Sunday, December 14, 2008

Soundtrack and Score: Robert Urban

" Bring it to the runway -- now ! "


Robert Urban, a New York based musician and songwriter, who is also known for producing musical events and concerts, answered some of our questions about Ball culture, his contribution to the music in How Do I Look, and highlighting social issues in the arts.


Robert Urban





Q. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Have you been to any Balls?


A. I only learned of the How Do I Look film after Wolfgang’s documentary was already filmed (though not finished). I have not been to any Harlem balls, but I have attended several How Do I Look work-in-progress performance events that featured live performances by many of the film’s Harlem ball stars.


Q. What do you find inspiring about Ball culture?


A. First off, it’s genuinely entertaining – as all great art is. It is also a fabulous example of making a lot out of little – that is, ingenuity and inspiration. The sheer originality of the costumes, makeup, moves, attitude, etc. is staggering – especially when one considers the impoverished life circumstances that so many of the Ball culture stars come from.


Q. How does the music you write relate with the music that is played at Balls?


A. Generally speaking, it doesn’t. I compose all styles of music. My natural musical instincts are mostly rock and “classical” influenced. The music I contributed to How Do I Look is “film” music – used mainly as a background to scenes extracted out of the “live” ball runway sections of the film – scenes of people being interviewed and/or alone in daily life situations. Here and there I created or found grooves, loops that accompanied movement in the film – but much of the music that accompanied the documented live runway scenes was popular, canned “house” music from other, earlier sources.


Not all the music I provided for Wolfgang’s film was composed by myself. I hunted for and tapped, as “talent scout” to find music by other LGBT artists that I felt would fit the film.


Another aspect of my work on How Do I Look was to edit and arrange the soundtrack music. For example, the film’s theme song How Do I Look – with it’s hook line “Bring it to the runway -- now!” was composed and originally recorded elsewhere – but edited, altered and enhanced (one might say remixed) here at my URBAN PRODUCTIONS recording studio in NYC.


Q. As a producer of musical events, shows, and concerts, what do you think of the production values that go into the musical aspects of Balls? In other words, are you impressed by the work that goes into producing/staging Ball competitions? If so, what impresses you?


A. I know how much work goes into a large live-event production – especially when resources and finances are slim. There is so much cooperation between all concerned in Harlem Ball shows. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it! Even the audience seems to be in on it – Everyone pulls together to create a smash event – it reflects back on all concerned – producers – stars – audience. They all play off each other with great verve and joy.


Q. As you attended the work-in-progress screenings of How Do I Look, what were your thoughts about the evolution of Wolfgang's documentary?


A. Wolfgang really had sooooo much great footage to work with – in a way, all he had to do was to edit it cleverly… to put all the puzzle pieces together correctly. And that he did. I would see various stages of the film, and could see how he was switching scenes around, and tweeking little clips here and there.


The film really evolved when Wolfgang introduced the AIDS-education element into it – AIDS is an important social and health issue for us all – but is especially so within inner city groups, LGBT groups, African-American groups – all which include the Ball culture. The film gained a sense of gravitas. Before that is was more just artsy and fun.


Q. Could you see an "artistic progression" taking place within the artists in the film?


A. Well… how do I put it… the “stars” (or as Wolfgang lovingly refers to them as “the children”) of How Do I Look were true legends of a sort going into the film – and the same coming out. They are who they are. They didn’t so much “progress” or “evolve” as they really just deigned to allow us into their unique world. (there’s a finger snapping in the air right about here…)





In addition to his own 4 CDs (the album "godless" is available on Amazon.com), Robert Urban's work (especially as guitarist) can be heard on the recordings of many other musical artists. Mr. Urban is also an accompanist, session-musician, arranger/sound engineer and private music teacher. He supports the GLBT music community through producing/hosting Urban Productions BOLDLY Presents, the all-GLBT multi-artist live-in-concert music series (now in its 6th year). Mr. Urban is the author of a poetry collection Abominations and founder of Gay Guitarists Worldwide.

For more of our exclusive interview, please visit the Community Art Education blog.



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Saturday, October 11, 2008

BIG birthday party for Lee Soulja, Danielle Ninja and Jonté

BIG birthday party for Lee Soulja, Danielle Ninja and Jonté

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Wig Out!

Vineyard Theatre presents WIG OUT!


Wig Out! -- the new play written by Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Tina Landau, which is now playing at the Vineyard Theatre -- hasn't just opened. But it has also made an entrance.


Ben Brantley, the theatre critic for The New York Times, wrote a wonderful review of Wig Out!


Ms. Landau "strikes an admirable balance between clarity and chaos, sincerity and spectacle," while her cast members "create distinctive portraits..." wrote Mr. Brantley.


According to the press information for Wig Out!, "This fierce and intoxicating story tells of competing houses of drag queens and the loves, loyalties and dreams within each that draw their members together and apart."


"I can’t think of another recent play that deals as explicitly and compellingly with how erotic permutations define identity, in ways that both limit and liberate," added Mr. Brantley.


Mr. Brantley noted that the cast includes Daniel T. Booth, who appeared on Project Runway.


