Arts preview: Nina West’s Excellent Adventure

By
From the May 1, 2014 edition

Andrew Levitt's drag queen alter-ego Nina West isn't a performer, she's a production.

It takes roughly 25 people to execute a full-on Nina West performance, and all hands were on deck at Levitt's glitter-covered headquarters in Franklinton preparing for Nina's latest magic carpet ride. Beginning May 2, Axis Nightclub (775 N. High St.) will play host to Nina's first fully interactive performance experience, "Nina West’s Excellent Adventure," a 10-show run at the Short North hotspot.

"This show is completely out of control," Levitt said. "It's basically a totally interactive 'choose your own adventure' production. I literally had to prepare for every possible outcome. It's going to be crazy."

From "Star Wars" to "Indiana Jones," the show references some of Levitt's favorite childhood memories. Audience members will vote via text or a custom smartphone app on possible outcomes throughout the show. After 12 years ruling the drag scene in Columbus, Levitt wanted "Nina West's Excellent Adventure" to be a change of pace.

"You can see a drag show seven nights a week in this city; I needed to do something different. I don't want to get stale," Levitt said. "It's hard for me to give up creative control, but I think it will be really fun. The real show is going to be back stage when I'm running around trying to do a costume change in under a minute."

Though on stage Nina West might be a bit silly, Levitt takes his performance as Nina quite seriously.

"There are so many people who work with me, come to my performances, or just want to see the character succeed, I have a responsibility to them to keep producing creative, quality work," Levitt said. "It's easy to get caught up in the bar scene, and get distracted, but it's not beneficial to anyone to be a hot mess."

Each of the 10 shows promises to be completely different from the last, making each performance completely unique. Levitt believes if something like this can work, it will work in Columbus.

"Columbus is a really creative and progressive city. Drag is a part of the culture here. When I started doing drag, you only saw it in the gay bars, but now with the set-up of the bar scene in Columbus, everybody is intermingling and experiencing new things. I was privileged enough to host Highball Halloween. They let a drag queen host an event with more than 25,000 people," Levitt said. "I can't explain it, but Columbus is this weird little chasm of fabulous in the Midwest, and I love it."

That isn't to say the crown never got heavy for Columbus' reigning queen. Even with all his dedication and apparent success, Levitt has taken his fair share of cheap shots.

"I was actually a little naive when I started doing drag. I thought it would be fun, and I just approached it as a character, I never understood why people had such a hate for the art form. There is a lot of catty bitchiness that goes around, and when you work so hard on a project just for it to get dismissed out of jealousy hurts like hell," Levitt said. "But you have to plow through and do what you love. There are crazy people in the world, but you just can't think about it."

Though Levitt is shooting for even bigger performance goals, he is completely content calling the Arch City home.

"I auditioned for ‘RuPaul's Drag Race.’ If I actually got on I'd probably shit a brick," Levitt said. "But I am fully prepared to not get the call, and I am totally fine with that. People would kill for the performance opportunities I've been given. I have big plans for you, Columbus."

Photos by Meghan Ralston