From Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera of the Stonewall Riots all the way down to Marti Gould Cummings of today, drag will always be political. Whether protesting in the streets, reading to children at the library or turning out your favorite dance number at the nightclub, drag is always going to be an exercise in activism. If anyone is showing the new generation that speaking up is just as important as lip syncing, it is New York City's Champagne Bubbles. Balancing a career in healthcare with evening drag performances, as well as taking on a lead activism role at her daytime career, Champagne Bubbles showing the children that being a queen is much more than turning a fierce look and who has the most Instagram followers; it's about being a true community leader. I caught up with Ms. Bubbles recently to chat about her start in the world of drag, how she balances a career in healthcare along with lace front wigs and Broadway numbers, and throughout the conversation, she dropped some true words of wisdom about embracing your fellow performers and staying true to yourself as well.
Instinct: For those that have never seen Champagne Bubbles on stage, how would you describe your performance style and “drag” as a whole?
CB: Champagne Bubbles is known for her fishy body and sassy style yet still conforming to the "pageant queen" esthetic. When performing I tend to always top off with a side of camp, because who doesn't love comedy and as Mama Ru says "if you don't love (make fun) of yourself, how in the hell you gonna love (make fun) of somebody else?"; So that's my motto when performing to just have fun and be true to me, although I do LOVE to do recreations of epic numbers and am known for turning some fierce looks.
You are known to perform some real dance floor stompers as well as some great mixes, and some fantastic Broadway-style numbers! How do you choose your material? Any favorites that really stand out?
Choosing my material all starts with an idea and a concept, although there are sometimes that it's organic and just happens. The root of this all stems from being in the nightlife and the pageant scene and wanting to showcase a complete package that is still representative of who I am. But to be honest, a good bop number or great Broadway show tunes are always favorites of mine as I used to do theatre growing up and before I moved to NYC.
How did Champagne Bubbles get her start in the extremely competitive New York City drag scene?
Getting a start in NYC is no easy feat as there are FIERCE sisters and entertainment is considered the entertainment capital of the world! My drag career started at the old Boots and Saddle on Christopher Street. For those of you that didn't have the pleasure of experiencing that venue's location, it was a smaller more intimate location that boasted a setup that allowed for a connection with the audience, which was different from my theater training and upbringing with a proscenium or an orchestra between you and your audience. Learning how to perform with drunken people in your face was difficult too, but I just went with the idea of letting things roll off your back instead of letting them get to you. Security is there for a reason and they are there to protect us.
With New York City being such a saturated market, now more than ever since RuPaul's Drag Race is more mainstream, I would say establishing yourself requires finding what makes you different and what you offer that others don't and fine tuning/showcasing that craft to its fullest extent.
It’s so hard to stand out in New York City and in drag; how have you carved out your own niche?
Being able to survive and live in the concrete jungle of NYC is hard in itself, but I think a lot of misconception in our community is worrying about others. I find sometimes when I go out (in or out of drag) that some fellow entertainers can get defensive when you are around them. I think everyone should RELAX a bit more and just enjoy themselves. We are each individual and we are all offering something different than the other. Love, and right to love, is what we strive for in our community. If we practice more love, pride and respect for our community, sisters, and colleagues, it will only make us stronger in the fight for our rights.
Some of the best entertainers and the people I keep close to me in my life are authentic and showcase themselves. I feel that's the best form of entertainment and some of the most well-known artists of our time wrote about their lives and that's why they are so successful. Hell, Drag started out as a political statement skewing norms; so if we aren’t embracing our fellow entertainers, then I don't know how you can embrace yourself as an entertainer.
What are some of your career highlights so far?
Well, many don't know that I actually have two jobs. I was an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Registered Nurse (RN) for about 8 years and have a Masters in both Nursing and Business Administration now working at NYU Langone Health in hospital operations and am an advocate for equality in healthcare serving as the co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Council for the health system. I've had quite some major milestones in my nursing career with a recent promotion to a new position working in a comprehensive transfer center focusing on the financial and psychosocial aspect of a patient’s hospitalization transferring between our hospitals and from other facilities to ours. I sometimes leave a long day at the hospital and go directly to the gig, so a lack of sleep is not uncommon, but it's what I love to do! I've also worked for some major events for Facebook NY, Stonewall Foundation, NYU, and being Miss Fire Island 2017 as well as competing in the national pageant scene.
What is left that you want to achieve as Champagne Bubbles? Any aspirations to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race perhaps?
My pageant days are nowhere near over. I am scoping out my current plan for the coming year and which fits best with my aesthetic and my goals with my style. We all know that pageantry is not for everyone, so finding the system that works best for you and when you are properly prepared will allow one to soar.