Vineyard Theatre presents WIG OUT! by Tarell Alvin McCraney directed by Tina Landau.


The Harlem Ballroom community, the subject of Wig Out!, was also the subject of How Do I Look, the independent documentary directed by Wolfgang Busch.


It will be interesting to see for myself what a stage adaptation will offer, in terms of the visual and musical experience. I've already learned that the play will try to make the Ball experience as real as possible. In order to add a runway to the theatre's stage, expect some seating to have been reconfigured, a theatre review by the Associated Press reported.


The play is scheduled to run from September 10 through October 19. For tickets, please visit the online ticket office for Vineyard Theatre.



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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

House of Pleasure

Musical talents of Willi Ninja


Chop N'Chan presents: House of Pleasure, featuring Willi Ninja and Diana Garcia.


Aside from House of Pleasure, Willi Ninja had other connections to the recording industry. He appeared in several music videos for commercially successful pop artists, such as Queen Latifah and Malcolm McLaren.


Here is a pic from a special tribute video to Willi Ninja, which I have motified using Picasa.


Silhouette of the dancer, choreographer, and style coach Willi Ninja.


House of Pleasure is the name of a dance track single released by Endorfun.



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Saturday, August 9, 2008

An unforgettable night in Ball History

The Greatest Ball on Earth


The Greatest Ball on Earth was held on Saturday, August 2, 2008 at the Frederick E. Samuel Center, 669 Lenox Avenue in New York City. The Greatest Ball on Earth was organized as a Grand Ball and Benefit.


A total of 40 categories were available for competition. Proceeds from the Ball benefitted the House of Manolo Blahnik Scholarship Fund, Harlem United, and the Greatest Ball on Earth Book Project.


Making their entrance at the Ball, Patricia Field and Andre J., among others.





Legendary Andre Mizrahi was among the Legends, Icons, and new-comers who turned out to compete and support the Greatest Ball on Earth, an event organized by Terence Legend International.


Andre Mizrahi




Fashion designer Richie Rich attended the Greatest Ball on Earth to show his support for the Ball community.


At left, fashion designer Richie Rich




Andre J., one of New York's celebrated "it" people, showed up. Pictured below, Andre J. is with a friend. During the Ball, Andre J. sat at a prominent table headed by the designer, Patricia Field.


Andre J. and Friend




Lifetime achiever and Ballroom Hall of Famer Kevin Omni was on-hand, and he greeted fashion designer Patricia Field, the latter who is credited by Time magazine with helping to introduce the Ballroom scene into mainstream pop culture. Here, Mr. Omni and Ms. Field appear with filmmaker and community organizer Wolgang Busch.


Kevin Omni, Patricia Field, and Wolfgang Busch




Also at the Ball was the dancer Jose Xtravaganza, who was "Vogue" choreographer for Madonna. Mr. Xtravaganza was one of the principal dancers in Madonna's music video for "Vogue," and he was also featured in her successful documentary, Madonna - Truth or Dare. Patricia Field is a fashion designer, who recently was the distinguished costume designer for the hit series, Sex in the City.


Jose Xtravaganza and Patricia Field




After half of the categories had been judged, Terence Legend International presented awards to various individuals for their contribution to the Ball community. Here, Wolfgang Busch holds his award; standing next to him is Terence Legend International.


Terence Dixon and Wolfgang Busch




Former Mother of the House of Xtravaganza, Carmen Xtravaganza received a tremendous reception from the audience. Carmen Xtravaganza is a transgendered beauty and one of the most respected mothers of houses in the Ballroom community.


Carmen Xtravaganza




Fashion is important at Balls. Wearing a fishnet body suit and in pumps, Omar attracted a lot of attention, even when just making the rounds.

Representative from House of Field:  Contestant in the categroy of Butch Queen Runway up in Pumps.


Later in the competition, Omar, who is a member of the House of Field, would go on to win in the category of BQ Runway up in Pumps.


House of Field




Winner in the category of FQ Legendary Face with an Iconic Attitude was Carmen Xtravaganza.


Carmen Xtravaganza




To find out about other individuals, who are important in the Ball community, please visit the How Do I Look website.



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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Moving Fashion Forward: Exclusive Interview with YouTube user J'adore Haute Couture

'Fashion is art.'


There is a user on YouTube; his profile name is J'adore Haute Couture. His first name is Tomáš, and Tomáš is a student in Slovakia. Out of his passion for fashion, Tomáš has posted over 1,400 fashion videos on YouTube. I reached out to Tomáš by e-mail, and he agreed to give this blog an exclusive interview about his interest in fashion design.




LF: What inspires you about fashion and haute couture?


J'adore Haute Couture: Everything. Fashion is art. Haute Couture is even beyond art. Even the fact that Haute Couture clothes are made of superb materials, and they are products of the highest and the finest quality marked by the most excellent work in the world speaks for itself. Sewing machines are prohibited, so every lining is sewn by hand, every stitch is done by hand. And dresses take from 200 to 1000 hours of manual sewing. The price of a couture item ranges from $20,000 to $80,000 -- and is often more -- but it is very impolite to ask how much the item costs, because that shows that one can not afford it.


