DonnaTella Howe is so fab. She’s blonde, she’s skinny, she’s somewhat rich, and she’s definitely a bit of a bitch. I know I promised an interview with the divine Miss Kitty Baby this week, but that fabulous flame dame is far too busy shaking her tiggobitties at the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend (you can catch some of her boob-selfies on Instagram!) Thus, I figured the next best option as Kitty’s temporary replacement would be a tell-all interview from one of the hardest WERQing drag queens in Seattle.
And, you better believe I’m getting all of the juice. We have witnessed her ‘Vaguebooking’ across the murky land of Facebook and TA-NIGHT we’re getting to the bottom of it. Or, top of it since she claims to be one. If I only I could record these interviews, I would totally have DonnaTella posted up in an immaculate room, to include a soft focus lens a la the Barbara Walters Specials. Are you ready for this jelly? HOWE about we dive on in!
Heather Hysteric: Let’s travel back to once upon a time when you were the assistant to Mark “Mom” Finley. Extra, extra! Tell me all about that time of your life and how it pushed you to become the superstar drag queen that you are today.
DonnaTella Howe: The beginning of it all. Picture it kids, pre ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ Le Faux, Lashes Cabaret, anything Nark Magazine related… so on, and so forth. It was all about the Imperial Court System, Bacon Strip, and Lily Armani’s show at the second Timberline in existence. Being a drag queen was not as commonplace as it is today! I was a newly 21 year old twink who went from “Lester parties” to running about town and supporting “Mom” in her event hosting. I was the only drag assistant in Seattle, and to this day, her last true one. No shade. It was fun! I met some celebs, made good with so many bar and business owners on Capitol Hill who are all still around and doing amazing things. Plus, I got some serious homo-education for only just coming out at 20. My drag career started because of “Mom”. I’d host her Mother’s Day and birthday shows and she named me DonnaTella, which was a nod to The West Wing character. However, she isn’t my drag mother. If you wanna get technical, it was the Bearded Lady J (then Anita Absolut), but I claimed Mr. Scott Howe as he taught me how to navigate much of the Hill then and continues to do so now. Starting off how I did, I think I was in the slow lane of the drag autobahn and once some other factors came into play. The rest, as they say, is history.
HH: In the past, you were called “Double Brow” by a queen in reference to your eyebrow blocking and most recently an infamous Seattle “gaylebrity” tweeted at you, calling you a”boxy hipped cunt”. How did you respond to those jerky attitudes and keep your head held high?
DTH: Oh, Browgate. Well, even as busy as I am, I have no plan or intention to shave ’em. Sorry, just looks too weird for me. Practice makes perfect and, well, it’s all improved. I’m still learning. As for being a boxy hipped cunt? That person loves to spread shit. Go ahead and Google him and enjoy the reads of his antics before he was in Seattle. But hey, if the haters wanna hate and talk about me, please do! You’re keeping me in circulation and my bank account more than thanks you.
HH: You were once a long-time cast member of the “Lashes Cabaret” at R Place. Coming from the Midwest, it was the first drag show I ever saw. At the time, I remember being completely mesmerized by the whole production. How would you describe your experience during your tenure? And what, if anything, has changed your mind nowadays? Comparatively, what has changed in your drag career?
DTH: Indeed! R Place was my home bar, pretty much since the day I met “Mom” and started working for her at the WET Show. After I “retired” from her service, I became a hermit, until the fateful day that I got a call that my services were once again needed. Being the only assistant never fired, and capable of handling those duties, I was asked if I would come back to help Ladie Chablis, who was the new Queen Bee if you will. I felt it was my time and duty to come back. So, I was an errand boy, dresser, scheduler, and wrangler for the cast of gals (a then pre-Le Faux Isaac Scott, Sharon Huzbenz, Mahogany Knight, etc). Sometime, around early 2008, I was out at the bar with my future drag father, Scott Howe, and asked about wanting to do drag sometime and performing again. Ladie Chablis hooked me up with Miss Huzbenz, who slapped a face on me for my first performance at the Lashes Cabaret. She became my first mentor at actually learning how to do all the painting myself. Fast forward to March 2013, I took my leave at the end of the month, which was a big time around the gayborhood. Robbie Turner was moving from Le Faux to Lashes and we’d known each other ever since he was Fosse K back in the day at Lily Armani’s show. We were some kind of best friends. He had wanted me to stay, but I really wanted to take the leap and said I’d be back in time to guest. The universe seemed to provide! I had some new gigs around town, Court work was going strong, and I had time for myself to buy my first home!
