Chelsea Piers-This Rock N Broadway Hybrid Queen Brings Her Unique Brand of Drag To The Laurie Beeckman Theatre and Beyond!
New York City Drag Starlet Chelsea Piers-Part Celine, part Joan Jett, and a little Idina Menzel mixed in for good measure, drag darling Chelsea Piers certainly has found her own individual niche. Mixing her rock and Broadway sensibilities together, her shows are always full of surprises. So much so that she has taken them to her own one woman show (at the Laurie Beeckman Theatre on February 17th). I sat down to talk with Ms. Piers about her drag career so far,
For those that have never seen Chelsea Piers on stage, how would you describe your performance style and “drag” as a whole? In a nutshell, I’m a little bit Broadway, and a little bit rock n roll. I’m a highly theatrical queen with a punky edge. An actress with an attitude.
You are known to perform some real dance floor stompers as well as some great mixes. How do you choose your material? Any favorites that really stand out? As a kid, I was obsessed with pop culture. Be it movies, TV, music, theatre, I was constantly quoting my favorite material and re-enacting my favorite scenes and music videos. I was this weird actor kid who would spend my days rehearsing for plays and musicals and my nights replicating Britney Spears choreography next to my bubble machine. Chelsea Piers is the ultimate realization and juxtaposition of all those things that inspired me and continue to do so. When creating numbers, I take that reverence for the source material and try to find a unique, subversive way to spin it. I’m infamous for finding ways to mash up a Jerry Herman show tune with the Pussycat Dolls. Storytelling is always paramount to me. Through every mix, I want to take the audience on a complete journey. I spend a great deal of time curating my material and pay painstaking attention to detail because I want the audience to invest on an intimate level.
How did Chelsea Piers get her start in the extremely competitive New York City drag scene? For over two years, I was a backup dancer in the popular, top selling celebrity impersonation drag revue in Provincetown, ICONS, produced by my friends Tom D’Angora and his husband Michael. The drag community in Provincetown is awe inspiring and the caliber of theatricality you find there is off the charts. Surrounded by drag legends like Varla Jean Merman and Miss Richfield 1981, I always secretly dreamed of stepping into a pair of heels into the spotlight. In the summer of 2012, I got a call from the producers of ICONS asking if I was interested in returning to the show for a third season. At the time, I was close to giving up on my career as a performer, so I hesitated. When they told me that they wanted me to star in the show, I agreed to what I knew was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Before I knew it, I was headlining nine performances a week in Provincetown as Celine, Gaga, Madonna, Britney, Christina and Katy. When I arrived back in NYC, I competed in the third season of So You Think You Can Drag at New World Stages and made the top five. Opportunities kept coming and I haven’t stopped since.
It’s so hard to stand out in New York City and in drag; how have you carved out your own niche? What I do is unique in that I’ve created a hybrid style that fuses a variety of genres into one. So many queens try to classify their drag in terms of one specific category. I’ve always wanted to be more than just a Broadway queen, which is why I pull from so many different inspirational places. An audience at a drag show is comprised of many preferences, ages, backgrounds, etc. I strive to include elements that everyone can access regardless of your individual taste. I use pop music, musical theatre, comedy, I sing live, dance, and whatever else you’re willing to tip me to do, aside from sexual favors. Furthermore, the emphasis is always on the work for me. I never did this for attention or free drinks. I love the work and I keep pushing myself to learn new skills in order to be as well rounded as possible.
What are some of your career highlights so far? Winning the GLAM Award for Breakthrough Artist in 2013 was so neat. I treasure that plastic soccer trophy to this day. Headlining my own show at the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown in 2015 was such an emotional full circle moment because Ptown is where it all began. Performing at my friend Tituss Burgess’s release event for his own wine brand in front of room full of celebrities was overwhelming and spectacular. I was coming out of the bathroom and Frenchie Davis was like “Girl, you’re amazing!” and I was like “Shut up, YOU’RE amazing!”. Of course, getting cast on a national television show, “Shade: Queens of NYC” was a dream come true. I’ve been wildly fortunate.
What is left that you want to achieve as Chelsea Piers? Any aspirations to be on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” perhaps? World peace. Kidding, I do want world peace, but additionally, I’d love to push myself to find new ways to advocate for my community. I want to use drag as platform to uplift those who may not have a voice or the opportunity to do so themselves. I’d love to travel to bring my shows to an even broader audience. I’d love to return to my acting background and perform in drag in plays, movies, or musicals. I would love to be on Drag Race. I’m a dorky Drag Race super fan. I’ve auditioned before and I’ll keep auditioning until they finally get sick of seeing my tapes and finally cast me.