Chambre Syndicale makes very strict rules to classify Haute Couture houses. Couture houses must produce 50 new and original outfits of day and evening wear every season, they must make 2 collections every year. And they must employ at least twenty full-time workers in one atelier or workshop.


If one is interested in buying an Haute Couture dress, she has to make an appointment that is followed by about 3 fittings. Fittings are very elegant and exclusive affairs. For example at Valentino, expensive perfume is sprayed into the air a few minutes before the client arrives, so she does not have to breathe the same air as the masses. Only about 3000 women in the world can afford Haute Couture clothes, and less than 1,000 women buy them regularly. For example, Chanel sells around 150 outfits and Christian Dior sells about 20 bridal gowns a year. Haute Couture is a designer's dream: creativity is unfettered, unrestrained by any financial considerations. What a talent it is to be able to conceptualize, design, and produce any garment you can imagine.


Another advantage for designers is that Haute Couture is not influenced by trends at all. Haute Couture offers to busy and exhausted extravagantly wealthy women an escape from a gray reality to the world of dream and luxury. And they do not care about prices. Haute Couture represents perfection and beauty, and fashion without Haute Couture is unimaginable. In order to compensate, business savvy designers and fashion houses are selling perfumes and ready-to-wear clothes at mass market prices and netting a huge amount of money for Haute Couture. There is no reason why not to be impressed by Haute Couture.


LF: What is your background? Are you a designer? Do you buy haute couture for yourself?


J'adore Haute Couture: I have recently graduated from high school. Due to my desire of pursuing fashion design, I am planning to apply for University of Fashion Design next year. I have been interested in fashion for several years and it is still fascinating me. I am drawing and sketching a lot, so that one day my dream may come true. Because of the fact that there are not any menswear haute couture collections, I cannot buy Haute Couture for myself. In addition to that, I do not have enough money.


LF: You have over 1,400 videos on YouTube. About how much of them are dedicated to fashion?


J'adore Haute Couture: I believe that all of them are dedicated to fashion. I have a huge amount of fashion shows, and this is just a part of it. If I had had more time, I would have uploaded more shows. I'm not sure whether one day I will upload all of the videos. I want to keep some of them in my private collection. Only time will tell.


LF: After having seen so many fashion shows, do you have a favorite designer? Who do you think does the best job of designing haute couture? Can you give me an example from one of your videos?


J'adore Haute Couture: When I am watching fashion show, I'm looking for diversity and designer's ability to explore and expand his/her skills. The more creative, the better. There are many great fashion designers, but only few of them are moving fashion forward. For me, one of them would be Nicolas Ghesquiere for Balenciaga. If one wants to see some timeless clothes, Balenciaga may be the best choice. So it has. I also admire work of Alber Elbaz for Lanvin and Muccia Prada. It is astounding to see ability of top designers to interpret their view of the woman in various ways. Each season, they design something totally different and new, but one can always tell the outfits are for instance Balenciaga or Prada. Nowadays, there are only few couture designers, and I think all of them are masters of what they are doing. Couturier is the highest possible post in the fashion, and only the chosen by Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture are honored to design masterpieces. Everybody has different style, so preferences depend on customers' tastes. Personally I like Valentino, Chanel and Elie Saab. They are combining flawless constructions and spectacular details. Their clothes are also very wearable -- although this fact is not relevant in designing Haute Couture.


Elie Saab HC FW07 full show



Valentino HC FW06 full show



LF: Are you surprised that even though the videos are about models wearing designer clothes that many of comments that come from your audience are questions about the songs and music used in the fashion shows?


J'adore Haute Couture: A bit, but it is alright. I am also curious about the soundtracks, and viewers provide me with the track lists. It works well.





To watch the many high-quality fashion shows uploaded by Tomáš, please visit his user profile on YouTube at: J'adore Haute Couture. Read the next installment of this exclusive interview:


Part I, Part II



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Friday, June 13, 2008

J'adore Haute Couture: Fashion is Art Available for Anyone

'Haute Couture is even beyond art.'


Tomáš, who owns the very popular profile, J'adore Haute Couture, on YouTube, talks about the importance of music in fashion shows and about his favourite models.




LF: What do you think makes the best music for fashion shows? Can you give me an example from one of your videos?


J'adore Haute Couture: In my opinion, music must fit the theme of the collection. It had better be neither too fast nor too slow. It should be presented in a modern way even though the used songs may be older. Moreover, individual songs should not be tacky.


Gucci FW06 full show



Versace FW 2003



Lanvin FW08



LF: What is the feedback you get from your audience to your videos? What do you hope the viewers of your videos will get out of watching the fashion shows?


J'adore Haute Couture: It varies. Many people are grateful, which is very satisfying for me. I started posting videos because I felt so thankful to people who were uploading full shows on YouTube a year ago. So, I wanted to make my own contribution. I strive for bringing as good videos as possible. Many people are not considerate about art in today's society. For me, fashion is art available for anyone. Not everybody can visit famous museums with paintings of Renoir, Picasso, or Basquiat or attend operas, ballets or classical concerts. On the other hand, one can enter the world of art and dreaming while watching fashion shows. That is the reason why I upload all these files.


LF: Do you think that fashion design students can learn something from watching these videos?