Then, it became more and more apparent that I had been thrown under the bus at my home bar. Initially, I sensed a shift with Robbie that he wasn’t as interested in booking me as a guest. After that, came the 2013 Mr & Miss Gay Seattle pageant. La Saveona Hunt’s interest in running against Olivia LaGarce prompted a moment on Facebook. Floyd Lovelady, one of the managers of R Place, was opposed to her running because she had enough titles (kinda true) and I quote, “the last Miss Gay Seattle I worked with was a nightmare and she still is.” I was horrified and deeply saddened to read that after 10 years of work at R Place in and out of drag. He continued his statements in private, which I was made very well aware of. Apparently, and again I quote, “Fraya wasn’t a pageant queen until ‘another’ kept getting her title announced. Neither was La Saveona. The only one who was, was Chablis. If Robbie’s done a pageant, I haven’t heard about it, and he doesn’t talk about it. Which makes him even cooler.” Fraya Love ran for LaFemme Magnifique, because she wanted to and because Ladie Chablis urged her to do so. La Saveona was talking pageants right around the time I was, if not before. As for having my title announced, I never once asked for it. Both Eric and Floyd would say it upon introducing me before a number. Floyd would also have me write down any titles of guests before each show, so he would have them correct. So, why was I suddenly public enemy number one? Ladie Chablis had no clue about the hoopla and aimed to help me sort it all out, which totally seemed to fall flat and was a big disappointment. I really believed she was in my corner and could help sort out the tangled web. It really hurt, but, I had work to do and kept chugging along. It didn’t get any better, really. One evening prior to Coronation 2014, when I was out on the Empress Bar Crawl, I stopped into R Place to see Jacob and the boys and was told that I was on a secret blacklist of performers not allowed to ever grace the stage of the Lashes Cabaret. So yeah, that was pretty startling to me, but whatever. I think it’s safe to say my drag career has skyrocketed since my departure and there’s definitely a bad taste in my mouth towards all the stuff that went down.
HH: Holy mackerel, seems like you’re DonnaTella HOWE to drop all the T and all the shade. So, aside from the slight jab at pageant queens, you mentioned that someone told you you were on a top-secret blacklist of girls to perform? Because, ever since I’ve performed there, it seems as though the same girls continue to get booked. Care to elaborate on that monkey business?
DTH: It was Robbie Turner. Someone whom I admired, trusted, and thought was a friend decided to tell me point blank, without a care that I was never going to be allowed back as guest at the Lashes Cabaret. The show where I started and helped promote! As quickly as she came up to talk to me and the boys, she left with her cosmo in hand. Totally ruined my night. I ended up speaking to Ladie Chablis who had no clue about the alleged blacklist and said she was going to look into it. I even got as far as seeing a text conversation between the two of them where she had asked Robbie what was going on with my banishment. The response was, ‘There is no blacklist and it’s just a rumor that the girls who don’t get booked have made up, because they’re jealous.” Umm, I’m not jealous. I was opening up to her about coming back to my home bar once in awhile, only to be told I wasn’t wanted. I’ve heard that she, Floyd, and Chablis refute that there’s a list. All that Robbie had to was tell me queen-to-queen that I wouldn’t be able to come back, instead of throwing it in my face that I was blacklisted. I’ve also heard that I had been let go from the show, because I couldn’t handle my responsibilities and left on bad terms. No and NO! I ran that show behind the scenes for Ladie Chablis. She was just the pretty face on the mic. Like I said, I left and left quietly. I remember the moment and it was just an easy split and people still asked when I’d be back months after the fact. There was no contract at ‘Lashes’ or anything of the sort. It was just a moment of saying, “I’m going to venture off elsewhere.” There’s so much hyprocrisy that’s gone on prior to all this that, watching from a far, all I can do is laugh and know that I got the hell out at the right time. Scapegoated, or otherwise.
HH: You’re saying that you were told by Robbie Turner around a group of people that there is/was a list of performers around Seattle that are on a ‘Blacklist’ at R Place. Is this what sparked the heavy stream of drag queens Vaguebooking each other ad nauseam?
