First lady of drag Angelina Essex says farewell to the stage -- for now

March 26, 2011 Update: See photos from Drama Drag last night at Tracks

The life of a drag queen is an expensive, high profile existence, and Joel Valenzuela, aka Angelina Essex, knows this routine all too well. The madam of many faces is making his final appearance tomorrow night at Drama Drag, the monthly smash hit revue at Tracks Nightclub hosted by Ru Paul's Drag Race contender Nina Flowers. Valenzuela originally came out of a half-decade long retirement two years ago to perform in the show, and stayed with it ever since. But his appeal extends far beyond a convincing wig and a good face of make-up -- the queen never appears as the same character twice, and his catwalk moves and lip-syncing style includes flips and jumps. We talked with Valenzuela recently about his decision to move on from Drama Drag and about his recent weight loss, which made an beneficial impact in his performing.

Westword (Bree Davies): Why walk away from a sell-out show like Drama Drag? Joel Valenzuela: I'm kind of taking a step back. I'm running for a pageant (Rocky Mountain Shining Star) in October and I'm taking a break from being out all of the time before I have to be out all of the time. [Laughs]. It's about being in hiding for a little bit and also taking a break financially -- anything that has to do with drag is usually very expensive. On average for a Drama Drag show, I spend around three to four hundred dollars a month on outfits. Pageants are also very expensive, so it was sort of a give and take situation. I had to give up Drama Drag for a while so I could move into this next phase of my life before I officially retire from drag.

WW: Do you have anything special planned for this finale show? JV: Yes! I got some wonderful new prosthetics that were ungodly expensive. And I will be not wearing much at all--I'll be almost naked--and tucked within an inch of my life. That's all I can say. It's going to be kind of low-key -- but not. [Laughs].

WW: Is anyone taking over or stepping in for you once you leave Drama Drag? JV: Well, it's a monthly show, and Nina (Flowers, host of Drama Drag) has a plethora of entertainers that she chooses from and generally rotates. I have been lucky -- I was one of the few entertainers that only had one break from the show, and most queens are given several. This month it will be two years for me and for two for Drama Drag. I've done almost every show.

WW: What do you think it is that keeps you on as a consistent Drama Drag queen? JV: My look is always changing. I never like to be the same person or the same character every show, and I think that's one of the driving forces behind Nina having me back on a monthly basis. Since I'm always something different, it gives the audience the opportunity of never having to see the same thing twice.

WW: For someone who hasn't seen the show, what kinds of characters do you come out as? JV: This past Halloween I came out as "It" -- but more of a female-tranny version, like, "Was 'It' a girl? Was 'It' a boy? Or was 'It' a clown or a monster?" kind of thing. I've come out as a pin-up zombie and a white, blonde-haired cheerleader. I've come out as a black woman. For New Years, I did a twenties look with a burlesque number, and last month I was J-Lo. This month is a going into spring swim party -- lots of bathing suits and kind of a "wet" look to it all.

WW: You've recently lost some weight and started working out quite a bit. Why the change in lifestyle? JV: It has been a huge transformation. I've been working with a company called Max Muscle that has nutritionists on staff -- I've done every binge diet in the last ten years, and what I'm doing now is working. As I see myself now, I guess I never really realized how fat I was? [Laughs] I just thought I was just a big-boned girl, with a little bit of baby fat on me. But as I've seen this transformation of myself happening, I can even see the difference in my face. It is so hard for big girls to find clothes that fit--now I can do a costume with two yards of fabric instead of six or eight, so financially, I see the benefits.

Also, Drama Drag is a really high-energy show, so I tend to be huffing and puffing when I get off stage. I'm out of breath and I'm thinking, Jesus Christ! I'm going to die or have a heart attack -- one or the other. Now I'm able to perform with such fluidity -- there are so many benefits.

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