J'adore Haute Couture: They may avoid being stuck in just one style. Designers are always making something new every season. They are very flexible and creative. These two things are crucial to make it into the industry. People are not interested in something they have already seen before. In fashion, there are no rules. Fashion design students, on the other hand, have to be careful not to start to copy designers' outfits or accessories from the videos. They have to find their own signature or they become pseudo-designers who don't know what to design next season.


LF: Do you think that new fashion models can learn to walk with poise and confidence from your videos?


J'adore Haute Couture: They might. Although walk is not one of the most important things in the fashion industry, it can be an advantage of a model.


LF: What have you learned from having watched so many fashion shows?


J'adore Haute Couture: Many things. I am not going to mention them all, just couple of them. I realised what fashion is all about. Art and customers. One has to learn the entity of art and to become creative but he/she also has to satisfy customers and find a good balance between these two opposite things.


LF: Do you have a favorite female model? Can you give me an example from one of your videos?


J'adore Haute Couture: Too many. To name a few: from the middle generation* of supermodels I like Daria Werbowy and Hana Soukupova. There are many fresh faces but I like Ali Michael and Heidi Mount. I like models with great personalities who are very down-to-earth.


Other models that I like:


* old generation: Amber Valletta, Caroline Murphy, Nadja Auermann, Stella Tennant, Linda Evangelista...


* middle generation: Gemma Ward, Gisele Bundchen, Karolina Kurkova, Liya Kebede, Karen Elson...


* new generation: Hilary Rhoda, Doutzen Kroes, Caroline Trentini, Catherine McNeil, Lara Stone...


First Face Talks FW07 – Daria Werbowy



Models Talk SS08 – Ali Michael



Models Talk SS08 – Heidi Mount




LF: Thank you, Tomáš, for taking the time to answer my questions. Good luck with your studies, and I wish you all the best in fashion design. We hope to see you present your own line of Haute Couture. With all of the inspiration that you have had (and offer to everyone) from your videos, we are sure it will be very soon.




To watch the many high-quality fashion shows uploaded by Tomáš, please visit his user profile on YouTube at: J'adore Haute Couture. Read the previous installment of this exclusive interview:


Part I, Part II


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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Haute Couture on YouTube

YouTube user builds impressive collection of Fashion Show videos


If you want to know what the world's fashion designers are up to, check out the videos being posted on YouTube by J'adore Haute Couture.


With over 1,100 videos uploaded onto his YouTube account, the YouTube account user, identified as Tomas, is presenting what could arguably be one of the most exhaustive collections of fashion show footage available over the Internet.


Here is a recent upload of Versace's Fall Winter collection as presented at Fashion Week in February 2008 in Milan.



Not only can you check out the fashions that designers are creating for their shows, but you can also listen to the songs and music they select for the runway.


UPDATE: Read our exclusive, two-part interview with the user who has posted over 1,100 videos on YouTube; his profile name is J'adore Haute Couture.



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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Willi Ninja: YouTube Video Tribute

The Legacy Continues...


A video tribute to Willi Ninja, the extraordinarily talented dancer and trend-setter, was posted on YouTube last week. Produced in collaboration with the House of Ninja, the video features music by DJ Chip Chop and video by Wolfgang Busch and Eileen Ninja.


From what I've learned about Willi from people who knew and worked with him is that Willi was highly respected and admired for his talent. And as I keep adding on to this blog, I continue to see examples of his influences in dancing. I hope you enjoy this video tribute, because it pays hommage to a very gifted man.




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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fashion and Innovative Dance: Runway for the Ballet

Dancing off the Runway


The law firm of Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft LLP sponsored the second annual Runway for the Ballet program, a fashion show benefitting the North Carolina Dance Theatre. An edited video presentation of the benefit was posted on YouTube.


During sections of the video, the "innovation part" of art direction, music editing, and choreography came together by exhibiting excerpts of the North Carolina Dance Theatre's popular works inbetween segments of the fashion show. This mix of great music carried over nicely from the fashion show portions to the ballet portions. I found this video of their March 2008 benefit extremely inspiring for its ingenuity.


According to Runway for the Ballet, the Spring 2008 fashion was provided by Neiman Marcus.



For awesome photographs of the March 2008 fundraiser, please visit Christopher Record Photography's blog.


In 2006, the first Runway for the Ballet program produced an inspirational video


In 2006, the North Carolina Dance Theatre launched Runway for the Ballet as a benefit program. Here is their first video presentation of that benefit program.




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Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Conversation with Harmonica Sunbeam, the Queen of Comedy: Part 1

Backstage at Escuelita night club with Harmonica Sunbeam

One Sunday evening earlier this month, before her popular show at New York City night club, Escuelita, the actress, singer, and female illusionist Harmonica Sunbeam sat down in the dressing room at Escuelita with the activist and director Wolfgang Busch and I for an interview about her beginnings, artistic development, and gratitude.

Harmonica Sunbeam


LF: Wolfgang has told me so much about you. I looked on your website, and I see that you have this history in show business. What was your start in show business?

