"Hieeeeeee," came the familiar salutation from Alaska Thunderf*ck 5000. Of course, since finishing as a runner-up on season five of RuPaul's Drag Race, she's now mostly known by just her first name, kind of like Madonna. After all, you can't even say her last name on LOGO. Yet while this radically alternative queen tones down her image for mass consumption, she's stealthily maintaining her transgressive sensibilities.
Case in point: On July 24, Alaska steps into the role of Charlotte York for the return engagement of Sex and the City: Live! The show was created by Heklina, a longtime staple in the San Francisco drag community and founder of the roving West Coast drag show Trannyshack. A satirical sendup of the popular HBO series starring Sarah Jessica Parker, SATC: Live! brings to the stage what many fans of the show always secretly suspected: These four randy ladies of New York are actually gay men in drag.
TheaterMania spoke to Alaska about Sex and the City: Live!, her shifting public image, and that dreaded T-word that's getting so many people in trouble these days.
How did you get involved with Sex and the City: Live!?
Heklina and I were having lunch and she said I should be involved. I'm such a theater person, so it makes sense. She wanted me to do Carrie Bradshaw…But of course, Heklina has to play the lead. I think supporting characters are more fun anyway. I like getting cast against type. So why shouldn't I play the sweet brunette?
Are you a fan of the TV show?
I'm a huge fan of the show! I love whenever it would play in syndication on E! I've folded laundry to it many a day. Part of the fun is just watching it and rolling your eyes and cat-calling it. Carrie Bradshaw is infuriating. If I knew this woman in real life, I would be scared of her. She's absolutely insane and she's the central character. So I like it, but it's completely irritating.
How long have you known Heklina?
I first did Trannyshack L.A. seven years ago. I had just moved to Los Angeles and I didn't fit in with that drag scene at all. I was really weird and gross. Phedre, who has worked a lot at Trannyshack, said that I'd be perfect for it. She hooked me up with Heklina and that's how I got involved with Trannyshack LA. It was one of the first drag opportunities I got.
Gay vernacular has changed since Trannyshack was founded and the word "tranny" is increasingly viewed within the LGBTQ community as an anti-trans slur (rather than a term of endearment between drag queens). Consequently, the event is undergoing a rebranding. What's your take on that situation?
Heklina is an amazing businesswoman. Of course she wants Trannyshack to keep growing and changing and to be as accessible to as many people as possible. I think the rebranding and changing of the name is a good thing for business, because you can reach more people...I think it will always be Trannyshack for some of us. In the dark, sordid dressing rooms of drag shows and burlesque houses, the language will never be stopped or tamed. In public, however, I think we have to be more sensitive about our language. She could just call it "Heklina presents." She and Trannyshack are so synonymous anyway. T-Shack is vulgar and awkward. (long pause) It will probably end up being T-Shack.
Is that something you think about: changing your own style to reach a larger audience?
I don't think about it that much...well...ugh...maybe I do. Maybe I think about it more than I'm willing to admit. I definitely feel a duality about it. I thought about rebranding myself because I have the F-word in my last name...There's the Thunderf*ck of it all, which is subversive and wild and dirty and unruly. Then there's Justin: I like to think of myself as smart and sensitive and kind and Buddhist. These things are swimming in opposite directions, but they also work together. I feel like, even if I called myself Alaska Sunshine... the subversive element would still be in there. I think you can be more subversive the tamer you are on the outside, because then you can get inside people's houses where you otherwise wouldn't...sometimes you have to simplify so you reach a wider audience.
So does that mean that pretty WASP Charlotte has the potential to be your most transgressive role ever?
I hope so! I like the way you think. I find that the prettier you are in drag, the more you can get away with. Earlier in my career, I would make my look really crazy and gross. Then I would do an act that was really scary and gross. I found that this was less successful, because it didn't have a dynamic to it. Lately, I like to polish up my look a little bit. Then, this pretty thing does something really sick and twisted. That's more interesting and dramatic.
What are you hoping audiences take away from Sex and the City: Live!?
Our license to perform theater.
I just hope it creates a place where people can come together and meet and talk and laugh and have a nice time.