“Can you help me with this?” Sheba, dressed in a light blue one-piece and sheer black tights, turns and gestures toward the garment’s zipper. It’s ten minutes until showtime at the Wildcat Lounge, and the first group costume is denim-themed. In the corner, obscured by mannequin heads and mounds of tulle, Cooper shimmies into a jean miniskirt.
Just outside on the covered patio, the audience is getting rowdy. Bachelorettes are tipping back mimosas, patrons cool themselves using rainbow-colored fans, and a handful of young men shift in their seats, looking increasingly nervous. Showrunners Vivan Storm and Angel D’mon breeze into the backroom and call Sheba and Cooper over to run through a last-minute rehearsal. “Your right fist should be up in the air…one, two, three, four,” Vivian says, the fringe on her jean shorts dancing with each punch. Glitter Brunch is about to begin.
If you’re able to secure tickets to Vivian and Angel’s weekly drag brunch in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara, consider yourself lucky — it sells out nearly every Sunday. Their variety show includes dance numbers, stand-up comedy, audience performances and no shortage of surprises, an interactive experience that even the most begrudging guests can’t help but warm up to (at least judging by how contagiously smiles spread across the patio over the next two hours).
Vivian and Angel are in the business of joy. Through Glitter Brunch and the work they do creating safe, accepting spaces for the LGBTQ+ community, they’re using performance to chase their dreams and help change the narrative about drag.
As told to SeaVees. Photos by Johnie Gall.
Vivian: I was so nervous the first time I performed. It’s 2009 and all my friends are there, and it’s the first time any of them will see me in drag. This is in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, so I’m piecing together my outfits from whatever I can scrounge up at Walmart and buying my wigs off eBay. I was able to put together four outfits, one with a little bobbed wig to perform Rihanna’s song “Rude Boy.” I wore the same pair of heels for all of them — I still can’t believe I did that! My makeup was rough [laughs]. My face was very flat, I had no idea about contouring and highlighting yet. One of my drag idols was there and she pulled me aside and was like, “Girl, let me fix you because you’re looking a mess.”
My students were the push I needed to try drag. I was in my masters program and working as a hall director around the time Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” came out and I was always performing it in the dorms for fun. They were like, “You have to do drag!” But I considered myself a singer and I was really fearful of trying it because it seemed like a kind of confirmation for people — I didn’t want to be labeled as the gay one that does drag. That changed the second I got on stage. I was like, “Give me all the labels, I don’t care anymore, this is amazing.”
“I didn’t want to be labeled as the gay one that does drag. That changed the second I got on stage. I was like, ‘Give me all the labels, I don’t care anymore, this is amazing.’”
Angel: I spent 18 years as a professional Mexican folklore dancer, traveling the world to put on shows. After graduating with my master’s degree, I couldn’t keep up with that demanding schedule but found myself craving the stage. I decided to give drag a try — I thought I was amazing at it right away [laughs].
I’ve only been doing drag for three years and Vivian has been there every step of the way. I always say she performed an exorcism on me. As a child I was never free to express myself the way I wanted to, by wearing nail polish or pink outfits or my mom’s shoes, so as an adult I battled these internal demons as I struggled with my identity. Vivan dragged them out of me. She forced me to release the negative self-talk, the doubt, the things I was overanalyzing. Performing as Angel changed everything for me.
Vivian: Drag gets a bad rap. People put drag queens in categories, like they do with any race or subset of people — all Black people are this, all Mexican people are that, all queens are vulgar or catty or overly sexual. But those are the worst elements of it. The reasons I do drag are because I love to perform, and because I want to create spaces for joy. There are always people who are hesitant or don’t know what to expect when they show up to Glitter Brunch, so when Angel and I open our show every Sunday, we like to remind people that they have a choice, and why not choose to have fun in a space where that can exist? Fear and bias and the derogatory things you may have heard can’t exist where there’s joy.
“In my experience working with LGBTQ+ youth, they don’t take advantage of important life moments because they have been taught not to.”
Angel: Speaking of joy, we just hosted Pacific Pride Foundation’s Proud Prom, which is an alternative prom experience for LGBTQ+ youth. There was this moment where I was watching two young men just living free, holding hands, dancing the night away, and it was so beautiful. We’re the older gays now, but I couldn’t help but wish I had had an Angel and a Vivian to tell me it was okay to be me when I was their age.
Vivian:In my experience working with youth, they don’t take advantage of important life moments because they have been taught not to. Don’t live and be yourself, because someone is watching. They might “clock” you, is what we call it. And even in spaces where we’re encouraging them to be themselves, some still won’t partake because they are just so conditioned to hide. So when I’m grabbing people and making them walk on a catwalk with me, it’s because I don’t want them to wait until they are my age to experience joy in life. I’m asking them
Angel: I know people in their 40s and 50s still battling those inner demons. I’m a kindergarten teacher, and I see some of my five-year-old babies growing up in a heteronormative world, but not every single one of them is cis-gendered, so I write progressive curricula and recently co-authored a children’s book called Perfect For Me.
Vivian: We want people to own themselves, because once that happens, everything else in their lives will fall into place. I’m actually quitting my day job to do entertainment and life coaching for the rest of my life. I want to do healing work in the LGBTQ+ community, to help people see that being who you really are might mean you lose people in your life, but you’ll find out who is really in your cheering section. And the louder your cheering section gets, the more people will gravitate toward it.
Drag queens don’t do this for the money [laughs]. I’m from the hood — I know how to make $20 last me a week. We do this because it makes us feel alive. They’re going to have to put me in a wheelchair to perform because I’ll never stop doing drag.
Angel: If we did it for the money, we wouldn’t spend so much on our looks! These tights are $35 and they rip constantly. Then you’ve got your wigs, your dresses, shoes for each look, jewelry. And the makeup — foundation is $45 but stage makeup can be $70. We have four looks for each gig, again, because we want to provide for the community. It’s not about us and getting attention, it’s about making sure every time you show up to Glitter Brunch you are having a new experience.
Vivian: We won’t recycle a performance for three or four months and that’s a standard we set for ourselves. Drag is not about uniting all gays [laughs]. Our connection to the community is through performance. Drag is so huge in bringing communities together. We always set a light and fun tone. I’ll start by saying, “Where my gays at? Where my straighties at?” I’m not going to give anyone a lecture.
“They’re going to have to put me in a wheelchair to perform because I’ll never stop doing drag.”
Angel: We always get up there and say “Don’t worry, you can’t catch gay.” People always laugh at that. It’s always the people you don’t expect who come up after the show asking for pictures and thanking us. They always say, “my girlfriend dragged me here but this is the most fun I’ve ever had!” Joy is contagious.
Check out the limited-edition Monterey Pride Sneaker, designed in partnership with Pacific Pride Foundation. $5 from every pair purchased gives back year round to support the free and affordable services PPF offers the LGBTQ+ community.