DTH: Indeed, I am. Who knows if it actually exists, much like the Bermuda Triangle, Sasquatch, or the Loch Ness Monster. Not being booked speaks volumes and Robbie Turner stopped speaking to me late last year. We were supposed to co-host an event together and he just disappeared. Honestly, I think our whole friendship has been like his name. Fake. I hope the real person in there someday comes back, but for now #byefelicia. Oh, and as for the Vaguebooking, it’s like pooping: everybody does it. La Saveona and Ladie Chablis did it in response to mine and were praised, all while Vaguebooking my Vaguebooking. So meta!
HH: Do you think there are Blacklists at other venues?
DTH: I don’t believe there are any blacklists anywhere, except for the supposed one at R Place. There might be people that don’t get booked for specific reasons, but those are things that just happen with shows, professionalism, and so on. Book or don’t book, but running around saying, “you’re backlisted, there’s a blacklist here”…then saying there isn’t? Real cute. I’ll go play elsewhere.
HH: What are your thoughts on clubs with contracts and demands that performers only perform exclusively for them or with their permission? Do you think it’s valid if the club actually pays them well? What do you think young performers should do if these situations come up?
DTH: I get that they’re needed within the scope of Le Faux. Granted, I’m not well versed on their situation per say, but it makes sense for what they do and if it all works, then so be it. What gets me is the place(s) that put those demands down on performers… and there is no contract. Screw a verbal agreement, it’s as good as the paper it is written on. I’ve said it aloud and I’ll say it here: if someone wants to pay me enough money to quit my day job and pay me enough to cover all of the bills that I have, so be it. My drag is all yours! However, I have and do work gigs that are a verbal agreement based on the situation and I’ve signed some contracts with schools, Pride stuff, etc. Ultimately, it is about professionalism on both sides. It’s about understanding what you need to do, when, how, where and just putting your best foot forward. If you don’t sign an actual legal document, you’re not obligated to be exclusive to any person or venue. You’re freelance, so have fun and do what you want, when you can. There’s plenty of opportunities to be involved in, so why get stuck in one place!?
HH: Okay okay, so, enough of that spillage. Let’s talk about your relationship with Team Diva Real Estate. Just last week, Seattle Gay Scene reported that you’d be hosting TDRE’s annual “Divas Take The Hill” show. How did all of that come into fruition?
DTH: Yassssss! TEAM DIVA! Ugh, I love them so much. Power lesbians, happily married to each other, community supporters, and some of THE BEST people in my life and yours. You just don’t know it yet. Obviously, I can never say enough about them. We met via mutual friends and after going to one of their Halloween parties as Rachel Zoe, “Divas Take the Hill” was something they mentioned that they wanted to do. So, we got to cooking up plans. I was honored to be their hostess from the start. Our first year was at Retail Therapy, packed to the gills with myself, Miss Kitty Baby, and Jinkx Monsoon. It was hot as fuck, but utterly magical! We’ve been at Velocity Dance Center from year two onward and the shows just get better and better. They and their wonderful friends have been some of my best cheerleaders over the years, especially with my work in the Imperial Court System. HI SATURGAYS!
HH: What about your weekly stint as co-hostess of REVOLUTION THURSDAYS at The Baltic Room? You’ve gotten the likes of Maddelyn Hatter from New York City and soon enough America’s Next Drag Superstar, Bianca Del Rio, will be making her Seattle debut at The Baltic Room. I also heard the 1st Anniversary of ‘Revolution’ is coming up?
DTH: I am so lucky and thankful to Alex Garcia and Ramar Larkin for bringing me on as one of their hostesses. I started the ‘Revolution’ with Olivia LaGarce, but currently I’m charging on with sex pot Kitty Kitty Bang Bang as my other half. The owners, management, and bartenders have been so awesome. It’s my home now. I love having a night that I get to help make for the people and the best part of it all is that there’s no cover! It has really come into its own and I can’t wait to see what happens during our second year. Maddelynn was so cool and she made such a fast trip out for our Halloween show. July is our anniversary month and Hurricane Bianca Del Rio’s impending visit is going to be crazy. She’s not booked at ‘Revolution,’ it’s a completely separate event, but she might stick around! Plans are still solidifying. I do know that I will need the next day off of work to recover. Ha! Other than that, there might be a famous queen from Vancouver, BC coming this August. Fingers crossed, of course. I just love giving all my favorite freelance performers a place to come party and perform, the cast of Le Faux and Eladio have been huge supporters. They’re so wonderful. I’m hoping to bring some fun guests in from all over that I’ve come to know, and such as. Time will tell.
