By Kris Gruber
Drag shows, for me, feel like a celebration of artistry, esthetic, music, and camaraderie. With a dash of confetti thrown in.
The local drag community is a close-knit family. Giving back to affiliated organizations and the community itself is an integral part of LGBTQ+ events in our area. When a fellow performer is in need, members are quick to step in and help in any way they can.
On December 12th, Sophie La Piff Cruz (Eric Hamley) and Nyxx (Andrew Wickliffe) are hosting a virtual benefit for Johnny Olson, "Miss Kitty", who had his apartment destroyed by a fire on October 11th.
High Plains Reader talked to Sophie and Nyxx about the benefit, virtual shows, and their thoughts on drag performance.
HIGH PLAINS READER: How did you come up with the idea of a virtual drag show as a fundraiser for Johnny Olson, "Miss Kitty"?
SOPHIE LE PIFF CRUZ: Within 48 hours of Miss Kitty losing everything in the fire, the LGBTQ+ community rallied together to get a venue and performers for a physical benefit. Shortly thereafter the rules about gatherings changed and we felt it would be a safer alternative to do the show online. I just knew I had to do something for someone who has done so much for me and the community. I wasn't going to let COVID take anything else from her.
NYXX: This isn't the first benefit show I have been a part of. We originally were planning on doing an in person show for Kitty but due to COVID-19 we switched focus. We had an online show a few months ago and did really well.
HPR: Johnny has been a performer in the area for over fifteen years. Is there anything you would like people to know about him?
SLPC: Johnny was the first friend I met when I moved to Fargo four years ago. I've watched him perform in all kinds of amazing shows. I've seen him volunteer selflessly for LGBTQ+ non-profits. He has made me feel like family when I didn't always have one. He doesn't just do that for me, he does that for our entire community. I've spent countless nights having drinks, singing karaoke, playing darts, watching movies and putting on makeup with him. We used to dress up and go downtown together because we felt safer that way. We are a team and my teammate needs all the support we can give him right now.
N: That he goes above and beyond for everyone. He has been a staple in our community for years with gay men's chorus, being the parade leader last year, and helping others constantly.
HPR: Tell us about the planning process of a virtual show, and how it differs from the in-person shows.
SLPC: The process for virtual content is really different. We reached out to some of Miss Kitty's closest friends and everyone said yes immediately. It is then up to the performer to record their videos and send them in in a timely manner which can be worrisome when it comes to a bunch of queens! I have set dates to help the performers who need help with their videos. I'm most looking forward to being able to see Miss Kitty in her element when we record hers. Then Nyxx and I will get together to record the hosting part. I then edit the entire video together and upload it to YouTube to air live on December 12th. We did a Halloween show this way and it was really well done. It is a painstakingly long process but I enjoy editing it all together and showing the final product.
N: Virtual shows take a lot of time -- hours, up to weeks, can be done just on editing. Some girls are really professional. We go through the same process when looking for performers. Since COVID-19, performers have moved to digital tipping using cash apps like Venmo, even at in-person shows.
HPR: There will be a physical show next year. Can you tell us anything about it yet?
SLPC: We are planning a show as soon as we can come out of our homes and be together again. The VFW in Downtown Fargo has graciously offered their venue downstairs for any date we decide on. I'm hoping it will be in the first quarter of 2021 or summer at the latest. We will invite the entire cast from this show to participate again. It will be a much-needed gathering for those of us who feel lost without the ability to perform in public in these times.
N: Yes we are still planning on doing live shows. The best thing to do is to keep an eye on facebook posts and local posters in town. The goal of Nyxx Presents is to help provide a space and promote any local LGBTTQQIAAP artist. I hope to be able to continue to do so.
HPR: Can you share some insight on the process of booking venues and other preparations that you make before a show?
SLPC: Thankfully our behind the scenes guy Scotty Campbell has been really good at that. I told him some of the venues I thought would work for a show and he called them all. It turns out that many Fargo businesses are excited to have drag shows, just not at this time. This was not always the case in Fargo. It has become more of an accepting community over time. We then discuss the price to rent a venue. But considering the circumstances, several bars offered free hosting.
N: With booking venues etc., we always want to make sure it works the best for our needs. We will reach out to set up meetings, times, etc. I always like to sit down with the venue to see what we can do for them and vice versa. This isn't just about providing a space for use but to provide entertainment and a safe place at the same time. So we need to verify that it will be a safe space.
HPR: COVID-19 has challenged all artists and performers. Do you feel there are any positives that have come from being a performance artist during this time?
SLPC: Many artists have had to find new, exciting ways to release their energy. I've been able to be part of online comedy shows. I watch many online drag shows and competitions. Many drag performers are going live from their living rooms and interacting with their audience more which isn't usually possible at physical shows. I think entertainers are especially important now. We can still give people content while they're social distancing. It can be a much-deserved break from what is going on right now.
N: It is give or take with this. A lot of performers lost their only source of income. However some took this time to learn a different skill set or even to brush up on skills they already have. I took this time to get in touch with me again.
HPR: Who are some performers that you admire, famous or not (yet)?
SLPC: The most famous drag queen that inspired me to do this is Manila Luzon, the runner-up on season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race. I of course stan Mariah Carey and frequently perform her. My favorite local queens are Miss Kitty of course, Tequila Mockingbird and Mia Starr. My drag mom, Azalia Selena Cruz has been my friend for two decades now and I'm still amazed she adopted me. All of these performers are huge inspirations for me.
N: Honestly I admire every drag performer. We all bring our own style to what we do.
HPR: Stage names are a fun part of the performance aspect of drag. Was there a particular way that you chose your stage name?
SLPC: I originally wanted to be called Mariah but then I thought that was too on the nose. So I chose my second favorite singer growing up, the bisexual songstress Sophie B. Hawkins who talked about loving women way back in 1992 on "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover." The gay kid in me found a lifelong friend in her songs. Cruz is from the house of Azalia Selena Cruz. And "Le Piff" is actually a cheeky Michif phrase from my reservation that I best not elaborate on. When I signed up for an amateur drag contest, I threw together Sophie and at the last minute wrote "Le Piff" after it. It was the first thing that popped in my head to rep my reservation. It is an inside joke in Belcourt.
N: Well I pulled my name Nyxx from a few different places; for one, I absolutely adore Stevie Nicks, and she's a goddess herself. I also pulled it from the Goddess Nyx.
HPR: How did you get started as a drag performer?
SLPC: I was living in Jamestown during the loneliest part of my life. I saw an amateur drag contest was going to be hosted by Janessa Jay Champagne in Bismarck. So I threw together some stuff and went on a whim. I had been obsessed with drag queens since I was a kid from watching The RuPaul Show, To Wong Foo, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and other things. They just seemed to have themselves together and I wanted to be like them. I ran through the streets of Bismarck in heels to this drag show and nearly missed my song. It was a mess but the audience loved it and I became Sophie. Over the next year I moved to Fargo and became lifelong friends with Miss Kitty and Nyxx. I guess I was hooked.
N: I want to say it was well over 10 years ago. I found it as an escape to finally be myself and let my artistry be explored after being told you have to look, dress or act a certain way. Or after being told "no" a thousand times -- you have to say, you know what? My drag is for me and me alone. I don't need to please anyone but myself.
HPR: What would you say is your favorite part of being a performer?
SLPC: My favorite part of being a performer is being with the other queens and kings backstage. It is a whole other show back there. Even our group chat is full of shady jokes and drama. We never get bored. For one night we can feel fabulous and just share the love.
N: The love I get back from fans. When someone tells me thank you. Or you see that you gave someone hope.
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