The making of a drag star

Ever wonder what it takes to create the beautiful queens and dashing kings that rule UMD’s annual drag shows? Well QASU hosted “The Making of Drag” on Thursday, offering a crash course on what makes the magic happen. The event was led by Erin Olson, student support services assistant of SIT, and hairstylist Alex Jost. Both are veterans of the drag scene, with Jost performing as a king for about 15 years and Olson as a queen for more than 10.

Of course, you may not know who they were if you just saw them on stage. Drag queens and kings almost always have a stage name that they perform under. Olson goes by Ariel, with a last name that he doesn’t want to print.

“Many drag performers have some shocking name,” Olson said, alluding to his mysterious last name.

“Or some don’t,” Jost added. She simply performs as “Alex.”

At the event, the two drag performers picked a male and a female to serve as their models. Olson did makeup for the man – student Matt Szaflarski – and Jost chose student Leah Mohn. Neither had performed in drag before. In fact, Mohn said she had never even worn makeup before.

“Does mascara count?” Mohn asked her friends. They said it did, but it wasn’t nearly as much as what she would be wearing under the expert hands of Jost.

Olson brought his large case of stage makeup and shared with Jost. There was almost every product imaginable. It more closely resembled makeup for a theatre production than a set the average woman has.

“Drag queens go for the big, big makeup so when you’re on stage people in the way, way back can see your eyes,” Olson said.

First, he got to work on Szaflarski’s eyebrows.

“He has very bushy eyebrows for a woman,” Olson said.

Unfortunately, Olson did not have the product he usually uses for eyebrows: an Elmer’s glue stick. A glue stick seems more fitting for a pencil case but is actually one of the most useful tools for queens.

By swiping the purple glue stick over eyebrows three or four times (allowing them to dry between swipes), a smooth canvas is created. This can then be covered with foundation, ultimately making the eyebrows completely disappear so new ones can be drawn on.

Jost, on the other hand, went the complete opposite direction. Women tend to have thinner, more defined eyebrows. She used a pencil to draw on extra hairs at the base of Mohn’s eyebrows, toward the center of her forehead (while carefully avoiding the unfortunate unibrow look). This created a less “clean” look and dramatically altered the overall appearance of Mohn’s face.

She also used the liner to draw a small soul patch on Mohn’s chin. Some kings choose to glue hair onto their face the way stage actors do, but Jost doesn’t usually go that route.

“I’m a hairstylist so the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is deal with more hair,” Jost said.

After doing very heavy foundation and contouring on both faces, the fun began for Olson. He pulled out two trays of bright eye shadow and got to work.

“You’re never going to see a drag queen who is understated,” Olson said. He drew fluorescent blue eye shadow out to Szaflarski’s temple.

He then added a shiny red lip gloss, drawing outside the lips to create the illusion of a bigger mouth.

The process took only 15 minutes (about 10 minutes for Jost), but only because this was a very quick job. And it was only done to half the face. The typical amount of time it takes for a queen? Two hours.

“And that’s just makeup,” Olson said.

They also have to figure out clothing, shoes and other accessories — not to mention getting their bodies to fit the part.

“We have to subtract something from ourselves and some of us have to add things to ourselves,” Olson said. The most obvious addition: breasts.

Olson now owns a pair of silicone breast molds that he bought on eBay for $40. But when he first got started he filled nylons with birdseed and attached these to his chest. He much prefers his current setup.

As for Jost, she believes clothes are what make the man.

“I’m into the “Mad Men” suits. Fitted suits, fitted clothes – they just look so sharp. To me, that’s classic,” Jost said. “But it’s all about finding your style.”

Olson agrees that finding a style that works is very important. It can change a performer’s entire persona.

“When you’re in drag, you have an air about you and I love that,” Olson said.

But the transformation ultimately starts with the makeup. Looking over their models, Olson and Jost were satisfied. The difference between the made-up half and the undone half was striking.

“You look very manly,” Jost told Mohn.

“You do not. You do not look manly at all,” Olson said to Szaflarski.

In other words, their work was a success.


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