Interview with a Superstar – Tabitha Taylor
Interview Date: February 7, 2006
VR: Who is Tabitha Taylor?
TT: Tabitha Taylor is the alter ego of actor/cabaret artist Bryan Cassell.
VR: Where are you living these days and how long have you been there?
TT: I have been living in Tulsa, OK for the last 10 years. I settled in Tulsa after receiving my Masters Degree in Speech/Theatre.
VR: I got a very hard and maybe complex question, but what makes you tick? What keeps you going?
TT: The stage truly keeps me going. It may sound cliché’ but I truly believe I was born to entertain. My earliest memories are performing for my family and acting out in front of the 8 millimeter camera my parents and grandparents brought out during the holidays. When I find myself feeling down or stressed I go spend a few hours at the club rehearsing songs, belting out some rock classics and always end up feeling much better.
VR: Lets talk a little bit about what it was like for you growing up? Where did that happen?
TT: I was raised a ranch/farm kid. My family were cattle ranchers so I grew up around livestock and horses. However, my parents divorced when I was nine years of age so I spent a lot of time on the road back and forth. My mother moved my brother and I often which resulted in attendance of over six different elementary schools and over three towns during high school, so it was always tough being uprooted often and never feeling a sense of home. I have a strong relationship with my mother but my father and I drifted apart and I haven’t returned to the ranch in over 15 years.
VR: When you were growing up and each morning you would look in the mirror did you feel that was the wrong person looking back at you?
TT: I was never sure who was going to be looking back at me, I use to pretend I was different people when I would look in the mirror. I had a very active imagination as a child, still do, so I would act out scenes in the mirror when I was growing up, playing many different roles, women as well as men.
VR: Growing up, who was your inspiration, who did you look up to?
TT: My grandfather was a great storyteller and half Choctaw Indian so I devoured his stories and no matter how many times he repeated them, they somehow always remained fresh and exciting. But as I got older, family issues took it’s toll on everyone and things are said that shatter your childhood illusions. My great grandmother is a brave and strong women, she turns 102 this year and I can’t imagine how exciting it must be to have seen all those eyes have seen during that time.
VR: Was it had for you as a kid or where you “just one of the guys” and lead a normal type childhood?
TT: I was the typical boy next door. I played little league baseball, went fishing at the creek, climbed every tree I could. I remember as a kid being told on many occasions, “he’s too pretty to be a boy”, which were being handed out as compliments but I remember thinking, “but I am a boy, why can’t boy’s be pretty?”. As I got older then I would be described as artistic and creative, which looking back on it now, was pretty much code for “HE’S GAY!”. My focus and attention began to pull away from outdoor activities and I spent many afternoons with pencil and paper in hand and began writing. At this time I also began my love affair with classic cinema, I became obsessed with the late late show on television waiting and hoping Bette Davis or the Marx Brothers would be on the screen that night. I don’t think my parents really understood how to help me channel that creativity so I began educating myself. I was an avid reader with an incredible drive to learn. My family were ranchers and farmers, my dad was a fireman and my mom at the time a housewife, they had no idea how to support a child that wanted to be a writer/performer. However, my Dad did give me the greatest gift ever when I was 13 and that was a typewriter. Although he grew to regret it when I chose it over my horse and destroyed his dreams of my becoming a rodeo champion. I always enjoy the look on faces when I try to explain that I use to rope and ride but it’s been years since I’ve been on a horse. (I still think there is a country western singing cowboy somewhere inside me)
TT: I began officially doing drag in 1986. Although you will find some pics of me as a young kid of the 60′s wearing my mom’s wigs for the candid Polaroid shot.
VR: What made you decide to get into the business?
TT: It was basically a challenge. I was 20 years of age and a theatre major and I was told by an acting instructor at the university I was attending that chances were I would never get cast since he didn’t intend to choose any plays with characters I would be apt to play, characters within the 16-17 age range as I looked very young. A friend suggested I prove him wrong with the greatest acting challenge known to character acting, the opposite sex. So as I couldn’t pass for an adult male, I could most definitely pass as an adult female and accepted the challenge. I never viewed performing in drag as anything more than an acting job.
VR: Did you have, like a lot of us, a mentor or what they call “Drag Mother” to show you the way?
