Central Florida drag queen Ms. BJ Stephens is one of many acts in the LCO’s upcoming “Vaudeville Spectacular” at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which will feature multiple genres of music and types of media.
The show will represent cabaret, burlesque and variety show entertainment showcasing hits from Broadway, pop, Latin, jazz, swing and more. The talented array of performers slated for the show includes vocalists, instrumentalists, a magician and an aerialist.
Stephens has won several titles in the drag community, including Miss Gay Florida US of A Classic and Miss Sanford Pride.
Watermark sat down with the entertainer to discuss the upcoming show and what it’s like to perform drag in Florida’s current social and political climate.
Watermark: What can you share about the upcoming show at the Dr. Phillips Center?
Ms. BJ Stephens: Well, it’s a Vaudeville variety show. We’ve got singers, we’ve got musicians, we’ve got an aerialist, we’ve got singing drag queens, we’ve got instrumental soloists. There’s a wide variety of acts. So it’s going to be a nice old-fashioned variety show for the audience.
What are you most looking forward to about it?
I’m looking forward to getting a chance to perform. I just love to try to get out and interact with the audience, which I’m lucky enough to be able to do with this show. The numbers that I’m going to be working on are very much “mix and mingle,” “work the crowd” types of numbers. I’m really looking forward to that — I like to see the smiles on people’s faces and everybody having a good time, so that’s going to be great.
A federal judge recently blocked a Florida law targeting drag. What are your thoughts on that?
It was joyous to hear that happened … Anytime you paint an entire segment of entertainment with one brush as good or bad, you’re really doing it a disservice. Are there drag shows that are more adult-oriented? Yes, there are. But is there music that’s more adult-oriented? Yes, there is. Are there movies that are more adult-oriented? Yes, there are.
But there’s also a wide spectrum of types of entertainment and to paint drag shows or drag queens in a very narrow lane is really unjust. I know for a fact I have seen and been involved in very family-friendly drag and there’s nothing sexualized, there’s nothing salacious, there’s nothing predatory about them.
What is it like trying to express your art as a performer in the state’s current climate?
Luckily, I have not been tremendously inconvenienced. I have had a couple of gigs that have had to be postponed, but I’m very fortunate in that a lot of the opportunities that I have are pretty much exclusively for adult audiences.
But it is always a shame when you have business owners that are made to feel that if they choose to present a certain type of entertainment, they risk tremendous censorship and loss of revenue. But personally, I’m lucky. I have a broad spectrum of stuff to pull from. Not every queen has been that lucky.
Have you or organizers of the upcoming show received any backlash regarding the inclusion of drag?
Personally, I have not. I am thinking because the nature of the show is as broad as it is, it’s probably going to be less likely to get backlash. Now, that’s not to say that it won’t in the future, but because this is a variety show with a wide range of entertainment and one of the performers is a drag performer, I think perhaps it is a little less triggering to some of these people than a full-fledged show that is exclusively drag.
Do you have any other performances coming up?
You can see me every Friday night at Savoy in Orlando, I am one of the ladies of Savoy. I’m doing some shows coming up representing the Sanford Pride organization. Just keep your eyes peeled. I frequently book private parties, things like that. I’m all around and it just depends. But if anybody wants to check BJ out, come on down to Savoy on Friday nights.
Is there anything else you want to share with readers?
It’s just going to be a good show. It’s going to be a very fun variety show, a wide assortment. If you like big band jazz music, come check it out. You want to see some great live aerialist stuff, we have a guy who’s going to do things that will make you gasp, and some other great live vocalists. It’s going to be a wonderful show. I’m really excited.
The second annual “Vaudeville Spectacular” will be held July 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets begin at $75. For more information and to purchase yours, visit DrPhillipsCenter.org.