Lessons in Being Nina: Jesse’s experience

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From the May 1, 2014 edition

I was excited, and a bit nervous, for being part of the Alive team that was getting a drag makeover. But once I was sitting in the chair, Barbie Roberts applying glue sticks and stage makeup to my face, and seeing how much fun everyone was having, I was totally in. I learned a lot from this experience and couldn’t be happier with the outcome (even if I wasn’t chosen as the prettiest by those in my office. Jerks.). Anyway, here are some things I learned (and enjoyed) about the process.

Lesson #1: Drag queens are highly dedicated to their art form.

Sitting for about an hour-plus to have my makeup done by an expert stylist, and then spending about 45 minutes scrubbing it off was a commitment — and I didn’t even perform a hilarious night of entertainment (unless you count my awkward posing for photos, which I’ll get to later). It’s obvious the regular drag performers are doing this as a labor of love. They perform sometimes four or five nights a week, and I couldn’t even imagine just having the makeup done that often; let alone creating and putting on a show.

Lesson #2: Sitting still is harder than I thought.

Alright, sitting still isn’t really that hard. (Although keeping my eyes closed was tough because I really wanted to see everyone’s transformation.) No, sitting still was hard because we were all cracking jokes — especially our stylists — and laughing immensely. Barbie deserves a lot of credit for being so patient and kind for putting up with my consistent laughing and never getting flustered. This was truly one of the most fun experiences I’ve had while at Alive, and I’ve had many.

Lesson #3: Embrace the drag.

Like I said, this was a lot of fun. And I think a big reason was because I had no hesitation about any of it. Should I shave my beard to have a different experience than Justin? Do it. It’ll grow back. You want me to don a Little Bo Peep/St. Paulie Girl dress? Hell yes! I need to “pop that hip” for the photo? You got it. And if you run into your neighbors afterwards, don’t explain anything, just embrace your beautiful drag face and help them fix the garage door.

Lesson #4: Posing is hard.

Look, I’m never good at being the subject of photos. I don’t know why; I smile genuinely and don’t mind having my picture taken. But the result is rarely striking. But posing, “popping that hip” or just knowing what to do with my hands, left me befuddled. I’m highly impressed by Nina West that all the photos Alive has taken of her over the years look spectacular. So, big thanks to Nina and Alive’s photographer, Meghan Ralston, for helping me. Also, chest hair is not attractive in a St. Paulie Girl dress.

Lesson #5: Creating a drag name is really hard.

A name is key. It should be fun, representative of the persona and downright catchy. I was unsuccessful in accomplishing this. I tried the first pet/street-I-grew-up-on route, which resulted in Mickey Cooper. Barbie said, “That’s sounds like a 1950s baseball player,” and was completely right. The night before some friends tried to help, but the best we came up with was the non-sequitur “Jessie Hugandkiss.” I also came up with a WWE-inspired name in “Jessie the Body,” but after seeing myself all done up, the one I liked best was “Little Bo Peep Show.” I’m open to other suggestions, readers. Although a co-worker came up with “Hot Pockets,” which is weird but has a nice ring to it.