Castro Country Club's drag show fun
By Cornelius Washington
The most unusual, dynamic, and beautiful part of the LGBTQ community is its approach to issues concerning recovery. Of course, San Francisco leads the way. The fabulous and very chic building known as The Castro Country Club is a venue for 12-step recovery meetings, art and a safe space for social gatherings for those who deign not to surround themselves with drugs and alcohol.
To raise funds for the site's operation, the sober drag community created Mascara, a fun, freaky and fantastically fabulous monthly event. Its emcee, Intensive Claire (also known as Kirk Saraceno), has been the ringleader of a group of new and seasoned performers who put the gaiety back in drag, a welcome return to the art form, for a wonderful cause.
Of course, Miss Claire is a wonderfully modern lady who does things in decency and in order, a rarity in the drag world, and suggested I first conducted a dialog with Mr. Billy Lemon, The Country Club's new Executive Director.
Cornelius Washington: Mascara is genius. Who invented the event, and why?
Billy Lemon: Mascara was created by Peter "Uphoria" Griggs seven years ago, as a creative outlet for the sober community.
How has the event been produced?
The event is produced by collaboration between the Castro Country Club and the reigning Miss Castro Country Club. The Miss Castro Country Club is crowned in April of each year after competing in a pageant. The event is held at Everette Middle School and usually has a pool of five performers each competing for the crown. A rough estimation of Mascara's history has it making well over $100,000 dollars.
What do you you think will be the evolution of the drag queen recovery community?
I cannot speculate on the future of the drag queen recovery community simply because I am not a performer. But I can say as more people embrace sobriety, they also reawaken talents that over time they have lost touch with. This is one of the main reasons Mascara is a success.
What seems to be the difference between the drag queen recovery community's performances and regular drag performances?
The differences often times are marked by the performers making a statement about recovery and addiction.
What do you think will be Mascara's future?
As long as I am the Executive Director of the Castro Country Club, I will continue trying to grow this event. It makes people laugh and feel good; two things needed desperately in our world today.
What criteria determines your choice of emcees? What, in your opinion, makes intensive Claire such an ideal emcee?
The criteria for the Emcee is winning the pageant in April. Make no mistake; Claire has a lot of responsibility on her hands. I organize the logistics; permits, promotion, day-of-event logistics.
Claire has to create themes each month, organize volunteer performers and entertain the crowd at the event; no small task. She is funny, witty, and sensitive to current events with her finger on the pulse of what's important, and over the last nine months has far exceeded all of our expectations.
MC Intensive Claire had comments and compliments for her drag colleagues.
Cornelius Washington: I was very lucky to see you at the very beginning of your drag career, and I can saw the evolution and the fun that you're having with it. How did it all begin for you?
Intensive Claire: It all began with a friend of mine mentioning to Cookie Dough that I was interested in performing. I really admired her. She was a power of example to many and never took herself too seriously. She immediately brought me on stage with her, and I was hooked. I owe so much to her and my drag, in a way, honors her legacy.
How did you become the MC of Mascara?
Initially, I had no desire to be responsible for Mascara. I had seen friends in the same role and I shied away from the level of dedication it requires. I was urged by my drag mother, Pollo del Mar, and actor Nancy French to run for Miss Castro Country Club as it would be good for me on so many levels. They were completely right.
It's been a very long time since I've been to a show where the audience was so intense, with their love and money. Do you think that you, collectively, have discovered a new variation of entertainment?
Oh I don't think so at all. I wish I were that creative. The audience at Mascara are the most passionate and generous out of any audience I've performed for. Our passion comes from where we have all been in our lives. We are all there raising money for a place that means so much to our livelihood. We are able to have fun, support each other, and lift each other up.
Where do you think that drag is going in the 21st century?
I think the sky is the limit for drag. Thanks to RuPaul and her shows, there has been a major appreciation for drag as an art form and a respect for the human being behind the makeup. Will it ever be a mainstream form of entertainment? Probably not, and I don't think it should be. Will it be recognized more as an artistic self-expression? Absolutely.
Where do you think that the drag queen recovery community is going in the 21st century?
I think that there are many little budding drag queens in the audience at our shows, and it's my duty to pull them out of hiding. I think it will continue to flourish in our community. I think drag in the recovery community is going to continue to show that just because we are sober, doesn't mean we are boring.
Did you have any initial trepidation about doing drag?
Oh, boy. I think the stigma behind it in terms of dating. A lot of gay culture focuses on being masculine and the idea of masculinity being the ideal. I thought once I started doing it, my romantic life would be over. Then, I thought, "Why are you holding out for someone else, someone else that doesn't even exist right now?" I didn't have a good enough answer.
What is your favorite music to get dressed and made up to?
I always struggle with that. I feel like I should have some sort of genre, but I put all of my music on shuffle and just listen. When I'm really trying to focus on my paint, I have to do it in silence. Crazy, huh?
What is your favorite fashion movie?
Who in the drag community at large inspires you, and who in the drag queen recovery community inspires you?
San Francisco is fortunate to have a wealth of talent here in the drag community. Pollo Del Mar, Nancy French, Peaches Christ, Heklina, D'Arcy Drollinger and many more.
I have a tendency of looking at either your stunning legs or your amazing mug. Do you have a grooming, styling, make-up or fitness tip for my readers?
You are way too kind here. Thank you. What helps me continue to learn how to navigate drag makeup is sitting with other queens and learning from them. We are all constantly learning and sharing tips with each other. Pollo Del Mar has amazing YouTube tutorials that I swear by. I have sat with Pollo, Roxy-Cotton Candy, Kim Burly, Turleen, and Daniel Adams. They have all shaped the face you see before you. Whether they like it or not! Be humble and be teachable.
I'm glad that your event welcomes new drag artists. Please tell my readers how to sign up to participate in Mascara.
Mascara is the best forum for a new drag artist. Get in touch with me at Ksaraceno@comcast.net or find me on Facebook, so we can get you on stage! You can follow Intensive Claire at @NurseKirk.
What are the most physically challenging aspects of wearing and doing drag?
Oh, there are so so many physical challenges. I'd have to say the worst is not being able to use the bathroom. Luckily, years of being a nurse has given me a bladder of steel.
Is your drag persona a part of you, or is it a work of performance art that you create?
Claire is me, amplified 1000 times over. She is her own entity in that way. Whatever Kirk thinks, Claire can get away with saying. Its a fantastic relationship.
In this new year, many people are looking to attain sobriety, etc., as part of their New Year's resolution. Please say something positive about recovery.
When I first got sober, I thought life was over now that I couldn't drink or do drugs. That hasn't been the case for myself or anyone I have known in recovery. The minute we stopped using and surrendered, our lives began. Its an amazing journey that can belong to anyone."
The next Mascara is January 28 at Eureka Valley Rec. Center, 100 Collingwood St. in SF. $15-$20. For info, and a schedule of sober meetings, visit www.castrocountryclub.org