On Saturday, June 3, local artist Adam van Buren will premiere his full-length documentary “Empire State Queens” at the Madison Theater at 7PM, showcasing Albany’s drag queens and their work in one community space.
There is a plethora of talent around the Capital Region when it comes to the artistry of drag–and it’s one that local artist Adam VanBuren feels has gone overlooked for long enough.
“There’s only two gay bars on Central Avenue,” van Buren points out. “In the ‘80s and ‘90s there was like seven or eight. I think it’s because there [has been] a lot of disinvestment on Central Ave. It was a big, huge commercial district and now there’s people moving out to the suburbs.”
Another attacker? The internet.
“They can sit inside and connect with each other where back in the day, people went out to collect and talk to one another. Especially within the LGBT community, that was one of the only ways you could meet people,” van Buren says.
Back then, the LGBT community flocked the streets of Central Avenue in Albany, filling the bars by the hundreds to socialize and enjoy a good show. It was prime time for the drag queens of Albany who primped up, prepared their songs and approached the stage to do what they do best. Perform for their adoring audience–waving dollar bills in the air.
Today those numbers dwindle but the shows prevail. Longtime performer Carmie Hope has maintained her Wednesday variety show in the ‘90s, where many local queens got their start, and now hosts a Friday karaoke night at Rocks. Isis Vermouth hosts her famous Ego Party every Saturday for the wild and divine to show their stuff.
While van Buren has seen his fair share of high-scale drag shows during his brief stint living in New York City, the artist has been out and about in the Albany scene for about 12 years and says there are significant, unique performers here that people should pay attention to.
“I have a real fondness for the local scene because I really do feel like there’s so much talent here that people don’t appreciate. There are people who go out to the clubs, especially in the LGBT community and they don’t realize the sense of how big it really is,” van Buren explains.
The filmmaker began shooting the documentary last June, following the character development and performance styles of eight unique performers and their personal journey in discovering the art form. From the tales of their childhood, the development of their act, to the the hand-sewn dresses, the platform stilettos in which they dance with ease and the vanities where they paint on their one-of-a-kind persona. Van Buren puts the viewer at the performer’s side, every step of the way.
Meet Sybil Syrvice, Raggedy Kandi, Pacifica Rim, Amanda Love, Empress Champagne, Carmie Hope, and Frieda Munchon — four up-and-comers and four “prime time era” queens with experience to boot. Through personal storytelling and the portrayal of each queen’s persona, VanBuren has weaved a timeline of the performance art–laying the tight-knit world out for viewers to watch evolve and blossom.
“Drag in Albany has evolved from people just lip synching in a gown to people bringing real artistry,” the filmmaker says. “There’s costumes and design, that’s what brings people out now. Especially with everything online, people feel like they’ve seen everything already so the [queens] are really transforming that art.”
The process of filming, directing and editing was done entirely by VanBuren, featuring music by Sateen. The pop duo–a married couple of drag queens from Brooklyn–will be performing after the premiere during the Rocks Ego Party at midnight.
Empire State Queens, June 3, 7PM at the Madison Theater, Albany. Tickets $8 at the door or online.
Photo by Adam van Buren