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BWW Interview: Queen of New York Tina Burner Opens Up About Her Theatrical Past

The RuPaul's Drag Race queen tells us all about her love of Broadway, favorite theatre stars, and more!

BWW Interview: Queen of New York Tina Burner Opens Up About Her Theatrical Past Tina Burner has already taken New York and now the fire is spreading. The self-proclaimed 'Manhattan monster with a heart of gold' is burning up the competition on Season 13 of RuPaul's Drag Race, constantly drawing on her rich background in performing and calling on inspiration from the city she calls home.

Before the queens flex their acting muscles on tonight's highly-anticipated Snatch Game episode, we're checking in with Tina to hear all about how her theatre past influences her drag today, which roles she'd love to play onstage, and more!

What were your early creative outlets as a kid?

Well I think that first my energies went to sports. But then I took up tap dancing when I was very young. I competed nationally doing tap. I guess that's where theatre came into my life, because Singin' in the Rain was always one of my favorite movies. I wanted to be like Gene Kelly. Before my parents split I played a lot of sports. After, my mom was very supportive of the unknown homosexual in me that gravitated towards theatre. [Laughs]

Did you see a lot of theatre when you were young?

We took a big trip to New York (me, my brother, mom and dad) and I really wanted to see a Broadway show. The deal was that we also had to see a basketball game. There were two sets of tickets for each- the good seats and to not so good seats. I remember that I thankfully got to sit with my mom in the back for the basketball game and then I got to sit up close for The Phantom of the Opera. I guess fair is fair!

When did it really click that you knew that you needed to perform?

We used to do summer theatre when I was growing up. When it really clicked was when we moved to Secaucus. I lived in upstate New York and was like, "How am I ever gonna get out of here?" So I left three days before my Junior year of high school. I remember going to an audition at the Greenwich Street Theatre for a production of Big River and I got cast as Tom Sawyer. I remember being like, "Well this is it!" My whole school rented out the theatre to see me.

It was also the days that I would sleep in the line for Rent. It was before the days of the lottery. You would stand in line overnight to see the show. I knew every single word to that album. I just kept doing shows. Then I went to do theatre at New Jersey City University for a couple semesters... but then I went to visit my mom in Florida. That's when I auditioned for the boy band and signed with Universal Records.

And that set you on a new course...

But I'm such a theatre geek. Even living here in New York, when theatre is open, the weekly routine is going to TKTS to see a show. Me and my friends would see shows every night of the week. I saw Frozen like six times! I'm obsessed.

I remember one time when my mom came to visit, we won the lottery for Gypsy and we saw Patti LuPone at front row, center. That was such a wonderful, gay moment.

Oh yeah, that's one that is impossible to forget, I'm sure.

Yes, and the strippers handed out an apple to my mom! It was great. My mom is such a theatre person too. And she is Tina Burner's biggest supporter.

Do you think that being exposed to so much culture in NYC has made you a better performer?

1000%. You're a product of your environment. It's so eclectic here in New York. The one thing about a New York queen is that you have to put on a show by yourself for two hours and keep a crowd entertained. I think that's why New York queens excel so much on [Drag Race]. We're so used to it. I was doing nine shows a week before I left for Drag Race. People were like, "It's so fast-paced! It's gonna be a lot!" I was like, "This is like a vacation for me! It's a dream!"

I think New York has influenced me in learning to be a showman, and to me, that's what drag is. I don't wanna be the fashion girl. I want to be a performer. That's what drag is to me. Drag is camp. There is something to be said for someone who can just stand up there on the stage.

The difference between doing drag and doing theatre is that you're not limited to doing the same thing every night. In theatre you can find little ways to spice it up, but you're still putting on the same costume. You can make it your own, and of course every audience is different, so you can pull energy differently in that way... no audience will ever react the same. The difference with drag is that you get to make your outfit, create your material, do your own numbers... you're like the writer of your own Broadway show every night.

Are there any theatrical divas that inspire your drag today?

I mean, I love Elaine Stritch. Patti LuPone obviously. I love Cynthia Erivo. She is such a powerhouse. The way she sings and the raw emotion she delivers... she's amazing.

Looking back at the Rusical challenge last week... I really hope that in watching that back you've found some solace in seeing proof of how incredible you were...

I remember doing it and really wanting that part. Who doesn't want the lead? Then you think, "Am I setting myself up?" Being onstage the most, there is more to be critiqued for. I knew they would be expecting a lot from me. But I've always been a leader of a pack and I knew everyone could shine separately. I was like, "I can do this."

What was really hard for me was that I love to perform to an audience, and when it's just a camera and four judges, you have to remind yourself of that. I honestly really took in their criticism. There's obviously a lot you don't see, but they were very constructive and actually great about it. I hope that when people watch it back that they can see that I made a choice to stop lip syncing at that moment. I was dying! I gave you my best Effie across the floor and I thought I was being funny and laying back and dying. But I totally get that to someone watching, it might not look that way. You just have to respect how they feel.

I've seen almost nothing but support of your performance on social media.

Yeah, watching it back I was a little bit like, "Wait a minute..." And seeing so many people get behind it was almost more satisfying. I think that getting those criticisms and having people support it has meant even more to me. It created a firestorm. I was really proud to watch it.

Well, I think you were incredible.

Hey, if you wanna be the best, you've gotta accept everything. But yes, I was excited to watch it back.

Do you have any kind of bucket list for life after Drag Race?

Well Broadway, for sure! I feel like it's where I belong. As a kid the plan was always to go to New York and be on Broadway. I remember being on what must have been like an eighth callback for Rent and like my sixth callback for Footloose when I went and signed with the band. It was a really pivotal moment. I truly believe that if I had stayed, that's where my life would have gone.

Hey, when Mrs Doubtfire finally opens, call me! I would even love to do Beetlejuice- it's a such a draggy role!

Let's just call the casting directors now!

But listen- there was already a RuPaul's Drag Race marquee in Times Square, so as I see it, I'm halfway there. I'm gonna get there!

Check out RuPaul's Drag Race tonight as Tina and eight other fabulous queens show off their acting/improv chops in the Season 13 edition of Snatch Game! Who will they portray? Tune int o VH1 at 8PM ET/PT to find out!

Want to learn more about the theatre queens of RuPaul's Drag Race Season 13? Read our interviews with Olivia Lux and Rosé.

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