Spotlight!
Bad Ass Queer Folx of Colour!

By Jeong Park

Black History Month: Black Excellence

February 19, 2024

You know, having this Sag sun sign with Cap moon and probable Leo rising means not only do I got double the fire but I also got that stone cold focus to get it done.

And getting it done in the month of February apparently means reminding people that if y’all gonna publish anything, center Black people. It ain’t that hard. Put them on the cover, write about them, book them in your shows, pay them well… do I need to write an instruction manual?

Guess I’ll write this intro which could also be called the seven degrees of, well, me. Here we go.

I’m not naming names but a publication had the caucacity to put a flour ranger on the cover of its magazine. As if there aren’t some damn amazing Black people who could have (and should have) graced that cover. 

But they did and I was like, oh, so do you need some help? Did Timmy fall down the well?

So this digital mag did a cover with ALL Black artists. Promoted shows with ALL Black entertainers. But we weren’t done yet.

Cos I was still upset and since this is my damn column and because I know people, I started reaching out; hey, I wanna interview you and I want some photos with photographer credit (cos that’s another damn topic for another day) and we’re gonna publish these interviews and photos until the end of the month. This blessed month which celebrates Black history and all that goes with it.

I asked almost 40 people. Out of those, I was referred to a handful who I didn’t know personally. But everyone else? I know them through their art, their work, their activism, their everything.

Are you ready? Cos we got over 20 interviews with Black people from all over the Twin Cities. People who do their amazing art and work and are creative beyond description. 

Some of these artists are queer, some are accomplices, all have Black heritage so you will see some fantastic biracial and multiracial Black Excellence as well. 

Every day, you will see these interviews with photos up until the 28th where you will once again see Black people on the cover to close out Black History month along with their interviews and photos (again, with photographer credit). So check back each day so you don’t miss a thing!

This is such a wonderful opportunity to interview and to celebrate Black Excellence during Black History month! Let’s start by getting to know these beautiful folx!

The tea is piping hot and ready to be served. Set yourself down and hold out your cuppa. 
I’m gonna pour you some Black Excellence goodness.

Stella Rockstar

February 25, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I'm Stella Rockstar! I am a performer, dance instructor, and a casting director/cast member of the Queer Circus. I've been doing Burlesque for 10 years, and before that always dabbled in various dance mediums. I have an incredible wife and two fur babies.

Dancing is my life, I'm obsessed with my besties and love my fam, and I am a night owl.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black Excellence defines me because I strive to show up as my best self as often as possible, and to stay present. I have learned that my energy is a precious resource for my community as well as myself. Showing up authentically is my act of revolution towards white supremacy.

What does showmanship mean to you?

I love a performer with strong energy, who makes great eye contact and plays to the crowd. Showmanship really shines through when you feel the emotions radiating off the dancer!

Photo By Kaeley Rolland

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

When I first started out I really wasn't sure what my vibe was or what kind of dancer I wanted to be. With time and experience I was able to find my stride, and my dancing really improved when I started taking more classes and stepping outside of my comfort zone. My first ever burlesque performance was at First Ave for Grown n Sexy Pride with The Vigilantease Collective. Eventually I became known for my floorwork and began teaching at the Rose Academy! I love it so much that now I teach multiple classes there and am now the Program Director. Becoming a Queer Circus cast member also meant the world to me. It was so exciting and validated.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

Flowers has definitely become a signature act for me, because it's colorful and all about self love; audiences appreciate that vibe.  But I have the most fun doing my Love Doctor number because it's super spicy and high energy!

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

Last year I was fortunate to receive a grant which allowed me to provide free community dance classes and it was so fulfilling for my students and me. So I'd love to be able to do something like that again. I want to keep producing and supporting shows that include and center BIPOC communities and fat performers.

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I would have a custom Bird cage with poles I could dance on and a swinging little trapeze in the middle. No idea what song I would use but the costume would be stoned to the heavens and very avian.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

I'm very fortunate to have a supportive and loving birth family as well as a chosen fam with who I am just as close so I've had a lot of support and everyday I cherish it. To me family is you celebrate your wins and grieve losses with. The people you know are there for you and also who you show up for, it has to go both ways.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

SWEETPEA! A decade ago she snatched me up as a baby burlesquer and we have gotten so much closer over time. She's straight fire on stage but more importantly she is one of the kindest humans I know.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

We  need to do a better job of showing up for shows that are that are consistently all BIPOC. I've seen countless shows with amazing casts, and great potential (Melanated Menagerie, Fat Bitch Friday to name a few) that don't get the same support as other shows at the same venues. Shows like Queer Circus, TC Cabaret, Golden Garters, Take it Off: a Fat Burlesque Weekend and pretty much anything produced by the Rose Academy all do a great job of having diverse cast members!

Purple Queen Zen

February 25, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I am a strong Black woman. I am a person with a passion for uplifting the community, a person who speaks truth and honesty, and I am a person of integrity.  Most days you can find me, a true power ambivert, either relaxing at home with my family or out having fun around beautiful people. I have a passion for creating positive music that brings awareness to realities faced by my community.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

I challenge myself to speak up and say it with my chest.  I want to send a message that illuminates the unseen inequity and violence that white supremacy creates. I practice daily self care that allows me to stay afloat with equal parts uplifting community and accepting honest allyship efforts to smash white supremacy. I take every part of my day and radiate Black joy and live my life as an example. I reject the labels put on us.  I celebrate and give praise to the Universe where I find my ancestors who shine upon me.

What does showmanship mean to you?

To me, this means using the gifts that God has given me and trusting that it will bring others joy and happiness.  It means creating a space for belonging and acceptance.  It means inviting all people to enjoy the universal language of music alongside me.  

Photo By Carise Rotach

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I got my start rapping in churches and doing cyphers in the back of elementary school buses. After the loss of a sibling, I took a pause to grieve.  Ultimately I realized the power of the tongue that existed in me and I knew I had to go back to my art.  My craft took a new turn and I wanted to speak truth and realness about how to make the world a better place.  I felt a new purpose to radiate my message of hope and joy through the pain. In 2018 I saw my music loved by my community in a different way, played on the radio, and was able to perform on First Avenue’s mainstage.  The smaller stages like 7th Street and Mortimer’s were also where I got to see people grooving to my music.  

Around the start of the pandemic, I nearly lost my life from an illness that put me in the hospital.  Recovery from this illness included temporary memory loss and I found that I wasn’t able to remember any of my lyrics.  My loved ones supported me and kept encouraging me to get back on the stage.  I found that drive I had found many years ago to keep creating.  Today I enjoy DJing, performing, and rocking the crowd around town. I look forward to releasing new music soon (stay tuned!).

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be?

I believe I have not yet created that.  It’s not here yet.  If I had to choose today, I’d pick my song Worth It, which reached the most streams of my catalog to date.  It’s a banger.  Go stream it!

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

I want to support people doing impactful policy work in my communities by highlighting them in my music.  I will travel and bring my music to other diverse cultures across the world.  I’ve got a few fans in New Zealand :) I want to have a bigger reach and see more people impacted by my art. 

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I would do a festival full of artists who I know have the power to change the energy and change hearts and minds.  I’d love to pay them what they are worth and give them a platform.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

My wife and bonus kid, my mother, and a few of my childhood friends in the queer community are who I consider my family.  I built a family out of my community growing up at a time where it was harder to say “I’m gay/lesbian”.  Those people stood by me and accepted me for who I am.  I will always respect those few but mighty folks who stayed and showed up.  My most treasured support is from my late brother KJ who continues to inspire me to keep going no matter what. 

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

Powerful Black women in the music industry are my inspiration; Queen Latifah, Missy Elliot, Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, MC Lyte, and the list goes on….  I also can’t forget about the men like Nas, Kendrick Lamar, and many more who changed the game.  I’m inspired by my generation and the evolution of thought around seeing changes that need to be made and executing it. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

I don’t quite consider it an embarrassment.  I really do believe that we have so much talent and it sucks not to be exposed to Black artists the same way we are exposed to other artists.  I do think all of us have to play a role in promoting Black artists, putting ourselves out there more, and holding people and places accountable for what we want to see.  We all have to do more and do better. 

André 1000 is a Black drag king, recently crowned Mr. Twin Cities Black Pride.  He has talent and vision for the community.  DJ Cassie Opia has a drive of determination to set up community artists for success. She’s created industry share nights to connect performers.  Ameen Taahir is my cousin and recently released new music and graphic designs used in retail stores.  There’s so many others that can be found just by looking at social media events happening each week.  I, honestly, am still searching for more events that center BIPOC performers and hope to become a part of creating that space.  

Gregory

February 25, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I’m an actor, improviser, and clown, teaching artist, panelist, and writer. I’ve been a lifelong geek and although my siblings were too, I’ve always been the weird one of the four of us. Also a lifelong enjoyer of Star Wars and Star Trek and think the convention of preferring one over the other is one of the stupidest pop culture things ever.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Okay, folks, strap in. To be honest – by this point in life, I just assume and accept that my presence in a space is a statement. Unless a space is specifically BIPOC centered, I’m still usually The Only One In The Room, although that’s happening less and less and it’s marvelous. And thankfully the expectation to prove my Blackness quotient is smaller than it was when I was growing up and we can simply be happy to have more of us in a space.

Since starting therapy I’ve been more focused on deconstructing the dark side of Black Excellence where it goes beyond achieving, showing up, and existing as my full self and ability and mutated (and still mutates) to the destructive menace of perfectionism and inability to rest. Those two aspects dovetailed far too efficiently since my early life and there have been times in my life where it reached an unhealthy point. To this day I still don’t feel the supposed freedom of being mediocre or just being and I don’t see how I can exercise that freedom in this world. So rather than risk being seen being or doing anything less than exemplary, I tend to opt out. We’re still having to be twice as good to get half as far and even when “non-racist” people say “I just think the best person for the job should get it”, it still never occurs to their “non-racist” mind that the best person for the job could be someone darker than the palm of a hand. Anyone not white must obviously only be there because of the Grand Plan of the Woke Mob unless enough white people vouch for them.

We also need to continue dialogues amongst ourselves about how that negatively dovetails with colorism and blackchecking. We need to allow ourselves the freedom to explore and represent the entire breadth of human creative and expressive possibilities. For example, as a Black individual who is also a clown, I am still a unicorn and there’s a lot of ignorance about that form of performance.

I grew up in a predominantly white environment - not by deliberate action of my parents or maternal grandparents (who were the ones who moved to Iowa in the first place), but by flow of development. My grandparents bought a house out past city limits, on a gravel road. Then the suburb grew up around that as white flight and acquisition/expansion did what they do. I was always The Only One In The Room and since I was labeled gifted I was a curiosity and I also had to constantly prove myself, which meant that I developed the habit of flexing the fact that I knew the answer or knew all these things when the white kids didn’t. The thing is - at 50, I still notice not only when and how I do that, but also recognize how that’s a thing I still need to be able to do. 2024 and it’s still “You need to be smart, but don’t be too smart . . . “ and so on.

As far as the empowerment aspect of it and its relation to what I do – I’ve never seen anyone in improv locally, nationally, or internationally do what I do when I do Where I Am Now (my solo mostly-silent improv). Film? Circus? Stage? Definitely. But improv? As far as I know, I’m the only one and that’s one thing I actually let myself be proud of. I’ve had improvisers of all hues come up to me and lose their minds and it feels tremendously validating and I want to tell younger me “See? Just keep at it, kid. It’ll get better. Even the Black people will get you.” And now that I’m getting back on track after being shaken by all the lynchings the last several years, I hope to take that beyond the Twin Cities.

To sum up, the concept of Black Excellence for me is double edged and I don’t know that we discuss and dissect that enough. In a world where we can ultimately never be enough, how can we create local/national/global community/-ies where good enough truly is good enough? Or where simply being is enough and worthy and valued. We don’t all have to have been kings and queens - it’s all right to be writers, caretakers, farmers, jesters, weavers, or just sitting on a bench or lying down in the grass. We don’t – and shouldn’t – always have to be doing or proving. That can kill us as much as the ignorance and fear and violence of racism. A slow death is still a death. And a slow life is still a life. I’m still going to strive, I’m just less willing to kill myself for anyone’s approval like that anymore and we need to guard against letting something devolve into one more way of doing the oppressor’s work for them.

What does showmanship mean to you?

Showmanship to me incorporates flair, ability, and a personal “voice.” If there’s one thing that you leave an audience with that defines You in their memory, I feel that’s the result of whatever cocktail you served up.

Photo: Kelly Gritzmacher, Studio 292 Photography, 2023

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

Milestones: traveling and performing with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, traveling and performing with Kinoshita Circus in Japan, creating my own solo improv show, becoming a host for CVG-TV every year for CONvergence.. 

