Alaska Takes Over Town Hall
by Steve Desroches
The one thing Alaska Thunderfuck wished she’d known before going on RuPaul’s Drag Race was all the standing that is required to be America’s Next Drag Superstar. Fans of the show may think that the judge’s critiques are only a few minutes, but in reality the actual process is at least 20 minutes for each queen, with the others standing until all is complete. And that means standing for cumulative hours, in full drag and high heels under intensely bright and hot studio lights. For such a glamorous show, the actual filming process is a bit grueling. Nevertheless, starting as a fan favorite on the fifth season of the cultural phenomenon and then winning the second season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars has Alaska doing anything but standing around. She traveled the world before the pandemic and is ready to do it all again as theaters and clubs reopen, starting with two shows this Sunday night at Town Hall, Provincetown’s largest venue.
“I don’t really know how to comprehend it,” says Alaska of her celebrity. “I’m just grateful I get to do drag. I love it so much. How lucky am I that I get to do this as my job and at this moment when drag is receiving so much attention. I’m so grateful that I get to do something in this world that makes people happy and spreads joy.”
Known for her record-breaking method of saying hello with elongated cries of “Hiiiiiiieeeeeee” and quirky, sometimes spooky, but always hilarious ways, Alaska has parlayed that television fame into a variety of drag pursuits from recording dance music to theater to her own streaming comedy special and, of course, touring with her stage shows. That road to drag stardom started in an unlikely place, as most great tales of making it do. Drag performers often leap out of famed and storied scenes in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta. But for Alaska it all began in Pittsburgh.
Once a classic Rust Belt city, Pittsburgh continues to enjoy a cultural renaissance and economic boom. Home to an outsized number of important cultural institutions for a smaller city, such as the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh drew Alaska (whose given name is Justin Honard) from her native Erie , Penn., for college. He initially went to Los Angeles, where he now lives, to try his luck in a career as an actor, but returned home not long after and joined a drag queen troupe called the Haus of Haunt that included future RuPaul’s Drag Race champion Sharon Needles. They found a home at the Blue Moon, a small gay bar on Butler Street, and began to do their shows weekly. What started out as a group of drag queens who didn’t fit in exploded into a heady scene of imagination and creativity making the Blue Moon a hot spot and propelling the group well beyond the confines of the Steel City.
“OMG, we definitely were a fascinating bunch of individuals,” says Alaska. “I think of my early years in Pittsburgh and I think of that time as when I learned how to do drag. When I think of my Haus of Haunt sisters Sharon Needles, Cherri Baum, Amy Vodkahaus, Veruca la’Piranha and those nights at the Blue Moon we, we just had an audience every weekend that was our community. We were a bunch of outsiders, misfits that didn’t fit in really anywhere. We could experiment and play. We once did a show called Golden Girls, Interrupted where the Golden Girls are in a mental asylum. We could just be as weird as we wanted to be. We did some crazy shit.”
The credo of the Haus of Haunt became “when in doubt, freak ‘em out.” And while that performance aesthetic has evolved to be more glamorous and sophisticated, it remains at the core of Alaska’s work. Releasing albums with titles like Anus and Vagina and suddenly reaching up under her gown and tossing out a wooden leg on a Drag Race reunion special prove that she still comes at the world from a delightfully rakish angle, stating that her biggest role models for drag are Marilyn Monroe and Divine. Her shows are an appropriate blend of the essence of The Seven Year Itch and Pink Flamingos. On stage Alaska can be fully herself, something that she plans for her show in Provincetown, joking that its secret what she’ll do as she says that when she doesn’t know what she’ll do. She does, as she’s a total pro, but she adds an air of playful mystery about a night of comedy, song, and surprises. One thing is for sure, without the pesky rules of the FCC, she can go by her full marijuana-inspired drag name that she decided upon while a theater student at the University of Pittsburgh.
“I was in college and there was no way I could afford or find Alaskan Thunderfuck,” says Alaska. “I was really stoned at the time, though, and a friend was telling me about a trip to Amsterdam and this weed she smoked, Alaskan Thunderfuck, and it was just like a thunderbolt. I hadn’t even done drag yet, but I wrote down in my notebook that someday that’s going to be my drag name. By the way, you can still find that weed and it’s really good.”
Alaska’s show at Town Hall is the first to grace the stage of the historic auditorium since 2019 and is also the return to the storied venue for Mark Cortale, the artistic director of the Art House, who moves his biggest acts down the street for maximum capacity. Symbolically, it’s a big moment for Provincetown as it’s another step toward the town firing at all cylinders. And the sly and stylish Alaska, Ms. Thunderfuck if you’re nasty, is the perfect ambassadress of glitter and grit to celebrate this occasion. And it’s also Alaska’s Provincetown debut, as she gasps with self-aware disbelief that she’s never been here before.
“I’ve never been, can you believe it?” says Alaska. “I hear that it’s the gayest place in the world, which is all the more shocking that I’ve never been as I consider myself one of the gayest people in the world. I’m so excited. It’s going to be like a homecoming.”
Alaska Thunderfuck performs at Town Hall, 260 Commercial St. on Sunday, July 11 at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Tickets ($50 – $150) are available at the Art House box office, 214 Commercial St., and online at ptownarthouse.com. For more information call 508.487.9222.