As far as RuPaul's Drag Race being in the cards for me? Well, let's just say I wouldn't turn it down if the opportunity presented itself. (wink wink) I do know that I haven't ever seen a queen showcased on RuPaul's Drag Race that has several masters Degrees and works in an Academic Healthcare setting so that in itself would be a completely different storyline for them. If I was to get on Drag Race, I would embrace and utilize the platform to push forward healthcare equality for all, maybe even by going to medical universities and other organizations and speak on healthcare rights while in drag! So, if RuPaul or RuPaul’s people are listening, I'm ready and available!
Speaking of Drag Race several NYC girls have won. How do you think the show as a whole has been for the drag community?
While I wholeheartedly support Drag Race and what it has done for a lot of local queens with providing them a platform to showcase their art form at a national/international level, I do think it is causing slight tension within our community as it seems people are not as willing to support their local queens when I hear comments of “were you on Drag Race?” or “I’m not spending money unless they’ve been on TV”. Many bars are more apt to get a Drag Race queen over a local queen as they can guarantee that they will draw in a specific crowd, but that also comes with a higher price tag, but I can’t blame them as they are running a business as well, so they need their bottom line to meet as well. The same thing the drag community and LGBTQ+ community are experiencing is nothing new, just new to our community. Sticking together is important as we are stronger together than just as an individual. Also, remember that all the queens on Drag Race were once a local queen…
You are part of a great group of ladies who are bringing a fresh and new perspective to drag in New York City. Who are some of your favorite sisters to perform with and why?
Respect for your sisters and community and understanding your history! I was speaking to a young gay the other day and they had no idea what the Stonewall Riots were or even instrumental people within our community. Understanding and respecting those that have come before you is of utmost importance in my opinion to further your community.
Being Miss Fire Island, I spent a great amount of time out in Fire Island (Cherry Grove specifically) and I have tremendous amount of respect for my "Fire Island Family" (Tina Burner, Brenda Dharling, Ariel Sinclair, Logan Hardcore, Honey Davenport, Budoir LeFleur, Tammy Spenks, & Porsche – to name a few) as those queens are working their asses off in temperature extremes with lots of travel time, some of (including myself) have painted on the Long Island Rail Road or the ferry to make schedules work, but from the city I have to highlight Heidi Haux as she is such a fierce and underestimated queen. Yes, local queens not on drag race have a great work ethic and know how to entertain and bring the house down too! Sadly, I can't list everyone out here, as there are a ton of performer in NYC and the cities that I've been to, but just know that one does not have to be on Drag Race to have "What it takes". I've always said, if you're not having fun doing drag, then you are doing it wrong (in my eyes).
You are a pageant queen (Miss Fire Island for example) and a Broadway diva! How do you merge the two in your career? Your Victor Victoria number @ this year’s Miss’d America pageant at Borgata Hotel and Casino is going to go down as legendary!
Well, thank you! My Victor Victoria number isn't anything creatively different than the original, but it allows me to showcase my love for Broadway, a beloved Diva of mine – Julie Andrews, and a bit of dance/performance all in one. Being able to perform in pageants is a major role as it allows you to integrate and merge individuality with creativity. Like I said before regarding rules and guidelines of a pageant system, you are also applying for a job! Go into it as you are presenting to them what you have to offer and what you will do for their system. My career (day and drag) has provided me with experiences allowing me to condone and present myself in a professional manner.
The gay community has had a very trying year and politically things are very dark. What do you think are the biggest issues facing our community and what do you see as your part in helping to address them?
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots (a momentous event in LGBTQ+ history) and we still do not have full equality as American citizens, but we have come leaps of where we were decades ago with marriage equality and insurance benefits coverage for transgender people. What I want to do with my drag is push this further to the forefront and speak more publicly regarding these, in and out of drag!
In my opinion, the major issue I see currently in the LGBTQ+ community is facing is self-destruction. We are constantly tearing others down when we should be building each other up. How are we supposed to earn the gain the respect from others if we don't respect within our community?
What does “pride” mean to you?
Pride to me means accepting who you are and being proud of all you stand for regardless of what you believe or think.
Most importantly’-where can people see you perform?!
I was on a brief hiatus from performing regularly after the Summer in Fire Island as I was traveling for the day job a lot this past fall and focusing on establishing my role, but now I am back in the city and have a few gigs on the books in NYC and abroad. My social media is where you can find the most accurate information of where my gigs and appearances are, although I do have some new things in the works for 2019, but will release them when I am allowed to. For now, remember to be true to who you are and have respect for others.