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