Evolution: I’m always evolving. I started out as a kid just watching and mimicking cartoons and voices. I was always watching something and my folks encouraged us to be active and curious. I wrote a play in 4th grade and then the sequel in 6th grade and got clearance and support from the teachers to produce it with classmates. Years later I joined the recently-formed sketch comedy troupe at Iowa State University and then started taking improv classes at Brave New Institute up here in 97 or 98. I’d been hiding my interest in clowning since about sixth grade and only after graduating college did I start to be more open about it. My clowning education began solely with attending workshops and my evolution is now sparked by having just turned 50 and figuring out what my art means or what it’s worth in today’s society where we’re fighting the renewed strength and some revised iterations of the same bullshit our forebears fought against. What does it mean to freely give of myself to an audience that likely contains “Shut up and dribble” type folks or folks that would more quickly seek ways to justify my untimely death at the hands of police rather than face and change the evils of what police do and stand for?

My biggest evolutionary step was realizing years ago that the audience doesn’t owe me anything, but I owe them effort, preparation, engagement, and foremost a sense of welcome. No matter what I do on stage, they are welcome to be present and take it in and I hope they leave with some sort of gift whether it’s rest and relief, or thought and challenge. 

I would like to evolve beyond caring so much about results. It kills me that I have almost no idea how I positively affect someone and usually never will. When I was on Ringling, a lot of energy went to proving I belonged there and was just as capable as the clowns that hadn’t had the fortune of being selected to go to the recently closed Clown College. The three years of touring after that was flavored by the frustration of touring with a bunch of people in their 20s treating it like a class trip and being used to the privilege of not being seen as an ambassador or example of others like yourself. I was annoyed that they seemed so blasé about the work and the privilege of touring, taking its perks for granted. I’m now more likely to focus more on myself and how effectively I support those I work with and if someone’s like that, I’m more likely to say “They’re gonna learn. But they probably won’t,” and make sure their different standards don’t detract from the results of mine. Thankfully I got through all that before I started teaching workshops because it helped me lean even harder into encouraging and engaging participants. I became okay with the rhythm of introducing an exercise, running it, then debriefing afterward. Some people like workshops where stuff is packed in, but after having experiences where I didn’t get an exercise until weeks or months after the fact, I drifted toward a style that allows people to work stuff out in the moment and talk it out. Between that and being a teaching artist for Upstream Arts for five years I feel I solidly developed a comfort with and habit of making space for people to get stuff on their own to whatever degree they get it in the moment, as long as they get something from it. Then that can germinate more after the fact. But I like to make sure no one leaves empty handed, even if they never set foot on a stage.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

I’m super proud of something I call “A Man, A Banana”. I developed it when I was in Japan and first performed it for people in Sendai displaced by the tsunami and the Fukushima reactor collapse. I manage to entertain people just by eating a banana and it goes over in a way that is super satisfying to this dork who usually considers himself utterly devoid of ideas.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

I keep telling myself that I’ll create a one-man show, whether for Fringe or not. I have plenty of people I would love to collaborate with, and I would like more Black people of all ages see what other artists and I are doing and see possibility and inspiration whether it’s in a similar discipline or something else they enjoy or have been curious about. If I could help people from marginalized groups nurture a creative or expressive spark, that would make me happy.

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I’d love to have a reproduction made of Bert Williams’s rooster suit and create a number around that, possibly with someone’s original music. In addition to the numerous dream cosplays I’d create or commission, the idea of money being no object would definitely include a period – whether brief or extended – where I wouldn’t have to worry about working full time for a while or a lack of space.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

The BIPOC improv community is much larger now than it was when I first started up here in the late 90s. I don’t have enough digits to count the people now. There are clown folks I’ve connected with – some former Ringling, some not – who have helped me stay in that realm of being continually open to ways we all can showcase and represent clowning beyond the narrow idea lay people often have. These people have given me valuable support and I’m more likely to give support than to accept it as easily. I’m fortunate to have a biological family that has supported me and my efforts throughout the years and I’m happy to say that I’m able to be that for my niblings. I even have another cousin and her daughter who are also actors, so when I once felt I was alone in the family, I now know I’m not!

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

Icons: Bert Williams, Doug Jones, Bill Irwin, and Ahmed Best come to mind off the bat, but I guarantee there are more in the junk drawers of my mind. I haven’t had the opportunity to have much in the way of direct mentorship, but at the top of that short list is Danise Payne, former Ringling and UniverSoul clown who I got to work with. She’s not only the first woman to have clowned on the Gerry Cottle Circus in England, but the first USAmerican as well. She worked without uttering a word and had the most expressive hands, which came from her paying close attention to Marcel Marceau, who I thankfully got to see perform before he died. The first time in my life I considered a Black, non-conventional looking goofball like me could also be photogenic and attractive was the late 90s when I was a model with Vision Models and Talent, so I have Nathan Yungerberg and Teqen Zea-Aida to thank for that. In the geekosphere I would love to reach the level of work of people like Ytasha Womack, Rodney Barnes, Phil Lamarr, Maurice Broaddus, and Allen Turner, just to name a few.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

I don’t know who folks are sleeping on, but I’d say host Foxy Tann; musician Atim Opoka; visual artist Leslie Barlow; musician Sym-1; burlesque artist Tré Da Marc; musician Khary J; author, journalist, and cosplayer Briana Lawrence

Moe Russell

February 24, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I am Moe of the haus of Russell one of the only alternative Black Drag artist in Minnesota. I have done drag almost 9 years and have done it seriously for about 5. Everything I do is for the culture, from co hosting with Transcendence Cabaret, to making show posters for fellow artists and taking amateur photos of drag artist.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black Excellent to me is about redefined Black perception of what we are allowed. All my life I have had to choose which part of my culture I was allowed to present. Rather if it’s Afro-Cubano, Queer and Black, or anything in between Black People are just perceived and often self perceive ourselves in one diaspora.

What does showmanship mean to you?

Showmanship (showpersonship) is the balance of being entertaining and professional. 

Photo By Jason Bucklin

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I began as just a door person volunteering for Flip Phone. I worked years trying to earn a place and though I did receive some opportunities eventually I moved on. My drag changed in the last three years as I decided to try new makeup techniques and do more alternative styles beyond the "norm" of what people perceive and fans really responded. Since then I have performed nationally with Disibilitease, performed with Power at Twin Cities Pride, and ran for Miss Twin Cities Black Pride 2024.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

Ain't no way by Aretha Franklin.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

All American Goddess New Comer is calling my name. I also want to create new and different opportunities for Black Artist not just drag. I want people to Know Black Art is EVERYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE!

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

A full Black production of La Boheme. As an Opera singer I would love one of the most acclaimed Opera's to be done by us for us.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

Of course my drag Mother Cee Russell, she changed the trajectory of my drag and is blazing a trail for Us all. My brother, My drag Aunt Lala Luzious, my sister Rustina Phoenix Nuttz, my sibling Eun Bee Yes Smith and far too many more to name. I am blessed to have a wealth of family 

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

Definitely Lala Luzious, she is doing things I always dreamed of and is a prime example of leading with grace and professionalism.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Texas Tea Cake$, ooh lord every time I see Texas chile I feel alive!

I am gonna toot my own horn and say Transcendence Cabaret is slept on, we produce accessible shows while putting Transgender Black and People of Color in the front.

Texas Tea Cake$

February 24, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I am a Texan, born and raised. I work in theater for my muggle job and I am a burlesque performer by night. Some might say that I’m cool, but I assure you I am an old woman who wants to be in bed no later than 10PM. I love romance novels and costuming books. My dream is to one day win an Oscar for Costume Design. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Gosh, I think “Black Excellence” is the hot topic of the moment. Is it to be Black is to be excellent or is it you that you are Black, therefore you MUST be excellent? I’m currently just working on being me, authentically, without an entire history defining me. I already deal with what it means to be Black navigating this world, should I also have to grapple with being excellent on top of that? Sounds like a lot of work with less pay. I mean I am still the only Black person in my current position and I think I’m the first Black woman to be in it too. Those are the kind of barriers I’ve broken and it's becoming disappointing to me the older I get. I just want white people to stop touching my hair! Stop it!

What does showmanship mean to you?

The ability to bring entertainment to an audience that you can be proud of. I technically majored in showmanship (Theater) and have always felt like I was putting on a show. Now, in my 30s, I think I was trying to be “excellent” because that is what people liked. They liked when I sang and danced and simply was a joy as a child to be around. When I got older and had much more knowledge of the world I heard a lot more criticism than applause. Suddenly, you find society feels like a Black woman can’t/shouldn’t/haven’t done a lot of things. I feel my showmanship proves that to be a bunch of bullshit. I will do what I want, how I want. 

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I started doing burlesque 2021, once I moved here to the Twin Cities! I had begun following a bunch of burlesque artists during the Pandemic and ramped myself up to take a class at The Rose Academy of Burlesque. I loved that class so much! I met an entire group of friends (we call ourselves Glitter Coven) who are also doing fantastic things in the community! From there I would go on to perform at Nudie Nubies Nationwide, an amateur burlesque competition where artists all over the nation compete! I freaking won the 2023 title! I was shocked. There was fierce competition for the title and I didn’t think that I would win. I was convinced during everyone else’s performance that I was going to win. It was truly the highlight of my life, not just my budding burlesque career!

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be?

I have to say my ‘Pickle Juice’ number has become a legacy number. I came up with the idea for this act because I saw another performer, Ashleeta, dressed as a banana on an online burlesque show and thought how fun it would be to dress up as a pickle! Ever since it debuted people have come up to me and said how much they love it! I have now performed that act in 3 states! Hoping to do so a lot more in 2024.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

My goal is to compete in a festival outside of Minnesota and my dream would be winning a title at one of those festivals. I want to expand in all of the communities across the nation! Visiting those burlesque communities and making new connections and having them bring their art to Minnesota! My real big goal is to produce a show and have all my friends in it, ha!

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I’m not sure. Act truly comes from an organic place for me. I guess I don’t think of an act until I have a strong concept. I mostly dream of gorgeous outfits, that is where all the money would go. Rhinestone from head to toe and something so inamering you can’t look away! 

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

My husband, Nikos, is my everything. He is my best friend, love, coach, and everything! His support is something that I treasure and don’t care to be without. He has been there for this journey every step of the way. It would truly be hard to be Texas Tea Cake$ without him.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

Holliedazzle is my ‘Burly Mama’, the person that sponsored me into the Twin Cities burlesque scene! She has been with me for my highs and lows and I appreciate that she is someone I can go to for just about anything. I love her so much!

Foxy Tann is an icon & mentore, not only to myself but also, any other person looking to break into the burlesque scene! ‘The Boss of Burlesque’ is the boss for a reason and she will get you together if you are willing to learn.

Deeva Rose is just putting out another generation of burlesque artists through The Rose Academy of Burlesque. If you want to start somewhere I suggest it’s at their school!

Petty Treason, Tre Da Marc, Bessie Snow, and Keke Boudreaux are just a few other examples of who I’d like to look up to!

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Well, Tre Da Marc has the best Juneteenth show in town! I recommend you keep an eye out for that this year! Rustina Phoenix-Nuttz puts on a ‘Black Ass Friday’ at the Saloon every 1st Friday of the month, as well as a plethora of other wonderful shows! Keke Boudreaux produces The Bawdy Downe, their  Love&Sex show is Feb. 16th. Bessie Snow produces Appetit at Volstead’s Emporium Uptown Bar. A show called Draggy Divas also produces shows that center Latino/a/x performers around the Twin Cities! Foxy Tann and the entire Nudie Nubie team has a monthly competition at Black Hart of Saint Paul that ushers in new burlesque from all over! There is so much wonderful talent around this place and I truly hope you all can support in any way you can! Love isn’t always about money (though that is what a lot of us need in these unprecedented times). If you just show your face and share a post or tell everyone that these events are happening, it would mean the world to this community's BIPOC entertainers.

Ms Margaret Live!

February 24, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I’m Margaret aka Ms Margaret Live! In these radio streets (I really do say that to people). I’m a radio personality, activist, educator, a mother, and most importantly a resilient Black woman. I work for an organization called Ed Allies where we focus on education reform and legislation that closes the gaps and eliminates the disparities faced by our underserved students and I host my own morning show “Ms Margaret Live! In The Morning” and have my own content studio with a goal to be in full operation Spring 2024. I would also mention that I serve on the Board Of Directors for the organization Love First Community Engagement which is something I’m very proud of, and a whole list of other things that I can’t even remember. I probably do too much lol but its all worth it.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

When I think of Black excellence, I think of my HBCU experience. I am a proud Alumni of Fisk University where I majored in Business Administration With A Concentration In Music Business. HBCUs are the epitome of Black Excellence. At an HBCU, your greatness and ability to go above and beyond society’s expectations is assumed as soon as you step foot on campus -it’s not something you have to prove. The pride that HBCU students have and carry with them post graduation is what Black Excellence looks like. One of the reasons why I opened my content studio for Black Content Creators  is to get away from the White Supremacy that you encounter in the radio world -a predominantly white male lane.

At my last radio gig where I hosted a morning show, I reported acts of harassment and discrimination-acts that had been happening prior to me being hired but others were too scared to speak up. Here I was a new employee but due to the pride I have in myself , my value, and my worth I refused to be mistreated and was subsequently taken off the air unless I recanted my complaints. I ended up resigning and decided that was the last time I would be in a position where someone could take what’s important to me away from me. That’s why I have my content studio now.

