by Allyson Smith
Big hair, sharp cheekbones, sky-high heels, death drops — all of these make up an art form that many people enjoy watching, and many talented queens love performing.
The greater Akron area is home to many talented drag performers, including Danyel Vasquez, Alison Turing, Jade Uzu Maki and Sarah Tonin. They hit stages at clubs, bars and other venues to put on shows that are so spectacular, so beautiful and so glamorous that many can make careers out of it.
Danyel Vasquez is probably one of the region’s best-known drag performers, as she has been performing for 27 years and tours nationwide. Danyel also designs stunning costumes and remixes music for other performers.
She says, “It started with a Halloween contest at the Interbelt Nite Club. I won. Then it snowballed from there.”
She is inspired by music, fashion and other queens.
Danyel’s favorite part of drag performing is making people happy in the moment when she performs. However, she says, “Drag is not for the weak! It’s a cutthroat business. Lots of shade. Drama. You gotta be strong.” But she also says it gets better.
Danyel performs at the Interbelt Nite Club, Switch Night Club in Youngstown, Chivalry Bar and Grill in Canton and Sami’s Bar in Mansfield. She can be found at @danyel_vasquez on Instagram and Danyel Vasquez on Facebook.
“She’s a little baby, she’s not fully realized yet,” Alison says of her on-stage persona. “I’ve been doing drag for five years but I was such a perfectionist about it that I didn’t want to go out until I was perfect…So I only started performing last year.”
She performs in bars and nightclubs in Akron, Cleveland and Columbus.
Her name is based on British mathematician, Alan Turing, to whom Alison feels a strong connection. Alan Turing was a gay British mathematician whose codebreaking contributions are credited with helping the Allies win World War II.
“I went to school for math and he has always been a kind of role model to me and my ambitions as a mathematician. But he was also a queer figure, he was gay…I kind of imagine myself as the drag version of Alan Turing.”
Alison loves performing drag because it’s an intersection of everything she enjoys. “I love makeup, hair, nails, acting like a woman, dancing, clothes and wearing them, and that right there is what separates people’s full-time jobs. I get to do all of it, and I get to do it in an environment where I feel comfortable doing it.”
When it comes to her outfits and performances, she likes to incorporate science in any way possible, whether that is moving parts, flashing lights or otherwise.
“I like to play with technology, with looks, to give you that extra experience,” she says.
But she is still trying to figure out the look she wants to stick with.
“I like to have costumes that are pretty simple, easy to move in,” Alison says. “But I haven’t really decided if I like flashy stuff or bondage, latex-y kind of stuff. Or do I like the vintage stuff? That’s something I’m looking to develop as I perform. I’m in the experimenting phase.”
When it comes to drag culture and community, Alison says, “If you’re a drag entertainer, there is one thing that is unequivocally true and that is… you are entertaining or you are not. It doesn’t matter what you identify as. If you identify yourself as a drag entertainer, it’s either going to be entertaining or it’s not, and the rest of it isn’t going to matter.”
Jade Uzu Maki
Jade Uzu Maki aims to be the “spooky, pretty girl…different, alternative and weird.”
She first got into drag as she was transitioning. “When I started doing my transition, I kind of let drag go because it was like a stepping stone into transition. But when I moved to the Akron area, I started going to the Interbelt and places like that and was like, ‘oh, that kind of looks fun.’ I took a [one] year break because my first performance was horrible, but I’ve been back for six months.”
She says she finds inspiration for costumes and performances in small things, like a pair of shoes.
“I want to try doing everything at least once. I think something that makes me different is I’m always doing something different. I’m never getting on stage and doing the same thing twice. I never have a favorite anything because I always change it every two weeks,” Jade says.
She loves that drag allows her to express herself however she wants. “I think drag really allows people to push who they are to another level. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do on a regular basis, so it’s nice to have that level of extra-ness. In some aspects, yes, it’s a character, but in other aspects it’s something I like to do and can do through drag.”
Jade says it is an obstacle to get your name out there and to get paid for performing, but the support she has found in the community, who all have each others’ backs, makes it all worth it.
Sarah Tonin, a good friend of Jade Uzu Maki, finds the time for drag between work and studies.
“It’s a lot, but I love it. I wouldn’t change a thing…When I’m Sarah Tonin, it’s a whole different ballgame. It helps me express my feminine qualities and helps me empower myself through that.”
Like many others, Sarah was inspired by RuPaul’s reality show, Drag Race. “I was always into makeup when I was growing up. And then I saw RuPaul’s Drag Race… I saw people being their authentic selves and thought it was everything.”
Sarah’s drag name is a play on words for “serotonin,” a neurotransmitter. When there is a lack of serotonin, one may feel depressed.
“That’s why I’m like the sad girl of Akron,” she explains. “I was also inspired by childhood innocence because when I was little, I wasn’t able to experience the dolls, the glitz, the glamour, so I’m kind of reclaiming the years that I missed.”
She is also inspired by pastel colors and vintage aesthetics like pin-ups, Americana, film noir and ‘50s and ‘60s fashion.
“I want to emulate the most popular girl in school who cried herself to sleep every night. I’m really into creating that kind of character and that kind of vibe,” she says.
Sarah describes drag performing as a “multi-level artform”.
“It has makeup design, costume design, performance; you have to be social, and you have to be a businesswoman,” she explains.
She says when it comes to performing, she doesn’t necessarily dance and would rather tell a story. “I like to do a lot of high energy stuff, like electronic pop and beats…I don’t dance, necessarily, but I am very smart with play, with emphasis around that to make up for that. I do a lot of concepts.”
“If you’re doing the same thing as another artist, then there’s no point in doing it because it’s already been done,” she explains.
Sarah says performing in drag has taught her a lot about self-worth and personal growth, in addition to the importance of finding a community and cheering one another on.
“I’ve had people come up to me and talk about how my art is able to speak to them and how it has impacted them. And that’s something I’ve never expected to happen. Like, I do this for me. It makes all the sacrifice that goes into drag so worth it.”
Photos used with permission from the performers.
Allyson’s background is in media production and anthropology. Her hobbies include coffee, traveling, and teaching people about things they didn’t know before.