The team at Dragadventures were first introduced to Paul Aleksandr way back when supporting Ben DeLa Creme in March. Contributor Nathan raved about how incredibly talented Paul is and how he was a must watch. Fast forward to seeing Paul perform as 1/4th in the amazing drag collective Drag Punk, who supported Adore Delano on the ‘Whatever’ tour. The group has soared in popularity in particular with younger people who have been opened to the message of be yourself and being weird is perfectly fine.
After meeting Paul we grabbed a little interview to learn just what goes on in that intelligent and creative mind of his.
Dragadventures: When and how did you get into drag? Can you describe your “drag journey” for us?
Paul Aleksandr: Several years ago a few people started going out in Birmingham, in drag, as part of this current wave of contemporary drag that’s still going. I wanted to as it seemed an outlet for creativity and spicing up the nightlife. Birmingham just didn’t have it. It had – and still does – some great cabaret queens with their nights, but there were no queer and lipsync nights and events. Nothing modern. So I joined those going out, for the sake of it, in drag. It wasn’t to perform. And it’s steadily evolved since. The looks, the move to performing, all evolved naturally over time. I hope they carry on tweaking for me as the minute I feel stale, reactionary, out of touch, is when I’ve slipped up and become lazy.
DA: Who are your inspirations in regards to drag and performances?
PA: I see them as a result of all my life’s experience and interests. Like a mixed up mess of things that have formed my mind. A lot of horror, dark comedy, video games, books, and ideas have made me think a certain way, and often in more subtle ways, these come out to play in my drag. Often it means I see or hear something that sparks an idea – whether it was seeing the Hungry Caterpillar teddy when I worked at a bookstore that sparked me to do a slightly creepy Hungry Caterpillar look (with all the details flooding into mind the minute the idea came in m) or simply hearing remembering a song I love that somehow can be transformed into something entertaining or engaging.There are heroes of mine, from Bruce Lee to Vivi in Final Fantasy IX, and in some way they influence me. My drag is not separate from my mind’s workings. Influence is everywhere. I’ve traveled and met a lot of people and so there’s enough sharpened tools in my mind to decipher and utilize the world around for ideas.
DA: What sort of things can someone expect from a Paul Aleksandr show?
PA: Love, peace, and happiness. Or perhaps not! I enjoy the stagecraft and theatre and want to push myself more in this direction. The art of clownery, the delicate portrayals and use of horror and comedy, the absolute need of activism and messages made engagingly where needed. It has to engage, somehow, that is key!
DA: You are part of the Dragpunk Collective in Birmingham. How many people are involved with that and what does that include?
PA: There are four of us, Amber Cadaverous, Lilith, Tacky and myself. We perform together, separately and work towards spreading messages, having fun, and find a collective is a way to be different – especially if you’re all fundamentally different to the mainstream of society and the LGBTQ world, which is full of outsiders trying to fit in. Perhaps we are saying it’s okay to be different, whilst being in solidarity with each other. Inclusivity and diversity go hand in hand when people are supported and have their own self-expression and evolution.
DA: Who are your favourite local queens that you recommend?
PA: Ginny Lemon is my favourite performer and thinker. An absolute gem who commands the stage with sheer confidence and madness, and knows the value and absolute importance of irony and professionalism. I learn a lot by watching her. I have never not seen people think WTF at a performer and LOVE her at the same time. The songs she writes and produces are.. they’re different let’s say. And they work.. very, very well.
There are some other artists of course – Nora Virus, Dahlia Rivers, Yshee Black, Petite, Mama Mamba, Lacey Lou, Queeny, Pork Pie, Eva Lution, who all work hard, play hard, but ultimately – the decisive factor – are team players and nice people! Being nice means so much! It adds beauty to people’s art. In Birmingham, there’s a lot of punk and the drag movement is grass roots. That is to say, people are literally doing their own thing with looks and performance and rely on themselves to create so much of what they wear and do. It’s young and thriving.
Tanja Mackenzie is another artist worthy of a sentence who spends half her time in Norway and half in Birmingham and performs with such skill and precision. She knows the value of nuance and drag as art as theatre as a constant invention.
Also, everyone here is a bit mad and unhinged in the best of ways and that helps. We’re all vulnerable and it doesn’t hurt us.
DA: You have some very distinctive looks on your social media. What is your favourite or definitive look?
PA: I have a few traits that carry across most looks – the glitter beard is one, which I enjoy mixing the glitters for so they pop. I also don’t utilize many traditional drag tropes for my makeup. It’s essentially a rather bright facial sculpt and a messy smokey eye more than, say a cut crease and sharp contour. That will and has evolved though. Maybe the beard will go that one day I’m tired of it.
I do far more with full looks though and I think people associate that with me? Or not. Who knows.. my favourite being any animal or character such as the Teletubby look, a favourite I’ve repeated and tweaked each time. It’s good to repeat looks (and performance tracks) as how else is a living trial and error experienced, and you see yourself change over time.
DA: Is it fair to say that your looks are very gender blurring, by which we mean that you don’t go for the fishy female look and put glitter in your beard? Is that a conscious decision for your aesthetic?
PA: It isn’t entirely conscious – I do react more to what I’m drawn to and that is a blurring and smearing of genders. I can’t help but see the reality of how they’d all dictated by religion, customs, habits, parents, the media, the time we live in. It’s so transparently dull to live by the made up rules. So sometimes it means on top of the gender blur I have obvious gender features – traditional ones – layered and contrasting each other quite clearly. Like hairy leg chest under a delicious Primark padded and glittered bra. It is all instinct, oddly enough, and that feels nice.
It does require some conscious input as ultimately the creativity and ideas need fuelling and there are practical things to think about if at times certain messages or ideas want to be reinforced with particular looks. If masculinity and femininity are constructs, then they can freely be toyed with, and consciously addressing them can be super important and fun. Femininity and masculinity are very powerful forces and neither is wrong, neither is weak, and both change over time.
DA: If you had to choose to appear on either Drag Race or Dragula, which do you think you would prefer to be involved with? What challenge would you love to see on such a show?
PA: Dragula, as it’s all about the looks and the Boulet Brothers, are switched on and speaking the languages of 2018 where anyone can do drag regardless of their gender, background, etc. It is what Dragrace stood for years ago – perhaps seasons 1-6 – when it was mostly queer people watching it and it was less self-aware. Now Dragrace is a commercial success, it has slid behind the times and isn’t quite in touch with where drag has been going for a few years now down on the ground in the actual bars and clubs.
It embraces a certain look and career aspiration only. To think a cis Male drag artist could apply but a cis female couldn’t go on everything about how out of touch and discriminatory it is. I’d go on, but I haven’t the full set of skills needed and would only do it to further my own queer agenda that drag and queer art is for all. That is naive as a TV production overrides all agendas, but hey, it’s nice to dream! In the meantime, Dragula is where the excitement is! Season 2 was a little too focused on the bitchiness for some reason, but maybe those are teething problems for a newish show!
DA: Is there anyone you would like to work with?
PA: A lot yes. SO many American queens based in Chicago! It’s such a hotbed of modern drag, so varied. I’m sure it’s much more normal on the ground but hey, the internet shows some real beauts and attitudes that are attractive.
There are lots here too. I would love to work with some just to know that their professionalism and abilities would really make an amazing show. The likes of Tracy Barlow, Meth, Rujazzle, Cheddar Gorgeous. Ruby Wednesday from London is one I MUST as there’s a real raw and deadly beauty to her art and work.
For me, it’s all about the attitude, the looks, the ethos, and the skills in performing and how they join up, and to make it a viable entity.
DA: Have you ever worked with someone and had a fangirl moment?