Had I not gone to Fisk, had I not been surrounded by “Black Excellence” everyday, I know that I would not have the confidence to walk away from situations that do not serve me and to branch out on my own and create a space where White Supremacy cannot exist. 

What does showmanship mean to you?

To me, showmanship is the ability to connect, entertain, and move minds, hearts and souls. The stage has always been my safe space so I think that’s why when I’m on stage, even if I’m nervous, it’s like a switch flips and I come alive . My mom intentionally put me on stages and in activities that put me in front of crowds of people because she wanted me to be able to feel confident in front of large crowds or on stage and she dealt with stage fright growing up. I thank her for that because that’s why I have the showmanship that I do today. I read a room and know exactly what the people want and need, and I thrive off of delivering just that. 

Photo By Alvin Washington

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I launched my first talk-radio show “Ms Margaret Live!” on WFNU Radio and subsequently went on to host the show at KFAI and The Uptake. Since first launching my show, I’ve interviewed countless activists, celebrities, politicians, entrepreneurs, etc. I’ve given a lot of people their first on air interviews which is really special to me. I’ve  hosted several events throughout the Twin Cities such as the Black Women's Expo, Rondo Days, and worked the red carpet at the Super Bowl when it came here to the Twin Cities. I have been featured nationally and internationally by outlets such as the LA Times, Fan Force Media (Australia), Voyage Magazine, and was featured in a documentary “Minneapolis 4” which premiered in France. 

One of my proudest moments was the completion and premiere of my documentary “When They Took My Baby Away” which features Amity Dimmock, mother of Kobe Heisler who was killed by Brooklyn Center police in August 2019. Thanks to SPNN I was able to make it happen. It was something I always wanted to do and still can’t believe that I completed it as the story is so important. I also served as the Vice President for the KFAI Board Of Directors and had a brief stint as the morning show host on Jazz 88. 

All of this has led to my latest and greatest media accomplishment which is betting on myself and starting my own morning show. Right now everything I’m doing is solely produced and funded by me. While that is a challenge and some days doubt creeps in, I’m proud that I have the audacity to pursue my purpose here on this earth no matter what. I am also co-host of the “AmplifiED” podcast and I host a weekly series called “Mondays With Margaret” which provides insight into the many things taking place during the 2024 MN Legislative session.

If you were to choose one creative thing that would be your legacy, what would that be?

I think about my legacy a lot. For me, I can’t think of one thing or one project that I think represents my legacy. Through my work and advocacy, I just hope that people know that I cared.  When I started my show, conversations about race, mental health, social justice, etc were very taboo. I wanted to provide a platform where we could have those conversations in a way where awareness, healing, laughter, and upliftment could reside in the same space . I’ve done several different series such as my most recent “Healing The Black Family” interviews which I believe showcase my commitment to uplifting my community. 

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

I have a TON of content on the way, much of it I can’t announce lol but I’m most excited about my “Ms Margaret Live! In The Morning” Show which airs Fridays at 11am on my Facebook platforms and YouTube, plus my new podcast series called “The Audacity To…” The Audacity series highlights Black Folks who have had the courage and the gumption to go against the grain, believe in themselves, and create their own lanes. For example, my first guest Alysha Price wrote a book about co-parenting -something that most parents deal with but is something people like to shy away from talking about because of how co-parent can be viewed as a “failure” -yet it’s reality and doesn’t have to mean drama or chaos. I like people who aren’t afraid to tackle what’s considered “taboo” and my intention with this series is to inspire people to be true to themselves and have the audacity to create their own lane  

If money were no object, what has been a dream interview you would put together?

Oprah, hands down! Oprah has been and will always be my main source of inspiration when it comes to my work in media. I have watched her since I was a kid and loved how she wasn’t afraid to talk about what so many people were afraid to talk about. Her show gave people access to how other people live and what many of us go through that we feel alone in. Much of the reason why my show has focused on the type of topics that is has focused on is due to me being inspired by her show and the empire that she’s been. 

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

My mom and aunt raised me and due to the village that their mother, my grandmother, formed around them, that village became our family. I think that's why friendships are so important to me because that's my main source of family that I've known. While I do have siblings, we didn’t grow up together and I didn't have much of a relationship with my dad’s side of the family so I’ve always felt closer to my mom’s friends who became my aunts and uncles than I did to people who are actually related to me. I thank God that in our adult years, my siblings and I have done for each other what my dad couldn't, which is to ensure that we stay connected, never lose touch, and we have formed our own sibling relationships. With that being said, much of my support comes from my chosen family and of course my mom who has always been there for me. I treasure the support from my mom and aunt. I know so many people who don’t have that type of love and support that they have given me.  

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

My mom will always be the person who I admire the most. In my mind, no one is as great as she is and I know there are many people who are also inspired by her. My mom is the type of person who just does things right. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t like her and I’ve never heard anyone speak negatively about my mom. She has built a Queendom all on her own and from a child I knew what greatness looked like because I had her to look up to. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

While this isn’t a burlesque show, I have to give a shout out to my girl Quinn Shimmer Villagómez. Quinn is the host of the longest running LGBTQ radio show in the nation, “Fresh Fruit.” Quinn has made it a point to create platforms and events that showcase BIPOC artists, designers, creators, etc such as The Purple Ones and Design Icon. When I was being mistreated at a radio station, Quinn stood beside me and had my back and that meant the world to me. She always hosts the Power To The People Stage at MN Pride Festival and is really big on giving local artists time to shine . Love you Quinn! 

Mikko Blaze

February 23, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

My name is Mikko Blaze and I am a transgender, Afro-Latinx vocalist and drag artist in the twin cities. I’m the reigning Mr Gay 90s 2024 and the 2018 karaoke World champion

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

As someone who has had to navigate the complexities of being multi racial and a first generation American, I feel like I don't have a choice but to be excellent in this society. I think about all my ancestors who couldn’t do all the things i’ve been able to do and how important it feels to carry their legacy. I broke huge barriers by being the first Trans Karaoke world champion. I pulled out the trans flag and represented my trans community around the world in Helsinki, Finland. I think the best way I can fight white supremacy is by being unapologetically myself and being visible. I also use my voice and music to connect with people and have them see my humanity. 

What does showmanship mean to you?

It means paying attention to the details, being memorable and leaving the stage feeling proud of what you did. 

Photo By Jess Wemeier

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I had an accident as a child that nearly killed me at 5, and had to spend a lot of time alone in the hospital bed. I would sing all day to pass the time, anything I heard on the radio. I always sang in church, I grew up Jehovah's witness so and being a queer kid wasn’t fun, so  singing was my escape. I then  went to the Perpich center for arts education which gave me my base and the discipline to continue. 

I started doing drag in 2008 at the Gay 90s amateur  competitions and just kept going. I wanted to be the best at what I did, so I kept challenging myself. I was part of the 24K Kings, Dragged Out, and The Vigilantease collective. I learned so much from my peers while being in these groups. 

I then focused on my vocal abilities while I was transitioning. I started doing karaoke competitions in 2016,  which led me to winning in Helsinki Finland,  a duet silver medal in 2017  and a gold medal in 2018. In the middle of all this I actually met my Band “Hurricane Karaoke/Blaze” because of a live band karaoke competition at the state fair. 

Now I'm hosting, playing band gigs, creating my own music and doing drag. The goal is to keep elevating. YOLO!  

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

When I sing live “Rise up” by Andra Day.  I feel this song so deeply when I sing it and it got me a world title.  

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

I would like to create more opportunities for Drag artists but more specifically drag Kings. I think I'm ready to try my hand at Producing. I also want to help youth who are interested in performing have a platform and guidance to do so. I remember being a teenager going to district 202 and just feeling so happy. I wanna figure out a way we can create a space like that again. 

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

“CopaCabana”  by Barry manilow. I would want to have a whole band, burlesque performers, Drag artists dancing around me while I sang live. 

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

I have a lot of chosen family I've met from all phases of my life. Some of the folks that have helped my career have been,  Julia Starr the Starr family, Sasha Cassadine and haus of Cassadine, Genevee Love, Seven,  Azalia Cruz, Sweetpea, Kyle Rucker, Bella Beefcake, Miriam Kim, and so many more have done so much for me in my evolution as an artist. Being mentors, being supportive and sometimes keeping me together. I appreciate all the people that have been there for me along the way. 

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

I really love Tenderoni and Landon Cider. I hope that I can elevate my drag to their level. They are both so talented and creative. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

I love what Rustina Phoenix Nuttz is doing at the saloon with the Black Ass Fridays. I love that DJ QueenDuin is doing latin nights at the Saloon and organizing WTF, Powerpuff. 

Andre 100 is producing at Hot Pink, and he's really good at it! 

Keke Boudreaux is producing some FANTASTIC burlesque shows. 

Lola Honey

February 23, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

My name is Tia Avion better known as Lola Honey. I’m a trans woman who transplanted here from Southern California about 5 years ago. I am also a drag entertainer and have been on stage most of my life but about 15 years in drag. I have a boyfriend I love very much, Ben, 2 cats Infinity and Void, and 5 lizards of 4 different species. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black excellence to me means being me unapologetically. I may be outspoken but that doesn’t make me loud. My confidence may make one feel uncomfortable but doesn’t make me intimidating. Black excellence is being unapologetically well… Black. In all of its beautiful forms. The barriers I have broken through are being told I wouldn’t be able to perform here if I didn’t start over since I was new here. I am the first person of color to host a show in Rochester as well as be the co-owner to it and one of the creators as well with all of our shows in its first year selling out minus one that we were short 3 ticket sales. 

What does showmanship mean to you?

Being good at what you do and practicing your craft. Knowing the only competition is yesterday’s version of yourself. 

Photo By Lola Honey

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

Well I use to just wear things off the rack first off… lol sometimes I still do. I have grown so much when it comes to makeup and putting together looks that are pleasing to see on stage. I’ve always been a boss on the stage but even that has grown for me. I have won a number of competitions in Los Angeles one being “The last bitch standing “ season 4 in Pomona and was also featured on RPDR season 3s casting special in a few clips. I am also a normal at La Femme and run my own show in Rochester called “2 Kings and a Queen” with my drag brothers Reggie and Smoque. 

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

My Mortal Kombat Number. It’s available on YouTube. Search Lola Honey and look for Sheeva. 

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

My goal is to run an all trans show that will run on a consistent basis and help provide more opportunities for queer people as a whole and more than that trans people of color. 

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I have so many ideas I don’t know where to start but in my head I’m seeing a mechanical snake body that is functional so I can live my Medusa Fantasy. 

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

My family is actually very supportive. My Mom Keshia is my biggest inspiration with my older sister Shamyka being a close second. My brother who passed away a few years ago always inspired me to be fearless and has instilled that in my heart. My grandmother Sandy who also passed around the same time as my brother always inspired me with her kind, forgiving spirit and amazing fashion sense. 

I also give a shout out to my cousins, aunts and uncles too, who all think of me as the star of our family. 

My chosen family would be my bestie Sean for 20 years. He knows me in and out and our 3rd, Jorge the baby of our group. He's like a lil brother to us. 

All of those relationships mean the world to me but I wouldn’t be who I am today without my Mother. 

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

I have always loved Shannel from Drag race like before Drag Race. I also love Mercedes Iman Diamond, Onya Deek, Azalia, Allota and Kamaree as they have been so supportive here and I mean come on they are the best entertainers around! Back home in Cali, Rolla Blunt, Dani Kay and Juicee Couture (Rest in Peace sis) played a big role in who I was on stage early on. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Me!!! lol I think a lot of the new up and coming entertainers are amazing and shouldn’t be slept on. Here I give a shout out to them and other more seasoned entertainers we gotta book more. London Darkhorse  Escada, Ken Doll, Francis Reine, Saint Reign, DeCreme, and Honesty Jackson to name a few. 

Jamel Brown

February 23, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

That I’m a black transman and my passion is doing drag. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black Excellence defines me and what I do, because i’m a black transman that’s working towards my goals regardless of the barriers I face being that i’m black and trans, so it’s usually harder for me to get noticed and the credit that I deserve. 

What does showmanship mean to you?

Being a skilled performer with a unique approach. 

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I heard about a contest called, “So You Think You Can Drag” at the Gay 90’s and i’ve always been interested in the drag scene. I started participating in “So You Think You Can Drag” weekly, and my supporters and I can see me evolving as a performer and perfecting my craft. 

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

My number “Motel Pool, By Travis Garland”, that was the first number i’ve ever done. 

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

To upgrade my drag clothing and perform out of state. As far as my community, I would like to attend more drag performances and support the other performers more often. 

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

There’s a lot of numbers that i’ve been saving up for and preparing to do.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

Family to me means someone that is there for you and shows you the right path. Family to me isn’t blood, it’s someone that’s been there for you since day one and hasn’t left your side. The most treasured support I’ve received is the feedback I receive from my supporters during and after I perform. 

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

One icon that I look up to is one of my dear friends QuinnTEssential, he’s been there for me a lot throughout the way. I also look up to Andre 1000, he’s a great performer. Watching both of those performers perform gives me a lot of tips on how to improve my numbers. There’s a lot of drag kings that I follow on social media that I really look up to and enjoy watching. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Transcendence Cabaret shows diversity to people of all sorts. I feel like Rustina Phoenix Nuttz is a great performer and is slept on. She’s very humble and should be recognized more.