Speaking of Drag Race several NYC girls have won. How do you think the show as a whole has been for the drag community? I’m so thrilled to watch my NYC sisters succeed on the race. I’m proud that the drag community here is getting such substantial recognition. I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge how Drag Race has created this sort of glass ceiling in the industry, but that level of exposure would have never existed if the show hadn’t brought drag to such a large audience. What I hope is that viewers continue to focus on the art and not feed blindly into this sense of celebrity in the age of social media. I hope that we continue to glorify local talent, non traditional drag (AFAB performers, drag kings, bearded queens, etc.) and especially the queens who paved the way like Jackie Beat, Sherry Vine, and Lady Bunny.
You just completed Season One of “Shade”, bringing drag to a completely different audience. Tell me about the experience. And better question, would you do a season 2? “Shade” was a roller coaster in the best possible way. Fun fact, I was actually a later addition to the cast. I had planned on taking most of August off when I got a call out of the blue from my high school buddy, Mike Kelton, one of the executive producers of the show. I chatted with Mike and Marti Gould Cummings, one of my best sisters and a consulting producer on the show, on Saturday, interviewed on camera on Monday, had a contract in my hand by Wednesday, and started shooting the following week. It was so fast and surreal. I will treasure the experience for the rest of my life. “Shade” was the first show of its kind and I’m proud to have examined the real struggles and triumphs the LGBTQIA community faces through our stories. Furthermore, it was a very emotional learning experience that forced me to confront many of my demons and be honest with myself. On top of it all, we had a DREAM TEAM. All of our producers, directors, cinematographers, editors, sound engineers, and more worked tirelessly to bring the show to life and I’m deeply grateful for their dedication. I would do season two in a heartbeat. There are many more people whose stories need to be told, and I hope we can continue to help do that.
You have a new show @ the Laurie Beechman Theatre coming titled “ARE YOU THERE RU? IT’S ME, CHELSEA”. Tell me about the show and what inspired you to take it to the stage. This show is one of the things I’m most proud of in my career. It’s been years in the making and I’m so thrilled it’s finally coming to fruition. The concept is that I find myself dangerously close to missing the Drag Race submission deadline and you watch me scramble to film my audition tape through song backed up by live band. It’s wild. I sing Andrew Lloyd Webber, Kesha, there are celebrity voice over cameos, and I change costumes five times in one hour. This project is closely connected to my theatrical roots because it’s essentially a short play with music which I wrote myself. My best friend, Darius Rose is directing, and my boyfriend, Brandon James Gwinn is music directing. I’m pulling out all the stops and probably going broke in the process, but you’ll understand why when you see it. http://spincyclenyc.com/index.php/drag/367-chelsea
What do you do when Chelsea Piers is not on stage?
Usually, I’m preparing TO be on stage. Styling hair, creating new numbers, etc. When I can find a rare moment of spare time, I like to work out, spend time with my wonderful mom, see Broadway shows, and let’s be honest, go to my sisters’ drag shows, heckle, and throw money at them.
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?
The biggest threat to our community is indifference. With our rights are being threatened almost daily, it’s tempting to go numb and shut down. Marti said it best, it’s our job to be LOUDER. We must continue to march, vote, and lend support to our queer family, which should encompass everyone. There are enough people who are against us, so we cannot be against each other. It’s acceptable to be angry, we should be, but let’s channel it into creating tangible progress. Instead of infighting, we need to practice tolerance, compassion, and love.
What does “pride” mean to you?
Pride means being the best, most authentic version of yourself regardless of the way the world might respond. It means living without shame and not letting fear stop you from living your truth. This toxic idea of masculinity in the gay community is rampant and I’ll admit, I’ve fallen victim to it in the past. Allowing myself to embrace the eccentric, feminine drag queen I am has made me way happier than any man who may have been attracted to a facade I was presenting. Our LGBTQIA ancestors didn’t fight, die, and pave the way for us to deny who we are. Let your freak flag fly honey!
Most importantly’-where can people see you perform?!
Every other Wednesday at Barracuda for Gurlesque at 11:30pm, every other Thursday at Industry for Queen at midnight, monthly at The Stonewall Inn for Diva at 11pm, and my debut solo show at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, “Are You There Ru? It’s me, Chelsea” February17th at 7pm! Tickets at spincyclenyc.com.