The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.
There have been some big changes talking place in the Big Apple even though you might not have even realized it. With Bianca Del Rio winning the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she’s clearly not going to be around nearly as much, that leaves a larger than life and an obnoxious void in the city’s drag scene. Mimi Imfurst has moved on to greener pastures and a fresh start in the City of Brotherly Love. Dallas DuBois retired from drag and moved to LA, presumably after the Rockettes refused to hire her. Epiphany is spending large chunks of the year overseas and I can’t blame her even slightly for that. But even with the outgoing talent there is still a lot of established talent in the city as well. Drag Race villainess extraordinaire, Phi Phi O’Hara made the move from the Windy City to New York. Legends like Lady Bunny, Sherry Vine, Hedda Lettuce and others are still killing it. The cupboard is clearly not bare.
But now, more than ever, there are a ton of young, hungry (by hungry I mean ambitious…and, well…hungry queens out there. Most of these skinny bitches need a sandwich or three) crop of young drag talent ready to burst into stardom. As a part of this series, NewYorkNowNext, we’re going to be taking a look at some of this talent that is blooming all around the Big Apple. Ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy to talk with the delightful Sutton Lee Seymour!
Chiffon Dior: Well hello there Sutton! How are you doing today gurl?
Sutton Lee Seymour: Oh my darling Chiffon, I am enjoying the laziest day and loving every minute of it!
CD: Well this is the perfect time of the year to relax before white people start putting pumpkin into everything they eat and drink for the next two months!
SLS: …I’m on my third pumpkin latte of the day… as drag queens, we have to be one step ahead of the game… At least that’s what I’m telling myself.
CD: Well, that is very progressive of you! I guess I need to crack open my bottle of Pumpkin Absolut soon then. Okay, so first things first. You have the hands-down, absolute (no pun intended) best drag name in all of the city! I know a lot of my friends down under in Australia have embraced clever, often punny drag names but its not as big here in the States. Is there a story behind how you got your name?
SLS: I’m a big theatre geek and it’s a musical gem of a name, isn’t it? “Seymour” is my real last name and my whole life people have said I should sing “Suddenly, Seymour” as a solo… which I always joked would only work if I were a drag queen with the name “Sutton Lee Seymour.” So the idea had always been there, I simply had to find the confidence to slip into a gown, strap on some heels, beat my face and sing for my life. I also like to point out the reference to Sutton Foster (who I am a fan of) and “Lee” being a subtle reference to Gypsy Rose Lee.
CD: You really covered all your bases on this one huh?
SLS: Go big or go home, and know your shit!
CD: I think I got that in a fortune cookie last week actually. Very wise. So basically then, once you had the name, slipping into an evening gown and a pair of hooker shoes was pretty much inevitable? How did you get started as a queen?
SLS: In my boy life (or as I call him, “my evil twin”), I’m an actor, and I had the pleasure of working with Charles Busch on a musical version of “Bunnicula” for which he wrote the script. And he had been an inspiration to me since I was a teenager when I discovered his plays “Psycho Beach Party” and “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” so one day during tech rehearsals we were having a casual conversation and I was expressing my woes of having to find work again after we closed. And he said jokingly, “Try drag, it’s done wonders for me.” And though he was kidding, something sparked in me. Shortly after that, I got a hold of my pal Paige Turner who was going to be hosting her Pride Virgin Show and I quickly volunteered to perform to just see if I liked it and if an audience would like me… and I haven’t really stopped since. From there I entered So You Think You Can Drag, made a lot of new friends, and won the competition which gave me my weekly gig at New World Stages. And I’m eternally grateful to both Charles and Paige for helping ignite that spark.
CD: So we’re here to talk about how the drag scene in NYC is in a state of flux. How do you think the scene has changed in the time you’ve been around?
SLS: You know I haven’t been around very long, only a year and a few months, so I don’t have much to compare in terms of “the times.” I only have my experience and what I see are people wanting to create something special and fun for everyone, and make a few dollars along the way. New York drag is SO diverse that you can try anything, you can be anything, you can create the character that YOU want to make. Some succeed and some fail, but you have to be willing to fail in order to learn, grow, and move forward. That’s show business. And drag is a part of show business, especially nowadays. It’s NYC, people want a SHOW!
CD: With some of the bigger queens in the city moving on to new projects and phases in their careers, there is the beginning of a vacuum. Who do you think is poised to fill the void?
SLS: Me. Hahahaha… no, but really. I promise. I’m humble. Kind of. Truthfully, I am constantly inspired by Bob the Drag Queen, Crystal DeMure, Marti Gould Cummings, and Chelsea Piers, who won the Glam Award for Best Newcomer last year. Of course, Paige Turner is ALWAYS a blast. And Terra Grenade is just a stupid good time.