Jojo Ventus

February 22, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I would probably say, Hey I'm Jojo. I'm an artist, performer, entertainer who's very nerdy. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black excellence defines me as I am here for myself and also My seniors that were ahead of me and my ancestors before them. Showing up for yourself. Succeeding in white spaces. Then making black spaces. At least that's one of the ways to do it. My goals lay in making space for queer black people. Showcasing ballroom through the amazing talent and beauty in our community. While still facing white supremacist and anti-blackness in common spaces. 

What does showmanship mean to you?

Showmanship to me is showcasing not only your talent but being able to interact with the crowd and look good doing it. Excelling in all three is how I know I'm doing a good job and I see the same for others.

Photo By Ryan Coit

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I've evolved very quickly. Blending a lot of things I love, skating, cosplay, drag, male entrainment, vogue/ ballroom. In the beginning it was just dancing and male entertainment. Werk was where It started at the Saloon. WInning Werk gets you a spot on Hot Pink at the Saloon, their main show of entertainment which isn't just drag. Burlesque, comedy, singing, and other forms of live entertainment are pretty much welcomed. Leading on from there I've performed at The Gay 90s ladies of LaFemme after winning their competition  So You Think You Can Drag. 

That also gained me a spot at a pre-show that no longer is at the gay 90s called Homme Fatale. That was an all male entertainers show. Since then I've been to LUSH, Queerdo, competed for a spot in Hot Pink, the Saloon’s main show. I won. Now I'm a cast member of 4 amazing drag and entertainment shows. Booked, Black Ass Friday, Hot Pink, and The Other Show. Being in these shows, showcasing ball ballroom with my group, Vogue Down Minneapolis, and being a house chapter Father of Ninja are things I'm really proud of and have got me where I am today.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

I'm never too attached to a number but as of recent, My House by Beyonce for Werk All Stars was very close to my heart. The story of it really helped me get through the winter depression. Having my friends around me everyday practicing. Creating my costumes and having such a clear vision for the performance was thrilling. Seeing it in videos really warms my soul. It represents my masc side. Fem side. Ballroom and the camp of it all. It was a lot of fun.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

My goals this year are based in ballroom at the moment. Some balls are of the year so participating and winning in your category grants you points for the year. Those points allow you to be nominated for of the year at an Awards ball. So going out and bringing trophies home for Ninja and Minneapolis is one goal. Other is sharing art. Doing more art for the entertainers in my community and showcasing them off as well as I am a digital character designer. 

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

Hmmm maybe a skating number that has elements of ballroom. Lots of embroidered, stone embellished costumes. I would fly out some ATL, Chicago, and LA skaters. For a song… maybe Deja Vu by Beyonce. 

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

My Ninja family and chosen family through the years. I've had a lot of help when it comes to emotional or financial support when things happen. I really treasure that. I remember my car getting towed and not being able to afford to get it out for like 2 days. If I waited I still wouldn't have gotten it out because the payment increases everyday. I did everything I could to do it myself but I couldn't. So now I called on them and they had my back. And I have been there when they needed me. 

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

Raven Nevermore is one of my Motha and mentor. That's really what parents are in Ball room now. Just closer. Icons that have an imprint On me are Beyonce of course. MNEK , Pierce The Veil, Michael Jackson, and Prince. Really just to be myself. wearing what I want. Doing what I want. Sticking up for my community and just being me. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Hands down I believe the most diverse show has been Queerdo. You can see all kinds of entertainers there consistently. Not just as a theme or a gimmick. For people that should be recognized are Tre da Marc, Wariboko, Mak3va are the first few to come to mind. They are amazing at what they do and should be on more stages. 

Jamez

February 22, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

My name is Jamez L Smith. 

Born 1963 in Montgomery, Alabama, I spent the first 8 years of my life in Newark, New Jersey before moving to San Francisco, California, which I consider my Home Town. I’ve lived in Texas, Illinois, Seattle, Canada, the United Kingdom & Los Angeles. I moved to Minneapolis in 2007. 

I’m an out and proud Gay Black Man. Per the trend of the times, I’m genderqueer, having no preference of pronoun (if pushed, I’ll claim “Us, We & Ours” or simply “All” or “None”. I really don’t care. I digress, but if postgenderism is a goal, then why would a pronoun matter?).

Many know me as  DJ Jam E.Z., Your Favourite Gay Uncle. I host two radio shows on KRSM 98.9 FM, and periodically get invited to DJ at various venues and nightclubs.

I am first and foremost, a Poet. (see the anthologies: The Road Before Us: One Hundred Gay Black Poets, Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of A.I.D.S.). Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of stage productions, and the occasional short film. I also hold interest in other art forms, including photography and collage. 

Canonized by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc. for my volunteerism as “Saint DJ Whacks Master Jamez”, I went on to become Sister Onalee Begottenson, Founding Member of the Ladies of the Lakes, Minneapolis House of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. 

That’s a lot more than I would normally say to a perfect stranger. It’d probably more like, “Hi. My name is Jamez.”

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

OMG! How does that define you?!

I don’t know any actual statistics, but I think it is amazing that any black man born during the height of the civil rights movement, navigating everything from poverty to the HIV epidemic, from the crack epidemic to police shootings has lived to reach 60 years of age. I am blessed to be able to identify myself as that black man. My existence and ability to have a positive impact in life is a mark of excellence.

That said, I confess that I have not thought of myself in terms of “Black Excellence”. 

Dropping “Black Excellence” into a search engine resulted with: “a high level of achievement, success, or ability demonstrated by an individual Black person or by Black people in general. It is often used to highlight and celebrate specific examples of such achievements and abilities.” 

Black Excellence seems to be an empowerment movement, tied directly to achievement, success and the meanings therein, as applied to Black People. I think of the Black Girls Rock Network, or the “Kings” program of Minneapolis Public School’s Office of Black Male Student Achievement.

Black Excellence seems like another iteration of “Black Pride” or “Black Power”. 

Again, I’ve not thought of myself in such terms. I’m obviously black, and very much proud to be so. Perhaps it’s ego, but I’m reluctant to say any one thing defines me. The sum of my experiences, ever changing and, ideally, evolving. Semantics and perspectives.

...what you do, your goals...

I would say Black Excellence defines what I do in that I always strive to do my best, to grow as an individual, and uplift others along my journey. I’d like to believe I’d do the same and be as excellent were I not black. 

...barriers you’ve broken through...

Wow. These are not simple subjects.

Attempting to keep it simple:

I was raised in poverty. Grew up in a housing project on foodstamps and welfare in San Francisco. I credit my intelligence and education with getting me through that barrier. 

I was blessed with educators who recognized my potential and encouraged and guided me accordingly. I was placed in accelerated programs, and placed in a college preparatory high school. 

My achievement levels enabled me to break through the poverty barrier, so that today I’m able sustain my existence. 

Mind you, it’s not been easy. I’ve had to rebuild my career, starting from zero, at least 3 different times over the years. I’ve faced homelessness a number of times. But perseverance, good fortune, and good friends have sustained me.

...facing in this white supremacist society...

I joined the United States Air Force in 1983. 3 years and 7 months into my enlistment, the First Sergeant showed up at my dorm room with a security police officer. I was told to not ask any questions, and informed that I would be moving to the other side of the base, effective immediately. They had boxes and a truck, and helped me pack. 

After unpacking at my dorm, the security police were dismissed, the First Sergeant invited me to sit down and then asked, “Why didn’t you say anything, Airman?”

“You told me not to ask any questions.” I responded earnestly.

“You don’t know what this is all about, do you?” He asked.

“No sir, I do not.”

He then explained that, after years of investigation, they now had evidence proving that my supervisor and his supervisor were both members of the Klu Klux Klan. Further, they had testimony from former members of my unit that I, the only black person in my unit, was regularly taunted and mistreated by leadership. Incidents included making me scrub protective coatings off of door frames, and readjusting my work schedule to conflict with college classes I was enrolled in. 

“Why didn’t you say anything?” he repeated.

“Well, I figure that was just the way of the military. I was just following orders and didn’t know I had right nor reason to complain.”

In 2005, as part of a job interview, I was tested on my knowledge of the Microsoft Office Suite. I used to teach Word, Excel, PowerPoint & Access at the Adult & Immigrant Education Program of San Francisco City College, so I held no concern that I would pass the tests.

There was one other person being tested along with me, a white male. I finished my tests just before this gentleman finished his. The administrator printed out our test results. They told the white guy, “your scores are very impressive, and we have a position that you would be perfect for. Let’s take you in to  meet the Director.

The administrator returned to me and said, “I’m sorry, but your scores are barely passing. We don’t have any positions for that level at the moment, but why don’t you spend a few weeks honing your knowledge, and we can retest then.”

“That’s impossible!” I protested. “I used to teach these programs to ESL students. Let me see my scores.” She handed me the piece of paper, and I saw the problem right away.

“First of all,” I said, “that’s not my name. These are not my test scores.”

She looked, then pulled out the previous person’s passing scores. My name was atop the page.

“Oh my god.” she muttered. 

Overhearing our exchange, her colleague came over, took both pages from her and said, “You’ve swapped their scores!” 

They both began apologizing profusely. They informed me that they would contact me the following day to make amends. 

By noon the next day, I’d not heard back, so I telephoned the office, asking to speak to the people I’d interviewed by name. “They are no longer employed with us.” I was told. 

...still facing in this white supremacist society...

I’ve plenty more examples from being asked to prove I could afford a drink before being allowed into a gay bar in The Castro, to being denied service at a gay bar in Loring Park. - but, frankly - this is exhausting.

What does showmanship mean to you?

Performing to the best of one’s ability with dignity and grace.

Photo By Jade Patrick

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I was raised in the church. Southern Baptist. I was probably 10 years old when I was first asked/told to stand up in front of the church and read a bible passage. I was apparently quite good at it, because it became a regular occurrence. This helped me become comfortable being in front of an audience (to a degree. We still get stagefright). 

I started writing when I was 12. I had no one to talk to, so I started writing letters to God in a notebook. “Dear God”, I would start each entry, and then proceed to express my deepest woes, most secret fears and dreams. 

I soon found that I needed to have pen and paper with me, at all times. Journaling became my security blanket, a la, Linus from Peanuts.

I took my first creative writing course during my freshman year in college. Going through one of my notebooks, my professor saw the poetry buried within the pages of heart, soul & brain dumps. He taught me to identify them myself, how to pull them out and refine them.

I eventually developed a knack for short-form poetry. 

In 1990, attending the OutWrite Conference in San Francisco, I met Assoto Saint. He took me under wing, and signed me to appear in the 1991 anthology, The Road Before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets. 

Through Assoto’s continued guidance, I was signed to be published in Sojourner: Black Gay Voices in the Age of AIDS.

I’ve always wanted to collaborate, to be a part of a community of like minds and spirits. While living in Seattle, I attempted to create an artists collective. I sent an open call out to artists of all genres to join me in my apartment, where we would plan our collective’s future. The response was encouraging. 

Poets, dancers, painters, photographers, chefs and more, over twenty people, showed up at my little Capitol Hill flat. There was even a lawyer, who said he came because he recognized we might need help navigating copyright and business legalities. We met once a month for the next 5 months. Then my job sent me out of the country for 3 months. 

I’d made arrangements for meetings in my absence, but when I returned, the group had dissolved.

I decided to try again, but this time with more focus. I put out a call specifically for Poets. Seven people responded. Three showed up at my apartment for that first meeting. It was magical. We dubbed ourselves “The Prophets of The New Tribe”, and proceeded on a 7th month tour of poetry readings at coffee shops, book stores, branch libraries and college campuses. 

As I said, this was in Seattle. Seattle, at the time, had the reputation of having the highest rates of depression in the country. I was not immune. In addition to being constantly cloudy and dreary, Seattle is the most racist place I have ever lived in. Without going into detail, it all became too much for me. 

After suffering a bit of a breakdown, I decided that the healthiest thing for me to do was to return to San Francisco and pursue my dream back in my hometown.

I continued my poetic pursuits in San Francisco, but never found the success I’d experienced with the Prophets. I lost my guide, mentor and friend, Assoto, in 1994 when he passed from complications to HIV. I haven’t been published in a book since, not for lack of effort.

I attended open mics, and organized my own events. I dj’d wherever I could. After taking one photography class, I began doing 35mm slide projector installations at local bars and nightclubs. I joined “Magnus Hirshfeld’s Musuem of Sexology”, an immersive theatre production combining museum artifacts, theatre & burlesque, eventually becoming Stage Manager.

I answered a call for participants in a study examining race relations within the gay male community. Researcher Niels Teunis, in collaboration with Director Veronica Combs, guided a multi-racial group of 8 gay & bi males, using Theatre of the Oppressed technics to share and explore our experiences and perspectives. All of which culminated into a stage production we called Out/Rage!. We performed poetry, dance and skits based upon our work. 

