N’Orleans Legend, Vinsantos DeFonte Throws Open the Doors of his very own Drag Acadaemy – Am I Being Studied, or is that just a Read?!
Let me get one thing perfectly clear, I LOVE Vinsantos. His aesthetic is stunning and style, phenomenal. I first interviewed this SF and New Orleans legend in September of last year, gaining an insight into his creative process and twisted inner machinations (I was so happy!!!) Of course, when it transpired that he was now transforming armies of young upstarts into consummate performers who would have the great fortune to learn on a one to one basis, I was green with envy. So, of course I had to get the inside scoop!
Dis) Vinsantos, since we last spoke, you have embarked on a new creative endeavour, establishing your very own ‘School of Drag’. What persuaded you to play pedagogue to a new generation of fledgling queens?
D) You embody a surrealist image of drag culture and carry with you a seasoned approach that blends a multitude of media allowing your performances to stand out from the pack. How do you begin to impart your knowledge and skill base to your daughters – What challenge does this process pose?
V) My theory of what makes a performance work can be applied to all facets of “live” entertainment. Having been on stage for most of my adult life, i feel that I’ve gathered a lot of knowledge and have developed my own set of Do’s and Dont’s that keep me in check and keep me delivering the goods, no matter what the audience or the venue is like. As an entertainer, when you are given lemons, it’s your job to take them and tear the house down. In this particular setting, the emphasis is on creating and perfecting a Drop Dead Gorgeous Lipsynch performance. I can’t go into all the details of this 8 week Drag Boot Camp, but to mention just a few, things that we address are song choice, the details of the actual lipsynch, troubleshooting and overcoming adverse environments. Of course, there’s also the Drag itself. Originally I was going to primarily have the students use the plethora of tutorials on the world wide web to learn how to achieve their desired “looks”. The Vinsantos characters has a really specific signature that I didn’t feel was traditional enough when it comes to the basics of making yourself beautiful, unless you are trying to look like a Drag Clown! The majority of the cohorts had never been in Drag before. It became apparent really quickly that it was gonna take more than some videos to help these first timers. I enlisted one of my bestDrag buddies, Jennifer Jane, and appointed her Lead Stylist. She works in film and video doing hair and makeup and is also a full time Drag Queen both on and off stage. From there we had a series of hands on practices and dress rehearsals. It was fun and HORRIFYING! I’m sure we can all remember our first time in Drag and how UNFIERCE it was! This is where I think I learned the most. I stepped out of my own “sacred space” and began to experiment with my own looks. I felt that I had to go back to the basics. Beauty Makeup. Since then, I have been serving up all kinds of Glamour Girl not previously associated with the Vinsantos character. AND IT’S SO MUCH FUN!!!!!!! Who knew?
D) The typical schooling of drag relies on a familial bond focusing on mentorship from a ‘Mother’ and the establishment of a ‘House’. You have mentioned before that you did not receive such a method of mentorship as has been echoed by a number of your contemporaries such as SF legend, Heklina. Does this school now establish a house of Vinsantos? Also, how do you perceive the traditional drag illusionist house archetype?
V) In this group, I definitely AM the Momma. I never had a proper Drag Mom, and come to think of it, that kinda pisses me off! Now I realize why my character is so fucked up. Total abandonment issues. It really wasn’t happening in a traditional sense when I got started with Trannyshack. I think that’s what may have made it such a unique scene. People were seriously carving out names for themselves and trying to define who they were outside the norms of traditional Drag. Of course there were all of the classic cliques inside of it all, from the Spooky Queens to the Comedy Queens to the Glamour Queens and truly Avante Queer such as myself. As far as a “House of Vinsantos?” I think it sounds too much like “House of Pancakes.”
D) Your girls make up an eclectic mix – how did you select the candidates and did you have a screening process or was it more of an open door policy encouraging all to challenge themselves and rise to the occasion?