TT: I didn’t have an official “drag mother”. I was very lucky when I began performing, I was offered a spot in a weekend show after my first club performance by a former Miss Gay Oklahoma America, Patty Melt. There were amazing entertainers that would come in, give a word of advice in regards to make up or hair, and I would sit back and listen to everything they said. I absorbed their knowledge of the art form and watched in awe of their transformations. There was one specific entertainer known as Sasha Loren that I admired deeply. He had the ability to just walk onto a stage and stand, perform his number and never move and the audience just flocked to him. Elegance and beauty was his calling card and I so wanted to be able to appear as classy onstage. I was lucky enough to be in the audience the year he won Miss Gay Oklahoma America and as I was congratulating him onstage he whispered in my ear that someday that crown would be on my head. Sadly, he was taken from us as many friends were during that time and wasn’t able to see my victory. But as they were placing the crown on my head last July at Miss Gay Oklahoma America, I found myself shedding tears, many think it was the excitement, or the relief, but truthfully, it was Sasha whispering into my ear, “Told you so!”.
VR: Tabitha, that is a very beautiful name but not one you hear of too often, why did you choose that name? Was there an influence somewhere? Someone you admire from a far?
TT: At the time I began performing I remember the selecting of your drag name by taking your first pet and the first street you lived on, well that would have meant I was Snowball Star Route and that just didn’t work for me. The truth is I was doing something around the house and the television was on for background noise, I wasn’t really paying attention to what was on, and I heard Samantha Stevens call out to her daughter Tabitha on a rerun of Bewitched. I stopped and turned to the television as if Elizabeth Montgomery had called out to me, and that’s how I decided to take Tabitha as my drag name. At the time I had never met anyone with that name and I’m not sure how many other drag performers I share it with. I have discovered however by the receipt of some interesting emails that I do share it with an adult film star.
VR: I know you have a beautiful voice of your very own, have you ever cut a CD? And if so, are they available today to purchase?
TT: I did release a limited edition cd a few years back. It is no longer available but I have plans to return to the studio. I have also appeared on dance tracks from internationally known, Frustrated Housewives. I truly enjoy performing with a band and hopefully will get a chance to do so again very soon. I am currently in discussions with a local singer/songwriter to compose some original material for me.
VR: How about TV or Movies, Hollywood must be looking for you, have you ever appeared in any?
TT: I will be making a brief appearance in a locally produced horror movie but for now mostly stage work. I know most actors dream of television or Hollywood films, but I had the pleasure of performing theatre on the east coast and my greatest thrill would be performing on Broadway. So if any theatre or film directors are reading this right now…call me, I’m ready for my close-up!!!
VR: Where are you performing now?
TT: I am show coordinator at New Age Renegade in Tulsa, OK. I have a monthly cabaret show called, Mascara as well as appearing as host/mc for our monthly benefit show, Red Ribbon Revue which all proceeds benefit local AIDS charities. For the last two years I have served as writer/director of Twisted Theatre and Way-Off Broadway, a monthly production produced by New Age Renegade.
VR: I try not to ask about other performers when I interview someone but this question is one I always wanted to ask and girl you’re the lucky one that gets asked. If you were doing a two women show, just you and one other performer, it could be anyone, not just a female impersonator, who would it be and why?
TT: I had the honor of recently performing a two person show, “City Lights and Country Nights” with local country artist, Matthew Heath-Fitzerald and have performed my solo show a few times onstage as well with other male guests. There are a few people actually who I would love to appear with onstage. I am a huge Charles Busch fan and admire his work as a playwright/performer and would feel privileged to share the stage with him. I really enjoy the work of Varla Jean Merman, his voice and comic wit are amazing.
VR: Everyone sees the world of female impersonation as all fun and glamour, for some reason they think we sit down in front of a mirror and 5 minutes later, bingo a pageant queen arises! Beautiful hair, makeup and clothing, can you tell your fans here what it takes to become you, before a performance?
TT: Xanax and a Martini! I’m kidding. It really depends on what show I am doing. I spend about two weeks writing the upcoming Twisted Theatre production for the month and spend one week in rehearsal. When it comes to preparing to perform as Tabitha I would say it takes me about two hours in makeup and dressing time. You are correct in most just assume we walk into that little room behind the stage and twitch our nose and “tada” we’re queens. I’m sure they would be surprised to see the battle scars we endure for the glamour. I tell my cast one time for one show we are gonna put the mirrors and tables onstage and as the show begins we begin getting ready and let the audience watch what we go through, perhaps then more would respect and appreciate the art form.
VR: We’ve touched on some of the more interesting aspects of the profession – the people, the places – but what are some of the drawbacks or the downside of the business?
TT: I think the lack of respect from some members of the gay community is the biggest downside of this business. It seems many times the term drag queen is used derogatively and we are viewed as vicious, backstabbing, unemployed, drugged out gay men with too much attitude. The community I live in sometimes seems to regard entertainers as “non-people”, we don’t exist outside that arena. Another major drawback is lack of social time. It seems when my friends are having a dinner party or social events, I’m always preparing for a show. While most of my friends work typical hours by work shift doesn’t begin until evening, it can sometimes make you feel lonely.
VR: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date, in or out of the business?
