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Lucky Stiff is a collage. From their 40’s dresses to their clownish make-up, Lucky vomits up a complete smorgasbord of cultural references in their drag. As a self described non-binary “glamour clown”–not a king or a queen, per se–Lucky’s drag refuses categorization. Lucky is different and weird and enchanting and dramatic, yet always perfectly cohesive. Their drag pulls from an eclectic array of sources not merely for the sake of variety, but to weave them together into a new, complete narrative.

This notion of narrative and telling stories–be it their own stories or those of others–is truly at the heart of Lucky’s immensely theatrical drag. “Most of what I do is about storytelling, prop work, and event in performance: theatrical event,” Lucky tells me. Their performances can range from lip syncing Barbra Streisand with very little physical movement, taking the audience on an emotional journey through their facial expressions and incredible ability to act the song thoroughly, to “spring dance bacchanalian[s]” in which they lift up their skirt to “birth bunny people of varying genders,” representing “all the multitudes of expressions of self that we have inside.”

But perhaps what makes Lucky’s conjunction of theatre and drag so unique is their focus on long form drag, in which they string individual performances together with an overarching almost play-like narrative. I was able to attend one such performance in Chicago wherein Lucky and several other performers acted in a full length lip-synced pop opera about heaven and hell. Not only did the performance involve a remarkable transformation of the nightclub space into a theatrical world, but I also noticed that the engagement of drag in such long-form storytelling muddles the way we understand theatrical tradition and form to present new modes of artistic expression and performance.

Lucky’s theatricality extends to every part of their essence in drag, including their always overly dramatic and theatrical appearance. They’ve worn dresses made entirely out of massive amounts of tulle, Shakespearean inspired garments made from modern fabrics like spandex, and even an outfit made from construction signs and traffic cones; each look more “outrageous” than its predecessor. The construction sign and traffic cone dress in particular, made by made by Grace DuVal, was even shipped to a museum for display after Lucky wore it. “It literally was art that I got to wear on my body,” Lucky excitedly emphasizes, “What other profession do you enter into where you get to be a walking art piece?”

Even a seemingly standard question like “Who is Lucky Stiff?” comes with an imaginative, layered story: “I always like to describe Lucky as a space alien that was intercepting lots of vintage transmissions…and thinking, ‘this is what modern technology and performance is,’ and then filtering that through an alien lens.” With Lucky’s “vintage film star meets wild-west alien creature” persona in mind, I chuckle delightedly a later in the interview when I notice that they distinguish between their “drag” and “human self.” It’s a small, but noteworthy testament to the way they understand their art.

That is to say that Lucky’s take on drag feels less like a traditional exploration of gender and more like the inhabiting of an entirely different, radical, non-human way of interpreting and moving through the world. But that doesn’t mean that Lucky’s drag isn’t also deeply rooted in playing with gender and subverting gender norms.

“A lot of what I deal with when I perform as Lucky is very specific gender expectation and performance,” they tell me. Take the heavy incorporation of 40’s aesthetics in their drag, which comes from an attempt to understand their own, human relationship to gender. They explain, “I deal with these periods of time that are extremely gender specific… for me specifically the 40’s feel really relatable and accessible in that way because..I don’t know this is kind of crazy, but that’s all pre my parent’s being born, and they were born into that kind of world, and so their childhood and adolescent discoveries about gender and about what society was telling them about gender then get passed down through a bunch of lenses to their children (i.e. me), and I then have to parse that through with a futurist mindset, which is all a heavy way of saying: I look at history for my drag and the very specific vintage gender ideas about history and performance and clown and vaudeville all sort of become this big soup that I drink down and then spew out as Lucky.”

Here, I see a certain inquisitive and particularly empathetic quality to Lucky drag that defines their presence in Chicago even more so than their recognizable painted-white face or extravagant vintage-meets-futurist costumes. In fact, one of Lucky’s most significant contributions to the community is a podcast, which doesn’t include a visual component at all.

“It’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my drag career,” Lucky says of The Tea, which they co-host with T-Rex, another Boystown staple. Every week, the two sit down with drag artists from all over the world to answer questions and chat about drag, life, and everything in between. It’s a quintessential example of Lucky’s relationship with drag being rooted in empathy and the desire to connect with their community and help others share stories.

Lucky’s empathetic approach to performance becomes a way for them to use drag to “affect the political with the personal.” When I ask them to elaborate they tell me, “In my human life, I’m extremely activist…but in drag, I mostly just want to reach out and touch people where they’re lonely. And usually the loneliness has to do with believing that you’re the only one that feels a particular kind of way or identifies a particular kind of way. So, I would say that in drag, and specifically dealing with gender, I attempt to be as expansive as I possibly can and just in every single performance try to find a way to say to the audience members watching me, ‘I know you’re lonely, and I’m lonely too, and we don’t have to be lonely because we’re here together regardless of whether we’re experiencing the exact same thing.'”

And as a non-binary AFAB (Assigned Female At Birth) drag performer, Lucky knows what it means to be lonely. Although drag is often thought of as a celebration and acceptance of those who don’t fit their prescribed gender mold, many scenes can be rather exclusionary of those who aren’t cisgendered men. In reality, the tradition and history of drag has always included artists of all gender identities and expressions, but as the art-form becomes more mainstream, a very specific notion of drag as men-dressing-like-women has emerged dominant.

This limited and incredibly transphobic and misogynistic conception of drag has been most notably perpetuated by RuPaul himself who stated in an interview with Guardian that “Drag loses its sense of danger and its sense of irony once its not men doing it…” Of course, Ru’s words are absurd and bigoted. After all, how could you argue that there’s no sense of danger in transwomen fighting for their very survival through drag? How could you say that there’s no irony in the work of a non-binary AFAB performer like Lucky playing with those very specific gender expectations that confine them daily?

So although Chicago has been incredibly accepting of Lucky and other trans and AFAB performers, Lucky tells me that hasn’t been their experience everywhere. “I remember very vividly being a couple of months into doing drag seriously and reaching out to some queens on the east coast and saying, ‘I’m coming out soon; I’d like to perform with you…’ And at first they were extremely enthusiastic and welcoming and like, ‘yeah I love what you’re doing, let’s find a place for you to perform, lalala.’ And then they went back further in my Instagram and found out that I was AFAB, and they were like, ‘Oh, maybe these venues aren’t right for you.'”

This “gross awakening” of how exclusive the drag scene can be encouraged Lucky to join fellow AFAB drag performer, Kat Sass, in producing Goddess a monthly “pan-gender” drag show at Chicago’s Berlin Nightclub every third Friday.

“You don’t have to be of any particular gender persuasion to participate in it, and you also don’t have to present any type of performative gender to participate,” says Lucky. It’s just another way Lucky’s involvement in the drag scene places such an emphasis on communicating with, listening to, and welcoming forth a multitude of experiences, backgrounds, and voices. “It’s just a really fun, drag, crunchy, crazy, wine-drinking time,” they add.

As I wrap up our conversation, I ask Lucky if there’s anything they want to add that I might have missed out on. “I’ve noticed a lot of personal darkness happening in my close friends and friends on the internet, and I just think everybody needs to reach out and check on each other,” Then, they add with a laugh, “I hope there’s a way to say that in this profile without seeming to weird and touchy-feely.” But maybe weird and touchy-feely is the perfect way to end an article about Lucky Stiff, whose drag is so kooky and unrestricted and totally loving.

You can catch Lucky at Berlin Nightclub on the 3rd Friday of every month for their show Goddess. They’ll also be at Newport Theater for Delirium, a “1920s bohemian absinthe cabaret” on the 4th Friday of every month (the next show is tomorrow, July 26 2019), and Muse, a “50s inspired show where drag queens sing live, and burlesque and circus performers do vintage variety acts” on August 17 2019. Also don’t forget to check out their podcast, The Tea, which releases new episodes weekly.

Feature photo by Mx. B Queer.

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