V) There really wasn’t a screening process. I put out a submission call and over a few short weeks, I had eleven interested parties. When the first class started, there were twelve people that actually showed up. There was an interesting mix of boys and girls, gay and “other-identifying.” I started the class by telling them about my history as a performer and what I thought I wanted to gain from the workshop. Then we went in a circle and everyone stated their name or names, their performance history, why they came to the workshop and what they hoped to gain from it. It got really REAL, really fast!. From that moment, it was obvious that this would be more than just fun, but an emotionally charged experience and fully transformative. In the end, we ended up with eight Draguates. We lost the others on the way for various reasons including FEAR, conflicting schedules, and family matters. I decided that the class would be free, and that I would get paid for producing the Draguation show by collecting meager donations at the door. The students then pooled their tips and divided them up. I have to say, most seasoned queens don’t make that much in this town!!! They killed it. Of course there were expenses that the first time Draegs had to dish out. I made it mandatory to have a set of brushes, and from there, Jennifer Jane and I put together a list of staples for them to gather. For those students that found this beyond there means, we all chipped in and made sure no eyelash was left untouched. I’m still not sure how none of us got pink eye. We were able to pull a lot of looks off for very little money. After all, Drag is an expensive art form and unless you are one of the chosen few to make it onto a television screen, you are usually paying out more than you are bringing in. Someday, I hope to live in a world where Drag is FREE FOR EVERYONE! I’ll let you know how that goes. Thx
D) Photographs from your Werkshop Draguation were phenomenal, can you tell us a little about the performances and talk a little about your draguating class…
V) The Draguation was my definition of a perfect show in the sense that it had a little bit of everything. Comedy/Drama, Traditional and High Art Drag, at least one beard, and total gender dysphoria. We had a sold out house of 170+ people in a club that probably shouldn’t have more than 150 people in it EVER!. The audience was Transfixed. During each number, you could hear a pin drop when you wanted to hear one, LOTS of laughs when you wanted laughs, and House Quaking applause at the end of each number. I was able to MC the event and also hold a front row seat for each performance. Even with all my costume changes. It floored me to see each performer take and command the stage and bring the audience to their knees. Most people really have to work for a long time to achieve that level respect from the audience, and these bitches did it on their first try!!! Then again, I did teach them everything I know (excuse me whilst I pat my back some more)
D) Which of the performers are you most proud of?
V) I can’t say that I have a favorite. I introduced them individually as my favorite student. I did have a few categories such as Most Changed in Eight Weeks, Most Changed in One Day and the introduction of my first Vale-chick-torian! She was awarded this title by pulling off a fully loaded DIALOGUE only lipsynch, which in my book is the most difficult to perfect. She was picked to close the show and just as planned, the audience went BONKERS for it. I will say, that I was and am truly impressed by the bravery of these students. I watched them each grow so much so fast. They really put their self respect on the line!!! Being on stage is so normal for me. I can’t imagine just throwing myself into such foreign territory with such reckless abandon. Then again, I did move to New Orleans. Just doing that makes you believe that anything is possible. For the record, the Draguating class is: NEON BURGUNDY, DOLLYONCE, COCO KALLISTI, SMALL DOSES, SHIRLEY SOMEONE, LADY KRAFT, NIKKI STITCHES, PF CHANGE… Oh, and CHAYO (she missed the draguation, but made up for it at a future show)
D) It’s safe to say that New Orleans will never be the same again now that your gang of drag punks are running around – are there future plans to collaborate with your girls and also, when will your next selection of Werkshops be held?
V) It is safe to say that New Orleans will never be the same. Was it ever? The same?
The group has had a few more shows. Half of the draguates have adopted the lifestyle full time and have been diagnosed as addicts. I really believe that these queens have what it takes to keep delivering art to the masses for years to come. I couldn’t be any happier with the fact that the talent pool in this town has been increased with the addition of these Marys. Besides all the laughter and tears and readings, that is what I wanted most to come out of this experience. MORE TALENT, MORE DRAG, MORE!!!!
The next workshop is set for late August with all new students and Jennifer Jane as our full time Lead Stylist! I have about a dozen people interested and will be scouting for more. We have big plans for cycle 2. There was so much learned from this first cycle that will be applied to the next round. I hope that this is only the beginning for what will become a long standing tradition.
D) Finally – What can I plug aside from this, are there any projects etc. or shows you have upcoming?
V) And now for the PLUGS. I am still working regularly with the Dirty Dime Peepshow and Freaksheaux to Geaux. I have recently been taking the Drags to Bourbon St with Bella Blue and her Blue Book. With my visual arts, I am presenting my first solo gallery exhibition later this month. (link_https://www.facebook.com/events/220452021482698/220760311451869/?notif_t=plan_mall_activity I will be traveling in May to Pittsburgh to perform live at the Atrocity Exhibition and later this year to San Francisco to work with one of my best “girls”, Peaches Christ. I pray to the Gods and Goddess that i will spend at least five minutes on a beach somewhere contemplating the possibilities of Season 8 or writing my memoirs. The film crew that I’ve been with for the past year is now editing and hopefully we will all get a peek into this lifestyle of mine including the Drag Workshop and how I manage to keep it all together. Does anyone have a Xanax?