PA: Possibly! I’m generally the most unexcited person when it comes to such things, as I can’t help but view everyone as someone that’s born, will die, and sometimes has a bad day. That’s pretty morbid but I’m morbid and it keeps me grounded. Even when excited inside – which happens, honest, I don’t often show it. Although! It was absolutely LOVELY working with Adore Delano on her tour – but there were few fangirling moments as she was just.. so normal! In the very best ways. Entirely down to earth, funny, friendly to us and was the complete opposite of a diva. That itself was humbling because hell, we were treated like we were meant to be there and valued. Herself, her cousin Johnny and her band were stars to us!
DA: It seems that more so over the past few years, the drag scene has exploded. We have RuPaul’s Drag Race, two award-winning drag-themed musicals in the West End and a thriving scene in the cities. Why do you think drag has grown in popularity so much over these past few years?
PA: I think there was a tipping point where social media allowed anyone anywhere to access drag and discuss it. With Dragrace becoming a pinnacle of LGBTQ entertainment several years ago around Season 6, it then crossed over into the mainstream. And so many young adults and teenagers who were/are heterosexual, or queer minded, took to it. It was not only interesting for those who felt different (like being LGBTQ) but also a reality TV show that was fun and different. The stars of it are essentially like modern emo or rock stars to many. So it’s been exponential, fuelled by companies and promoters wanting to make it fashionable, and to gain money, it’s gained prominence. The result is double-edged naturally. Commercialisation dilutes punk, rawness, risk, and creativity. Which is at odds with all that drag can and should represent, and it takes it further from the local scenes, bars, and community that is the LGBTQ’s own to hold and cherish for and by themselves.
I feel that people – especially young people – need others to engage and speak their language, and we sussed that with the Adore Tour. So many just feel different and want to see and experiment with fun things like makeup, drag, and feel part of something in a world that’s pretty partisan and condescending to young people who do have the least power and the most hurdles to climb. And Dragrace engages, to an extent, and it’s up to the rest of us to show that we engage too! It’s entirely doable.
DA: From looking at your social media, you are quite vocal about racism/ LGBT+ rights. Is this something you are particularly passionate about and do you think other people should speak out about these issues?
PA: I’m definitely passionate and with each passing year I’ve learned more and more about such issues and the urgency of them. The default place in the UK and much of Europe is that we are doing okay – we have protections for LGBTQ people, those of different ethnicities, genders, disabilities, and backgrounds. We mustn’t forget that. It’s a different world to the 80s and 90s where a generation of queer people lived underground, with fear and stigma, making their own families and drag families for survival and community. We have moved on. We must be thankful as hell to those that lived it, lost so much during the AIDS crisis, and remind our oppressors they cannot do that to us again. The world is now becoming so divisive, nationalism and religion making minorities scapegoats and men with money are manipulating everyone so they gain, well, more money, and if successful, more power, their ultimate goal.
The statistics, the studies, the anecdotal evidence alone, are all showing that there is such an importance to talk about and fight the very active reality that a lot of people face. And it is a bleak reality.
The casual micro-aggressions people face daily if they don’t fit in is mad. The fact that so many LGBTQ people experience if from within their own LGBTQ communities show how much people aren’t actively aware of their own behaviour and learned heteronormative traits. Gay guys acting sexist to gay women is mad given that both are surely united by the oppressed homophobia they experience. But it’s the reality, and fuelled by societies overriding pressures that men must be men (masculine) and women are a weaker sex.
There’s a lot of double think and hypocrisy and it needs active engagement, in clever and intelligent ways. Which is not easy but it’s worth doing and worth doing well so as not to alienate and create more conflict.
We need more support and awareness, and less jumping down people’s throats with outrage and claims of being offended or offending. It goes for all sides of the debate as it only drives people apart and has no practical benefits or results.
DA: What does the future hold for Paul Aleksandr?
Who knows. I’ve constantly found different levels to reach and areas to dabble with. I want to continue down one that has the queer art, ideally in the form of drag, and queer activism and speaking out. I’d also love to work more with organising events and using the skills I have in that professional setting. And I want to craft more dead dolls. I started that for a bit and oh, I enjoyed it…
Make sure you follow Paul and Drag Punk on the following social media: