BWW Interview: Jackie Cox Reveals How Her Theatre Past Led to Her Drag Present
When theatre and drag worlds collide, the resulting lovechild is Jackie Cox- a queen who has jokingly described her own drag style as "fourth ensemble from the left in Promises, Promises." Jackie is currently turkey lurkeying for her life as a contestant on the 12th season of Rupaul's Drag Race, on which she is pulling from her theatrical bag of tricks to slay the competition.
Before the queens flex their acting muscles on tonight's highly-anticipated Snatch Game episode, we're checking in with Jackie to hear all about how she caught the theatre bug, how Broadway has influenced her drag, and how she's helping to give back to the community that has helped her along the way.
What were you like as a kid? What were your early creative outlets?
I loved just putting on little shows for whoever would watch them. I would create characters for my toys and set them up in little scenes. Then as I got older, I really wanted to sing, so I begged my mom to put me in singing classes. That led to me getting involved in theatre through school and into college.
Did you know early that performing was something you needed to do?
I think it was the fifth or sixth time when I dragged my parents to see BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in movie theatres, when I insisted upon singing every moment. I was obsessed. I was like... 5 years old.
Did you get to see a lot of theatre as a kid?
Most of my early childhood I lived in San Francisco, and then I bounced around all over the country. I think the first theatrical experience that I recall having was the tour of The Phantom of the Opera at the Orpheum Theatre. That was the first big thing that I saw. I remember there was a signing event, and my mom bought me the poster and I waited to have the Phantom and Christine sign it. [Laughs]
And you ended up going to school for theatre?
I did! I went to UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television for Theatre for my undergrad. Then I moved to New York with the goal of maybe doing theatre professionally. I think what I learned in New York was that, as many working entertainers know, it's a very tough road and it can be kinda soul-crushing. Some of my friends would be like, "Should I take this terrible job because it's going to help me get my Equity Card?" I knew that I loved doing theatre so much, and I would have hated to sacrifice my own love of the art form by doing stuff that I didn't believe in... just to say that I was still doing theatre.
It's a difficult path!
Yeah, and that's when I decided to stop pursuing it. I was a little bit depressed about it for a year- not clinically depressed, but I was certainly sad about it. Then about a year into that, I discovered drag... this was like 2010. I did a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Orange County California, which was kind of my first foray into drag, but I never really realized that you could be your own director, producer, and costume designer. That was very appealing to me because it was so much fun and gave me creative control. It was such an amazing outlet for all of these ideas that were always buzzing in my head.
My first experience as Jackie Cox was at New World Stages, which hosted a competition called so You Think You Can Drag. So it's kind of fitting for me that my entry into the world of drag was through theatre, where so much of my passion had been for my entire life. And it was cool because usually the actors who were performing there at the time would come and judge or just watch. It felt like this drag community, which was starting to grow in a really big way- this was probably around the second season of Rupaul's Drag Race- also had this connection to the New York theatre community.
Do you think that living in New York and being exposed to so much culture has made you better at what you do?
100%. I don't think I would be any kind of performer if I hadn't seen so many amazing performances and been inspired by so many amazing storytellers, both onstage and even behind-the-scenes. Even with a show like Come From Away... it's such a hit, and it's not necessarily old school, but the techniques it uses are all things you can do in virtually any space. You can build a narrative and build a story out of just chairs and a hat. How cool is that? They are able to create this beautiful immersive world and a beautiful storytelling experience. You only get that by seeing it live. If I were to tell you, "You know, there's this show about people from Canada with chairs and hats!" You'd say, "That sounds pretty boring!" But you see it and you're like, "Wow! This is the human experience!"
I've also been waiting and waiting to go back to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child from the first row because where are the strings? How does this happen?! I think theatre operates on both of those levels- the magic of belief and the magic of technical wizardry. It's amazing that this one community of Broadway can encompass all of those amazing art forms.
While people are stuck inside right now with nothing to do, do you have a go-to cast recording that you think people should be listening to?
I think listening to Act II of Into the Woods right now can be very prescient- just in what is happening in the world and how we deal with crises as a community. Sondheim is always so clever in the way that he speaks to the human experience through lyric. That has really been on my mind.
Otherwise I've been listening to stuff to inspire new stuff to do- right now I've been listening to Six. I'm working on a parody of the opening number into my show (details below!). In mine, instead of "Everybody knows that we used be be six wives," my version is "Everybody knows that we have to stay six feet apart!" I love Broadway as a source material for this kind of stuff. Especially, for those who know the show, it will be fun, but for those who don't, I can maybe turn people on to shows they don't know about yet. I think drag can give parts of the queer population access to culture that maybe they didn't know about.
Did you see Peppermint in Head Over Heels?
I loved Peppermint in Head Over Heels! That's a path that I hope to follow in one day.
So Broadway is something you would consider doing if the opportunity came up in the future?
Are you kidding? Yes, of course! How full-circle would that be? If someone sees me do something and they think they wanna throw me into an audition, I'm ready! Hey, I made it to Rupaul's Drag Race... part of me feels like I can do anything now!
Do you think theatre actors can learn anything from drag performers?
Of course! In my show tonight I'm doing quite a bit of non-musical material- so some sketch work and scenes and things, or at least as much as I can do by myself in quarantine [Laughs]. Drag can be anything. I know a lot of drag performers who use spoken-word. I think drag is primarily an expression of heightened "Blank". It used to be considered a heightened expression of female gender, but I think it has become so much more than that. I think that you get to fill in the blank as the artist, and that can be almost anything. It doesn't matter what your passion in performing is, you can learn to express it in a new way through drag. Everyone should try drag. Everyone!
The theatre scene in New York is so surprisingly small and you've very much been a part of it. Have you felt the love of the theatre community since your Drag Race journey started?
Definitely, in the sense that I know that so many of the people who connect with me watching the show are people who have a theatrical background. What's great is that I always felt like I was a part of the community, even though I wasn't necessarily a Broadway star. I'm excited to see what happens from here... when Broadway re-opens. I'm excited to see how I can participate moving forward, using this platform to support the Broadway community. I want to find ways to help support this community specifically since I already feel like I am a part of it.
"I get knocked down, but I get up again!" ?? During my tech run through of "The Jackie Cox Variety Show" I slipped on the carpet BUT KEPT ON SINGING! ??? Good thing I fixed it for the live show! Link in bio for tickets to the April 12th encore performance! Big thanks to @alexrubinwrites @gbroadwell @jenbashian who contributed writing for the sketches during the show! Thanks to @florencedlee who designed this costume and @thechelseapiers for this hair! Thanks to @michaelhullnyc @chrissandersnyc @thefacebykase @bustamoveamante who helped with their technical expertise and who gave great notes during the tech run.... including the note to roll up the carpet ???
A post shared by Jackie Cox (@jackiecoxnyc) on Mar 31, 2020 at 12:02pm PDT
Tune in to VH1 on Fridays (8PM ET/PT) for Rupaul's Drag Race Season 12 as Jackie and nine other fabulous queens continue to vie for the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar" and a cash prize of $100,000.
Join Jackie tonight, April 3 (7PM ET) live on Instagram with Applause New York for a theater themed Q&A and sing-a-long of Broadway hits to raise money for the Actor's Fund. Then on Sunday, April 12 (7PM ET) tune in for an encore performance of "The Jackie Cox Variety Show," for which 50% of her tips will be donated to Broadway Cares' COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund.