Artist Interview: Don’t Be A Drag, Just Be A Queen (Or Be Both)

Jun 08, 2018

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Brisbane Drag Queen Sellma Soul - Hillary Wall Test Kitchen blogLumi Photography


We sat and talked with Ethan Watson on a late afternoon while he transformed himself into Sellma Soul, one of Brisbane’s premiere drag queens. Her destiny that evening included hosting a hilarious trivia event at a local bar, but not before Ethan could let us in on his creative journey, and play a game of show and tell with his collection of materials for future costumes.

How do you explain your creative outlet?

What I do falls under the umbrella of DRAG or, for anyone playing at home, I’m a drag queen. People often see the end product when I arrive at a venue or gig, but what they don’t see is the weeks and hours of preparation before I get there. I’m a makeup artist, seamstress, sometimes a hairstylist (when William Webb doesn’t do my hair) and first and foremost a performer. To summarise, I’m an entertainer.


Do you feel like you ‘live creatively’?

To me, living creatively has meant indulging every idea and dream I have. Sometimes that means living within that idea and following it until it is complete. I do what I do because it makes me happy, it brings so much joy into my life and without it I’m not sure I would have much else in my life.


How do you go about creating a character or a look? What comes first in the process?

I love the idea of an image being able to tell a story. Often I hear a song or I see something within my surroundings and I start to think how can I use that to create a look. Sometimes I try to sketch things down on paper and hopefully I can execute something better than my drawings onto my face.


What in your personal life influences your creative output?

Money. Drag is extremely expensive; from wigs, to makeup, to fabric. Sometimes you have to make do with what you have, and I really enjoy the challenge of turning something others would pass by into something a bit more glamorous. [Sometimes] the image that I might have in my head won’t be the end product I was hoping for. That doesn’t mean that the end product was a failure, but it’s more rewarding when you can say that this dress or element used to be trash.

Brisbane Drag Queen Sellma Soul make-up station Brisbane Drag Queen Sellma Soul Dressing Room - Test Kitchen blog

Where does your creativity come from?

Truly and unashamedly, [it comes out of] spite. I see a lot of things not being done within the drag world, or people following trends and I get it in my head that it’s my job to push for difference and become something counter-culture.


I would say my emotions and my surroundings are the core of my creativity. More than anything else when it comes to a new concept, I look to history, and how I can make a story relevant to today’s consumers. What will make them think about their lives? And what actions do they perform in their day to day life? What change do I create within my direct community?


While both my parents would say that they don’t consider themselves very creative, they received rather creative kids contrary to their beliefs. Kelly and Kevin are two of the funniest people I know and growing up with them there wasn’t a moment without sarcasm or tough love and I have them to thank for my quick wit and sick sense of humour.


Where does the confidence in your ability to perform come from?

A lot of my confidence comes from Sellma; the ability she has given me to create a heightened version of my self is something I’m so grateful for. I used to get stage fright a bit as a boy when I was pursuing musical theatre but I had a conflict of identity that would often [reflect] on my performance and authenticity.


More than anything, I constantly craved the attention that leading female roles received, and I was never the leading man. I didn’t have the capacity to portray masculine characters. So when I was cast in Prima’s production of hairspray as Edna Turnblad, I had my first opportunity to perform in drag in front of an audience; when the curtains closed, I had a sense of belonging and purpose. I strongly believe this is what gives me my confidence.


What are you thinking about while you’re performing?

What’s for dinner…? Haha. No, I always have the audience in mind and I ask myself important questions quickly throughout the performance. Are the audience enjoying themselves, and if not, why? Who is engaging me with their body language? Can I give them any more? Hopefully, when I identify these issues, I’m able to give the audience a better performance.


What do you do when you’re stuck for an idea? How do you get reinspired?

I leave it, I walk away, draw a circle on the ground and pray to darker powers. If I’m really stuck, sacrificing a virgin is the next logical step- however they are becoming more and more difficult to come by.


I usually leave it until I’ve regained the patience to give the idea new perspective. Sometimes when you’re so deep into the process you don’t realise that you’re not moving forward. With all projects, I try to take a step back throughout the process and analyse whether or not I am happy with what has been produced so far.


Do you always like the end result of your creative process?

Fuck no, there are some days that I would rather sandpaper my face off rather than continuing to put makeup on. With that said I’m not an overly patient person with myself, especially when it comes to learning new techniques relating to any aspect of drag. I always expect to pick something up and know how to do it straight away and for me that is one of my greatest shortcomings. I’m working on fixing that aspect of my personality. *reaches for another virgin*


Do your creative juices flow continuously?

I don’t think I’ve experienced a lull in creativity before, but there have been times that I’ve had to have a break. For instance, I hosted the parlour tent at Woodford festival [doing] drag seven days in a row in blistering heat. After that, I had about two weeks of relaxing, mainly because my face was about to fall off from all the shaving.


What gets you into your ‘creative zone’?

Music, I love to find an album that I connect with an idea. It helps me convey the emotions of the character, or dress more dramatically when I’m in the process of getting ready.


What would you tell those who want to live more creatively?

I would say, go do something that puts you out of your comfort zone. Go see some theatre, go to a life drawing class, write down how something makes you feel, and let those emotions take you to paper or stage; who knows what your creative medium and outlet might be, but just let yourself go. Explore your emotions and your reactions to things, [ask yourself]; how does it make you feel?


What about those who say they’re not creative?

Everyone is creative in some aspect of their life. [Everyone’s creative way] may not lend itself to traditional standards of creativity, which could be classed as music, art, or the performing arts, but when you choose to wear those bold earrings on a day that you wouldn’t normally do so… that’s a spark of creativity. Those games you play while watching people on your daily commute to work is creative. Whether you share it with someone or not, you are creative in your own right. Also, smoke some weed. Get laid. Fall in love. Get heartbroken because the way you deal with emotions and experiences are creative to each unique person.

Brisbane Drag Queen Sellma Soul mirror reflection - Hillary Wall Test Kitchen blog

image by Lumi Photography


     Brisbane Drag Queen Sellma Soul getting dressed - Test Kitchen blog
image by Lumi Photography


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