TT: In November, I will be celebrating my 10th year as a performer at New Age Renegade and my 9th year as show host there. I’m very proud of the work we have done and the funds we have raised with Red Ribbon Revue and am thankful that I was asked to be a part of that legacy. At this time, I do believe we are the only club in the state of Oklahoma that produces a monthly theatre show with Twisted Theatre and our Way-Off Broadway series and I consider it a great accomplishment in creating a new show every month.
VR: Now we all have these, the things we don’t talk about, the things while on stage we wish we could find a rock to hide under, but it has to be asked<smile> any “embarrassing” moments while performing you would like to share with us?
TT: Well, I’ve slipped onstage, been de-wigged onstage, heckled onstage, forgot lyrics to song I was singing, wardrobe malfunctions, I just chalk it up as exactly what live performing is all about. The spontaneity of it, the knowledge that anything can happen at anytime makes it incredibly exciting.
VR: I see you have won a few pageants this year, do you enjoy competing?
TT: I had stayed away from the pageant system for many years and really focused on growing as an entertainer. After performing in the same style and the same club for as long as I had, I needed to “freshen up” and really check myself as an entertainer. Competing to me is like taking a test after studying for hours, do you have enough knowledge and confidence to pass? I feel competing has helped me be a better entertainer by forcing me to look at myself as a performer. Also, I truly love the atmosphere of a pageant, I have learned so much and it’s always enlightening to hear how others got their start, or their favorite make up tips, or even sharing drag numbers from years passed.
VR: Any national pageants in the future for you?
TT: I have competed twice at Miss Gay America, and receiving the Lady Barbara Award during my first year. I hope to return to the Miss Gay America pageant in the near future to compete again.
VR: Do you have any pet peeves?
TT: Dishonesty, people who talk on their cell phones during a movie, the lack of “please” and “thank you”, Imposing one’s beliefs on others, and the list could go on…
VR: Do you think you are a nice person or do you think you can be a bitch at times?
TT: I think we can all be a bitch at times but I blame 80′s night time soaps for that. I mean who wanted to be Crystal, we all wanted to be Alexis. I consider myself a nice person but I do demand hard work from others and perhaps that can sometimes be perceived as being a Bitch. I guess you could say I’ve much more in common with Julia Sugarbaker than Mary Jo Shively.
VR: What do you think makes you stand out above others?
TT: An entertainer I admire and respect recently sent me an email and thanked me for being an original performer and continuing to adhere to the image I had created for myself. I have always taken a chance by being a live vocal drag performer. There is a lot of pressure from other performers as well as club proprietors to adapt to a traditional standard of drag performance. I have remained true to the character I created and continue to channel the drag legends of the past as I hopefully help contribute to the legacy of the live drag performer.
VR: Do you get nervous when you are asked to speak to a group or perform on stage?
TT: I’m more nervous speaking to someone off stage than onstage. It’s much more difficult for me to engage in conversation than it is to speak to a crowd.
VR: I don’t ask this question very often anymore but are you a full time woman and if not would you ever consider it in the future?
TT: I am a full time male, Tabitha is only an illusion. I have remained silicone and surgery free as well, it’s all pencil and paint.
VR: Are you in love these days?
TT: I haven’t been very lucky in that area. Every time I try to dive into the dating pool, I always seem to pick the shallow end.
VR: What do you think you have to offer the gay or transgender community, anything at all?
TT: I think they have more to offer us, I have many friends in the transgender community and I have always been envious of their courage and pride. We talk about being out and how much courage it takes to step out of the closet, I can’t imagine how much courage it takes to step out and begin the reassignment. They are truly much stronger and courageous individuals than I could ever pretend to be.
VR: What words of wisdom would you give to someone who is reaching out for help?
TT: Listen and Learn. Anyone can put on a wig and makeup, but that doesn’t make you an entertainer. Work at your craft and take it seriously and educate yourself to the world of the female impersonator. There is an incredible history of Drag but yet many newcomers aren’t familiar with Julian Eltinge, Jim Bailey, Charles Pierce to name a few.
VR: In closing I really want to say thank you Tabitha, this was a very special interview for me, do you have a final statement, for our readers?
TT: I really appreciate the opportunity to express myself. I would also like to thank you for an incredible website, and for your help in supporting the art form of female impersonation. For those that would like to keep tabs on Tabitha, please feel free to check out my profile www.myspace.com/tabithamgo2006. Once again it was a pleasure and thank you, we are truly blessed to have you on our side.
Note from Vicki Rene: I have know of Tabitha for a couple of years now, always thought she was a beautiful lady but after doing this interview with her and receiving a couple of emails from her, she is the type of person I would like to call a friend. She seems very honest, straight forward and very down to earth. She is a perfect example of what most of the entertainers I know are