RuPaul's Drag Race Winner Sasha Velour on 'Being the Soccer Mom of Brooklyn Drag'
"I've never understood the idea that putting in a lot of effort or going over-the-top is uncool," the RuPaul's Drag Race champion, whose show NightGowns is now on Roku, tells PEOPLE
Sasha Velour remembers the first time she felt like she belonged. She was driving a minivan (one her mom sold her for $1,000 that she's had for two decades) around Brooklyn, carpooling herself and other performers to various drag gigs.
"I looked in my rearview mirror, and instead of [seeing] a car it was just faces and headpieces and makeup, and I was like, 'I am the soccer mom of Brooklyn drag,'" she laughs. "I realized that this is what my whole life has been building to, and nothing has felt more correct."
Velour, who won season 9 of RuPaul's Drag Race in 2017, has carried that energy with her and created something special with her drag revue, NightGowns. First a stage show that was designed to be "an open and communal" experience, it has evolved into an eight-part Roku Original on the Roku Channel and a musical (running at The Connelly Theater in New York City from June 19-27).
When NightGowns, the stage show, made its debut six years ago, Velour tells PEOPLE, "It was very unusual to have drag revue shows that were not competition, that were open to all genders and all styles and expressions of drag."
"From the beginning, it was always a very, very mixed, representative and inclusive drag show that celebrated so many things that drag could be," Velour says. "No two people are doing the same kind of drag in a single show."
"We adapt to every single person's needs; it's not a rigid theatrical experience. It's open and communal," she continues.
The musical "breaks away from the revue format and tells a single, semi-fictional story in a fantasy timeline in which NightGowns existed in the 1960s," Velour explains of the show; the cast includes drag performers K.James, Miss Malice, Sasha Colby, Neon Calypso, Vander Von Odd and Untitled Queen.
And that's not all Velour has up her impeccably costumed sleeves: Her solo-show, Smoke & Mirrors, will tour Europe in 2022.
For those new to drag performances, Velour wants you to know one thing: You need to get loud. "At a drag show you make noise when you like something!" she says. "I feel like people get shy at drag shows … the actors love to know what you are feeling. We are into people doing the most."
"I've never understood the idea that putting in a lot of effort or going over-the-top is uncool," she adds. "What can be cooler than someone just experiencing joy and going or something with their whole heart? When you come to my show - if you're in the audience or if you're on stage - and you're really going for it, we love you."
Velour has even bigger dreams for her show than just entertaining the audience, she explains.
"I always hope people walk away thinking they had no idea what drag was before. Every show should blow their mind and make them feel like all of their expectations were wrong," she says. "It's a space of acceptance unlike anything they've seen before … it is so radical for people to experience for even half an hour. There's truly no judgement in this space. Just acceptance for difference - enthusiasm for difference."
This year, Velour is not only celebrating Pride with NightGowns: The Musical at the end of the month but also by reflecting on the progress of the LGBTQ+ community that came before her.
"Pride to me is the history of queer people and I think it's really important and cool that we have a fierce legacy of queer and trans people raising their voice against the system and fighting literally laws and policing and all kind of sanctioned violence," she tells PEOPLE. "We've seen changes in our lifetime and that's because of the work of our past generations. Pride is taking stock of our history."
It's a big change from last year, which found Pride events all over the world canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Instead of doing what we normally did for pride, my community really focused on protesting for Black Lives Matter and for Black trans lives," Velour says. "I think that was really crucial because that is what the history is about: rallying for everyone in our community, which very much includes queer Black people. Solidarity with all civil rights battles needs to be deeply ingrained into Pride. Being proud of who we are as a community requires some visibility of all the things that means."
Pride 2021 is celebratory, of course, but as anti-trans legislation is being passed in record numbers, it is also about continuing the fight so that others are able to feel that pride. Velour is also using her platform to reach those who feel isolated in the face of so much negative sentiment.
"[You] aren't alone," she says. "Even though our community has conflict and disagreement, we still fundamentally have the belief that we all belong and should have space and feel like we belong. I know that, especially for young people, that's the biggest feeling: The feeling of home or acceptance."
"There's a belonging that comes from throwing yourself into the struggle and throwing yourself into the struggle for other people," she adds. "When people come out onto the streets or online and raise voices for trans rights, voting rights, the rights of women and Black people and Asian Americans in the queer community, that's when we'll really get a sense of what that pride looks like."
"I want to see people out, raising their voices and being gorgeous," she concludes.
Velour will be the one driving the minivan: literally and metaphorically.
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