Greetings, Earthlings. Meet Vivica Galactica, aka Spencer Corey Duncan. She’s a five-star, double-rated astro navigatrix, and she’s come to our planet in peace, to change your perceptions of gender and the art of drag. She beamed down to Earth to make a name for herself as one of the most wide-eyed, creative, confident new queens around. Her Forty Days of Face series on social media showed a raw queen ready to make mistakes and grow from the art of makeup, finding her best face along the way, to the praise and sometimes ridicule of the Internet. Her recent run in the Ultimate Queen Competition pushed her performance skills to new levels, beyond her comfort zone and out of this world.
As Pride weekend starts, Vivica – who made our 2017 Thirteen Freshest Faces of Drag – is wrapping up her first year as a queen. Below is her exclusive account of what it’s like to go from zero to shero, with no plans of stopping anytime soon.
If it wasn’t for an old white guy — with crazy unkempt white hair, bold politics and a Brooklyn accent — from Vermont, I wouldn’t be a drag queen.
April of last year, I was elected to be a Bernie Sanders delegate to the DNC in Philadelphia. Rather quickly, it became a lesson in raising funds for what would be one of the wildest weeks of my life. I had to raise money fast for my plane tickets and hotel. I went through idea after idea to fundraise my endeavor and landed on the one that seemed to stick best in my mind: a benefit drag show. I knew one local queen at the time who I met at the former Eagle, of all places, who went by the name of Ilsa Fauv. I reached out to her, and within weeks I was paired with her drag sister Lacey Drawers and the entire Haus of Deherrera. A date was set, a venue nailed down, performers committed, and PFLAG came on to be a co-charity to donate half of the proceeds to.
I have performed around town in the acting community, and by this time had even directed a few shows as well, but I had never made an attempt to perform as a drag queen – only as Spencer. I can’t tell you the exact date that I was first struck with the drag bug, but after watching season eight of RuPaul’s Drag Race religiously and seeing a few local shows at Charlie’s, I was getting the hankering to perform in a new, bold and exciting way. I soon realized I had the perfect opportunity! The drag benefit show was all set up. Why not make that my drag debut?
First things first: I had to create a name for myself. I knew I wanted a name that allowed me to shine and be my true self. Deep down, I’ve always been a sci-fi and theater nerd. I wanted to have something that set up an expectation that I would be large and in charge. At the end of the day, I was going to be a 300-pound man in a dress. My name had to live up to that visual. Vivica had been something on my mind for a long time because of the repeating syllables and its old-fashioned style. I wanted a last name that rolled off the tongue but still fit my over-the-top attitude and personality. In a flash, I was abducted and sent rocketing into space with inspiration. After the glitter and stardust settled, I became Vivica Galactica.
After shaving my three-inch beard I had been growing and attempting my mightiest to become adequate at best with my makeup skills in a short amount of time, before I knew it, June 11 – the night of my big debut – was here.
It had been drizzling most of the night, and the dressing room also happened to be outside on a patio. Most of the night was spent shoving my thunder thighs into tights, rolling socks tightly and shoving them into a bra, and tucking the ol’ “twigs and berries” into places I never knew existed in my body. The show had started. I put on my high heels, my face was beat to the gods (or so I thought), and the lyrics to “Don’t Rain on My Parade” by Barbra Streisand were buzzing through my mind on repeat. I stomped up the stairs to the stage, the spotlight hit my eyes, and I performed to my heart’s content.
The rest of the night was a blur. We had raised over $250. I received my share and went home to recoup after a show well done. Suddenly I was lying awake with my head roaring with how much fun I just had, wondering if I would ever do it again.
The excitement keeping me awake so late sent me scrolling through Facebook, and I very quickly started seeing post after post about a shooting in Orlando. Then the news updated that it was a shooting at a gay club. Then it was right before a drag show at this club.
Pulse isn’t my story. I’ve never been to Orlando. I never visited the club. But it had an immediate effect on my life, and it forever altered my direction and understanding of the world and community around me.
I, like many others, realized that though I had no ties to Pulse, I was just in a situation where I was in a drag show at a gay bar where the same exact scenario could have played out. In the days that followed, I was thrust into the drag community here deeper than I ever imagined – community that just as quickly became my family.
The evening following the shooting, Tracks opened up its doors for a candlelight vigil; the day after, Cheesman Park organized its own. Thousands of people in my community surrounded each other and chose to fight terror with love. Benefit shows began to happen and led to our community coming together to became more and more tight-knit than ever before, and I saw the role that our drag performers held in bringing us all together at these benefits and vigils, and I saw a place for me to fit in as well.
As life began to settle down, I picked up my brushes and continued to practice painting my face. I went to as many drag shows as I could, be it Tracks, Charlie’s, the former M Uptown, Blush & Blu, a bowling alley in Littleton and even a cidery in Fort Collins. Where there was drag, I was there. I began to get the urge to perform more, and so I did. I asked to be in shows, but being a new queen in a city as saturated with drag as Denver is, the opportunities are few and far between. So I decided to make my own opportunities for myself.
Taking my experience as a theater producer/director and calling in a favor from a best friend who worked at an unlikely place for drag – dive bar Herb’s in LoDo – I started Bodacious Babes in BroDo. With only two months of experience, I reached out to my favorite gurls, fashioned myself a host, grabbed a microphone, and before I knew it, I had my very own monthly show. Because I am a new queen myself, I decided that one of the main factors of this show would be creating a platform for other new queens on the scene as well, because I want to give others just as many opportunities that I wished I had to take my first steps.