HH: After being given two of the biggest titles that the Seattle Court has to offer within the Imperial Court System, you’ve stated publicly that you’re pumping the brakes for a bit. You have ruled out trying to get on RuPaul’s Drag Race, but your next big adventure, as far as titles go, will be Empress of Seattle. Why not jump right in like you’ve done with the previous two/three?
DTH: I’m approaching my second anniversary of being a first time homeowner, so there’s my mortgage bill, regular bills, and a social life to be Michael Jouver a bit more than before. Déjà and I have our new show in Alaska starting late September. I’d like to travel more. There are just so many reasons. I won one pageant and was holding titles from November 2011 ’til April 2014, and I did it because I was asked and I was on a roll. I loved it, but I needed to slow down. Even other Court members, as much as they discuss Empress with me, know that I can’t just do it right now. I mean, I could, but I’d probably “die” or be hospitalized for exhaustion like Lindsay Lohan. I applaud the folks that go for pageants, but I just can’t afford the time or the expenses. I love going to La Femme, I even helped Gaysha Starr this year as a contestant wrangler. But, running? Just not on my plate anymore. I want to be Empress when the time is right, to give back to Capitol Hill, Seattle, and the community what it’s given me all these years.
HH: For that gay TV channel’s tumblr in Vancouver, BC, you told them you were Seattle’s Premier Athletic Queen. How is that possible, when I’ve never seen you work out before?
DTH: Have I told you lately that you’re a bitch? Because, you are. Contrary to popular belief, I actually do work out from time to time. I’ve started running with Déjà after work. She runs in her sunglasses. Whut? Anyway, Sylvia O’Stayformore coined the moniker after watching me at her Brunch show and at Bacon Strip. She said I dance very athletically on and around stage. So, whatever. Sylvia is an icon in city and she said it, so it is what it is. I take it as a big compliment.
HH: Oh stop, someone has to be a villain. Now then, time for the signature question! As you’ve said before, a few queens have stepped in to add their personal touch on your drag, pushing you along the great big gay, queeny ball of life. Locally, who’s been your biggest dragspiration? What about across the nation? Globally, even?
DTH: Locally? FACK. That’s a toss up! Jaxen Brown and Eva Androgyny really did so much and still continue to do so. Lately, Déjà is my go to gal pal. Past that? Well duh, Raye Sunshine! I’m actually still using the eyelashes she helped me craft when I was Miss Gay Seattle. I did wash them, finally, like two months ago. Ha ha! Also, Maddelynn Hatter, Courtney Act, and my fave .gif queen Willam.
HH: Before we wrap this up, it would be a disservice if I didn’t ask you about your connection to the Burlesque community. When did you get linked to the tenacious titties and tassels?
DTH: That door was swung open, oh so happily to me by the divine Miss Kitty Baby. She’s everything to me! Between her, Sydni Deveraux (the Beyoncé of Burlesque), the Divas, and Dr Jen of Atomic Cosmetics… I have met, worked with, and befriended so many burlesquers and even some legends! They have such a rich history and there’s such a big connection to the drag world. They helped me hold my head high, perform better, and just enjoy life. To love. Secretly, I’ve been kicking around the idea of developing a boylesque character down the line. My name is picked, time will tell when I debut.
HH: Last question. You’ve said numerous times that some day you will be boppin’ around Capitol Hill in full drag and taking prisoners like the legendary Sofonda Peters. Do you think you’ll be doing drag when you’re elderly? “DonnaTella’s Big Gay Fundraiser for Colostomy Bags” live at the Norse Retirement Home & Assisted Living Facility?
DTH: Ha ha! Oh, Sofonda Peters. I love her. Love, love, love her. One of many queens that I look up to and she and I just vibe so well together. There will be a time when I say,”thank you and goodnight” to weekly shows. How long will it be ’til that moment? I can’t say. But, like Auntie ChaCha, I plan to always be around. Lurking about like Tranma while supporting others and enjoying life out of drag. However, when the DTH signal lights the sky above the Emerald City, I’ll gladly slap on two firm eyebrows and a painted face, along with my boxy ass hips. Watch out!