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

Beyond the reams upon reams of poetry I’ve written, it has yet to manifest.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities? 

The timing of this question is significant. I’ve focused a great deal on my djing over the years. Where poetry is #1, DJing is so close a second it seems to have taken precedence. In addition to two record focused radio shows per week, I’ve been attempting to establish some sort of regular nightclub presence in the Twin Cities. I have not been successful.

My most recent attempt was a celebration of my 60th Birthday this past December. I’d been planning and working on the event since May of 2023. I secured a venue in July. My hype machine rolling, I booked dj’s, support staff, selected a fiscal beneficiary, etc. In November, I was informed that the management had double-booked, and that I was being bumped. 

Defeated and deflated, I decided to take this as the final sign that I am not meant to produce parties, events, or anything else in the community. 

I’m tired. If invited to participate in something, and I feel I have the capacity to do so, then great. 

I currently have no goals.

Dreams, I still have a plenty. #1, again, is the poetry. I want to be published. I want books of poetry with my name in the bylines. 

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

There is a song by Chic called “Real People”. I’ve always wanted to interpret that song as a multidisciplinary modern dance performance, utilizing staging, film and effects, with a trans woman of colour prima ballerina in the lead.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

This is almost too personal. Another song comes to mind: “Family” by Hubert Laws. 

“Family, that’s what people really are.”

At the age of 12 I began to value my chosen family more than family of origin. Over the years, members of my family of origin have joined my chosen family. 

Family are the people who see me, understand me, accept me, and appreciate me. Family are the people who love me. Family allows me to love them. 

The most treasured support I’ve received? Comparisons are odious. Having someone simply listen is priceless. Delivering a care-package of meds, juice and hot soup when I have the flu.
I’ve had friends purchase airline tickets when I needed a vacation. Those who have called upon me to be with them during their deepest grief. Love. I treasure loving and being loved, in all the forms it may take.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

Assoto Saint, as mentioned. 
Sister Ora Reese, who served as my Spiritual Guide from when I was ten until her death when I was 30. 
Inez Gordon, Mama Duck, my first True Friend.
Charmaine Candy, a Newfie whose friendship and support sustained me during those harsh years in Seattle.
Boy George, who recognized something in me and took the time to offer earnest advice and encouragement, cautioning that there will be those who don’t want me to succeed, who will sabotage and work against me, and urging that I not let the pain deter me.
Brigitte LaBouvie, another who stepped in with Spiritual Guidance, helping me to for myself what she and others saw.
Margit Anderson, who continually shows me Sisterhood.
Prince Rogers Nelson, whom I never got to meet, but through his art showed 14 year old me that not only was it ok to be different, it was preferred.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

I am clueless as to who else is out there. I, sadly, don’t know a lot of people of colour locally, much less those who are performers. Even fewer in burlesque/drag.

There are the usual suspects: Daddy Rox, Kevin Kaos Moore, Tre DeMarc 

Names I’d like to see recognized, though none are burlesque/drag: 
Harry Waters, Jr. 
Kaz Fawkes. 
Does Teqen Sjoberg Zéa-Aida perform? 
Andrea Pierre. 

Nicole M. Smith
Jamez L. Smith

Miss Honesty Jackson

February 21, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

Hello my name is Miss Honesty Jackson from Cedar Rapids Iowa. My real name is Darnel Johnson and I'm a gay black man who is also a Drag Entertainer. I'm know as the R@B soul diva of Drag. I've been In the game about 10 years now and I love entertaining the people. My style of Drag is much my own and I only do what feels good for me. Some people would say I'm ubran and have a lot of soul. It's all about emotion and telling a story when it comes to Ms Honesty Jackson. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black Excellence is just a few words; always stay true to self. Never let anyone tell you can't be anything or nothing because it all starts with self. My goals In this business is always trying to be the best me I can be. And also be recognized for my hard work and dedication to my craft. I was told nobody is gonna book you because all you do is R&B music. So that was a lie, everyone loves R&B music and I've been booked for all kinds of shows and people live for it.  I don't face many barriers because I believe in what's for me is for and what's not for me ain't for me. Also Im a title holder and an award winning Drag Queen in Iowa and Minnesota so anything is possible. 

What does showmanship mean to you?

Showmanship to me and always is be respectful and loving and everything else will fall in place. Being kind and genuine to others will always give you the best showmanship. Evolving as an artist is important to me because you have to be marketable in this business so you must step out of your comfort zone. Learning new makeup trends, adding bigger costumes and better hair is a must. You must think big and believe in yourself. Trust me once I started really investing in my career things started happening. I'm now booked at least 4 times a month.

Photo By Betty Bang

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I'm currently Ms Ice Castle 2024 and a member of the Imperial Court of Minnesota. Session 13 WERK winner  and WERK All Star. I'm Miss Gay Iowa City 2020 and also Entertainer of the year Newcomer Quad Cities Iowa award winner 2019. I'm also Hosting Hastings Pride this year in Hastings MN. I'm so proud of all my milestones and achievements over the years.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be?

My one act I would have to say that is my Legacy is Fantisa When I See You. I just embody that and that one song I do that is always a hit on the stage.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

My goals are to book more shows that are outside of Minnesota and Iowa. My Dream is to be able to perform in Las Vegas Nevada and do one national competition. I'm always giving back to my community. That is part of me and it's a must for me. But I would love to put on a show and raise money for HIV and AIDS on a yearly basis. Being a person who lives with HIV, it is important to give back always. 

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

And if I had all the money to do it I would redo Whitney Houston “I have Nothing”. The video, the whole thing. 

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

My support system is my son who loves me . He is 16 and he is a blessing all by himself. Then my amazing boyfriend who pushes me to be my best at all times. He is the reason I'm at the top of my game now. Last but not least, my Minnesota friends and family for just believing in me.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

I'm not big on Icons and looking up to people but my mother; she was everything to me she will always be my icon. So I live up to her standards at all times even though she is not here on earth but her spirit is in me always. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

People who really should be recognized are every POC performer in this world because we all have a space In this world of Drag and LGBT community. It's all love and remember, always believe in who you are and never stop being you. 

D

February 21, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

Hi there, my name’s Drew but I go by “D”. I go by they-them pronouns. I live in North Minneapolis and work in county mental health services. I have a 9-month old cat named Odyssey whom I love very much and I am a DJ and sound-system enthusiast.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

I try to think about excellence as not just an individual thing but in the context of a community.To me Black Excellence looks like my values, my conduct, the people I aspire to be more like, the health of the community around me, and the things we do together.

My goals creatively are often short-term because I like to meet them. Whether it’s putting on a community event with the People’s Sound System project (which I’ll talk about more later), working with others on their events, or generally just taking DJ gigs which I really enjoy doing. 

My focus most of the time is thinking about what does community success look like? For example if I have an event on the same night as another similar event; I genuinely think it’s good for Minneapolis that there’s multiple events going on so individuals can pick and choose where they feel the most comfortable on a given night. The result is people get out of their homes and share the relief of being in community after a long work week.

I think a barrier we face to sum these thoughts up is collectivism vs. individualism. White supremacy seems to always trend towards manifesting individualism and valuing competition over cooperation with others. I push hard against that.

What does showmanship mean to you?

Showmanship… hmm. I think for me it’s a mix of demonstrating commitment to a performance art form, professionalism, and in a sense being public-facing and comfortable with that. In my experience as an artist I don’t hide what I appreciate about art-making, aesthetics, and history I pay attention to. There’s no knowledge I am hoarding that results in having “the secret” or whichever. I just love to share what I appreciate with others whether it’s music, art, jokes, social commentary, or whatever; and I take responsibility for what I say as an artist.

Photo By @lefnky

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

Wow that’s a good question. I grew up in North-West, Ohio in a place technically called a village because when I was there the census was like less than 2500 inhabitants. My parents worked really hard and my brother and I often had to be sat by our Grandparents on my Mom’s side. My grandparents exposed me to a love of jazz (big band & free) from a young age. They loved Duke Ellington in particular. They talked often about the clubs they’d go and dance at well into the 90s. 

My parents on the other hand could not really afford to buy my brother and I instruments or anything music related so I missed opportunities early in life to play in bands. I did get into computers early in life though and I remember the advent of file-sharing which led me to early youtube, torrenting, limewire, etc. I had a stereo in my room that I kept in good shape and I would burn discs for friends often. I liked hip-hop, RNB, rap, J-Pop (because of Cartoon Network), generally anything 80s & synth-like. I remember the first time I heard Roger Zap’s “Computer Love,” from a random file dump. I played it over and over again haha. 

Performatively speaking I really did not start djing until long after college in Duluth. I had friends that were in a group called The Crunchy Bunch who were same aged vinyl DJs and I met DJ Nola around the same time who became one of my biggest inspirations. They made it seem really intimidating to be honest because they were all so talented. It was not until later that I bought equipment starting with record turntables in 2018 (because that’s what I saw and what I knew) and later digital equipment in 2021. I started with the classics after I came up on some records from a CraigsList ad and realized I loved midwest dance music. (Chicago & Detroit House & Techno especially)

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be?

I want my legacy to be the spiritual aim of the People’s Sound System. To me it’s the most important thing that I do for the community. At the foundation, iit started in the George Floyd Square where I was an active protester there during the summer of 2020. Since I’ve always been interested in audio I was keen to pay attention to the sound systems that would pop up there for events, anything from a bluetooth speaker & a microphone used to rally marches together to a large PA system w/ a DJ for free meals.

I realized there was transformative power in those PA systems and how they broadcasted the voices of the grieving people in George Floyd Square. The roundabout was initially a circle for example before the fist. People often gathered there in the early days in a circle after Floyd was murdered and we talked about our shared trauma’s and personal ones there in shared listening. 

My intention for the People’s Sound System is to carry the legacy of what the People did in Minneapolis in Summer 2020 and also build upon it integrating features that nourish community like dance, the arts, and education. Eventually I want there to be more education like putting production tools in the toolbelts of BIPoC youth. I see it as a community resource and we’re building our capacity to share it more where it’s needed with each successful event.

I am most proud of the DEFIANCE fundraiser recently. We raised several thousand dollars for local Palestinian relief during a dance event at the Red Sea where we hosted an art auction during. S/O to the People actively organizing for Palestinians right now.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

On a personal level, I want to pour into the artistry more this year and continue to write music. I’ve been somewhat outspoken about that and it’s a big interest of mine to continue to develop. I am surrounded by so many gifted creatives in numerous mediums. I just want to continue to create experiences with people I love in this scene and who give a lot of love back. It’s contagious and that love goes right into the community. I know May Day in the Park is coming up sooner than later and I have plans to expand upon that this year and create space for other artists to participate in the sound system culture that’s already going on.

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

Hmm. I’m imagining an exercise where an A.I. would calculate what is “enough” money over a course of a life-time. I would take that and leave the rest to everyone else. 

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

Chosen family is everything for me. I am a transplant and go home to visit my Mom and Brother only several times a year. My chosen family to be honest are the people I dance with, the people I collaborate with, and the people I just know hold a deep-positive regard for me built over a long period of time in vice versa. My chosen family are ravers, many of them are queer, varied in age, and familial in our commitment to each-other in a lifetime of ups and downs. We have the difficult conversations and the conversations that energize us and get us excited about doing things together. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about friendships. I love my friends who I have soft hangs with away from event spaces where we just unwind and get away from being perceived all the time. Let’s make dinner, let’s watch something interesting, take a class, or do something we have not tried yet. This ecosystem of friendship is important too and I think the pandemic has thwarted this a-lot.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

I have a lot of them. Growing up Black in America we’re often taught about “great people” in schools and their great contributions to civilized society but we take for granted the people who treat us like greatness everyday.  I think great people have their place in the constellations in the sky and so do the average people in our village who humanize us and make us feel real and cared for. It’s hard for me to be specific because I know it takes a village.

On a personal level I tend to admire a kind of character that is brave and unafraid to a point where they have nothing to prove because that’s how they want to live. To me it’s not an identity thing but just a force of one’s will. We admire these people in books, movies, cartoons, anime, etc all the time and they teach us to not be afraid and question “authority.”

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

There’s some groups I want to raise up. Starting with Transcendence Cabaret, I had the sweetest time working with them last year for the Translate event and it was the most diverse lineup I’ve seen. S/O to our visuals designer @moqui._  and GoGos with @decadancemn, @iam.veo, @mouthfulofchia, Viv, and Trè Da Marc “The Chocolate Drop That Won’t Stop. S/O to @jayceelives and her Jumpsuit & Cyber City Disco parties. She books diverse talent mostly and centers trans well-being at her events. I took a steamy couple’s Valentine’s Slay heels class last Wednesday at @theoworkroom.mn that was awesome and I admire the positivity I experienced there. Next week I am going to see close friends perform at the Rose Academy of Burlesque at The Pourhouse 02.25 and looking forward to seeing some up in comers!

Christina Action Jackson

February 20, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

Hi, my name is Christina Jackson, also known as Christina action Jackson. I’ve been in the Twin Cities drag scene for 17 years now.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black excellence to me is seeing other POC artists succeeding and expressing themselves, while giving the opportunity to showcase their talent. Also coming together and supporting each other is also very important when it comes to black excellence.

