The Emancipation of Shea Coulee’ (Part 3 of 3)
Shortly before pride, a good friend of mine, “The Honey Badger of Burlesque” Jeez Louise asked me if I would be willing to participate in an all black burlesque review she was producing called “Jeezy’s Juke Joint.” She explained that she was looking for male dancers to participate in the show. Flattered, I agreed and she let me know she would e-mail me more info about the show later on.
Now, let’s get the record straight. Though Jeezy wanted my participation in the show, she in no intent wanted to bring me on as a solo act. This is what I figured, because I wasn’t a burlesque performer. My burlesque knowledge didn’t extend far beyond the shows I had seen Jeezy perform in. Until an unfortunate email intended for the solo acts only reached my inbox.
I remember it like it was yesterday. I was on the sunny 3rd floor of my work building putting away Aida headpieces when the email alert on my phone went off. I opened my inbox to see “Jeezy’s Juke Joint” in the subject line. I figured it had to do with an upcoming rehearsal schedule, but instead it was a deadline for when we had to have our acts submitted. Act? I didn’t know anything about an act? Did she want me to do a burlesque number? I froze. I didn’t know if I had the guts to take my clothes off in front of an audience of 200 people. But I was so flattered that she thought that I had what it took to produce an act. So, I decided that I would use this opportunity to make splash and debut by doing burlesque in drag.
Cut to a week later when Jeezy received my email with my act information. Remember, she had no intent of casting me as a solo act in the show ? so imagine her surprise to receive an email about me performing in drag to Beyonce’s “Suga Mama.” Inadvertently I had cast myself in the show, and due to Jeezy’s unbelievable trust in me (which I still don’t totally understand fully, but will always appreciate) she never batted an eyelash. I was in the show.
As the Juke Joint approached I grew more and more nervous in anticipation of my stage debut as Shea Coulee’. The night of the show I had all sorts of feelings coursing through my veins. In my heart-of-hearts I knew that I would be fine. But, on the same token – it was my first performance in a show in front of complete strangers doing drag burlesque.
The opening number went off without a hitch, and as I went backstage to change and prep my makeup – one of the more “difficult” performers needed to change the lineup. I’m assuming because one of his underage backup dancers were running late. Well, I cannot prove they were underage, but they looked about fourteen. Anyway, so the lineup changed, meaning that I was going on two acts earlier. As I finished the last touches on my makeup, I went to the stage door to check where we were.
As I opened the door I heard Jeezy say, “Give it up for Shea Coulee’!” I froze, but I couldn’t freeze. So without any moment to gather myself I strutted onto that stage in a sexy tuxedo jacket accessorized with legs and stilettos. The crowd went wild. Before that music even began, I had them in the palm of my hand. And boy did I WERK that number. I served so much fish, I nearly gave them mercury poisoning. When I left that stage I couldn’t stop shaking. The adrenaline from that performance had me feeling invincible, and all of the other performers were showering me with compliments and pats on the back, and some spanks on the ass. I knew that this was it for me. Drag was everything that I had been looking for – and as corny as it sounds, I felt complete.
I knew that I wanted Shea to become a fixture in the Queer community. I wanted to get work, and the only other way I knew to get my name out there was to hustle at the amateur contest they hold at Roscoe’s. My first performance there flopped. No one knew who I was, nor did they give a damn. So at the end of the night all I had was a bruised ego, and a cheap shot of whiskey in my bloodstream. But I didn’t want to let this one set back stop me. So I continued performing in Miss Roscoe’s. I worked that grind for the four month’s leading up to the finals where I placed third.
My third place victory was bittersweet. I had my eyes on the crown, but apparently that didn’t matter. What mattered is what I took away from the experience. Throughout the entirety of my time competing for the title of Miss Roscoe’s 2012, I grew so much as a performer. Thanks to the love and support of my friends, I was able to find the superstar within. The night of the finals, I wasn’t upset. Really. I was disappointed that I didn’t achieve my goal. But I also understood. I knew that it had nothing to do with me personally, or my level of talent – and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.
So what was the next step for me? Roscoe’s was most definitely not the end-all-be-all. I needed to re-evaluate myself as Shea and figure out what would be the next steps I would need to take to further my career. Then one day in April while working on an adaptation of ‘Everyman,’ I got an e-mail from the casting directors of RuPaul’s Drag Dace. It was to notify me that they had opened up casting for season five.
My answer was right there in that email. This was the next step for Shea Coulee’. Amidst styling through my jobs busiest season, and having half of my buildings power cut off. I had 5 days to submit my tape. After several all-nighters and an emotional breakdown here and there, I finally finished my tape and sent it off.
After about a month I heard back from the casting directors. I didn’t make the cut. But I was surprisingly thrilled. To me this meant I had an ENTIRE year to continue working on my drag. I had envisioned myself on RuPaul’s Drag Race since I started. Because let’s be honest, that’s what all drag queens dream about. If it’s not the title, it’s at least the exposure, and having the opportunity to become a part of the cult following that surrounds Drag Race.
I knew in that moment that I wasn’t ready to receive the type of success that comes along with appearing on the show, not to mention I hadn’t quite fine-tuned who Shea Coulee’ was – I still haven’t. Everyday for Shea is a new and exciting experience for me. When I look back on the last year of my life, and how much I’ve grown personality. Not to mention that physically I dropped twenty-five pounds of weight I had acquired by stress eating (I admit it). But honestly, that’s just the icing atop the Shea Coulee’ cake. I am a different person now, and much better than I ever imagined I would be in a year. Shea saved me. Creating her allowed me to see the light within myself and build the confidence to run out and share it with others. I’m sometimes convinced that she embodies all of the positive and powerful aspects of my personality that I allowed to lay dormant for years?
So what’s next in the Shea Coulee’ odyssey you ask? Child, I don’t know. No one does. All I can do is work toward being the best artist I can be, and hope that I improve myself while hopefully influencing others. I live each day as it comes, but still anxiously look for any open doors along the way. That’s me asking for jobs by the way. For bookings contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Not interested in booking me? Your loss, but if you see me on the street don’t be afraid to wave and say “Hey.” Because I’ll guarantee you’ll always get a smile form me.
Fill the world with love.