The Draguate!

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?

Vinsantos) Let me start by first clarifying that it is truly a Workshop, and not a class. It’s not all “do what I say and you will automatically be FIERCE!”  Although, come to think of it, it’s mostly like that. Here in New Orleans, I have been performing Drag regularly inside of two different troupes; one Burlesque and one Vaudeville. Some friends of mine started a Drag monthly. It reminded me of my days in SF in the sense that the Drag was on the experimental and performance art side. What was lacking was a large pool of solid performers to sustain such a scene. When I was with Trannyshack, it was so much fun to watch so many audience members get so inspired that they would then become the performers. That’s how it happened with me. I have been told by many people after my shows, that they would love to do THAT sometime. The thought of putting together a workshop appealed to me on so many levels, from sharing all of my years of experience, to making new friends, and to see what I could learn from them, and them from me. And of course, being a talent scout has always been an OBSESSION of mine. Put me on IDOL, I dare you!!!!

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?

 

Bloody Beauty Treatments and Twisted Torch Song: Talking Toxic with VINSANTOS DeFONTE

A dark figure has been spotted stalking the streets of San Francisco and New Orleans. A twisted marionette whose sparkly visage is capped by tangled dreadlocks and ghostly white skin. He/she sings songs of twisted brilliance – chanson that spin tales of shadowy humour with wry smiles and lush, expert instrumentation!
Dolls, keepsakes known as ‘Kreetures’ have found their way into the collections of men and women the world over. Audiences have been baffled as he seemingly performs miracles on stage – turning water into wine to the tune of popular music.

But who is this gender-bending creature of the night? And what is the secret behind his ageless beauty?

Ladies and gentlemen-women, I present to you the wonderful… Vinsantos DeFonte!

Photo shot by Austin Young

Photo shot by Austin Young

D) your style of drag blends the masculine and feminine in a theatrical yet darkly subcultural fashion. How did you develop your aesthetic?

Vinsantos) The Vinsantos character is a blend of all of my early influences dating back to my childhood. My parents were big opera freaks. Groupies, really. I was forced to attend countless performances at the War Memorial Opera House and at the same time, when children weren’t allowed, my folks would drop me off at my Grandmothers house for the weekend. She and I had a running date for years where she would make either pizza or soup, and we would stay up late to watch Creature Features, a late night horror movie series on Channel 2. This resulted in many nightmares which to date are my favourite kind of dream. As a young boy, I caught the Rock and Roll bug very early on. KISS was hands down my favourite band. In the 4th and 5th grade, my best friend and I would regularly paint our faces and rock out on our badminton air guitars. Probably the most well known version of the story is as follows… The year was 1979. It was the summer before I entered middle school. I was able to convince my father to take my friend and I to see KISS at the Cow Palace. I’m pretty sure there were tears involved. He agreed but with one condition. We all had to attend the matinee of Madame Butterfly in San Francisco before heading the concert. In a single day, I saw more comedy mixed with tragedy mixed with GLAMour mixed with over the top theatrics and a boat load of makeup. This is where the Vinsantos character was born. Deeply rooted in androgyny and theatre, heart wrenching story telling and frivolous spectacle. When you look at the Vinsantos characters makeup style, you’ll notice that I borrowed my signature lips from Ace Frehley.

SilenceFiction – Lipstique (Feat. fauxnique) starring Vinsantos, Peaches Christ et al.

D) I first became aware of you in the Peaches Christ Madonna Parody, ‘Spin the Bottle’. How did you become involved with the San Fran scene?

V) I became involved in the SF scene from two very different avenues. I have always been in a band ever since I was a teenager. There are too many to mention, but probably one with the most longevity was a band called Agness. This project was heavily costumed and I often ended up drenched in stage blood. We would play anywhere from underground parties, warehouses, theatres, dive bars, and even that Thing they now call Burning Man. This was really my introduction to the freak scene that was thriving at the time in the city. Somewhere along the way, I was invited to a club called Trannyshack because I was told that it was a great place to meet cute boys. I knew that it was a Drag show, but as a musician, that didn’t really speak to me. Then I saw the show! One act after another, these performances were speaking directly to me. It was if I had found my calling, or at least one of them. I can remember seeing a “woman” named Putanesca hit the stage, rocking out to AC/DC, and thinking to myself, “I could totally do that.” Not more than a year after that, I was crowned Miss Trannyshack of the year 2000. It was through Trannyshack that I met all my best girlfriends, including the infamous Peaches Christ.

D) You’ve made some amazing short films of your own that are online and available to stream via YouTube; ’33’ for instance, is HYSTERICAL! SO funny, so wonderfully punk rock. Have you got any more projects in the pipeline? What about a DVD of your collected films?

V) In the early 80’s and late 90’s, I began to experiment with making short films. I took a few classes at a community college and ran with it. My emphasis was on Super 8 silent film narratives. At the time that I was becoming involved with the Drag scene, Peaches was also starting to make her own shorts. Along with Putanesca, she and I started a Halloween Drag weekend in Guerneville Ca called the Russian River Massacre.  The weekend would start off with a scary movie in the woods and end up with a big show at the local nightclub. We decided that we would each make our own horror films to present to the crowd as an added bonus. This is where 33 was developed. The weekend of the premiere, I pulled a publicity stunt gone wrong. I made up flyers of the missing children characters in the movie and pasted them all over town. It was a real inside kind of joke. As it turned out, people that weren’t on the inside, didn’t find it funny at all. They were disturbed at what they thought was the reality of these posters. Suppositori Spelling was a wrecked by it as were the towns people. Not until the movie was shown, and the same flyers appeared on screen did people get that it was just a stunt. Suppositori was especially relieved. To date, this little gem is my favorite film project of mine. I have others on various discs and tapes and even film reels. Yes, it’s on my list to compile them on to one spectacular DVD, but the truth is, I will probably be dead first and a loving fan will have to take on the project for me. Any takers?

D) You made a big move and swapped SF for New Orleans, what prompted this decision to leave? Also, how is New Orleans treating you?

V)  About 5 years ago, our son was grown and off to college. He was headed to New York. For the first time in 18 years, I was free to move about the country and world as I pleased. My husband Gregory had lived in New Orleans as a teen for a bit and had always had a desire to move back. We had visited some years before that for a LOST weekend. There was a lot of booze involved and I remember distinctly saying as we departed from New Orleans on our plane, “I will never set foot in that fucking town ever again”   Never Say Never.      

The move has been life changing. I went from having a day job to being a full time artist. I started making and selling my visual arts. I have become not only a drag artist and a musician but also a storyteller. I have found new families both in the drag and music world. Currently I am in two troupes that have monthly shows. The Dirty Dimestore Peepshow is a Burlesque type of show where I flaunt my Drag Arts. At Freaksheaux to Geaux, I work with a band or as a solo performer and tell stories mixed with live songs. The audiences have been very welcoming as well as the performers and producers. It’s especially fun to be newer in town and reach an audience that isn’t already used to my unique and sometime tragic style of performing arts. This town definitely has it’s challenges. Growing up in a progressive city like San Francisco definitely spoils you. You just assume that the rest of the planet is as advanced and as PC as what your are accustomed too. Not the case! It’s also a lot smaller of a city than I’m used to. I think it works somewhat to my advantage in the respect that I spend most of my time focusing on my art and home life. There isn’t an amazing party to go to every night of the week, so it’s easier to focus on what’s important to me right now. Mainly making arts and being on stage often enough to stay sane. Oh, and laundry.

Courtesy of DeFonte's cousin Diane

Courtesy of DeFonte’s cousin Diane

D) You’re an extremely talented musician – your full length release, ‘Light Awake Inside’ blends Chanson with dream pop and gothic chamber music to brilliant effect! Your wry sense of humour permeates the album wonderfully – what drives you to create in this fashion and how did you get your start?

V) As a child, I was forced to take piano lessons by my parents. I have always been a great music lover, but it seemed like a chore to me. In hindsight, it was the  best thing that they could have done for me artistically. That’s really where I got my musical start. I have been in bands since my teenage years. I have served as a bassist, guitarist, vocalist, producer and songwriter. Moving into adolescence, the piano was replaced by things more Rock and Roll. I didn’t re-discover the piano until much later. We were working on material for the second Agness album and really into experimenting with different instruments and sounds. I found a piano that someone was giving away on Craigslist. I moved it into my garage, and instantly fell in love. It was so familiar to me and made me feel so nostalgic. It was during this time that I wrote my first solo song, AFTER ALL. From there, more songs started to materialize, and I felt more connected to the process and it just snowballed.  In my later years, it just became harder and harder to have a “band.” Adults seems to have a lot of responsibilities and distractions that make it hard for a group of folks to stay focused, much less be able to all meet in one room together on a regular basis. 

As much as I have loved the collaborative process, especially in my two favourite projects, AGNESS and EVOLUTION RAINBOW, I found it was better for me mentally and emotionally to break out on my own. ‘A Light Awake Inside’ deals a lot with that struggle both to tell my own story and to stay connected to the people around me. I’m super sentimental and family oriented, but at the same time have always had a fascination with fame and fortune. At least the glamorous aspects of it. When I was young, and writing music, I was really less willing to let people get to know me, and my subject matter was quite ambiguous. I guess I considered it poetic. When I joined Agness, I was co-writing with my best girlfriend AGNESS TWIN and she had a real knack for being honest and telling it like it is. She’s really the one that got me to tear down the walls and just get real. From there I started to find my own voice and write based on my own experiences of love, life, success and failure. You know, human stuff. During this process, I had developed a pretty solid body of material. I was introduced to David J from Bauhaus through a mutual friend. He took an interest in what I was doing. Without his support, I’m not sure A LIGHT AWAKE INSIDE would have ever been fully fleshed out. I had never worked in a professional recording studio, or with a producer (David). He really was instrumental in guiding me through the process and helping me get my act together and organize my thoughts and material. I’m not really sure that I even knew at the time that I had it in me. I’m really proud of the work on this album, and all of the people involved. I continue to write songs here and there, when I’m feeling inspired. There will no doubt be another album or two before my time is up.

Photo courtesy of Kook Teflon

Photo courtesy of Kook Teflon

D) Kreeture New Orleans, your beautiful bespoke craft project is absolutely stunning! I love the little wonders you create and sell – how did this practice begin?

V) Kreeture New Orleans began shortly after my move here. I was working in a place called the French Market which is like an open air flea market type of thing. There were other artists there selling their cool stuff and making a living of it. This concept turned me on right away. I had been a mosaic artist in San Francisco for many years, so I took those skills and started making little miniature things to sell. I was almost immediately bored with it, having worked in that medium for so long. I came up with the idea of taking the broken shards of glass from my mosaic projects and creating little characters out of them and putting them in scenes around town. During that phase, I began to notice shiny and rusty things littering the grounds around me. These random pieces made their way into the characters and scenes as accents. Eventually, I stopped using the glass all together and was working primarily as an assemblage artist. I would use these little porcelain Mardi Gras masks as the faces to bring the characters to life. It was pretty cute, but not exactly where I wanted it to be. Through a good friend and fellow artist, Kook Teflon, I was introduced to Sheri DeBow at a group doll show here in town. I instantly fell in love were her stuff. I never pictured myself becoming a doll maker before this. I asked her to teach me her techniques so that I could create the faces that I was seeing in my head. I spent a weekend with her at her home in Napa, Ca and it all fell into place. Now my assemblages have been brought to LIFE and I even dabble in making proper dolls as well. It’s truly addictive. I think it’s the variety of techniques in the work that keep me so engaged and inspired. It’s sculpting, painting, hair, makeup, costume design, assemblage, and overall presentation all rolled into one. To date, I have created and sold literally hundreds of pieces. Custom creations are my favourite thing to work on. Clients will come to me with an idea for themselves or a loved one and let me run with it. They can also submit their own personal mementos to be featured in the piece. The most rewarding of these commissions are the MEMORIALS. My clients will put together a box of treasures from loved ones no longer with us and send them to me along with stories and photos about their dearly departed. It’s always an emotional experience and I often have to sit with the items and stories and really meditate on them until I fell compelled to take these precious items and start manipulating them into something new and beautiful. I’m not wholly superstitious, but I get the sense that I’m actually channelling these people through their collected items and histories.