Harmonica Sunbeam: I don't know the exact year, but, when I first came out, I got involved with the Ball scene. I walked a Ball at the Paris is Burning Ball at Trax, First Time Up In Drags. And that started my drag portion. I won, and then I would do it occasionally. Sometime after that, I went to a show, and I decided to give that a shot. And that worked out well, which usually does. Anytime you do anything for the first time, your friends are there for support, hopefully. So, I would do a show from time to time in addition to the balls, and then I started hosting the shows, and that's where it blossomed from there.

Wolfgang Busch: What year was that?

Harmonica Sunbeam: I'm going to say it was about 16 or 17 years ago.

Wolfgang Busch: So, 1990-ish?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Yeah.

LF: Where do you find inspiration for what you do? Like hosting, you saw somebody else do it, and you said, "I can do that as well?"

Harmonica Sunbeam: No, that's not how it happened at all. I saw the show, and I said, "I can do that." But as far as the hosting part, I was just always just a guest in the show at this small bar in Newark called First Choice. And one day, the hostess didn't show up. So, I was just kind of thrust into the position, because I was the only one that wasn't as shy to do it. But my inspiration, I enjoy comedy, I enjoy making people laugh, because I just feel that there's so much – even back then, we have so many burdens on our shoulders to bear on a daily basis that it would feel great to take some time away and forget our problems and just enjoy ourselves. So, I approach my performance from that part: making everyone feel welcome and in a festive mood.

LF: How did you come to be known as the Queen of Comedy?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, it's kind of self-proclaimed, because I used to call myself the Queen of the West Village, because I had a long-running show in the now-defunct Two Potato in the West Village. And I thought that it localized me, and it made me too location specific. So, I wanted to make it more general, where it wouldn't be so Point A to Point B.

LF: How did you get to know Wolfgang?

Harmonica Sunbeam: I guess from How Do I Look. I didn't meet you before How Do I Look?

Wolfgang Busch: It was for How Do I Look, but through whom and where and when, I have no clue.

Harmonica Sunbeam: Yeah, I'm sorry. At sex parties, O.K.?

LF: LOL! Do you remember how you were selected for How Do I Look? How did that happen that you got to be in the film?

Harmonica Sunbeam: I guess I'm going to assume that after Wolfgang talked to people, my name probably popped up a few times, he decided to seek me out from that point on. I would say that.

LF: Tell me about the filming.

Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, we shot – I think we shot here. I think we shot here, yeah we shot here. It was pretty short, and it didn't take a lot of time. Basically, it was me speaking from the heart and my thoughts on the Ballroom community and how it's progressed or what needs to be done to make it better.

LF: Was that your first experience in film?

Harmonica Sunbeam: No, I've done some film and TV work.

Wolfgang Busch: What was your film work before?

Harmonica Sunbeam: The first film I did was one called, Party Girl. It was an independent film with Parker Posey. And then I've done Honey, The World Trade Center, and --

LF: -- and you've been on TV, too?

Harmonica Sunbeam: -- there's a movie called, Uptown Girls, that I did, but got cut out of, with Brittany Murphy. So, I'm unionized and everything like that.

Wolfgang Busch: That's an accomplishment.

LF: You know, Wolfgang had a purpose for How Do I Look, which was to empower the Ball community and to give some respect and acknowledgment to them. How do you contrast that – that purpose – with the personality that people come to expect of you , which is to be quick-witted, sharp, have panache – like, it doesn't really meld?

Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, I think so, because the personality gathers their attention. And from that point, once you have an attentive audience, you can tell them anything. And if people respect you, they will listen. And the whole thing about educating people – like, when they have the Balls that are sponsored by these big AIDS organizations. It's like an entertainment situation, but they are also throwing in some educational value, as well. Putting out their message, that they want to get across, as well, in a subliminal way, so as not to turn people off or make people think twice like, "Oh, here it goes again."


Read the next installments of this exclusive interview:

Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI

For another unique experience with Harmonica Sunbeam, please watch the independent documentary, How Do I Look, directed by Wolfgang Busch.


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Artistic Progression: Our Conversation with Harmonica Sunbeam: Part 2

Backstage at Escuelita night club with Harmonica Sunbeam


In our last part, Harmonica Sunbeam spoke about acting in several movies. Here, she sees opportunities for the Ballroom scenes in other major U.S. cities to empower themselves through independent filmmaking.




LF: Wolfgang's film had a work-in-progress segment, meaning, when he started it, he showed it in different stages before it was completed. In all your other film and TV work, there is no such thing. Like you said, you were in Uptown Girls. It was shot, it was edited, and then it was the end result. And with Wolfgang and his film, it sort of evolved.


Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, it was because it was a documentary. And if you want to document something, you need enough information to support the message you are trying to get across and also to offer the different views that come along with that setting. And you can do How Do I Look in so many different formats, and I think Wolfgang – his attempt was to try to include as many people as possible, so certain people didn't feel left out. And now that the Ball scene has branched to so many different cities and states, you can actually do a How Do I Look: California Style. Kind of like the Real World, how it evolved: Real World: Miami, Real World: Philadelphia. Everyone, they all have their own history now, at this point, where they started, and how they filtered into the New York City scene.


