Hello, all – and welcome back!
RoyalTea is back and piping hot with the newest kids on The Block. This week, RoyalTea rolled up a jazz cigarette, threw on our flapper dress, and Charlestoned all the way up to the Hudson Valley – home of the dazzlingly dapper Bus(s/t)y R Keaton.
Bus(s/t)y has been performing in New York for almost two and a half years – both as a burlesquer and, more recently, as a drag king on the rise. Er, um — pardon — drag CLOWN. Giggling and galavanting his way into our hearts, Queeries got the rare chance to pick into the mind of the peculiar Bu(s/t)y…. and we’re still not sure if he’s one of the murdering clowns or not —
TW: slurs, clowns
Bus(s/t)y’s pretty easy to fall for — huh? PC: @stevievox
For you, is there a marked difference in your drag and burlesque performances?
In burlesque, I tend to make my performances campy because I simply can’t take myself seriously- I don’t see myself as a sexy person — I’m funny.
But with drag, I can strip down naked and feel sexy because it’s Bussy doing the stripping. His face is bright white, he has bright blue cheeks, thin eyebrows and a mustache, and he has great big boobs. He’s a demon with the body of a dame, using the body to seduce the audience. But also, I can be a lot goofier, I can use props, do songs and convey stories that I just can’t do with burlesque.
I did an act to The Hook and whipped (à la “now watch me whip, now watch me nae nae”) every time they said “the hook” – I could never do shit like that as a burlesque artist and be taken seriously.
What is drag, to you?
I could tell you it’s a performance of gender or a fun way to live out your emo kid fantasies — which is all true — but I’d like to make a point that I don’t think a ton of people understand. It’s a huge display of bravery. I remember the first time I went out in full face (with my drag father, Show Ponii) and I completely forgot how I looked. I felt very comfortable in full clown white with drawn on eyebrows, but I got — can I say this? — “the faggot stare”.
I got “the faggot stare” from so many white men in trucker hats who were clearly distressed with our appearance. Then, going out to the bar where the show was, lots of drunk women tried to touch us, saying “You go, girl!” (even though I was in drag and wanted to be referred to as he/they). During my performances, people would insist on shoving cash into my cleavage and touching me.
I let them do it — for the tips — but it takes a level of self-love, self-respect and bravery to let people do that when you’re painted up like a clown.
What is “the faggot stare”?
The faggot stare is the look you get, mostly from older folks, in non-queer spaces when you come in looking especially queer. I was in an all white face with multicolored makeup and a fake mustache, so I got a couple sneers/glares/looks of disbelief.
I categorize all of those under the umbrella of ‘faggot stare’ — the “you don’t look the way you’re supposed to according to what I think you should look like/I don’t understand you” stare.
The first time ShowPonii put me in face!
What does it mean to be someone’s ‘drag child’?
It means carrying on the family name and respecting where you came from.
Show Ponii put me in full drag with hundreds of dollars’ worth of makeup and introduced me to his drag family, brought me to a gig and let me go backstage to meet Yuhua Hamasaki. It was a dream, a delight, and felt really really good. I felt welcomed into the family without hesitation. After that, you become fiercely dedicated to that family that took you in. I help him with shows, he comes to my gigs — it’s a collaborative relationship.
It also means cutting ties. I was working with a venue I really enjoyed, but they wouldn’t book my drag dad due to differing moral values. Even though I enjoyed my time there, you can’t cut my dad from my show without explanation, so I had to cancel my gigs there.
It’s not business, it’s family.
Seems like your performance family is pretty big-! Along with producing a few one off shows, you’re currently co-president of a campus burlesque troupe Alpha Psi Ecdysia. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced, running a troupe of your own?
Managing people, period, is really difficult. When you have to direct over thirty people and half of them have exceptions or questions, you’ll find yourself feeling burnt out.
And how do you deal with the burnout when it creeps up?
Well, it can involve a lot of frustration, unfortunately. Sometimes you say something so many times that when someone asks you the question you’ve been answering for months, it can make you storm out of a meeting. Luckily it’s only ever come to that once, and I wasn’t the one doing the storming, but it’s shocking how a straw can break the camel’s back. On top of managing a club of over thirty members, one of the larger organizations at the school, we’re battling campus bureaucracy, booking spaces and requesting funding and rehearsing our own acts.
My best advice for anyone is to remember to step away from the character for a moment. If I feel burnt out as Bussy or as Busty, I take off the fake lashes, wipe off the white foundation and let myself be me, removed from the art form. Then, when I’m feeling good and ready, I don the face again and come back feeling prepared to deal with all the questions and confusion.
It worked last show, considering it came together beautifully! The former president of the club was crying during the whole show and I was so incredibly proud of my babies, no matter how many times I snapped at them. Plus my Darth Vader act SLAPPED.
Doesn’t he just force choke your breath away? Photo by @hackle_shackles
So um- when are we finally collabing to pull off the greatest recreation of the Mustafar fight in all of history?
YOU WERE MY BROTHER, HOLDEN! I LOVED YOU!
You’ve managed to perfectly blend both the silly and the sexy – at such a transitional period in your performance, what do you hope the future holds for you?
I just hope the future holds more burlesque and drag — for a while there, it felt like burlesque was just going to be a hobby during college. But now, I want to keep it in my life for as long as possible! My goal is to move to a city with a vibrant queer community so I can keep supporting the art form and improving. Speaking of, slide into my DMs if you’re looking for a chubby clown to do splits at your next gig 😉
You don’t need to wander into the woods or get dragged into a sewer to see this clown smile – he’ll be coming ’round the mountain one last time with his FINAL Alpha Psi Ecdysia show on April 20th (bring him a fitting present), then he’ll be Geishing April 22 and 29. Catch him opening for Loosey Goosey in Poughkeepsie on April 27, the only monthly show known to release live geese at the stroke of midnight.
Laddies and gentle-thems… SEND IN THE CLOWNS.
Now, I do have to acknowledge my own personal bias — I love this performer. Getting to watch him grow as a creative artist has been an absolute pleasure. He has navigated impossible situations with grace and continues to impress everyone around him with his humor, poise, and charisma. (Long story short, I love ‘im.)
Welp – be good, stay outta trouble; as always, if you have an artist you feel should be profiled or are one yourself, feel free to reach out to me, @madsleighfaire (all held social media platforms). Until next time, this has been RoyalTea with Mads Leigh-Faire, interviewing Bus(s/t)y R. Keaton for Queeries blog.
Mads Leigh-Faire (he/him) is a freelance theatrical dramaturg, literary assistant, and drag performer. Mads hopes to use Queeries as a platform to educate and engage not only himself but the LGBTQIA+ community with a productive and empathetic dialogue surrounding our hopes, needs, dreams, fears, and accomplishments. They also have a lot of feelings about the sentience of droids in the Star Wars canon.