CHICAGO — When Chicago-based drag queen Sigourney Beaver first tried performing in drag, she was told “absolutely not” because of her gender.
Beaver, a cisgender woman, was inspired by the kinds of hyper-feminine drag queens she saw performing in her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. She wanted to be one of them.
“But the show producer told me it would be in poor taste and a slap in the face to all other drag queens,” Beaver said. “She told me people wouldn’t understand it, it would be distasteful and people wouldn’t like it or find it entertaining. It sucked.”
Now, several years later, Beaver has toured the country as a drag queen and is one of 11 artists competing for $100,000 and the title of “the World’s Next Drag Supermonster” in “The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula” a reality TV competition for alternative drag performers.
“Dragula,” now in its fourth season, challenges drag artists from around the world in an underground-style drag competition that judges them on four tenants: drag, filth, horror and glamour.
In this season’s first three episodes, which air weekly on horror-themed streaming service Shudder, Beaver has had to create a look inspired by a horror icon, drink a full glass of ethically sourced pig’s blood and outlast her peers on a mechanical bull ride to prove she has what it takes to win. The fourth episode premiered late Monday.
“It’s been wild,” Beaver said of her life since the season’s Oct. 19 premiere. “It’s been so fast-paced and overwhelming, but in a positive way. I’m grateful for the response and positive feedback I’ve gotten from everyone.”
“Dragula” takes cues from mainstream drag competitions like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” by presenting artists every week with a performance challenge and look they have to prepare for the main stage. A winner is chosen, and the bottom-placing artists have to compete in an additional challenge — referred to as “exterminations” — to save their status in the competition.
“It means a lot to be featured on the show,” Beaver said. “The whole ‘Dragula’ family is incredible, and it’s such a positive representation of drag outside of the mainstream.”
If Beaver wins the competition, she said she’d like to share a portion of the prize money with every contestant because of how much time, effort and money they all put into the show.
Beaver described her drag style as a “female impersonator impersonator” in “very high drag, as in it’s always big hair, lots of jewelry and very polished.”
Her inspirations come from pin-up art — like the kind one might see on Vegas slot machines — and supervillains, she said.
“Anything that features a voluptuous, evil woman is inspiring to me,” Beaver said. “Not necessarily always evil, but super villains always have better costumes than the heroes.”
Part of why Beaver’s drag is so dramatic is because she always felt like she had to work twice as hard to be taken seriously, she said.
“There’s an expectation of me, being a cis woman, that every single part of my appearance has to be perfect because I have a woman’s body,” Beaver said. “So I’m expected to have the perfect hips, breasts, waist, makeup and everything. It’s really difficult because those things don’t come as natural to people as you might think.”
Beaver is one of two women competing on this season of “Dragula,” including Bitter Betty, a transgender woman and drag queen from Los Angeles who once lived in Chicago.
“It means a lot to be one of the first women on this kind of platform in the U.S.,” Beaver said. “I was a little nervous about it, because I’m a lot of people’s first exposure to this kind of drag, so I felt a lot of pressure not to mess it up. But I’m very happy with the entire journey and everything I showcased.”
Beaver’s performance style blends old-school drag dramatics with burlesque moves, she said.
Beaver started learning burlesque in 2015 after being rejected as a drag queen by her home bars in Iowa, she said. She would perform burlesque numbers at their open stage nights to get her foot in the door, and within two years, she’d proven there was an audience for her art. That’s when she started getting booked as a drag queen.
“I was doing burlesque while simultaneously begging the bars to let me do drag,” Beaver said. “They finally broke down and allowed it after I showed them there was a pageant specifically for cis women drag queens. I was like, ‘Look! I’m not crazy!’”
Beaver moved to Chicago in 2017 after feeling like she had outgrown her smaller drag scene in Iowa. Beaver said she was inspired by the diversity and hardcore fans of Chicago’s local drag scene.
“Chicagoans f–king love drag,” Beaver said. “You could go out and do anything, like wear a trash bag and do the worm, and they’ll love it. It’s great how alternative, experimental and funny this city’s entire scene is.”
About a year into her time in Chicago, Beaver taught herself how to sew by watching tutorials on YouTube. Since then, she’s made most of her looks, including “almost everything” she wears on this season of “Dragula.”
“My favorite look hasn’t shown up yet, but I can’t wait for you all to see it,” Beaver said.
Beaver said it feels “incredibly validating” to have found a platform on “Dragula” after years of being told women can’t be drag queens.
“After so many years of being told ‘no’ and I cant do things, I’ve climbed over it and gotten to this amazing point in my life,” Beaver said. “This is an incredible opportunity, and I want to enjoy it for everything it has to offer. It’s so mind-blowing to see my dreams come true after all these years.”
Fans can keep up with Beaver on her Instagram and follow along on the show, which drops episodes midnight Mondays on Shudder.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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