LF: I like that. So, you are sort of looking at the progression: like, the Ball community started, and then it's become something bigger, and it's spreading out, like you said.


Harmonica Sunbeam: Yes.


LF: Like Giselle, she's now getting into modeling.


Wolfgang Busch: She got a job because an agent at Elite saw How Do I Look, contacted me, I put them together, and she just told me she got a job.


Harmonica Sunbeam: I think it's great. And I think it can be like that for more people in the Ballroom scene, but they have to put themselves out there in more ways than one. It's great that more mainstream people are coming to see it, and it may be able to offer the opportunity to have those individuals who are creative and talented enough to be pulled out. But don't just let your talents rest here. Continue to take your talents elsewhere, so they can be appreciated and compensated for. The bottom line is the whole thing with the Balls: the most you are going to walk out with is possibly some cash and a trophy, and notoriety – but eventually in the end, the real world comes into view, and you still have to survive in that.


LF: Sort of like with you. You said you started out doing shows, and then hosting, and now you are in TV and film.


Harmonica Sunbeam: Right.


LF: So, do you see a parallel in that?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, yes, because I think that most of the kids in the Ballroom scene don't – I've always looked at it as a hobby, and then I've parlayed it, so to speak, into a career for me. And not everyone has that mindset to do so, but the potential is so easy. You take what you do best in the Ballroom, and you see how I can take it into the real world and make it happen for me. When I was in high school, in my yearbook picture there's no sign that says, "Most likely to be a drag queen" underneath. This all just happened. I took it, and I ran with it. And I made it my own. And if more people can do that, it would really be an exciting thing. And it would also bring attention back to the Ballroom scene, because this is where your roots are. It would make other people focus: "Well, if these three individuals came from there – if Giselle the model came from there; and Harmonica the comedian came from there; and this one, the dancer, came from there, who else can we pull out from there?" So, I spread the message all the time. This is where my start was as far as the Ball scene was concerned.


LF: What do you think How Do I Look has done for you?


Harmonica Sunbeam: I think it has broadened my horizons, and it has exposed a lot of people who may have heard of me or who may have never heard of me and to see me in a different light, especially for people who have seen me perform but who have not gotten a chance to meet me personally or see another side of me offstage, casually talking to the camera, as opposed to the diva on stage. I guess it exposed the human side as opposed to the star side of Harmonica.


LF: What is the feedback that you have received from your fans about How Do I Look?


Harmonica Sunbeam: For people who do not know that I am actually in it, they are quite surprised when they watch it. They just had a screening last month in Jersey City, and one of the people from JCLGO, which is the organization that hosted it, he said, "Oh, we are showing your movie tonight." I was like, "My movie?" I said, "No, I'm just one of the few in there." He said, "Yes, but we are all going to see it, because you are in it." And that made me feel good, it made me feel special and proud, especially because I live in Jersey City. It's my hometown, and JCLGO is my hometown organization.




Read the next installments of this exclusive interview:


Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI


For another unique experience with Harmonica Sunbeam, please watch the independent documentary, How Do I Look, directed by Wolfgang Busch.



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Roll With It: Our Conversation with Harmonica Sunbeam: Part 3

Backstage at Escuelita night club with Harmonica Sunbeam


Harmonica reveals how she approaches female illusion with originality: through a personality she can call all her own.




LF: How do people from the Ball community relate to you?


Harmonica Sunbeam: I guess a lot of people, the ones that know me, they look up to me. They recognize me as someone who's been there from the old school days, so to speak, and also as someone who has made my way through the ranks there, and as someone who has taken the art of female impersonation and brought it to another level, and brought it to a more mainstream level.


LF: So, you have been in other films and TV, how did that happen? How did you get unionized? How did you discover this opportunity to go into acting?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, it came to me. Right, it's not very often. There was a customer, who had a friend, who worked for an agency. The name of the agency that represents me is Hans Walters, and they brought one of the representatives to the show. They liked me a lot, and they felt that they could use me for some of the calls that they get. It was just as easy as that. I know a lot of times people go looking for agents, but I didn't have to do that footwork.


LF: Oh wow, that's good. Congratulations.


Harmonica Sunbeam: Just being somewhere and putting yourself out there, you just never know....I don't know who's going to be in the audience tonight, who might say, "Hey, I could use this individual to market tampons."


LF: LOL! So, where is it that you get this comedy?


Harmonica Sunbeam: I guess I've always had it for quite some time. I've always been kind of like – not necessarily a class clown, but always just quick-witted and sharp-tongued to an extent. The sharp tongue part of it you kind of need in this scene, because people always have something to say. So, I guess it all stems from that, and just finding a way to capture it and make it entertaining without being offensive to an audience. There's a fine line.


Wolfgang Busch: How much is improvised, and how much is scripted?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Improvised: 99%, scripted: 1%. Basically, I may think of what I want to say, but once I get out there, the whole show may take another course, because of the audience, because of their energy, and no audience is ever the same. I may plan the same show, but it will never be the same.