In my 17 years of being an entertainer, I have been blessed to be a show Director and MC. I’ve used my platform when I could to get and provide opportunities to other POC entertainers are some of the barriers I broke down. I was also part of the longest running All black cast show which was ran by Big Tim called Elegance. I was also the MC. Some of the barriers that I’m still facing is that people forget that I am black that I am biracial and my blackness is constantly dismissed so I’m constantly trying to prove myself to everyone that I’m still here.

What does showmanship mean to you?

Showmanship to me means, uplifting other entertainers that are POC as well as going out and supporting them and their triumphs and in the wins when they’re getting titles or having their own shows.  Going out and supporting them and make sure your presence is known and I’ve been doing it since I’ve been fighting a stroke for the past two years. I still try to get out as much as I can to show the community. I’m still here, you still have my love and you still have my support.

Photo By Christina Jackson

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

Me evolving as an artist I invested in my craft if I couldn’t find a way to do it I did one thing that was expressed to me by my sister Azalia Selena Cruz out of every show you do if you just take five dollars of your tips set that off to the side for each show before you know it, you saved up enough for a new outfit, for more make up, something to reinvent your image and your craft.

Some of the milestones that I’ve hit in my career; I put in the work, keeping my rule when  somebody says no you can’t you get up and show them yes you can, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 17 years. I’ve been blessed to be part of a cast with my sister Azalia Selena Cruz in Cantina in the Mall of America. We were the first ever drag show in the Mall of America. I’ve been able to start shows in Duluth Superior as well as Somerset Wisconsin. I was Show Director of bars that had come and gone now unfortunately from Over the Rainbow to Kohl’s to Gladius to Maddie’s on Main, and the hard work that I put in, had brought me all over the country, helping other entertainers compete in nationals for national titles.

One thing I always remember is my humble beginnings. I always remember where I started and where I am now.

With being humble, I never expected to get bookings for anything. I never threw a temper tantrum whenever I wasn’t included. I didn't act like I was owed anything.

I also use my platform as a Show Director to help start the careers and support other POC entertainers.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be?

My one number that I would choose that would signify my legacy is Christina Aguilera “Fighter” because that song has a lot of meaning to me because I fought so hard for 17 years to get to where I am and I fought so hard to recover from the stroke and still I’m here still fighting and I get to use my weapons on stage.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

I will still continue to support my community. The thing that I’ve been working on by myself behind the shadows is I want to hold the first ever Twin Cities drag awards. Hopefully I get to make that happen. As far as performance wise I want to get more comfortable singing live.

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

A dream number for me if money was no object is I would always want to recreate the opening to the old 1990s X-Men cartoon series with entertainers dressed as all the X-Men characters, me being Storm and so on.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

I have a very large group of chosen family. I’ll say my most treasured are my sister Azaila Selena Cruz and my sister Aurora Veil as well my sister Mary Brewster. And the rest of my drag family, as well as a whole Rainbow community in the Twin Cities, came together with My Baby DJ Richie Rich put together two fundraisers for me while I was in the hospital and I couldn’t leave to raise money for me to help me for when I was able to get out from my stroke.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to? 

I learned from some of the best legends and icons in the Twin Cities drag scene, such as my drag mother Tinea, CeCe Russell, Shamika Dupri, Ashely Brown, Shia Vaughn, Genevee Love, Monica West, Nina D’Angelo, Mary Brewster, Geneva Janet Richard, Dee Richards, and Azalia Selena Cruz. I hope to live up to the standard of showing excellence, humility, benevolence, and nothing but love and support because like I always say #AllAboutLove.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Me, personally I don’t think the Twin Cities is an embarrassment because I took advantage of every opportunity that I had to get myself seen to make my presence known. I earned my lashes. I know the younger generation look at me like I’m boomer talking, but that’s the truth. Nobody owed me anything, nothing was just handed to me because of the color of my skin. I do feel there are a lot of shows that do include POC entertainers. Transcendence Cabaret, Wonderland the opportunities are there is just a matter of people wanting to put in the work to do it. In my personal opinion I know others may not agree, but I didn’t get as far as I did in 17 years and earned the reputation I have just sitting around, waiting for somebody to hand something to me. I earned what was given to me and I was blessed to have.

Blackberry

February 20, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

My name is Kiki! I love to smile and spread joy! I love movies, music, traveling, and fashion. I try to see the best in everyone and love to give hugs and encourage people. I have been through a lot but it has made me a better, stronger, caring person.

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

It defines me by the fact I choose to educate myself and rise above hate. I love everyone no matter the race or color. I’m constantly in the community encouraging and uplifting people especially the queer youth they need someone to look up to. My speech is eloquent and I carry myself in all my black dignity. Some of my closest friends are politicians, business owners, and change makers because they see the excellence in me .

What does showmanship mean to you?

It means performing at your best! I take pride in what I do. From the way I sing to the way I dress, to how my energy feels on that stage. I want the crowd to understand that my soul/heart are being laid out for them to see.

Photo By shotmyami

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I honestly never thought I would have the opportunity to be a crooner. I used to sing at church, and when that was taken for me for being queer, I went to the show if it wasn’t for a drag king, seeing me in the audience and feeling my energy I wouldn’t even be on the stage today. Singing has gotten me through so much depression sadness brokenness it makes me believe and dream that I can be anything. I will say the biggest milestones were performing at the Black Hart then at Phoenix theater with Trans-late, and most recently at the Mr. Black pride pageant.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be?

I would say that would be the first time I performed with Transcendence Cabaret. I never thought a troupe would accept me as I am. I'm not your usual “ drag king”. I  don’t wear make up. I just come out as myself and love, and Jeong happened to see that in me and accepted  me performing Nice and Slow that night was everything! 

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

Well, one of my dreams was actually to perform for a Black History Month and I’ve done that twice so that’s been pretty incredible! I would love to get my music out there more my voice to get more opportunities to sing with people and collaborate with drag queens. As far as my community I want to keep going out there as a black queer person of color and letting my people know it’s going to be OK. I definitely plan to do more activism and speaking engagements.

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I would love to perform live on stage with Bruno Mars, Usher and Justin Timberlake. I wanted to be a Casanova per se lol! And those three are my idols.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

I can honestly say that my blood family we have been estranged since 2019, but even before that things were rough, I really felt alone until I finally embraced the fact I was a lesbian and came out, and that I also embraced the fact that I had trauma and then I was hurting and then I needed love. And because I was that vulnerable I have surrounded myself with the most exceptional, chosen family anyone could ask for they have been there for me through Doctor appointments, suicide attempts, break ups and I’ve shined. I didn’t know chosen family could be this wonderful or that I would prefer them over my blood family. I think the biggest moment for me was when I first premiered as a drag king in October 2023 at the Black Hart my entire chosen family showed up. It was epic.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to? 

My first mentor would be my chosen mom, Lisa. She was proud to be a lesbian to be living free out in the open. She showed me what real love was and how to be patient and kind to myself. I’m so lucky to have her and her amazing wife Debbie. My second mentor would be Amada Marquez Simula . We share a lot of the same pains and struggles from our childhood and to see how far she’s come being a mayor of a city and working so hard in the community but still being able to be human and understand real people, real problems, I can’t imagine anyone greater in my life. And my third mentor is Jackie Golob . She is an amazing sex therapist and puts self-care above everything else. She taught me how to love myself, to take time to get massages, facials, take myself out to dinner, meditate etc. She is such a bad ass and I’m honored to have her in my life.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

This is an excellent question so far the only show I’ve seen that honors people of color is Transcendence Cabaret. I actually almost decided to retire from drag because I’ve tried so hard to get my foot in so many doors but it’s really a popularity contest, which is super sad I’m not trying to upstage anyone. I just want to have fun too and celebrate my craft but it’s very hard out here, I would like to give a special shout out to Honesty Jackson and Moe Russell, these two queens showed me what black drag can truly be I’m honored to be in their presence.

Atlas O Phoenix

February 19, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

My name is Atlas O Phoenix, and I am an artist and auteur. I have lived in Minneapolis for nearly 33 years, having moved here at the age of 20 to attend Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Unfortunately, after a year, I was unable to afford to continue my studies. However, with the advent of digital filmmaking in the mid 90s, I began creating work in 2000 after receiving the Jerome Foundation’s Media Arts Grant. Since 2017, I have been a generative artist, engaging in various creative activities such as writing, producing films and stage readings of my scripts, directing, acting for the stage, and performing as a drag artist in Dykes Do Drag from 2017 to 2020. I have written, produced, directed, and edited three multi-award-winning short films and recently received the Coup de Coeur award in France for my film short, Ordinary. It also received an award for Best International Documentary in a queer film festival in India. My work has been showcased nationally and internationally, including at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. I reside in south Minneapolis with my cat, S’mores. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Honestly, I don’t really think about it much. It rarely occurs to me. I am not unaware of what is happening. The films I have made of myself in black and white serve a purpose: I am decolonizing myself. I have never believed that I couldn't achieve something due to another person's inferiority complex that fuels their superiority complex. What others think of me or say about me is not my concern. Recently, I experienced racism, melanophobia, and trans hate within my intersecting communities, where I was verbally and emotionally abused by multiple people in the QTIPOC community, and my website was hacked by a former friend, a white trans woman. The problem, in my opinion, is not limited to white people or black people. It is about brokenhearted people who lack self-compassion, self-love, and patience to become a better version of themselves. The only reason white supremacy, male chauvinism, sexism - whether from a cisgendered male or trans-masculine person, and racism exist is because we give it power by validating it as something to fear. Fear is false evidence appearing real. There are no limits. These things are porous and can therefore be destroyed by ignoring them and taking our power back, like the last scene in 'V for Vendetta' where everyone laughs at the news. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I am not giving my power away to anyone. And I have always had exactly what I needed and wanted. At the end of the day, it is not important to say I "am" something. I "be." I just be me, for better or worse. Melanophobia is something I coined to explain what is actually happening; It is the fear of skin color. There is only one race: the human race. Therefore, racism is one human dividing the world of another human being by using melanophobia, transphobia, etc., to break the spirit of that which they fear. The fear is internalized within our intersecting communities. Ultimately, people fear their ability to be successful. Marianne Williamson said that we don't fear that we can be powerful but that we fear the power we have. Stepping into our power means cutting loose the things, places, people, and behaviors that no longer serve us. Stepping into our power is stepping into our individuality. This is where our freedom comes from. My freedom is in my mind. It’s from this wellspring that everything about me unfolds, and I can have the destiny I manifest.

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

This is a long, but the real evolution started with two years, 2020-2022 of intense therapy modalities: Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, AIR Network Therapy, and finally EMDR. This challenging, habit-based work is how I became who I am; my true self. My mental health disorders including Bipolar disorder, schizo-affective disorder, chronic anxiety and depression are in remission and I am being taken off my medication. All this has helped me create some of the most powerful and beautiful art I’ve ever made. I look forward to the future of my work.

Photo By Atlas O Phoenix

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

Currently, I am the recipient of five grants for the production of my experimental feature-length documentary, Beautiful Boi. This film chronicles the transition of my body at the age of 50 and my mental health journey spanning nearly forty years. This film is for those who relate or want to be educated on a subject they are curious about. Additionally, I am in the process of developing the next iteration of the wellness event, Trans-Late!. Stay tuned for more updates!

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

I don't believe in icons; that's a quick way to give away my power. Recording artist Me'Shell Ndegeocello once remarked that at the beginning of her career, she thought she knew everything, and what was worse, she said, is that she believed other people knew better than she did. 

We give our energy and power away to people, and in doing so, we rescind our own intuition to please these mentors and the invisible relationships with "icons". Some of my past mentors have been deeply damaging to my life and work. This usually happens when you're able to stand in your power, which feels threatening to their ego. A perfect example is Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Unhealthy mentorships can quickly turn into abusive situations. Unfortunately, due to these people’s public image in the community, we are left with no way to call them out for their egregious behavior, and therefore it is never addressed, allowing the abuse to continue. No one wants to deal with conflict and nobody wants to rock the boat because their livelihood is affected. 

My true mentors, young and older, are kind, humble people who inspire me to stay connected with my intuition. I don't know everything, and that's the point. The point with art and life is to stay curious and adapt.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Truth? Everyone is sleeping on Transcendence Cabaret. Point blank. All it took was one look at a poster of this troupe to understand that they were serious about their craft. I crave entertainment and provocation, not just tokenism based on shared identities. That's why I enlisted this troupe for the sold-out event, Trans-LATE! last February 2023. There would be no TL! without TC. I am currently waiting to hear about a grant, and my aspiration is to bring back this wellness event this summer for Pride, and next year for Valentine's Day.

Ashley Scott: Dragon

February 19, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

Hello, I'm Ashley Scott also known as Dragon.  I'm a retired disabled Army Veteran, I served in Iraq and served during "Don't ask, Don't tell".  I am one of many community leaders. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

Black is Excellence when we hold ourselves to our full potential, when we are allowed.  Black folx have lead the world in many firsts if you know your history.  Does it define me knowing that I hail from great rulers, inventors, leaders and more?  Yes, because I know where I come from. I have been looked at differently since I was born because of the color of my skin. I've had to grow up faster, act a certain way, taken the high road when not at fault, and hold my tongue because I'm seen as less than. I have shown up and showed out, breaking many barriers and creating safe spaces for those like me that need them.

