EXCLUSIVE: Behind the Illusion of Sasha Velour
V pull back the curtain on the Drag Race champ’s elaborate new production.
Sasha Velour’s knack for spectacular nonconformity is well practiced. At 7, the future drag superstar was mounting live performances of Shakespeare and Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the neighborhood kids of New Haven. “I wanted to play Lady Macbeth but settled for A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Velour says. Since winning the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar” on Season 9 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Velour has found a larger audience; as the Klaus-Nomi-meets-Celine-Dion of lip synching, she’s acquired followers in the millions, a Swatch campaign, and once emceed a 45-minute drag cabaret in front of Nicki Minaj as part of Opening Ceremony’s SS19 showcase.
In her new one-woman-show “Smoke & Mirrors,” Velour’s source material ranges from the macabre to the quixotic, like Dion’s “I’m Alive,” one of 12 songs comprising the 1.5-hour extravaganza. “I try to turn the song on its head through performance,” she says. “I have the great, beloved divas like Judy Garland, Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston; the kind people expect at a drag show. But the meaning of the lyrics can be stretched. It’s a five-to-seven minute confession through a fabulous glittering metaphor.”
Velour hasn’t followed the typical post-Drag Race track; while many queens linger in the show’s orbit via cameos or affiliated tours, Velour is busy generating her own empire. “Drag performers are multi-hyphenates by definition—creatives and also business people,” she says of her work ethic. “Being your own art director, with a team that shares your vision, is kind of everyone’s dream.” By maintaining creative control, she’s steered clear of third-party interference like the recent drama between a promotion company and Season 10 winner Monet X Change (and Madonna). “The problem is that we’re often not empowered to trust our own instincts,” adds Velour, “while a lot of non-performers are finding ways to profit greatly off of drag, making it unsustainable for us as artists. I’m trying to avoid that situation in everything I do.”
Work hard she does. In addition to recently landing her first TV role on Freeform’s The Bold Type, she’ll complete a kind of drag triathlon at “Smoke & Mirrors,” a blend of music, magic tricks and runway-worthy looks at New York Live Arts from March 21 to 31. “I didn’t think about the physical work of being on stage,” says Velour. “I’m wearing a steel-boned, very tight corset for the entire first act, and I still do, like, six changes and choreography in every number. I’m basically running for 90 minutes. That’s my idea of exercise… In a corset and heels.”
Watch Velour train for “Smoke & Mirrors” in these exclusive photos by Gina Garan.