By Megan Lupo and Samantha Brandbergh
A few weeks have passed since freshman musical theater major Truman Harris performed as Hestia Hadid in Rider’s second annual Drag Race.
“I’m getting rid of these [nails] because they’re super grown out,” he said, wearing a Rider sweatshirt and gym shorts, staring at his red French manicure. “These were for fun; I usually do them short but I just wanted some color.”
Introduced to drag culture by watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and through social media, the Spokane, Washington, native first began to take an interest in performing as a drag queen in Seattle over the summer. Since then, he has gained a plethora of experience and knowledge.
“[As a minor], it’s hard to be involved in drag or even see it at all,” he said. “Because for many years, drag has been a bar or club scene.”
When Harris turned 18, he decided to make the drive from Spokane to Seattle to attend the Pride Parade in June 2017. There, he messaged a queen on Instagram, James Majesty, who ran a show called “Level Up” at the club Neighbours on Capitol Hill in Seattle. He was curious if there were shows in the city open to those 18 and up.
Equivalent to the Gayborhood in Philadelphia, according to Harris, Capitol Hill is where Harris got to see his first drag show.
One month after the trip was when Harris decided he wanted to get involved in the community, gaining skills from his background in musical theater and being a makeup artist for his high school’s drama department.
“Spokane didn’t have a large drag scene, but it did have some people who I did respect, so I reached out to a friend, Nick Branson,” Harris said. “I was wondering if he could show me the ropes of how to perform, how to get a gig, just very basic things.”
In August, Harris reached out to James once more, this time about booking a show, and Harris soon performed in his first drag show at Level Up.
“[It] was kind of a mess, to be honest,” he said, laughing. “I thought I looked amazing, but looking back I’m like, ‘This is pretty bad.’” For the show, Harris wore a long black dress, a red wig and eyebrows that “looked like they were drawn on with Sharpie.” Despite his lack of experience at the time, Harris still looks back at the memory as a positive experience.
“I didn’t know how to do my makeup right, my wig looked bad, I wasn’t padded, but I had fun and that’s what matters,” he said. Padding is a technique used by male drag queens to give the illusion of exaggerated hips and thighs.
Once the summer was over and Harris was preparing to attend Rider, he realized the overlap between “queer nightlife” and musical theater.
“I wanted to stress to friends and family that I wasn’t giving up a dream to perform on a stage, like on a professional stage for acting,” he said. “I believe that whichever one gets me the exposure that I need first is just as valuable as the other.”
Although RuPaul’s Drag Race is where his interest sparked, he said, his love of drag is rooted in the art.
“People think drag is just trying to be a woman on stage, and that’s not necessarily true,” he explained. “It’s creating a separate character, through art, to entertain people on stage. Gender [is] the medium through which you play when it comes to your art.”
Senior music major Emilio Chase, who has been performing as a drag queen for three years, complimented Harris’ performance of “Barracuda” by Heart at Rider’s Drag Race on Jan. 27.
“His looks were very polished and his aesthetic choices were really good,” he said. “His performance and song choice were really fun and unexpected.”
Harris, who said he has spent thousands of dollars on makeup, wigs and outfits for his performances, said he takes inspiration from Morticia Addams of The Addams Family, as well as styles from the ’40s and ’50s.
“He seemed to know exactly what he was doing and what he wanted to accomplish,” Chase continued. “He wasn’t afraid to offer help or ask for it when he needed it, which was refreshing to see in a young performer.”
In the meantime, Harris recommends those interested in drag, whether it be performing or attending a show, get involved in their local communities.
“If you want to expose yourself, go out to a local venue; see the shows, pay the cover, tip your queens,” Harris said. “And you’ll see some pretty cool art and pretty cool numbers as well.”
Harris’ next performance will be taking place on Feb. 25 at Tabu Lounge and Bar in Philadelphia at 7 p.m.
Published in the 2/21/18 edition.