Words by Sydney MacDonald
Stepping into Joey Arias’s apartment feels like a step back in time. Between the clouds of incense smoke and menage of trinkets placed along his walls, each momento seems to encapsulate the time he’s spent as a performer. Arias, who’s been shaped by three decades as an entertainer, has been considered by some to be a drag queen. For those who have truly had the Joey Arias experience, however, it’s indisputably evident that he exists in a category of his own. CONVICTS got a chance to catch up with the performer and find out what makes him so uniquely gifted at his craft.
When someone asks you what you do, what’s your response?
Tell us about your childhood. Did you always feel drawn to performing?
As a child I liked to fuck around and sing along to records. My mom loved singing too — there was always music blasting from the radio or a record player in my house. When I was young I was like a little seed: I knew exactly who I was in a weird way because I was playing with dolls and transforming. When I was in grade school I did my eyebrows, put makeup on and dyed my hair. I was going through it all without knowing — it came naturally.
Would you describe what you do as drag?
What I do is performance art dragged in with theatre. When we were all trying to get the Broadway shows it was like, “you’re too weird, you sound great but no…it doesn’t work.” So we created our own performance art shows.
What persona have you created onstage?
I’m the same. The person that’s sitting here and the person on-stage is the same person…it’s just turned to ten. When I’m on stage I’m just Joey, you know I could be male, female. As soon as people look at me they’ll ask ‘who are you?’ I’ll be like ‘I’m God’.
What made you go in the direction of performing drag?
It’s the money that made me go in that direction. It wasn’t because I loved it. I hated drag. I just put the fucking dress on and it became a part of the act, and then I just started falling in love with it because it was just dressing up and having a good time.
In your professional career you’ve been compared to Billie Holiday. Do you try to embody her while you’re on stage?
When I do the Billie Holiday Show I’m channeling the voice. I’m not Billie Holiday. It’s still my own interpretation, but there will only be one Billie Holiday.
How do you prepare for your shows?
I just go on stage and say to myself “Joey just don’t think about it, just walk on.” No more and no less. You don’t over act it, you don’t under act it — you’re beautiful as you are.
Why do you think it’s important to perform?
I guess it’s kind of my protest. It’s my flag waving. It’s a way of speaking out and sending people messages. It’s entertaining and it gets people lost in a different world. They’re like “Oh my god I just saw this show and it blew my mind.”
Thanks for your time Joey, it’s been a pleasure.