BY BOB KRASNER | “Drag queen,” “femme,” “queer,” “trans,” “drag king” — if any of these terms interest you, you’ll want to see “A Night at Switch n’ Play,” a new documentary that examines the Brooklyn-based drag and burlesque collective “Switch n’ Play.”
The film, directed by Cody Stickels and produced by Chelsea Moore, is a loving and lively look at a group of performers who won the title of “Best Burlesque Show” at the Brooklyn Nightlife Awards in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
The core group of seven, usually augmented with guest stars, can be seen twice a month at the Branded Saloon, where most of the doc was filmed.
The film, which switches back and forth between performances, provides glimpses behind the scenes and interviews.
The project makes it clear that the artists are interested in moving forward with both drag and burlesque, subverting many of the assumptions one might have about both genres. In addition, it stresses the feeling that everyone in the room — performers and audience — are in a safe space where they can do some “exploring, subverting, defying the rules of social acceptability” (in the words of performer Zoe Ziegfeld) while being seriously entertained. After a recent Halloween themed evening, the entertainers shared their thoughts on the movie and their art.
“Burlesque can be sexy, sad, hilarious, grotesque, tender,” Ziegfeld explains. “But sometimes it’s the hottest milk man you’ve ever seen in your life (K. James) or a giant stripping Twinkie (Divina GranSparkle) or a terrifying fetish dentist in rubber gloves spitting loose teeth into the audience (Nyx Nocturne).”
The performances range from laugh-out-loud funny to characters worthy of a horror movie, but even the edgiest personas have a personal message.
Nyx Nocturne uses the stage to stimulate their audience in more than one way.
“As a fat, [person of color], non-binary queer person, the way I have experienced desirability in more mainstream communities comes weighted with a certain amount of fetishizing curiosity, fear, and disgust,” they noted. “On stage I tend to blend scary and sexy in a way that intentionally blurs people’s idea of what excites their desire and what scares them.”
Divina GranSparkle, who discusses her upbringing and describes herself as “filthy and ludicrous” in the film, has a similar approach.
“I like to create acts that come from a source of personal discomfort,” she said. “The challenge of taking something that normally would make me feel uneasy, isolated or even hopeless and make something out of it. It’s an opportunity to address the things that at times hold me back in life by making something beautiful out of it.”
Miss Malice, the “Femmecee,” says that the film is allowing many more people to “experience the joy and energy of our little back room at the gay bar.”
“The film is such a loving portrait of us, both as individual performers and as a queer family that supports each other,” she added. “It was such an incredible gift to see what we were doing, this whole beautiful world we are creating as a group, through their eyes, and through the eyes of the audience. Our story is absolutely one about resilience and resistance — but joy, celebration, community are such vital forms of resistance. And glitter, too!”
Director Cody Stickels feels that they and producer Chelsea Moore accomplished what they set out to do.
“Chelsea and I realized early on that we were really writing ‘Switch n’ Play’ a love letter with this film,” they said. “Like they do for many folks, they made us feel seen and celebrated and we wanted to celebrate them in return. Our goal was to capture and document this decades-long icon of Brooklyn nightlife, and most of all to portray Switch n’ Play like the superheroes that they are.”
“A Night at Switch n’ Play” makes its NYC premiere at the Newfest on Oct. 26, followed by an extended performance by the Switch n’ Play collective. Info at newfest.org/film/a-night-at-switch-n-play/
More info on the collective at http: switchnplay.com