Exclusive: Sasha Velour opens up about casting emotion through 'Smoke and Mirrors'

The effervescent queen Sasha Velour opens up about the power of drag and living over the top before her first solo show Smoke and Mirrors comes to Dublin.

Sasha Velour kneeling on the ground, holding a green crystal ball, promotional image for 'Smoke and Mirrors'

Drag queen Sasha Velour will be casting a mesmerising spell over the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre this March as she weaves together drag, visual art, and magic to conjure her show ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. 

‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is a spellbinding tour-de-force which traverses the realms of identity and celebrates the power of emotions. Through 13 mystifying and dazzling lip-syncs, including Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston, and Judy Garland, Sasha Velour exemplifies the wonder of living over the top. She said, “My sense of drag comes so much from history, the grand history of non-binary, queer, and trans people throughout time.”

After snatching the crown on RuPaul’s Drag Race season 9, Sasha Velour invested her prize money into ‘NightGowns’, a drag night she launched in Brooklyn in 2015. She works as the host, director, and in-house lighting designer for the event. By pouring such love and attention into the show, she has built a phenomenal platform for people to encounter all forms of drag. 

Velour adds, “I think understanding that what I am doing with this art form isn’t something new, isn’t something strange at all, it belongs to the oldest tradition of art and the very origin of human identity and self-expression.”

‘Smoke and Mirrors’ marks the debut of Velour’s first one-queen show, bringing together the energy of past performances with surprising twists in store. Ahead of her appearance in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, she speaks about the role technology plays throughout the night, her ideal drag show, and how emotion fuels her art. 

How would you summarise ‘Smoke and Mirror’?

It is a traditional drag show, there is lip-syncing, there are fabulous costumes, wig reveals, surprises, gags, drama, and then some personal storytelling. I think all of that is traditional to a drag show. But I always want to give it a little bit extra, take it really to the next level. 

I have been playing with projection mapping and video technology. And that’s a really big part of ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ too. The way that video that I have designed and created isn’t just playing in the background of the show but it is performing along with me. Transforming my costume, transforming the set, transforming props. 

The video is the other drag queen I’m doing a duet with during ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. So it’s all my own creations, multiplying my powers. 

You have this talent of taking these surreal and otherworldly concepts but you anchor them in real emotions, what is the process behind that?

All the surreal imagery, they grow out of the real emotion that I try to tap into when I perform. I am drawn to a song or I develop an idea for the performance because I’m trying to express something emotional inside. 

I also love creating things that can speak to anyone, things we all know emotionally. Frustration, pain, or grandeur, glory, or joy. Any of those things are fair gain for a drag number. 

And then I always try to cast it. What language do I use to try and explain this to someone? And it’s the emotion of my body and my face on stage that can be amplified by lip-syncing and not having to actually sing. And it’s visuals that I can create with, with costuming, with lighting, and different video elements. 

So yeah, I think it all comes from a place of trying to really share an emotional experience. 

What sets ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ apart from ‘NightGowns’, the other drag show you produce?

‘NightGowns’ has many different performers. In a way, that’s kind of my ideal drag show. One where people can come and they are not just seeing one person take on drag, they are seeing what drag can do for many different people and across quite a spectrum of gender expressions. 

‘NightGowns’ always has drag kings, trans women who perform drag, cis women who perform as drag queens, non-binary artists doing more non-binary drag. And that, to me, is a celebration of the true power of drag, it can really speak to everyone about what this artform has for them. 

So ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is kind of like just one section of that. All my thesis from different ‘NightGowns’ put together. And by transforming the way I look so many times during ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, I try to approximate the fabulousness of going to a show and seeing many different drag artists. So I use those videos to be like running all around as ten different people over the course of the show. 

How are the Velour family getting on?

We are thriving. ‘Smokes and Mirror’ is a family show, in the very literal sense. My partner Johnny, who was with me when I was rehearsing all these things, then asking if it made any sense at all, now is the stage manager in the show. Because he knows it so well, he is able to call the lighting cues, all the sound cues. It is really special getting to do the performance with the person I share my life with. 

And then, of course, we bring our child, a little Italian greyhound dog named Vanya, with us on the road pretty much whenever we travel. He’ll be curled up in a little ball in my dressing room under a blanket. 

Because I get to and have to work all the time, being able to bring my family, my home,  on the road is really key. I even have a section at the end of ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, where if people stay till the very end, like when they go to movies and stay past the credits, if you stay a little bit longer in the theatre, you can see a special appearance in ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ from both Johnny and Vanya. I’ve got to give credit where it is due to the people behind the scenes keeping me together. 

If you would like to see Sasha Velour perform in Smoke and Mirrors at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre on March 11 2019, you can snatch up your tickets at this link. There is a group offer of €5 off for seniors, carers, and young adult (14-16). 

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