Photo of Haughty Hazelnut by Oliphant Portraits
What does showmanship mean to you

Truthfully I think it's a happy good ole boy dance used to sale or sway people, but when used right it can be used to educate, inform and reach people's hearts, souls, their cores and for me it's a mighty weapon that allows me to let another walk in my shoes, feel my sadness, worries, fears and understand my life . 

Photo By Ryan Coit

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

My art started as drawing and model making in childhood, expanding to debate, speech, band, and theater which I took into my first year of College adding choir. In the military I used my acting while serving during "Don't ask, Don't tell" it was hard wearing so many masks yet not having a face of your own. Drag... I first saw it at the Gay 90's in the late 90's early 2000's. The 24 K (karat) kings were the Drag King troupe, I loved them, they helped set in motion the paths in life my journeys would take. Anyways I first performed in 2009 as a way to help my PTSD, anxiety and being an introvert. I Won my first pageant that same year and ran many more allowing me to compete at a national level many times.  This gave me great knowledge allowing me to learn many many new ways to perform and use my performance not just for Myself but for others.  

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

It would be the performance I used as my talent the year I won Mr. Twin Cities Leather 2020, it was a Drag performance lip syncing to "Learn to Love '' by Tituss Burgess. This number allowed me to speak about Body Positivity, Transgender issues, Military and LGBTQ+, Leather and Kink and the struggle to find, Be and LOVE YOURSELF.

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

This year I have the privilege to be Mr. Trans Minnesota 2024 for the second year in a row. I get to hold this title with an amazing Miss and first ever Mx who is just as wonderful.  I/We hope to make space and a difference in the Community, but most importantly I wish to Show Up, Show Out and be there for anyone who needs someone, granted I have the Spoons ;)

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I've Always wanted a working transformation chamber, you know like the one Steve Urkel used to turn into the Suave Stefan Urkel.  I think it would be fun as I always think Myself and my drag persona are much like Steve and Stefan.

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

My main family is my Girlfriend Foxx, Boyfriend Britt, Little Boy Ace and little brat Killian. I have a big loving extended family in the leather and kink Community, Twin Cities Leather, within my home bar The Saloon, Twin Cities Spectrum, Twin Cities T-Rexx  and the many other spaces of the community I touch. The One time thus far I will always re!member is when I won Mr. Twin Cities Leather, the deafening roar of the Community and how my family rushed the stage. It took me 3 decades and some years to find and experience that kind of support. It was a full circle moment for me.   

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

As one of the few Black students in my elementary school I got to talk to this young gentleman who referred to me as a future leader. This was 3rd grade. I met him again in 5th grade and when I made it to middle school he always checked in. His name is Mr. Hamilton E. Bell, he was dean of students. He never let us BI&POC students slack off because we were future leaders. Through him I learned Earth, Wind, and Fire , honor, respect and how to navigate while  knowing what I look like and what people think of that. He was a dad for me and many others. I wish I had kept in contact. I hope I've made him proud.

Two people who unfortunately passed away in my late teens early 20s are my Gamma and my Auntie Janet, both of whom Always saw me, Even before I knew myself. I know I made them proud.

Lastly, my PopPop who passed away last Christmas. Thankfully I was able to see him the November before and he told me how proud he was of me. He was big in his Community, and advocated for a lot. I got my sense of service from him. 

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Transcendence Cabaret is One of the most inclusive Shows I know. 

The  Saloon has opened up to get more diversity, shows fighting body positivity, different styles of drag and holding space for new performers.

One performer I always love to see is a OG, one I've known for years Andre 1000

Another that is always running and everywhere, even my sister's kids have seen her perform a few times and Community events is Megan the Maneater, my drag granddaughter

Amir Odyssey Kinara

February 19, 2024

First, if you were to introduce yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you tell them about yourself? 

I would simply say "Hi, my name is Amir Odyssey Kinara. I'm a performance artist based out of Minnesota." Yes, that's all they need to know about me. 

Next, speaking of Black Excellence, how does that define you and what you do, your goals, and the barriers you’ve broken through or are still facing in this white supremacist society?

To give better con(tact/exts). I'm living my life through my personal experience(s) knowing the history that is behind me as well. I'm using my time to share the stories and moments that I {saw/experienced} now. The excellence is always there. It's the drive, the creativity, the intent behind each performance. This includes being supportive of fellow performers onstage, backstage, as well as Behind a screen/keyboard. Issues and drama have a way of unintentionally showing up. Those moments are when excellence shines through. While things aren't always fair/equitable, the intent is what always shows up. Keeps people from hiding behind the masks/cloaks, especially when no one needs to[hide] to be their most authentic self. 

Photo of Haughty Hazelnut by Oliphant Portraits
What does showmanship mean to you?
Showmanship to me means that if you're going to give yourself a (person/a), if you're going to make a face for yourself : to remind yourself of who you want to be :, then it also means that you should want to [emulate] those things that you're already seeing yourself doing{in the future @}right now. When your intent truly shows on what you want to do, that will always be part of your characteristics. Nothing plays chance to anything. Instead, we focus on what it means for us to involve ourselves in our current daily life and are intent is what makes it worth everything that we're doing. It's a way for all of us to find our own joy. Understand our sadness, "acknowledge o(ur) defeats or flaws "as people say; and then move on to shine brightly like we all should. glitter's not the only thing that shines...
The showmanship comes in when you can take your persona, your emulations, and your creativity and use it to connect with your performance/entertainment style.

Photo By ClockworkSteve

How did you evolve as an artist? Tell us a bit about your beginnings and the milestones in your performance career?

I started performing as a stripper in 2016. After the first few months, I got to learn about burlesque and how beneficial it was to create a story that was meaningful. Each year I focus on adding another aspect to my performances. This eventually brought me into the worlds of pole dance, Belly Dance, and Circus with the Trapeze being my first(and Favorite) apparatus. When I finally moved to Minnesota in 2018, I joined Queer Circus and have been growing my skills since. During 2021/22, I took more time to focus on my personal dance style and movement. And my performances have truly benefitted.

If you were to choose one number, one act that would be your legacy, what would that be

That act has to be one that I can always go back to, to be memorable? I haven't done that yet. There's still so much to learn, and there's only a small amount that I've gotten to learn about... This is a powerful question for me. The reason why is because the number that I truly want to see, is the one that I haven't done. Anytime that people see me perform, we all are experiencing that performance, that moment, that number, that time together. And you will either want me to succeed, want me to fail, or want to take a smoke break during my performances. Not all stories take centuries. And not all novels take days. But the legacy I want to leave is simply for being a great entertainer who also used their knowledge to educate on health and wellness. 

In this upcoming year, thinking upon your goals and dreams, what are some of the ideas you have and what do you want to do in your communities?

Dance is my passion and having a platform or space to do that is lovely. One of my production goals is a Belly Dance festival(Workshops included), A Freestyle Dance based competition (to support reading, the arts, music). As far as performance goals; build up my health to perform more often, as well as have enough funds/networking for a performance tour.

If money were no object, what has been a dream number you would put together?

I'd put on a show tour. Solo performance time of 1 hour, collaborating with other performers(duo/group) that way I can use all of my skills to create a storybook show

Family means a lot and family can also be complicated. Our biggest support systems can be chosen family when family of origin is not there for us. Who is family to you and what is the most treasured support you’ve received?

Family comes in many forms. Having people who support your dreams and goals, even when long distance means more than I could ask for. I even have parental support which seemed like a pipedream at first. I have you all to thank for wanting to see me succeed, especially cause the most treasured support is the support I'm getting already.

Who are some of the icons or mentors in your life who have shown you the way, who have admired, and whose examples you wish to live up to?

People who inspired, motivated, supported, mentored(long list, not everyone.):

Devon Ayers, Ray Gunn, Jojo Ventus, J.Legras, Lakota Shekhar, Brian Bose, Teddy Martin, Genevee Love, Rustina Phoenix Nuttz, Bella Sin, Sabrina Caprice Heart, Tito Bonito, Riley Poppy, Pandora Foxx, Roxy Von Teddy, Moe Russell, Ariesfirebomb, TimisaRocker, Alexander Cameron, Lala Luzious, Athena(Belly Dance), Zhané Dawlingz, Co-co Nostal'Jah, P No Noire, Samson Night, Trè De Marc, Anisa Love, Jé Hooper, DJ Larry Peace, Zon Legacy Phoenix, Allurem Velvit, Sym-1, and last but not least, myself. While influences can be many, I still focus on Having my own lens.

Lastly, the Twin Cities is an embarrassment of Black talent in burlesque, drag, and all performance art. Who are we sleeping on who should be recognized? Which shows do y’all recognize as ones who truly show inclusivity, diversity, and a commitment to centering Black and Indigenous and People of Colour entertainers?

Let's be real, there are plenty of shows that haven't been getting the marketing feedback they need. Drama or not. Twin Cities isn't the only place seeing these issues either. And as far as who should be recognized? My list is only a small fraction of people that aren't getting their accolades that they deserve. Besides Transcendence Cabaret, Bawdy Downe, Trè 's Juneteenth Jubilee, Melanated Menagerie, B and M Entertainment and a few others, the rest of the shows aren't getting the reach they should. How do we change that? Maybe a producers Forum?

Put on your good church hat, bring a shawl and put on your Sunday best for Soulful Sunday!!

February 14, 2024

Come on out February 18th at 8pm for the revival of the year! The cast of Black Ass Friday is going to give a full baptism of some of the iconic legends in Gospel. Join Rustina Phoenix Nuttz and Shara Phoenix Baptiste as they minister to you a night of love, praise and fellowship! 

With cast members: Ashley Brown, Moe Shia Vaughn, Kamaree Williams and Andre 1000!

Come on and get SWALLOWED by the spirit and have a great time!

Roots and Routes Minneapolis: An Asian Artistic Expoloration of Identity and Heritage.

January 17, 2024

It is I, back again with a very special edition of my column. I am so pleased to interview these two powerhouse Asian people who will be putting on a very special event that highlights our Asian diaspora here in Minneapolis! Of course, as a fellow Asian, I had to get all the (pardon the pun) piping hot tea!

Here’s my interview with both Maria and Julia. It has been lightly edited for grammar but otherwise, everything is in their own words.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions! First of all, where did you get the inspiration for an all Asian extravaganza like this?

Maria: Immigrants, they are the backbone of this country, and they are the least recognized but more often blamed and hated by many. When COVID-19 happened, Asian businesses were slowly closing down because of the economic crisis and Asian Hate. I lived in Minneapolis for 5 years and there are only a few shows, events and representation in the city. I realized It's time for tremendous change by breaking the barriers and putting an end to stereotyping Asians. On my last visit in Minneapolis I had a dinner with Chef Tammy Wong (Owner of Rainbow Chinese Restaurant) and we talked about how local businesses are struggling. Eat Street is one of the go-to places to dine, but after everything that happened in Minneapolis, it is not the same anymore. You can see the big difference between businesses before and now. That's why right away I messaged Julia Starr about what I've seen, heard, and felt about this community, and discussed starting Roots and Routes Minneapolis by bringing all my Asian and Pacific Island brothers and sisters together and celebrating our culture and diversity. 

What can we expect at this show?

Maria: GOOD FOOD, GOOD PEOPLE, and PURE ASIAN TALENT & ARTISTRY! 

Julia: A taste of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) culture in many aspects! With AAPI live performances , designers, singers, queer artists, and Amazing food! I like to say we are hitting all 5 senses of an experience!

Tell us more about the venue and the food!

Maria:  We are partnering with Hewing Hotel; thanks to Michelle Havens for giving us the safe space to use. We have  2 food vendors and one of them is me! I'm doing a South East Asian Menu for everyone. 

What entertainment will we see?

Maria: We have local singers Jea Espino and Ram Santos, Dj Chico Chi, and the main entertainment is the local Drag/Entertainers.

It is wonderful to see all of these Asian artists! How did you wrangle them all into this one event?

Maria: Our connections; the Asian Community is small. Everyone knows each other. 🤣

Julia: Honestly Maria knows many of the food industry’s best Asian cuisines and I provided the AAPI talent!

What would you like people to take away from this?

Maria: We seek to foster understanding, support, raise awareness, and promote a more inclusive society. And to Empower, Honor and Celebrate the diversity of AAPI cultures and tradition.

Julia: An experience like no other! A gathering where people can come together and enjoy food, culture, and queer art. 

What is your favourite Asian comfort food and will it be at this show?

Maria: LUMPIA (Filipino Egg Rolls), it is the star of the party! Yes, it will be at the event with other of your favorite asian food.

Julia: Omg Lumpia ….. Maria made me some last month and every time she cooks for me it puts a tear in my eyes, cause it reminds me of home in the Philippines.

What of your culture do you want highlighted at this show?

Maria: FAMILY (by blood or chosen family), is the most important in Asian Culture, it is the major source of their identity. BAYANIHAN, a Filipino word, means the spirit and drive of a community to help individuals in need.

If we wanted to book any of you, how would we go about doing that?

Julia: You can always message us at; mlfbulaon@yahoo.com, https://www.instagram.com/rootsandroutesmpls?igsh=Y3F4YzhtcWg5Y20w, or Julia Starr Instagram @julia_starr__ 

We are currently working with Hewing Hotel to make Roots and Routes a seasonal event. However we encourage show producers and bar managers to book and hire all the talented entertainers that will be involved with the event 

And finally, representation is so important in this White dominant society. What type of representation do you want us to see at this and future shows?

Maria: Solidarity, that we stand together as one and help each other to make a safe space and make more opportunities for the Asian Community.

Thank you so much and the best of success to your show! I hope to see more shows in the future! 

Behold the Queens: Black Burlesque Show Producers

February 15, 2023

So y’all thought I was gone for good. Ah, sweet summer child.

It’s been a minute but I couldn’t resist interviewing not one but TWO dynamos in our burlesque
community.

And, because this is February and it’s Black History month, we gonna do some
acknowledgment of our Black producers who are working hard to bring you the cream of the
crop.

I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing these two Black women and let me tell you. I
sent them the exact same questions and I knew, KNEW that they would each show their
individual creativity, knowledge, and no bullshit attitudes.

Was I right? Of course I was.

I didn’t change a thing in the interviews. Lightly edited for any spelling or grammar but other
than that? They can speak for their damn selves.

Keke Boudreaux and Haughty Hazelnut are in the house. Pause a minute, drink your fill of their
gorgeousness photos, and read what they have to say.

Photo of Haughty Hazelnut by Oliphant Portraits

KEKE BOUDREAUX
Photo by Grinkie Girls Photography

Let’s start with the basics! Tell us a little about yourself. I know we all have to submit bios so if you want to start there, what bio info would you like us to know about you? 

Producer and director of The Bawdy Downe. Cast member of Black Hearts Burlesque, Capital City Cabaret, Queerdo, Vendetta Vixens, and Ballentines Burlesque. She got her launch as the Nudie Nubies Ultimate Reveal 6 winner and is now the local luminary of fine and flirty feathered goods, Keke’s Suds Soaps and Keke’s Sips Simple Syrups under the label ApätheKekē. The Bayou Bonnaroo!

Your name is lovely! What is the backstory and inspiration?
Well I grew up being called Keke Boudreaux was actually the name my dad was given at birth.
He was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But some family stuff happened. Long story short he
changed it. Like really bro. Lol. My real last name could have been Boudreaux. That would have
been FIRE. So I reclaimed it.

What thrills you about being on stage?
The crowd interaction. I love when they feel it. I love when I can feel them feelin it. Feel me? Lol.

What is the most challenging part of burlesque for you?
Getting venues to not censor AFAB bodies. Still a huge problem today. There’s some real
antiquated laws out there made by ancient irrelevant white men.

What influences your style? Who do you emulate (if anyone) when you create your
numbers?
Of course Josephine Baker. The OG Black burlesque dancer. I want a tattoo of her in her classic
banana skirt walking her cheetah.

When it comes to representation and tokenism, what is your idea of what representation should look like in our artistic communities?
Equitable hiring. Black and POC have to be twice as good to get regular gigs while Sally Jane
with a pretty face can be alright and get the same.

If you were to point out what tokenism is in our artistic communities, what have you seen
or experienced?
I noticed some tokenism. I recall a new poc moving to town and my gigs with a certain group
dropped and they were on. Is it coincidence or is it their new diversity hire? I honestly don’t
know, but it is something you think about. You could have both of us. But as a whole, I think
burlesque in the twin cities does well in casting.

And, with representation, Black artists are often not given their due. With your show,
what is most important for you to not only center your Black artists but also to provide
for them and other Black artists in our communities?
I want MORE. OUTREACH. There’s not many of us. I want more black bodies on the stages.
We gotta let them know this is a thing you can do. But how accessible is it? That’s another thing
to think about.

What draws you to producing a show or event?
I love the planning. The casting. I love curating a vibe. I want my cast and the audience to have
an experience they enjoy and can’t wait for more. Making coin doesn’t hurt either.

And finally, tell us what you are most excited about your show. What do you want us,
your audience, to walk away with after watching your amazing event?
I want them to rejoice in these bodies that we’ve allowed them to see. Then I want them to
rejoice in their own. Cuz these meat bags are amazing. No matter what size, shape, what they
been through etc etc. They shouldn’t be censored, hidden away. You’re sexy.

Thank you so so much!!! Your show is going to be super fantastic! Break a lash and
some hearts and get that well deserved coin! <3
Kisses!

instagram.com/keke.boudreaux

Photo of Haughty Hazelnut by Oliphant Portraits

HAUGHTY HAZELNUT
Photo by Oliphant Portraits

Let’s start with the basics! Tell us a little about yourself. I know we all have to submit bios so if you want to start there, what bio info would you like us to know about you?

Classically focused with a Rock n’ Roll twist, Haughty Hazelnut is a Twin Cities based burlesque performer. Officially a traveling show girl, Haughty is back from Seattle and basking in the glory of the inaugural Fatlesque Fest NW produced by Mx. Pucks A’Plenty, and is excited to perform more in MN and beyond in 2023! Haughty was a local runner-up at 2022’s Nudie Nubies Nationwide, and is a now a new producer in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. When she’s not making the room shine, you can catch her hanging at the Rabbit Hole, The Rose Academy, or with the Sweet Heat Honnies. You can find more about what she’s up to and how you can get in touch with her at haughtyhazelnut.com.

Your name is lovely! What is the backstory and inspiration?
I feel like I got really lucky actually! A friend and I used to frequent Uncommon Grounds in
Uptown a lot and my signature drink was was a Dirty Hazelnut Chai. (I still drink these
religiously. lol) We were flirting with the barista and they called me a dirty little hazelnut, and
Haughty Hazelnut was born! About a year and a half later I was taking classes at the Twin Cities
Burlesque Academy and we had to pick out names as part of their level one program. I was
inspired by the Uncommon Grounds incident and spent hours combing through every name in the Red Hot Annie’s Name Directory when it was still live (RIP), along with every social media
platform I could find to make sure it was free. Haughty Hazelnut was the only name I every tried
to come up with and it feels like it was meant to be.

What thrills you about being on stage?
I think the most exciting part about being on stage is the fact that I’m a Black, plus-size body
that for many reasons, never thought I’d get the chance to be on stage at all. It’s such a joy to
be able to connect with people on an authentic level while expressing myself through the
artforms I love. I am so grateful for this chapter of my life. Being on stage has been a proving
ground for and to myself, and everytime I take a stage it gives me more information about what I’m capable of.

What is the most challenging part of burlesque for you?
I’m trying really hard right now to not pay attention to the background noise. I think any part of
performing culture comes with a certain degree of feedback and commentary. Growing up I had a lot of experiences dealing with others commenting on my body and physical features, so putting myself in a position to be judged and critiqued on a regular basis has been a struggle. And while the thought of people perceiving me GIVES ME GREAT ANXIETY, it has also given me a lot of opportunity to keep my eyes on my own paper and try to just do the work. This has also been a good lesson for my non-burlesque life! I am a recovering perfectionist, and I think I’ll always be my worst critic. Burlesque has given me the opportunity to show up and build something for myself that I love and am proud of, with the reminder that everything is always evolving. I still feel very new in a lot of ways, and it’s a constant reminder that consistency and growth are actually the goals that get you to longevity. Showing up as authentic and at all, vs. perfect, is definitely a focus right now.

What influences your style? Who do you emulate (if anyone) when you create your
numbers?
I love a classic costume! I really create all my acts from the music first, and then figure out what kind of costume pieces I want to feature from there. I don’t think I’m very comical or gimmicky, but I’m excited to expand my repertoire of acts and styles as I continue to grow!

We have so many wonderful performers and teachers here in Minnesota, I'm lucky to be able to work and create with many of them. I could shout out a lot of people, but I’ll forever be grateful to be in a place with so many resources for this art. I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I am without Nudie Nubies, The Twin Cities Burlesque Academy, or The Rose Academy of
Burlesque. I’m not sure I have any one person who has been a “signature” influence, but I have
a burlesque playlist I’ve been building for years at this point, and there is a song on there for
every person I’ve worked or taken a class with.

When it comes to representation and tokenism, what is your idea of what representation
should look like in our artistic communities?
I’ll start with saying that my voice is not a monolith for all BIPOC voices, and that there are many ways to be marginalized. I’ve worked in a lot of arts,entertainment, and non-profit spaces both inside and outside of burlesque, and representation to me looks like making sure the art/message reflects the audiences you’re serving. There’s a lot of conversation about
diversifying audiences here in Minnesota, but that starts with the acts, the performers, and the
stories you’re casting and putting in your spaces.

If you were to point out what tokenism is in our artistic communities, what have you seen
or experienced?
The Oxford definition of Tokenism is: the practice of making only a perfunctory or symbolic effort to do a particular thing, especially by recruiting a small number of people from underrepresented groups in order to give the appearance of sexual or racial equality within a workforce. BIPOC, Queer, and Fat bodies are almost never given the spotlight as a headlining feature, and we quite often see only one person representing these categories in a show. Let alone many of them together. If you’re only seeing one person in a cast of many that is of a marginalized group, ask yourself why that is? Is that actually representational to the city or community you live in? Are they making a spectacle or showcasing someone for their differences instead of their talent? I know I have often been the only Black or Fat body cast in a show, and there are many of us. Coming home from Fatlesque Fest NW in Seattle this year where everyone was a Fat body, and how GOOD it felt to be among company where I wasn’t an outsider in size or in color, really put things into perspective for me. Only casting one different body in an all white/thin cast inherently reduces our ability to get stage time on a regular basis, which prevents us from being able to grow as performers. There are spaces here in MN that I’ve seen do a phenomenal job countering these scenarios, like The Rose Academy, Petty Treason Productions and TC Cabaret. I would love to see more thought from spaces and producers on casting a wider variety of humans as shows begin to pick up again.

And, with representation, Black artists are often not given their due. With your show,
what is most important for you to not only center your Black artists but also to provide
for them and other Black artists in our communities?
I firmly believe that representation should always be a focus in every arena. Giving space to
Black voices and Black artists is important because we have just as much to say and just as
much art to share as anyone else, while often not having the same opportunities to participate
as white and strait sized entertainers. From the lens of living and growing up here in the
Midwest, I think there is this wrong assumption that Black and Brown people are this small,
small percentage of the majority - but it’s not true, and it’s only continuing to be more diverse.
And I will add that it’s especially not true in our art spaces. Black artists across the board from
rock n’ roll to burlesque have been pioneering influences, and often have to work much harder to get a fraction of the exposure while having their art erased or stolen from them. If I have the
chance to create an event that gives more room for Black and marginalized voices to shine, I
will do so.

What draws you to producing a show or event?
I love creating concepts from scratch. I don’t have a traditional theater background but I’ve
worked in my fair share of venues, and used to review a lot of shows/do booking on the side.
Before I was ever a burlesque performer I was an event production and marketing manager
around town, and bringing those skills into this world has been both very validating and a lot of
fun! I’m also very passionate about activating cultural spaces in new ways. Producing has
started to give me a chance to bring all my worlds together.

And finally, tell us what you are most excited about your show. What do you want us,
your audience, to walk away with after watching your amazing event?
Wow. There’s so much to say about this event!! I was formerly the Assistant Director of
Operations at Meritage, and the Hamm Building was where I produced my very first show back
in 2016! I always said if I were to have the opportunity to produce a live burlesque show in the
restaurant that I would do whatever I could to make it happen. I have a deep love of French
culture, good food, and of course burlesque, so when the management came to me to ask if I
would help them create a concept for the room I was all in.

Not only is this a non-traditional burlesque space, we’re also partnering with Meritage as part of their Guest Chef Series which allows us to highlight more awesome people like Chef Jametta
Raspberry in new ways. It really is very cool to be able to showcase burlesque in partnership
with a very beloved restaurant here in the Twin Cities.

Meritage en Nuit is also my first official Hazelnut Productions venture! I am very honored that
they are taking a chance on opening their space to this artform, but also to me as a producer
who wants to actively bring people and concepts into new places as both performers and as
guests.

I hope anyone in attendance at this show, whether they’re familiar or not with Meritage or
burlesque, are able to truly witness the greatness of the art we are presenting, and also walk
away feeling like they were well taken care of. Here’s to a good first run, and hopefully many
more!

Can’t wait to see everyone around town soon!

Thank you so so much!!! Your show is going to be super fantastic! Break a lash and
some hearts and get that well deserved coin! <3

Here’s some additional information about Haughty Hazelnut, too!

Meritage en Nuit is a special partnership in presentation with Meritage - St. Paul Restaurant and Hazelnut Productions that features guest chefs, and sizzling burlesque.
Hazelnut Productions is an inclusive and thrilling production company focused on highlighting
exceptional burlesque, activating new spaces, and uplifting marginalized bodies.

haughtyhazelnut.com

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