Hey there Champagne Dreamers – Miss Jaye here.
I can’t believe that this year is finally coming to a close. It’s been a rough one.
We lost Prince and David Bowie. No more Ziggy Stardust. No more little red corvette, or raspberry beret. We lost Mrs. Brady, Florence Henderson. Funnymen Gene Wilder and Garry Shandling. Alan Rickman. Doris Roberts. Alan Thicke. And now Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, one day apart from each other. The list just keeps going.
One that people might not be as familiar with that was bittersweet for me was the death of Pat Harrington. He was a character actor that I remember best from his role as Schneider, the slightly creepy but good-hearted building superintendent from One Day At A Time. When I mention ODAAT, most people are like, “Huh?” I try to jog their memory: “It had Valerie Bertinelli in it! And McKenzie Phillips! And the super – Schneider!” Usually I get blank stares. If they do remember it (vaguely), it’s usually something about Schneider’s constant vexations of Annie Romano. He was quite the character, and that was quite the show.
I was especially fond of it because it portrayed a single mom raising two kids; my mom was raising two kids on her own in a small town in the 80s. We were one of two divorced families (that I can recall anyway) living in Bowbells, North Dakota at the time, and for the other family – well, both parents still lived in town and they had more money than we did, so it didn’t seem to affect them quite as much. I loved watching this show and seeing a family that looked somewhat like mine. Ann Romano was strong and determined, and she didn’t take shit from anyone. I remember a moment in one episode where she’s talking to this lecherous guy who tried to make a pass at her while she was interviewing for a job. Before storming out she says, “You know when a man puts his hand on a woman’s shoulder, but he’s really thinking lower?” The creep smiles and nods. Ann smiles back, kicks him hard in the shin and says, “Well, I was thinking higher!” That moment really stuck with me, and Bonnie Franklin’s fearless Ann was one of the many great women who inspired my drag persona. (On a side note, Netflix is “rebooting” ODAAT with a Cuban American family and a new take on the theme song by Gloria Estefan; I’m not sure if it will still resonate with me after all these years, but I’m glad the show isn’t forgotten and is getting new life).
On a more personal level, we also lost my grandfather this year. My grandmother passed in 2009 and I was able to be around for a large part of her last few weeks; with my current work situation, I didn’t have as much available time to go home and visit and so my experience of his passing was much more distanced. Heading into the holidays, it’s strange to me that my family is moving into the next stage where my mother and her two brothers are now the oldest generation in our family; I can’t help but wonder how much we’ll drift apart.
2016 was also a difficult year for me professionally. In my “civilian” work life, my job has called on me more and more often to travel. This has been a wonderful opportunity to experience new places and to meet fantastic people, but it has also at times pushed my endurance limits. I’m very excited about all of the opportunities that I’ve had and I’m very grateful for the experiences and the personal and professional growth, but I haven’t always done a great job of finding balance between that part of my life and my personal life. I let myself get worn down. On the flip side, I’ve felt a lot of changes in my connection to drag performance. I still love hosting and performing in shows, and I don’t see retirement coming anytime soon (#sorrynotsorryhaters!), but I’ve gotten a little bit bored and have been craving new opportunities to explore and expand my performances. This summer my work with ETC’s production of Hairspray was such a fulfilling experience! I got to sing live and play a character that inspires me, that was also originated by perhaps my biggest drag influence, Divine. I also started hosting midnight movie events at the Fire Hall Theatre and attended my first ever horror convention in full drag. These brief moments have helped open me up to new ways of being and performing, but they’ve also left me with a lot of questions about how to explore these new levels to the character I’ve been creating. I often feel frustrated by my lack of technical fortitude, but also by my tendency for inaction.
I almost didn’t audition for Hairspray. I’ve never really had any formal voice training and certainly no dance experience! I knew that this production would be stuffed to the gills with young people with much more talent and experience than I could ever dream of having. I feared that I wouldn’t be good enough, that I’d drag the production down, no pun intended.
I was scared, but I pushed through it. I was shaky and not nearly as well prepared for the audition as I should have been, but I pushed through it. I sometimes joke and tell people, “Where else were they going to find an enormous drag queen with that many pre-styled wigs?” but I also had to come to a place where I believed that I had something to offer that production. It was vulnerable and scary and there were times throughout the rehearsal process where I had mild panic that I’d gotten myself into something that I really wasn’t prepared to handle, but I kept going. And even if it wasn’t perfect, it was exactly what I needed. It pushed me.
That’s why I decided to call this look forward at next year “Scream Queen”: because 2017 is going to be about facing fears. And what better way to do that than to dedicate the whole year to exploring fun and fabulous connections between gore and glam, blood and beauty, horror and haute couture?! That’s one of the things that horror movies do: they take our amorphous fears and condense them into a demon or a monster or a killer, something that can be seen and, hopefully, fought. It brings us close to what terrifies us and shows us that while not everyone makes it out alive, someone usually does and there is no reason why that lone survivor can’t be you. It’s not about rules or expectations; it’s about facing the fear and conquering it.
So what does that mean for the year ahead? Well, it means that I probably won’t be doing as many traditional drag shows as I have in past years. Part of this comes from where drag is at in our region right now (both the Ten Percent Society and Dakota OutRight have lightened their show schedules to focus on other projects) and schedules with the Hell on Heels show in Fargo and my own personal and professional projects have overlapped in complicated ways, but also from the fact that if I want to have more time to dedicate to new performance projects…well, that time has to come from somewhere. I’m still going to be hosting and performing in TPS shows in Grand Forks and the DOR shows in Bismarck, and I’ll do Hell on Heels shows when time allows and there’s an opening, but look for me to pop up more often in other venues with other types of performances.
For one, look for more midnight movie events, and look for them to get back to their roots: good ol’ fashioned blood and guts horror films! I loved doing the Reefer Madness night in April and the Divine-themed double feature for Pride, but thrills and chills are going to be on the marquee for 2017, so look for some old favorites as well as some new indie movies for you to discover! I’m especially excited to bring to Grand Forks the local premiere of the Acid Bath Productions film Cool as Hell 2: The Quest for God’s Bong where I will be making my film debut! I promise you – I’m awful! But it’s still going to be a lot of fun!
I’m also working on launching my YouTube channel. Technology terrifies me, and this is definitely daunting, but I’m committed to it. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to be moving away from this site; on the contrary, most of my plans for the channel have been about how I can make sure that I’m creating multi-faceted content where videos pair up with articles on the World of Champagne. Who knows, maybe we’ll finally get that long-awaited Janessa After Dark podcast up and running to provide behind the scenes content as well!
Finally, I’m working on a sort of top secret theatrical project that brings together my love of drag with my love of classic horror. I was originally shooting for a January opening, but I just haven’t gotten as far as I would like. But trust that I’m still plugging away, and I really hope to have an announcement for you all in the first half of 2017.
In addition to those projects, I’m also going to two Days of the Dead conventions in 2017 – Atlanta in February and back to Indy at the end of June – and I’ll definitely be using those as opportunities to source new content for movie nights, meet new friends and potential collaborators in the horror fam, and maybe even discover some spooky new cosmetics brands! I love all of the pics I was able to get from last year’s Days of the Dead, and there will be a lot more where those came from! And though we didn’t get to schedule any sessions with Miranda Roen in 2016, I have a ton of great new ideas for shoots that I’m excited to put to use, including some great horror film inspired shots!
I love the title scream queen! It means that you’ve faced your fear and the hockey-mask-wearing maniac and you’ve come out triumphant. So what if you tend to die in the first 10 minutes of the sequel? You made it through today, and that’s what matters. You’re a survivor.
So come on 2017 – show us what you got. Me and all my other fearless scream queens will be right here waiting!
XOXO – Miss Jaye
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