By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
Drag is as integral a piece of queer culture as, well, being gay. For many of us, some of our first forays into the gay collective involved sneaking peeks of these wonderful creatures. Love drag or hate it (but really, how could you hate it?), not many cogs in the big gay machine are as expressive, liberating, and hell — entertaining.
And no one does it quite like the girls at Darcelle’s — specifically Poison Waters, who’s easily one of the most recognized drag queens in town. Of late, Ms. Waters has recruited some serious star power to help curate Hot Chocolate, an all-black drag troupe that’s presently the talk and toast of the town.
Hot Chocolate really made waves this past February when they put together an impromptu, last-minute tribute show honoring the late, great Whitney Houston; the group worked through Houston’s lengthy catalogue and had a sold-out audience on its feet. Their most recent show, a tribute to African-American stars of the 1980s (including a brief ode to Donna Summer), struck similar nerves.
PQ caught up with Waters to talk Hot Chocolate’s past, present, and future. Perhaps the most pressing question: how did Hot Chocolate come to be?
“In late 2010 I was asked to perform in a ‘20s themed musical/dance revue with vintage dance troupe The Charleens,” Waters recalls. “I decided on a performance I had done before that included four other queens — a sort of tribute to the Cotton Club era performers: Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Josephine Baker, etc.
“I invited girls I had worked with over the years: Alexis Campbell Starr, who was a contestant in the first season of Portland’s Drag Race; Kourtni Capri Duv, who competed in La Femme Magnifique, Drag Race, and who works with me at Darcelle’s; Tiara Desmond, who I’ve worked with for years, we were both in the musical la Cage aux Folles with The Musical Theater Company in 2001 [she also works at Darcelle’s]; and, of course, Maria Peters Lake, we’ve worked together since I first came on the scene in 1998, in shows and events like Peacock in the Park and Peacock After Dark.
“It’s exciting to me that the five of us all are all very different in our performance styles and where we’re at in our drag careers.”
And — who knew? — this was supposed to be a one-time thing. When asked about upcoming Hot Chocolate performances and the possibility of taking the show on the road — which has been hinted at by the likes of Byron Beck, Poison had this to say: “It was only to be that one time, but we all realized how special our time together had been — rehearsing, planning wardrobe, all that. The night of the performance we all decided to get in drag together in the dressing room at Darcelle’s, and we had such a great time laughing, sharing stories, bonding, I said, ‘Hey, we should do this again. We’re great together.’
“We would love to take it on the road; it really is a unique ensemble performance, a rare mix of personalities, talent, and emotion. Our Forever Whitney [tribute] really touched all of us — and we’ve been invited to bring an abridged version to the Pride Festival in Vancouver, Wash.—Saturday in the Park. It’s our second year there.”
Even with all that talent and star power in the same room at the same time, rumors of catfights are greatly exaggerated.
“Everyone chooses their own numbers,” Waters says. “It really hasn’t been that difficult; we’re all so different. Once we agree on a theme and start the planning process, everyone just sends in their songs — first come, first served. It’s been a pretty painless process. Then I write out an evenly-spaced show list and away we go!”
Just call them Portland’s Dreamgirls, and hope this collaboration sticks around for a very long time.
For upcoming performances, stay with PQ online or check out www.poisonwaters.com.