Wolfgang Busch: One comment can change everything?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Right, one weird person. Like the lady who was Crystal Gayle, yeah, you see, you know what I mean? One of the many characters who happen to show up at the show when you least expect it. And you just go with the flow. Someone else may get thrown off base or become upset by someone else. I roll with it. That's what happens when you are so scripted that something like outside in the audience happens that you can't get back on track to your script, that's not a good thing. Even when people say, "You know, it's so-and-so's birthday." I say, "You've got to write it down." Because if it is written down, I can come back here in-between sets and think…but to just tell me something before the show starts and think I'm going to retain that? Because once the show starts, I'm on, and I'm in show mode. And my goal is not to try to remember things that I was supposed to do. It's just, "Okay, let's just do this show." And what happens, happens. Sometimes, after the show, I come back here, I'm exhausted, I sit down, and I think, "Damn, I forgot the joke about….!" Oh, well, you know?


LF: You don't seem to be impersonating somebody else. You are who you are: you are into comedy.


Harmonica Sunbeam: Right, Harmonica Sunbeam is a personality.


LF: Right, you are not imitating somebody else?


Harmonica Sunbeam: If I do someone's song, it's Harmonica Sunbeam doing a Whitney Houston song – not me trying to be Whitney Houston. Times have changed have a lot, but I remember when I first started out, people would always say, "Who do you do?" It's always about characters, about you imitating someone else, so to speak. Because I don't feel like I particularly look like anyone, I had to find my own niche. That's the whole thing about the whole drag industry, in a nutshell, is that in order to survive in this scene, you're going to either look exactly like someone and you'll always find work, you know, La Cage-type stuff, you know, plus in a lot of straight venues as well, because it's easy. Or you have to have some gimmick to your act, and that creates the longevity, because if you don't have that gimmick, you don't stand out. With so many people saying, "Oh, I'm a drag queen," it's like what do you have to offer that's going to make us say, "Let's hire her instead of her."




Read the next installments of this exclusive interview:


Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI


For another unique experience with Harmonica Sunbeam, please watch the independent documentary, How Do I Look, directed by Wolfgang Busch.



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The Sky's the Limit: Our Conversation with Harmonica Sunbeam: Part 4

Backstage at Escuelita night club with Harmonica Sunbeam


Fans are posting some of Harmonica Sunbeam's comedy material on YouTube, we discover.




LF: So, how hard is it for you to keep this individuality and creativity?


Harmonica Sunbeam: It's not hard. You know, you get inspired. As far as the comedy portion of it, anything can be – I enjoy doing different things just to gather the experience of being somewhere. And I can take that same situation, no matter how wonderful or how bad it is, and use it as a story on the stage. So, that's why I never turn down any new experiences, because you never know what you can get out of it.


LF: Being who you are, you are this personality, I looked on YouTube, and I found a couple of videos. One of them, that is my favorite, is your Bedtime Story. It's on YouTube. I don't know if you remember it?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Yes.



LF: It was really funny, I loved it. So, you have this fan base that take video of you, and then they go home and put it on YouTube.


Harmonica Sunbeam: Yeah, I mean, the YouTube stuff is great, because it is great for exposure, but the only thing is that sometimes you don't have any control over what people are putting up there. It might be, like, "Oh, gosh, I looked a mess that day." You know, I would not have personally put that up there. None of the stuff that's on YouTube I personally put up myself. I'm such a perfectionist that if it was something that I wanted to put up there, it would have to be right-right. But nowadays, I mean what can you do? With technology comes great things, and also things that can backfire on you.


LF: How do you feel about that? There are all these people out there, talking about you? They see you as a public person, because to a lot of people you are. You live a public life.


Harmonica Sunbeam: It comes with the territory. There's not much you can do with it. The only thing that I can say is that you don't let it get to you where it gets out of hand, or where you are taking it the wrong way. As long as it is not, like, a malicious situation, then I am fine with it. But people are going to have their views. When you post something on YouTube, two people might say, "Oh, it's fabulous, she looks great." And another one says, "Oh, I've seen better." It's like, Okay, these are people's opinions. That's what happens.


LF: What would you like to do in your career? You are based here. You've been doing this now for 10 years.


Harmonica Sunbeam: A little bit more.


LF: So what do you see next?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Well...?


LF: Or what do you see that you can do now?


Harmonica Sunbeam: What I would like to do – because I am approaching 40 next year, and I enjoy performing, but I would like to take it to the next level in terms of Broadway or more film/more TV. I'd like to get my old cabaret type stuff and not necessarily clubs stuff, and not as often. I don't want to be 43 doing 2 am shows for 20-year-olds, and I don't want to perform because I have to perform. I want to perform because I like performing and I enjoy it. So, I would like to broaden my horizons in that respect, like possibly a TV show or with the advent of gay cable shows, to progress my career even further.


LF: With this explosion in reality TV, is there something in reality TV, or were you thinking of a comedy show?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Like a Mad TV-type show. They have something like that, it's called Laugh Out Loud, a big gay sketch comedy show on Logo. Something like that, or people always say, "I think you'll do very well with talk show. I don't know if mainstream TV is really ready for a drag queen hostess doing a talk show?


LF: RuPaul did that for a while, didn't she?


Harmonica Sunbeam: She had a cable show.


LF: Right, on VH1?


Harmonica Sunbeam: On VH1, yeah.


