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.
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?
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:
For another unique experience with Harmonica Sunbeam, please watch the independent documentary, How Do I Look, directed by Wolfgang Busch.
Save to del.icio.us