October is the perfect month to showcase drag that is odd, surreal, silly and / or spooky. Enter Esther, who despite being known for fringe Brooklyn drag is actually haunting Manhattan with two unique Halloween shows. [Cover photo: Octavio Yattah]
Thotyssey: Hello Esther! We’re in the spooky season… is this your fav time of year?
Esther: It’s a wonderful time of year. The passing of the autumnal equinox always feels transformational, and people who don’t normally do drag outside of their daily drag do drag! I love it.
If you were a drag ghost, where would you spend your afterlife haunting?
My forever style and vibe icon is Samara from The Ring, so I’d definitely have to spend my afterlife in a well. But! If anyone were to watch my videotape, I’d be able to crawl through their TV and eat them.
I think that’s only fair!
Where are you from, and what were your earliest creative pursuits while growing up?
I’m originally from LA, so naturally I grew up in a particularly hyperreal environment. In preschool I was obsessed with Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, etc. and would perform along to VHS rips from PBS. I’d wear a white t-shirt on my head as my hair, my mother’s blouses as my dresses, and a white tank top underneath as my bra. Eventually my mother started documenting these shows with her camcorder, and it was then that I was first introduced to video making! Fast forward a few years, and I’m using the same camcorder to film and edit a season of Survivor starring my teddy bears. We do live for a show!
An all-teddy bear season is precisely what that show needs! How ultimately did you become Esther?
I moved to NYC for school, got a job, and a few years later met Merrie Cherry in a pig nose prosthetic at TNT. I told her that I had just purchased drag makeup for the first time, and she invited me to do [her drag competition] Dragnet! Then, a few months later Jacquée Kennedée invited me to do a new party called “OOPS,” and that was when Esther really started to germinate.
How would you describe Esther’s looks and stage persona today, for the uninitiated?
I like to describe Esther as a Comme des Garçons fan account, because a lot of her looks reference Kawakubo’s runways. Esther loves a bulbous, asymmetrical shape! For the stage, I usually write scenes in which I play multiple characters, prerecord their voices, and then lip sync to myself. Esther might explore the neoliberal narratives transmitted through the global product known as Blackpink (of whom she is a stan), or she might turn into an office building. Either way, Esther loves a multimedia experience.
How was performing at Bushwig, by the way?
So fun. It was a time of reunion, celebration, and expression! And it felt so good to get on that stage and connect with the audience. I also got to film another performance video on location with artist Rachel Rampleman, with whom I and many others have collaborated in the last year.
Tell us a bit about the origins and goings on of “Unforgivable Emotional Carnivore,” a surreal showcase that started at short-lived Brooklyn venue The Vault. UEC consists of yourself, Pinwheel Pinwheel, Menthol Menthol, God Complex and DJ Ten Yards.
Pinwheel and God wanted to do a show called “Unforgivable” and Pinwheel and Menthol wanted to do a show called “Emotional Carnivore,” so they all joined forces! DJ Ten Yards and I joined the cast a few months after their debut, and it has been the most incredible collaborative experience. We pick an overarching theme, such as Nickelodeon Apocalypse or Grandmas in Space, construct a narrative, and leave plenty of room for improv. It is drag at its most theatrical and absurd. We currently have a residency at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea, and we also now do a monthly brunch at Moonrise Izakaya in the UWS with Paris L’Hommie.
Back in the day, Brooklyn was really the only borough to showcase more avant-garde drag. But these days, the Manhattan and Brooklyn drag scenes are a lot more intertwined.
Absolutely! I love seeing and being around all styles of drag, and I’m finding that audiences are more receptive than ever to the weirdness. At our first Upper West Side drag brunch, for example, we didn’t know what to expect… but the crowd was incredibly generous and supportive.
You’ll be back in Manhattan–specifically the East Village, this time–on Sunday for a show called “Villain Edit” at Club Cumming.
“Villain Edit” is a fantastic showcase of drag talent, and I’m so excited to be a part of this edition! Esther will be invoking dark, femme energy as she takes on the role of a post-corporeal cephalopod.
And then on October 22 and 24, Unforgiveable Emotion Carnivore returns to The Cell for a ghostly showcase!
Yes! All I can say is… beware of the splash zone…
That’s always been my motto!
Anything else to report?
Yes! I am co-producing a new show debuting this November, so keep your eyes peeled for more info!
Very exciting! Okay lastly: what is the best Halloween candy?
OMG! Probably peanut M&Ms or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Agreed. Thanks, Esther!
Check Thotyssey’s calendar for Esther’s upcoming appearances, and follow them on Instagram.