Shea Coulee is a drag queen that has been entertaining locally for the past three years. Talented in both performing and costume designing, he found drag a great medium for combining all of his talents and passions. His creative works are inspired by inclusive sources, resonating with him and who he is as an artist. Shea has been active on the stage in Chicago to make a name for himself. He hosts a weekly Drag Revue #FACE every Wednesday at Hydrate Nightclub. He also is a Saturday night regular at the Original Mother's Bar, performing in a show called The Naughty Little Cabaret.
Why did you choose the name Shea Coulee? Is there any difference after you used the stage name?
My middle name Kyei is pronounced SH-AY, [which] is Swahili for "beautiful boy" and the last name Coulee sounds like a French desert and rhymes with the first name. Shea Coulee is definitely a tasty treat that melts in your mouth.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor and customer designer and what determined you to transit into drag?
I have been on the stage since I was 2. Performing is in my blood. When I reached college, I branched out into costume design because I wanted to become a ‘jack of all trades.’ After graduating, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled through either outlet, and when I discovered drag I realized it would be a great medium for combining all of my talents and passions.
Can you talk more about the drag community in Chicago?
The drag community in Chicago is ever-evolving. It is always a reflection of the times, and what Drag (or style of drag) is most relevant to pop culture and the demands of the audience. You definitely have different styles that cater to different niche markets at different bars.
One can take so many different influences form the Chicago Drag community, because it is really quite diverse. We are the mecca of the Midwest. Borrowing information and information form not only both coasts, but also, our neighboring Midwestern communities. This is due to not only Chicago’s polished pageantry system, which draws competitors from all over the country. But also the Internet, and connecting with other drag queens through social media. This makes drag universal, and in turn allows for the Chicago Drag Community to cultivate an impressive range of different drag styles. For me personally, it has allowed me to connect with like-minded artist, who I otherwise wouldn’t have had the ability to work with. Not only that, but we’re critical, and actively critique one another. It is helpful because it allows us to gain outside perspective on our work.
What is the most challenging thing for you to work as the host of the weekly Drag Revue #FACE?
Booking the girls. That’s the most difficult. Everyone wants an opportunity, and I am always willing to give it. The toughest part is being approached by girls who I either don’t think are ready for the show, or who I think just don’t fit the show’s aesthetic. Now, that’s not an attack on anyone’s drag. Who am I to say what’s right and what’s wrong. But branding is important, and there are so many factors that go into booking a show. Does the bar management like the performer? DO the other performers like them? Does the crowd like them? Do they have a following? Do they fit well within the lineup of the show? Do they match the theme that week? I could go on for days. I just always feel bad when I have to tell someone “no.” Because I know what that feels like, and rejection is a tough pill to swallow. But you have to get used to it if you want to make it in showbiz kid.
What is the process for you to create drag shows? How you are inspired and how you express them in your work? A specific example would be helpful!
The whole process is completely collaborative. Sometimes people are under the impression that because you host or book a show, that you have complete control of its outcome. That’s not true. My job is to brainstorm themes, and to create lineups of performers that compliment one another, while also remaining diverse. I also have to consider the venue. What is their clientele like? What age range are they? What type of music do they listen to? What type of entertainers do they follow on social media? What do they drink? How long is their attention span? There are so many variables at play. The main thing in creating a show, is to identify which direction you want to take it in. Formulate a group of entertainers that fit the brief, and guide everyone to reach their full potential and to TOGETHER achieve a brilliant outcome.
What do you want to convey to audiences through drag shows?
One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t take yourself too seriously. Some of these girls do. Not saying necessarily that it’s a bad thing. It’s great to know that people are passionate about their work. But it’s just drag. One can’t be overly concerned with what others think about them or their aesthetic. Just do YOU. Be kind, be helpful, and STAY IN YOUR lane.
People concern themselves with others too much when they really should be focusing on what’s really important. That drag makes them happy. And I feel when people shift their focus and perspective - it can allow them to reach their fullest potential.
I know it helps me. I still have a lot of work to do. But I’m very pleased with my progress thus far, and look forward to what the future holds.
You are a versatile model. You can design your own customer, hair and makeup. What is your artistic value while designing?
My major concern is that whatever I do, it needs to feel inspired. I need to feel like I’m pushing myself further in my artistic aesthetic. I always want to see improvement from project to project. Growth is crucial in the career of any artist.
You said you like things that are pretty, things that are ugly, and things that are pretty ugly. Can you talk more about that?
It’s really an inclusive statement illustrating that it doesn’t take much to inspire me. I gather information from all different types of sources. It just needs to be something that resonates with me and who I am as an artist.
How did you know You’re So Talented and Sam Bailey?
Samantha Bailey is like a sister to me. So much so that when I didn’t have a place to live three summers ago, she let me sleep on her couch. We first met while in the theatre program at Columbia, and our sophomore year, we cast in the same show ‘Ten Square’ Directed by Andi Dymond. Since then we have been supportive friends, and it is so great to watch her blossom into such a force in the Chicago theatre community. She is SUPER talented, intuitive, and driven, and that’s one of the many reasons why I love her.
Any upcoming projects we need to know about?
Nothing out of the ordinary. For instance, I host my weekly show every Wednesday at Hydrate Nightclub called #FACE. I also am a Saturday night regular at the Original Mother's Bar, performing in a show called The Naughty Little Cabaret. Plus, I am a co-host on a weekly podcast called The Tony Soto Show, which is available on both iTunes and Soundcloud. And I am a recurring host and performer at "Neverland," bimonthly thematic circuit parties in Chicago. When I'm not working on those projects, you can find me performing at Berlin Nightclub or at 'Trannika's Most Wanted,' a monthly show at Scarlet.
Interview moderated by Diandian Gao