and sign it with an essay of my love and gratitude. It’s also available on Amazon. I will be performing it digitally in full this year, at a later date. Hope to take it on the road one day, this one queen show.
That’s a big deal, congratulations! And you’ve been very prolific with performing drag numbers and poetry digitally as well.
In a weird way it pushed me to promote myself in a way I never felt comfortable. I hate feeling like I’m bragging… but the good news is you get to actually deal with your self-doubt when it’s at its strongest, and overcome it. You can’t hear anyone boo you either! I do miss seeing and hearing an audience’s visceral reaction to your art, though.
Were you always a writer of some sort?
Funny enough, ever since I was four, I found every way I could to act. I’ve always been an actor first–that’s my first love. I loved acting out scenes from Disney movies, and did school plays. I felt like I found my thing; I wasn’t timid or insecure onstage.
Writing came in high school, honestly. I had a creative writing teacher named Mrs. Lustbader (love her name), who used to make me share my poetry in front of my class every morning at 8am. She believed in it, and pushed me to describe things–to not be so general or surface [oriented]. She also made me perform all my audition monologues for colleges in front of the class. She said I needed to do it all–act and write–and she let my mom know how much she believed I could do it.
In college I majored in theater and focused on acting, and joined a poetry club where I kept writing–and found poetry slam competitions. I was resistant to writing at first because I thought it made me less of an actor… like one art canceled out the other.
How did Sitanya come to be?
I always identified with the women in Shakespeare, in Disney movies, and in movies like Legally Blonde and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I wanted to play these characters; I wanted to sing and dance to Whitney Houston. I buried it for a long time, thinking “that’s not what I trained for.”
Peppermint was the first drag queen I ever saw live; her joy and charisma and engagement with the community inspired me so much. I ran [the idea of doing drag myself] by my ex-fiancé, joking in bed with him that I liked being eaten, so Sitanya Face was the perfect punny name. I showed him the dress I ordered, and the wig. He instantly shut it down… said it made him uncomfortable, and it would be ugly.
Fast forward through a breakup, and being alone on Valentine’s Day: I saw a post on social media for [Stonewall’s weekly drag competition] Polish the Queen. Instantly, I called one of my best friends Sammi Price to help me paint my face. Two days later I joined the competition, prepared a lip sync and a slam poem to set myself apart. The judges knew it was my first time based on how I looked… but really loved my performance, and my original poetry. Thank you [guest judges] Xunami Muse, Kamilla Kockman and Kandy Muse! And DJ Chauncey taught me the proper way to submit my lip sync song. I did not win, but I felt like I was doing the right thing!
You certainly have a unique look among NYC queens that actually harkens back to a more bohemian-influenced drag era. You still sport chest hair, for instance, and you’re not doing tons of contouring with your makeup. What do you want your look to express to people about drag, or about you?
I embrace all the things I thought made me unlovable and ugly: my body hair, my nose, my eyebrows. I realized, womxn are hairy. Why hate the body hair? I have my mom’s nose. Drag can be a gateway to deepen the love for who you are, instead of hiding it away. One day Sitanya might surprise you, and you’ll see less body hair. But at this time, she feels glamorous and loves all type of drag. And I will always love a gown… even with chest hair just as identifiable as rhinestones, lol!
Pure loveliness! What sort of venues–in the live drag world–does Sitanya’s stage presence work in best?
Sitanya Face just hopes to be booked and busy, lol. I feel so at home in a theater, big or small. There’s something about the intimacy of a black box theater to tell some cool stories, give some standup comedy style performance, throw in some poetry, lip sync and encourage the audience to dance along as well… it’s so peaceful. I’ve done theater in someone’s living room before, and a non-equity Shakespeare in some park that felt like a lawn (lol). So I’ve learned to make anywhere–a bar, the street, etc.–a stage. Just some light, and maybe a microphone–even though I can project. I’ll give you a show! And Broadway is also still the dream.
You’ve done DJ Chauncey’s “Freak Out” a bunch of times before, which is a monthly Stonewall variety showcase that evolved into a recurring digital event. That’s been a great forum for you!
Oh, absolutely! Chauncey took a chance on me, and we bonded because we both write poetry. Luckily, we had our last live show on the Stonewall stage the first week of March in 2020… right before the shutdown. But it’s my monthly fix of chosen family virtually now!
You’re actually going to have a busy digital February as it is.
Yes! After being in hermit mode for a couple of weeks, this month is joyfully busy and full of drag performance.
I adore her! Her community outreach is so inspiring.
I’m so excited for that… my theater soul brother! I told Shay They, “ya know, sometimes you just want to be invited to the party.” And it instantly hit home being asked to be part of it, because I see drag lineups and would love to work with these queens and kings alike. Sometimes, it helps to just reach out and say, “I’d love to work with you.” Inclusivity of new faces can revolutionize and bring so much joy!
Evan is such a sweetheart with a clever wit. He asks, and I say yes… it’s that simple, lol!
Anything else coming up for you?
I’m going to give you an exclusive: at the end of the month (deciding between the 27th or the 28th), I am going to be doing a standup comedy special on my Instagram Live, 9pm! “Sitanya Face: Assume the Position.” I’ve been wanting to do this for a little while now. I do a lot of sad poetry, but I also love to make people laugh. I’m opening it up to the audience asking me questions, and I can’t say “no comment.” That way, you can really get to know Sitanya Face!
Also, you might see me in random poetry open mics, live-hopping lol. And when the world opens back up slowly but surely, I hope us newer queens can work humbly with our fierce veterans!
We’d love to see all this new digital talent shine on a solid stage!
By the way, speaking earlier of your Polish the Queen judge Kandy Muse… her onscreen feud with Tamisha Iman ended civilly on this past weekend’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, followed by Kandy sending Tamisha home in the bottom two lip sync. Meanwhile, local girl Olivia Lux won the night! Any thoughts about the episode or the season so far?
Olivia was a judge my second night in drag, and she and Inita D gave me some words I still cherish: [they told me] to really create my own lane with my poetry. I am enamored with Symone and her concepts, Tamisha and her perseverance, Utica and Olivia for their natural star power.
I love to watch a mess, I can’t lie. However, I love when we touch on the lives of the performers underneath these elegant runways and makeup. I’m interested to know who the human is behind the persona. And I think we all have to remember, even us local drag artists, that what we’re seeing is a reality show. We don’t see everything, and we live for competition… but let’s all be kind and not spew hate. Talk shit with your friends that enjoy the show, don’t attack the contestants. Let’s enjoy our Drag Race-filled pandemic.
Words to live by! Okay, in closing… what’s the very last thing we’d ever find Sitanya doing or performing onstage?
Oooh, like this question! You will never see or hear me saying that I want to be “the next so and so.” I feel like, if I ever make another celebrity a benchmark, I’ll never achieve my own. I want Sitanya to be the best Sitanya.
Such grace, Ms. Face! Thank you!