In time, I joined a local drag troupe and had a blast being a part of a consistent performing team. I made fast friends and due to the drama that can often grow in drag circles, I lost a few. Nobody said drag was going to be easy, and I learned that the hard way. I lost some friendships and even my own long-term relationship in these twelve months but continued ahead on my voyage. Choppy waters emerged in January when an unexpected social-media controversy took place which greatly affected my public visibility. I’ll spare you the details – any gossipy queen will fill you in if you just ask – but I learned very quickly that it’s not about the drama that happens to you, but how you deal with drama, and that is what makes people see your true colors. A great drag queen – Miss Kai Lee Mykels, a drag mom to myself and many others – once said, “20 percent of your drag is how you perform on stage; the other 80 percent is how you perform off stage!” I believe this to be very true.
Always looming in my future was Ultimate Queen, Denver’s premier competition for new drag performers. And though I had been growing my performance and personality, I wasn’t anywhere near where I knew I needed to be to be a good contender, specifically with my makeup skills. So I decided I needed to challenge myself. So, every day for forty days, I painted my face in a different way in order to teach myself how to become the makeup artist I wanted to be and post my progress for all to see on social media. I did looks from club kid to the queen of hearts, intergalactic glam to pageant gorgeous, mermaid with pale green skin to blended boy makeup. I learned a lot in those forty days, so much in fact that I took it all the way to fifty-two. It is amazing how much constant repetition can grow your knowledge and understanding of things. I learned to try new things, take advice, blend better, be more confident in bold lines, and not to be afraid of using color.
Having to balance life as a broke twenty-something cis-gendered gay guy and a budding drag queen in this over-stuffed city can be really difficult, and finding your different grooves in both at the same time is even more difficult. There have been times where I have spent too much time, energy and money on Vivica and forgot to take care of Spencer. At first I was certain I wouldn’t be able to afford to participate in Ultimate Queen because of the expenses paired with it – drag is NOT cheap – and with only working part time and barely being able to afford rent in Denver's ballooning rental market. Ultimate Queen is a hefty commitment – time and money-wise – and if you don't have a large drag closet, you're going to be expected to make or acquire the items you need for the weekly challenges and to do it all pretty darn quickly. Lady Luck was kind, and I found a full-time job just in time to afford and participate in a competition I dreamed of excelling in.
The first week of Ultimate Queen was every woman for herself. Twenty-one gals made it to the first week, and after the dust had settled, thirteen were chosen to move forward, and I was, nail-bitingly, the last competitor called. The next week was cosplay week, and with the help of the great Derrick Hubbs, a local body painter and artist, I was able to take home the win with my portrayal of Pam Poovey from FX’s Archer. The win gave me the confidence to know that I was a worthy competitor and I deserved to be there. From there, I tried to top myself. I created a “bear” look for animals week, pairing the idea of a bear in gay culture with one in the wild. I did an R&B duet with Adryanna Slayz, created a wig made out of newspaper for a Cher number during genre week, and gave a valiant effort for my best club-kid look in a Björk performance – but that week it wasn't enough. After a tough “lip-synch for your life” to Lorde’s “Magnets," I was sent home – taking a lovely eighth alternate position as my final place in Ultimate Queen 2017.
Though nipped from competition, I wasn't done with Ultimate Queen. I had created a relationship with each of my competitors backstage and wanted to see the whole thing through and support them the best way that I could. So I kept returning each week – this time as an audience member – dressed in that week’s theme, never sour at being cut, and I cheered on my sisters.
Now, as my first year draws to an end, I reflect on all of the things that I’ve done as a drag queen. I’ve hosted shows at numerous bars and been invited to perform in other cities around and near this big state of ours. I’ve checked off Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Laramie, Wyoming, just this year, and I’ve performed in front of crowds ranging from a scant two people all the way to a bustling 600. I’ve hosted and been a part of fundraisers that have helped raise over $5,000 for different charities around the Denver metro area. I’ve been invited many times to perform at Kai Lee’s Kiki, Denver’s biggest drag show next to Drag Nation, and I was even selected as one of Westword’s Thirteen Freshest Faces of Drag in Denver for 2017.
As one year closes, another opens, and my opportunities are building. I’m slated to perform in New York this July, and I’m working on some opportunities in Washington D.C., Los Angeles and beyond. Looking locally, there are so many new avenues to try, and maybe this is the year I can even make it onto that Drag Nation stage that so many queens aspire to. I’m planning another Forty Days of Face and will continue to push my creative and performance abilities into the stratosphere that Vivica fantastically emerged from.
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I wouldn't be where I am at today if it weren't for the love of the community that I so luckily found myself a part of here in Denver. Be it Tracks, Charlie’s, Blush & Blu or some dive bar in Denver like Herb's. People like Kayt Ums, my biggest supporter, Eva Lucien, my original drag sister, Lacey Drawers for giving me a chance to shine, Aera Waters and the rest of the CoTini Girls, Evelyn Evermoore for being my best Judy and consistently supporting me, and Khloe Katz and Kai Lee Mykels for seeing something more in me and giving me the opportunities to call them my Drag Mothers.
The life and purpose of a drag queen is always shifting. I still have a great deal more to learn, and I hope I’ll never stop learning. I started doing drag because of community, and I decided to find my place in this one because of the closeness I felt to so many others in a time of sorrow and tragedy, and I found the confidence I needed to not only be the best Vivica I can be, but also the best Spencer that I can be. Becoming Vivica has given me the ability to find the strength to do something amazing I never thought I could, and that is to find and love my true self 100 percent of the time.
You can see Vivica Galactica perform in her show Bodacious Babes in BroDo, at Herb’s, 2057 Larimer Street, and at many of Denver’s great gay bars. Follow her on Facebook, and on Instagram at @vivica.galactica.