A Rose By Any Other Name: Sasha Velour Makes Provincetown Debut Kicking Off Carnival!

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by Steve Desroches

It was clear when Sasha Velour took off her wig and shook out rose petals while lip synching to Whitney Houston’s “So Emotional” during the finale of season nine of RuPaul’s Drag Race that she was a superstar, even before the floral flurry hit the floor. The moment made her a cultural icon, even being lampooned on the mainstream touchstone Saturday Night Live. She would of course go on to win that season. But it’s what she’s done since that has propelled her to a whole new level of drag stardom, expertly blending camp with high art.

She invested her prize money in her art and produced NightGowns, her already successful Brooklyn-based drag revue, taking it to the next level with added technology and production value. Then she wowed the world with her touring show Smoke & Mirrors, a never before done drag show performed in front of  a giant LED screen. Velour toured the United States and Canada, moving on to Australia and New Zealand, wrapping it all up in Europe and packing houses like London’s Palladium and the Folies Bergère in Paris. She’s also performed in Brazil, Singapore, Mexico, and more. Everywhere she goes she receives rave reviews, increasingly introducing drag to mainstream theater, landing her in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar for her high fashion sense. She’s conquered the world, with one exception—she’s never been to Provincetown, our tiny town with an oversized reputation for being one of the global hot spots of drag performance. And she’s chosen quite the Provincetown debut as she kicks off Carnival Week with a best of the best show at Town Hall this Sunday.

“If you can believe it I’ve never been to Provincetown before, even to visit,” says Velour from the home in Brooklyn she shares with her partner Johnny Velour and their Italian greyhound Vanya. “I’m very excited to perform in a place with such a queer history. It’s so important to have queer spaces where queer culture can thrive. I’m so excited to come and be a part of Provincetown. And Town Hall looks beautiful, a perfect place for this show.”

Indeed, Velour’s Provincetown debut is much anticipated as it’s become an expectation that the most dynamic drag performers, be they “Ru Girls” or not, will come to town. Provincetown is too important to drag to not became part of its century long legacy of the lavender arts.

In addition to her reputation as a performer in a class all her own, Velour’s appeal and talents go beyond the stage. An accomplished visual artist, designer, and illustrator, the work that has come out of the House of Velour, the couple’s artistic collective, has redefined the possibilities for drag; in short, they are limitless. During the pandemic-induced lockdown, with Velour stuck at home like the rest of us, she produced a series of papier-mâché masks called Faces of Drag, an international homage to pioneers of drag around the world, including José Sarria, Izumo no Okuni, and Divine. The collection went viral and revealed Velour to be a student of drag history, documenting the art form in both academic and artistic pursuits. Velour has become a larger than life drag queen, which is of course a major accomplishment in an increasingly crowded field. And it makes her drag origin story all the more compelling since it began in the tiny town of White River Junction, Vermont. Velour was there working toward her master’s degree at the Center for Cartoon Studies, a unique institution that focuses on sequential art. But the urge to try drag struck and the historic village turned out to be the perfect place to try on sequins and glitter despite Vermont’s reputation for being way into flannel.

“It was quite an interesting beginning,” laughs Velour. “I think drag does really well in small towns. I had only been there a year and Johnny and I got fellow queers in town that were itching to do something creative. Johnny and I always say when in doubt put on some complicated show. Leaving Vermont it was hard to adjust to drag in the city. It’s so competitive. In Vermont it was a community affair. But New York was so different. That’s what Drag Race felt like. New York prepares you. It’s good. It’s healthy. But I loved those days in White River Junction. It felt like the whole town would come to the shows, and want to be in it!”

After living a real life To Wong Foo… moment putting a small town in drag, it’s no wonder Velour has a hypnotic grip on drag fans around the world. Able to embrace the whimsical and lighter side of drag, it’s perhaps Velour’s intensity that leaves such an indelible mark. Her bookish nature is both endearing and what gives her work such detail. She studied modern literature at Vassar College and then was a Fulbright Scholar in Moscow studying modern Russian art, followed by the MFA in cartooning. Velour always takes the macro worldview when creating, and is able to culturally adapt be she in Warsaw, Auckland, or Vancouver. That global platform, and perch, gives her great insight and influence. And she’s noted that worldwide queer culture is at a defining moment as commonalities appear most everywhere she goes. Queers of the world are uniting and that sparks the furnace of her creativity in drag, which at heart is always radical in its approach.

“It’s the only kind of drag I love and can do,” says Velour. “It’s the only option. To be radical. I love that drag is a place you can bring painful emotions, trauma and anxiety, any dark feelings, and turn them into something empowering. I love taking all of that and wrapping it up in camp. That’s what makes drag radical. It has the power to transform.”

Sasha Velour performs at Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St., Sunday, August 14 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets ($50-$150) are available at the Art House box office, 214 Commercial Street, and at the door of Town Hall the day of if not sold out. For more information call 508.487.9222.