CD: Random bit of trivia, three of you bitches in these interviews have mentioned Bob!
SLS: When she gets on RuPaul’s Drag Race, the world will fall in love with her as much as New Yorkers have!
CD: Since you mentioned Drag Race, how do you feel about the show? Do you think it is a positive or a negative for the business?
SLS: I think it is a positive thing, no doubt about it. I hear the points made from other queens who look at it as a negative thing and how it has changed everything. But THAT’S the point! Everything changes. Fashion changes. Trends change. Hair color changes. If RPDR is not for you then don’t watch it and don’t audition for it. Everyone chooses their own path. And I choose to embrace the positivity it has brought to drag, and I support all my friends who have auditioned for it and who have been on it. Because, really, why wouldn’t you? If it can help me or any of my sisters boost our careers, then yes, I think it’s a positive thing.
CD: Fair point. I’m just always curious to see how people think about it because reactions are all over the board.
SLS: Well I get it… there’s a slew of new baby drag queens who will work for a cheaper rate. And that sucks for the girls getting let go. But they need to be mad at the venue, not RuPaul’s Drag Race.
As a new queen, I’ve always worried that people would look at me as a joke, but that’s my own insecurity. It drives me to put on the best damn show I can and to continue to learn more and more about the art of drag.
CD: What do you think your personal style of drag brings the scene that is unique?
SLS: I’m a bit of a vintage vixen, I love an old school look. And sometimes I like to wear something hip, cool, and “with it” (Is that what the kids say?) as if I were Amy Poehler in Mean Girls. “I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom.” I also focus a lot on musical theatre, whether I’m spoofing it or performing it legit. It’s my background and my strength. It’s in my name, so you know what you’re going to get.
CD: Where did your love of the theatre come from?
SLS: My parents were both involved with community theatre and would drag me to rehearsals when I was a kid, so I grew up with it. My mom choreographed a production of “The Music Man” and cast me as Winthrop, the little lisping boy, when I was just 5 years old. M dad, being a fairly conservative republican, would play show tunes in the house all the time and his favorite musical (get ready for this) is “La Cage Aux Folles”. He loves me, loves what I do as Sutton Lee and he completely supports my drag career. I was lucky to have been born with such supportive (though occasionally wacky) parents.
CD: I guess your dad was rooting for Gene Hackman’s character in The Birdcage?
SLS: He does a killer “I Am What I Am”!
CD: After how many cocktails?
SLS: Get him a vodka cranberry, and he’s good to go!
CD: Ha! Since you’re just getting started as a queen, I know you still have your whole career ahead of you but what are some of the goals you have in your drag bucket list?
SLS: Goals, goals, goals… I’ve slowly but surely been writing a play. I told you Charles Busch was an inspiration to me! Anyhow, I’d like to get that finished and start having readings so I can perfect it and get it produced one day.
CD: I expect opening night tickets….and not in the rear of the balcony!
SLS: Premium Seating behind the student rush section!
SLS: And I’m thrilled that one goal is going to be checked off the list, since I’m teaming up with Justin Luke to bring musicals back to Monday starting next month with BROADWAY MONDAYS at Hardware! It’s going to be a night full of Musical Theatre Mania! Showtunes and videos playing all night hosted by yours truly and the King of Nightlife, Justin Luke. We’ll have guest performers from Broadway and Off-Broadway productions of present, past, and upcoming! And Hardware has a lot of wonderful deals on their well drinks and cocktails so HUZZAH to that!
CD: You had me at deals on cocktails! Where else in the city can people see you?
SLS: Tuesdays I’m at Barracuda for my midnight show! Tons of live singing, games, and shenanigans! No cover! Wednesdays is The Sutton Lee Seymour Show at New World Stages at 8 PM! It’s a draggy cabaret that celebrates and spoofs everything musical theatre, plus no cover!
CD: Thank you so much for you time Sutton! We’ll definitely keep on eye on your career as it blossoms! Do you have any final words of wisdom before we call it a night and crack open this bottle of Pumpkin Spice Absolut?
SLS: Words of wisdom, eh? You know, I’m the kind of gal who rolls with the punches and this is my motto in life as it is in the theatre: We never say “no” in improv. We say “yes, and…” so keep moving forward, bless the mess that is life, and keep saying “yes, and…” for you never know what’s just around the river bend. It sounds hokey but its true. I’m hokey and I’m ok with that. If you like me and musical theatre shenanigans, people should definitely check out my drag family in its entirety: myself, Chelsea Piers, Nomi Sas, and Jackie Cox. We’re Gypsy Hausing and we’ll tap a times step and pound the pavement till we get our Broadway contract. Find us, follow us, and get your theatre geek on! You’re welcome Chiffon! And thank YOU!!! *takes a Patti Lupone bow*