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Emma Tattenbaum-Fine Headshot

Gchat: 'The Birth of a Drag Queen'

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This is my edited Gchat with Stephen (Stevo) Arnoczy aka "Liz Beta".

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Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

my cat is trying to jump up so if you see nonsense on the screen, that's gonna be him.

Stevo Arnoczy

hi emma's cat! KJHAShkk to you too... in advance.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

so how did you create your drag character?

Stevo Arnoczy

SO Liz Beta was born after a show I acted in last year (TROIKA, dir: Kristine Lee). I played a drag queen goddess named Elizaveta who was a kind of Russian bombshell.

Stevo Arnoczy

i had comically large boob puppets. we called them buppets.

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Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

YES now i remember everything. those were amazing.

i remember those, ur cheekbones, and the rest of the play from there.

So you had never played a woman before?

Stevo Arnoczy

that was the first time i played a woman.

i remember being challenged as an actor because of the vulgar things Elizaveta said... and it truly all clicked after the first dress rehearsal where i put makeup on for the first time

its that finding the character from the outside -> in thing we talked a bit about a few nights ago.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

yes, the same experience I had when Kelli Bartlett made me up to look like a dude.

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However, what is this business of being scared to say vulgar things? That surprises me. You can't say vulgar things as Stevo?

Stevo Arnoczy

It was more about the ownership of saying the specific vulgar things, from a female perspective... I'm paraphrasing, but Elizaveta said things like "I'm gonna make you cum after I tease you with my slippery nips... and other things like that."

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Photo by Sasha Arutyunova

never was i opposed to it... but looking like a sexpot-y dominatrix allowed me to RELISH in the teasing.

i guess the tone allowed me.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

And what made you decide to appropriate the character for your own purposes? u must have gotten a ton of positive feedback, for starters.

Stevo Arnoczy

drag was something I was interested in (from the sidelines) and LOVED watching starting in college. drag as cultural touchstone and community creator. When my friends saw Elizaveta and gave me their amazing feedback, I saw an investment in learning how to do it properly as a new way to express my creative self... a new way to build character.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

What is/has been your previous forms of expression? You are a video editor, right? Among other stuff.

Stevo Arnoczy

that's right! Video editing came from a lifelong obsession with music videos.

i guess my interest in drag follows logically -- i get so excited by a fierce and spot-on lip sync!

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Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

When I saw you perform I was most struck by how the sound was coming out of you effortlessly -- your lip-syncing was very eerie and arresting. How the hell does one do that?

Stevo Arnoczy

it takes SO much rehearsal. Like way so much more rehearsal than learning lines for a play.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

what has surprised you about drag, from ur days of watching RuPaul to ur now days of doing it?

Stevo Arnoczy

Actors who have the great skill of mimicry make the best drag queens. I am not blessed with this skill of SKILLS, so it takes a lot of work. It's more than just learning the words. It's memorizing the emotion behind the inflection of the singer at any given moment.... and then you have to remember that it's live and it's to and for an audience.... It's akin to juggling 5 balls of fire, to me.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

What about the purely creative part of creating the character? How did Liz Beta... who has some involvement with aliens, come out of Kristine's character?

Stevo Arnoczy

I'm surprised by how many different kinds of drag queens there are. From character actresses to indie rap superstars, you name it, there's a drag queen doing it in her weekly show... and that drag queen is in Brooklyn. It's inspiring! And I guess personally, I'm surprised and have the most respect for the hard work that every start-up queen puts into learning the 7 seven layers of make-up, the wig crafting, the audio editing, and on and on for the opportunity to perform in one 7-minute slot on a Thursday night at midnight at a bar in Chelsea. like, it takes dedication and some money to do it on the NYC circuit!

the brainstorming and dreaming up of the character's back story is the most fun for me. I've never taken a playwriting class, but my experience with creating this persona for this play gave me access to that side of things... license to play!

I'm a sci-fi geek. Andrew Scoville [director] and I are cut from the same cloth in many ways. I love robots and outer space (and Settlers of Catan!!!)

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

I think of sci-fi as pimply straight boy stuff, not gorgeous gay guy stuff.

Stevo Arnoczy

I was like... well i'm thinking about this character Liz Beta. And what if she's from the future.... and he said... "DUH! Yes! Tell me more!" and from then it was like a boulder down a mountain.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

won't you please describe Liz Beta's exact story?

Stevo Arnoczy

SO Liz Beta is from a planet (Planet f.1.S.h) which is millions of light years away.

So far away in fact that the radiowaves from earth that are reaching her planet are from the 1940s!

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

oh yessss rightttttt... the sazerac shortened my memory of all this!

Stevo Arnoczy

So when she catches a stray frequency, it's Peggy Lee, and Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland (i know, i know) --

This is all she knows until a piece of her planet breaks off and travels the many millions of miles to crash land on earth on the meteor that hit Russia in February of 2013.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

Didn't you sing "Queen of the Night" at one point too? Was that one of the radio waves that reaches her?

Stevo Arnoczy

and in the performance she performed one of her standards ("Why Don't You Do Right, Peggy Lee") and we fast-forward in time for the second song, wherein she shows humankind what she's learned on this great planet of ours, and she performs a mash-up of "Queen of the Night" and a hip-hop song that samples that aria (Kelis, "Like You")

haha

and i guess she takes the form of a Russian beauty -- the first thing she encounters!

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

Cuz she lands in Russia!

So has drag affected you personally or aspects of your sexual identity?

Stevo Arnoczy

i suppose drag has opened me up... it's functioned as a sort of drastic step up in my sexual and mental maturity.

when i tell guys that i meet for the first time that i perform in drag, their reaction is an immediate litmus test for whether or not we'd be emotionally/sexually compatible.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

What kinds of reactions do you get? It doesn't make you an immediate superstar?

Stevo Arnoczy

Well, there's still a stigma against effeminate in mainstream NYC gay male culture, or at least that's what I find.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

but aren't there plenty of men who dress in drag and then go around comfortably as males when they are offstage?

anyway the mainstream in any culture is usually a bunch of dumb assholes.

Artists are pretty much always right, which gets tiring.

Stevo Arnoczy

Absolutely. And there are more and more of them [men who perform in drag and feel good about it] since [RuPaul's Drag Race]. Which is a beautiful thing. And in my experience, strictly speaking from the NYC gay bar and club scene, these men are worshipped for their Charisma Uniqueness Nerve and Talent on stage, and ignored when out of drag.

Emma Tattenbaum-Fine

you feel really liberated by drag, right?

Stevo Arnoczy

I DO feel liberated by drag. I'm secure in my sexuality and the people I'm usually attracted to couldn't care less about me being a drag queen. or at least that's what i look for! i don't give people who think otherwise the time of day, honeyyy.

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This is Stevo with his "Drag Mother" Josh Nathaniel (Kiki), who has shown him the ropes, especially the 7 layers of make-up.

Liz Beta, Stevo's drag persona, is developing a 'Human Experience Cabaret' to debut this spring. Keep up with her on her official fb page https://www.facebook.com/lizbetaqueen, or find Stevo at www.livemusicvideo.org.