Wolfgang Busch: And the one from Australia, what's her name, the one with the big glasses?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Dame Edna. I mean, the sky's the limit. You never know. And I always use RuPaul as an example, too, because, she started out as a drag performer, and then she did the song, and she had a recording career. And then from the recording career, she came to the acting career. She used to host on a radio station. She was a jockey on one of the radio stations for some time. The cable show. The film and TV part. So, you just never know. If people think you are marketable enough, they will hire you. Look at how many rappers turned actors. Put them in the role, and the role works. People respond to it, and the next thing you know they have more and more. I went to school with Queen Latifah. We went to high school together.


LF: You did?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Yeah. It's just amazing to see from when we were in high school.




Read the next installments of this exclusive interview:


Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI


For another unique experience with Harmonica Sunbeam, please watch the independent documentary, How Do I Look, directed by Wolfgang Busch.



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Around the World: Our Conversation with Harmonica Sunbeam: Part 5

Backstage at Escuelita night club with Harmonica Sunbeam


Harmonica talks about going to high school with Queen Latifah and about other celebrities, who come calling on Harmonica at Escuelita.




LF: Did you know Queen Latifah back in high school?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Uh-huh. We hung out. Sitting in the lunch room, with her rapping and doing the beatbox, and stuff like that.


Wolfgang Busch: You did beatbox?


Harmonica Sunbeam: No, her. And years later, for her to be this, you know what I mean, this woman of all this: where she started with just a little rapping, to her own TV show, to producing, directing – it's just wonderful, wonderful. Spokesperson for all these commercials. Wow! It makes you know that it can happen to the little people, because everyone thinks that, "Well, it all happens overnight." And I think it's a journey, and that journey makes everyone humble. And in that, there are going to be ups and downs and trials and tribulations. And it just keeps you humble.


LF: Did you know that Queen Latifah did a video where she had vogue dancers? She hired Willi Ninja for the music video for Come Into My House.


Harmonica Sunbeam: I've seen quite some stuff, because she's always been gay friendly. Even in some of her lyrics, you can hear some gay slang. In some of her earlier lyrics, you hear some gay slang, which shows that she was in touch with the community. And then we lost – she lived in Jersey City for some time, and we would run into each other – and we kind of lost track with each other, and stuff like that. But it would be nice to hear from her.


LF: What kind of celebrities come visit you hear, to see the show?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, we've had a few and far between – just people in the industry, like there's a stylist that comes every once in a while, his name is Phillip Bloch. And also Frenchie Davis has been here in the past, Freddie Jackson. And people just pop in. You know, I try not to make a scene, because I know when I go somewhere, and I'm just trying to enjoy myself, I don't want to be noticed. And some people don't mind, and some people do mind. The director of Noah's Ark comes through every once in a while, as well as the cast members of Noah's Ark.


Wolfgang Busch: What's the director's name?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Patrik-Ian Polk.


LF: Where did you find influences in your stage performance and in your music?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Well, comedy wise, I've always been a fan of Carol Burnett and Rita Rudner. And show-wise, there's a lot of great female entertainers that I feel really give a show and put in 110% into a show, like Tina Turner, and who just go all-out for their audience. And that's my aim each and every time I get on the stage. I'd rather not do a show than half-way do a show, because the audience will never understand. If I came out, saying, "I'm not feeling that great tonight, so I'm not going to do this, this, this, and this." Some people will say, "O.K., we understand. You give us 120% each week." But there will always be somebody in the audience who will say, "Then, bitch, why did you come out?"


LF: You don't only play in New York?


Harmonica Sunbeam: No, I go wherever the money is.


LF: Where have you gone that's been interesting for you? Where has your career taken you?


Harmonica Sunbeam: To Bermuda. To Manchester, England; there's a festival up there called It's Queer Up North. And I've performed in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, as well as Lyon, France.


LF: Lyon, France?


Harmonica Sunbeam: Yeah, because I tour with a dance company called Evidence.


LF: When you go on the road, do you do your show from here over there, or do you do something else? With Evidence, you are doing dancing?


Harmonica Sunbeam: No. My friend, who is the choreographer and director, Ronald K. Brown, he wrote a piece called, Dirt Road: Morticia Supreme's Revue. And I play Morticia Supreme, and I host the show. And I kind of like fill the audience in as to what is going on, with the dance piece. So, basically, when I travel, I'm either doing my own one-woman show, so to speak, or I'm a guest or a part of a show with other people involved.


LF: For all the time that you've been here at Escuelita, over 10 years, obviously you have a very loyal following. How does that feel to have people who are very loyal to you, follow you, and support you?


Harmonica Sunbeam: It feels wonderful. It's nice to know that you have people on your side, people who care, people who will be there for you in more ways than one. Even some of the, quote-unquote, fans, I develop friendships with them on a more friendship level than opposed to me entertainer, you fan. A lot of people invite me to their different family events, and I can't always go because of my own schedule, and they understand that, as well, but it feels nice that people want to get to know more of you than just the stage persona.




Read the next installments of this exclusive interview:


Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI


For another unique experience with Harmonica Sunbeam, please watch the independent documentary, How Do I Look, directed by Wolfgang Busch.



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