Memorial piece for Phillip Wellford

Memorial piece for Phillip Wellford

D) Returning to performance, you’re hardly one to shy away from controversy! I will never forget howling with laughter at your slightly blasphemous Christ, water into wine performance. What compels your character to perform and what material resonates with you to the degree that makes you decide to construct a performance out of it?

V) As a songwriter and story teller, I draw my material from personal experiences. As a drag artist, it always starts out with the song. They just speak to me. I think after you do just one lip-synch, you start to listen to music in a different way. You are always trying to make a story out of it. Some of those stories are worth pursuing and others are just fun fantasies that fall by the wayside. I think the number one rule for me when it comes to my Drag work is that there is a story being told, no matter how subtle or conceptual. If there’s one thing I can’t stand from a performer, it would be self indulgence. You get plenty of that just being up on the stage. I like to connect with my audience and give them what they came out for. In my live performances, I like to reach people on a really personal level. In drag, there is a little of that mixed with A LOT of entertainment. Sometimes, just a gown and a wig and a great song are all I need to get my point across. Sometimes, it’s more about a specific character, like Christ that really drives the story home. As far as the turning water into wine thing, well, who doesn’t like magic?

D) Silencefiction featured yourself along with Fauxnique, Kiddie and Peaches Christ donning maquillage in the single ‘Lipstique’. How did you get involved in this?

V) The Lipstique project was created by the real life power couple of Silence Fiction aka Marc Kate and Fauxnique aka Monique Jenkinson, or as I like to call them, “the Fiercingtons.” We are all good friends and Sisters on the Scene. Shortly after they had recorded and performed the track live, they approached a few of us with this idea for the video. It was met by most of us with some trepidation. Most performers that I know do not like being portrayed out of character, and especially not mid-character. Being that it was the Fiercingtons asking, saying no wasn’t really an option. As a result, it is one of my favourite projects to date. I think it exceeded all of our expectations and made us all really proud. When I moved to New Orleans, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was playing up in the gay bars. Of course, I used my new found celebrity to work a few free drinks out of it. After I was able to convince people that it really was me up there on the screen!

D) ‘Manicursed’!!!! Where can we get our copies??? I as im sure many. have been tantalised by the possibility of this tranny-horror epic for some time now! How did it happen, where can we see it and is there more to come?

V)  Manicursed is one of my favourite little gems. It was created for another Drag weekend event up at the Russian River called Pipstock hosted by the “lovely” Pipi Lovestocking. I do have a copy on DVD that I promise to transfer and release soon. VERY soon. I could go into detail, but I think the trailer tells enough to get you interested. Keep on me about this one. It has some epic moments featuring Phatima, Metal Patricia, Fatsantos ( my BEAR alter ego) and even Cookie, my black cousin from Detroit.

D) I know that you have the Freaksheaux to Geaux performance coming up, what else do you have in the pipeline? Films, music, star studded world tour?

V) In the future, you can expect more of the same from me. I would like to get back into a little film-making. I will always be performing. The Kreetures will hopefully continue to pay my bills. I will move other places. I will adopt more Drag daughters. I will release another album. I will most likely finally finish my screen play. I might get another puppy at some point, but only if I have a nanny to take care of it. I will grow old and die. Or I might just get hit by a bus. In that case, see you all on “THE OTHER SIDE.” XOXOXOXOXOXO

Vinsantos DeFonte

Assuming Vinsantos hasn’t been mown down by a careening cab on the streets of New Orleans, I would like to issue him with a massive thank you for Talking Toxic with me today! It has been AWESOME!

If you would like to see more of Vinsantos’ work you can do so here:

facebook.com/vinsantos

Buy his Kreetures, here:

facebook.com/kreeture

etsy.com/people/kreeture

And buy his amazing album, ‘Light Awake Inside’, here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/a-light-awake-inside/id359762400