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BWW Interview: How Brita Werked Her Way from Regional Theatre to Drag Queen of the World

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BWW Interview: How Brita Werked Her Way from Regional Theatre to Drag Queen of the World

She may not be America's Next Drag Superstar in title, but the Queen of New York is ready to expand her queendom and take on the world. Already an icon in the NYC drag community before entering the workroom, Brita Filter (known to RuPaul's Drag Race viewers as simply Brita), has long-used her theatrical roots and Broadway-ready lipsync style to outshine her competition.

Now, she's talking to us about how theatre literally led her to drag, which Broadway leading lady is her greatest inspiration, and how being Brita has made her a better person.

Was theatre in your life as a kid? What did you do to express yourself?

When I was a kid, we were really poor, so I never got a chance to see theatre growing up. The closest thing I got to it was going to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Ice Capades. I was always entranced by that. In the 5th grade, my music teacher read us the book The Phantom of the Opera and I fell in love with it. I heard that it was a touring Broadway show, so I got my parents to get me tickets that Christmas. I saw it and became absolutely obsessed with theatre. Then we were allowed to see one theatre production a year.

I became so obsessed that I started reading my local newspaper in Arizona and would find myself auditions. I would tell my mom that I wanted to go and she would take me. I was just the most proper 5th grader auditioning for these shows. I would rehearse by myself and had no idea what I was doing [Laughs], but I was like, "I'm going to do theatre no matter what!"

I love that!

That was the start of my love for theatre. Then as I got into high school, I started performing in regional children's theatre-type productions. It was actually me, Jordin Sparks, Emma Stone and Max Crumm. We all did theatre together as children! They all went off to do reality TV, so I was like, "Ok, Drag Race is my chance! I'm gonna be on reality TV too!" But yeah, we started together at a place called Valley Youth Theatre. They would rent the original Broadway tour sets and it was a bunch of under-18-year-olds performing.

Was there a defining moment when you knew performing was what you wanted to do?

Musical theatre was really my niche. Probably in high school I realized that this was what I had to do. I ended up getting a music scholarship at Scottsdale Community College, but was also taking voice lessons at Arizona State University, and also performing in Equity shows. At that point I dropped out of school to do my thing. I was performing non-stop. Then, there came a time when I was like, "She needs to go to school! She needs to know what she's doing!" So I took a break from the regional stuff and I went to AMDA in New York. I studied there for two years, then went back into the regional circuit. I did Rent a bunch, South Pacific so much... I did South Pacific so much that I became the token Pacific Islander in our community. I was like, "If I have to do this show one more time...!"

And when did drag come into the picture?

There was always this inkling of wanting to do drag, but not necessarily knowing how. I was the assistant company manager at the Ogunquit Playhouse and I remember seeing La Cage [Aux Folles] and met some queens who were going to be on Drag Race that season... this was like, 2007. I was like, "This is amazing. I could do that!"

As years went on, I started to play with make-up. Then I got an offer for a production of Cinderella. They wanted the entire step-family to be men in drag. And I thought, "What a perfect way for me to figure out this stuff!" I could perform eight shows a week, then come back to New York and decide if I wanted to be a drag queen [Laughs].

So that finished and I met this girl named Brita- she inspired my name. My name was originally going to be Roxy Contin, but my mom told me that it couldn't have anything to do with drugs. So I became Brita Filter and on the plane ride back I decided that I would be "anything but pure." I would tell the true side of all these different stories- mostly I was telling the raunchy side of fairytales. That's how it all started.

Wow! So Cinderella was the bridge between those two worlds...

I also did the show Rent a lot, and I would always be Tom Collins. I would always look at my Angel and think, "I can do this so much better!"

Do you think that living in New York and being exposed to so much culture has made you a better performer?

Absolutely. We're constantly surrounded by artists who want to create. I get all of my dancers from the dance world. Even hiring musicians... New York City has so much to offer. I think that's the amazing thing about being an independent artist- you can really mold and blend and create your own magic with other artists to help you to create an even greater thing. That has influenced everything I do.

Do you get to see a lot of theatre?

Yes, and every time I do, I'm so inspired by it. I say, "How can I do that, but with drag?"

Are there any Broadway divas who inspire your drag?

I am obsessed with Patti LuPone! I was supposed to see her last weekend in Company, but obviously that didn't happen. Patti is my diva of all divas. And Cynthia Erivo. She gives it to me all the time. Jennifer Hudson! Truly, any woman of color who can sing her face off is my inspiration. But Patti is my girl!

You sadly went out on the Rusical challenge... is there a diva other than Madonna that you would have liked to portray in that challenge if given the chance?

Other than Patti? [Laughs] What about Liza Minnelli? She is the ultimate gay icon! Everyone knows who Liza is! I would have to be Cabaret Liza. I'm a big girl, but watch out. Just give me that chair!

What about if the Rusical was a spoof on a real musical?

I love Oklahoma! I think that could be so funny and so irreverent.

What do you think theatre actors can learn from drag performers?

I didn't really learn how to accept myself and let go until I started drag. I learned how to really trust myself. The moment you get in drag, you're essentially becoming this character form the second you leave the house, you know? Even as you're taking the 1 Train to the gig... Drag taught me to not be afraid. There was a long time as a gay, male performer that I thought I was too feminine. Now I know that all of that is okay because it makes up who I am. That's what I've learned the most form theatre and drag.

Do you see yourself ever doing more theatre-type stuff in the future?

I love theatre so much and I love pop culture. My goal after Drag Race, now that I have a larger platform, is to meld those two things together and try to create an immersive theatre experience. Almost like Sleep No More, but with drag! I want to try to incorporate story-telling and bring drag back to its theatrical roots. I love that so much and I think it's something we're missing in New York. You can go to a gay bar and see any drag show, but people are so on their phones right now... we need more immersive experiences, where people can really participate in what's happening. That's Brita's goal for the future!

Join Brita on April 21 (7pm EST) for You Brita Werk (From Home). While Brita is quarantined in her parents basement in the middle of nowhere Maine, she turns it out with household items to give a hilarious, high energy show to chase your worries away. Buy tickets here!

Tune in to VH1 on Fridays (8:00 PM ET/PT) for Rupaul's Drag Race Season 12 to watch as eight fabulous queens continue to vie for the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar" and a cash prize of $100,000.

Want to learn more about the theatre queens of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 12? Read our interviews with Jan Sport and Jackie Cox!

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