Daniel Stuchel, a.k.a. Dani Lamorte, is a self-described radical, highly questionable queer, living off of gin and shoulder pads in the great city of Pittsburgh. This native of Vandergrift, PA frequently turns trash into haute couture, fashioning a busted chandelier into a glittering helmet or breathing new life into a sadly abandoned, gold lamé tracksuit. You can catch Dani, along with drag partner and upcoming Featured Artist Veronica Bleaus, terrorizing the town in a series of impromptu performances affectionately named Drive-by Drag. Be sure to check out their website frequently to find out where they will be showing off their fancy selves next. For past performances, her MySpace profile has enough pictures to keep you satiated until you can see Miss Lamorte in the sequined flesh. I had Daniel/Dani answer a few questions about drag and growing up in Western Pennsylvania, and here was what this hot mess had to say:
OT Blog: Your drag career started in 2004 when you came to the University of Pittsburgh to pursue your interests in languages, particularly French. What got you into drag? Are there any moments from your childhood that you look back on now and recognize as a build-up to your debut as Dani Lamorte?
Daniel Stuchel: As a child, playing dress-up was always my favorite game. I would wear a towel on my head and pretend it was long hair. My terrycloth locks were accessorized with a curtain dress, a pair of my mother’s heels, and the old-lady jewelry I acquired at yard sales. At the age of four, my mother said to me, “If you want to be a girl, I can take you to the doctor and he can do an operation to make you a girl.” She wasn’t serious, and I’ve always been happy being a boy, but I think it was apparent at an early age that I would never color inside the gender lines.
My drag career seems to be an outgrowth of my personality. I spend a great deal of time in my imagination, daydreaming away the hours. Fashion, make-up, dance, music, and performance are all passions of mine. It’s hard to say what got me into drag, but I think I’ve recognized it as a way to keep playing dress-up throughout adulthood, while giving an outlet to my creativity.
OT: How has your conception of drag changed since you started performing? Are there any common misconceptions that you have noticed that you would like to dispel?
DS: Drag is an increasingly blurry concept for me. Back at my debut, I firmly believed that drag had something to do with femininity, with looking like a woman. It was distinct and separate from the rest of my waking life and had unyielding rules and boundaries. The problem with thinking that way is that drag is a revolutionary art. By simply dressing up in drag, you are violating social norms and upsetting the organization of the world around you. When I realized this, the rules began to fall away. Nowadays, I find it nearly impossible to define drag and frequently question whether the performances I give count as drag.
Drag is the perfect mannequin. It has a few humanoid features and a completely naked body. I dress my drag-self up in the things that scare me, worry me, hurt me, or even just the desires I cannot express in my day-to-day life. Then I gaze at what I’ve made and do my best to understand. Once I understand, I use the power of that knowledge to search deeper and find the next thing that goes bump in the night. To me, drag is about making my daydreams become real and exploring the unknown.
OT: Dani Lamorte’s drag style, and even your own everyday style, is androgynous with flair for the dramatic. Unlike what many are familiar with in terms of drag, you’ve developed a look that highlights both extremes of femininity and masculinity. What inspires your fashion and performance style? What do you personally find you are able to accomplish with androgyny that you could not following traditional gender norms?
DS: Clothing is one of my absolute favorite things. Getting dressed in the morning is like making a collage, taking pieces that jive with my mood and arranging them until I reach that moment where everything feels perfect.
My fashion and performance styles are both heavily influenced by my inner world, the bizarre daydreams and thoughts that strike me at random. As you can imagine, what inspires me changes on a regular basis. Right now, I’m terribly fascinated by the idea of thresholds (i.e. how much “girl clothing” do I need to wear for my gender to be called into question?) and intersections. Intersections have been a primary fixation of mine for a few weeks now - the idea of two objects headed on completely different courses meeting for a moment in time, thus coloring each others’ perception of the remaining journey. Of course, if you’d like a more standard answer, I would have to say that I’m influenced by my favorites in the fashion world - Christian Lacroix, Yves St. Laurent, and Albert Kriemler. All three play with overemphasized gender and androgyny.
Simply put, androgyny permits me to do whatever I please. Androgyny, by definition, is found in the murky waters of gender - you’re never sure what it contains or what it should look like. I like rampant possibilities and unlimited exploration. Gender norms are for people who aren’t curious.
OT: As an aside, you used to go by Lilith LaMorte when you first started out but now go by Dani Lamorte. What made you switch?
DS: Originally, I performed under the pseudonym Lilith LaMorte. This worked perfectly as I considered my drag persona to be separate from who I am on a day-to-day basis. With time, the blurring of some lines, and a lot of personal growth, the construct known as Lilith became obsolete and limiting. During many performances, I felt as though it was Daniel on stage and not some separate entity. For me, dressing up, slathering on paint (drag speak for make-up), and throwing myself on stage doesn’t require a separate persona or even a division between my day-to-day life and my stage-self.
So, I kicked Lilith to the curb and adopted Dani - a shortened, androgynous version of my birth name. Lamorte has nice ring to it, so I kept it. Dani Lamorte is me – typing this response on my lunch break at work, doing the dishes when I get home, talking to my mom on the phone, and jogging down Walnut Street in a lamé track suit while the song “Two of Hearts” blasts out of a boombox and Veronica dances next to me. It’s all the same person, all the same adventure.
OT: Continuing with the issue of androgyny, I find that your drag is similar is many ways to the costuming and dress of the club kids of the late 80s and early 90s, of performance artists like Leigh Bowery who emphasize ridiculousness in gender, and, going even further into history and tradition, of side-show freaks like the Bearded Lady. There has always been a simultaneous fascination and repulsion towards these figures, these “freaks” within our society. What is your definition of freak and what does it mean to be one? What kind of response can one achieve from beneath this seemingly derogatory label?
DS: I’m flattered to be compared to Leigh Bowery! He was an absolute genius. I’ve always loved Leigh’s use of the disgusting, the unattractive and abhorrent. He saw them as interpretations of beauty. He was certainly a freak as I define the word. Freaks, to me, are people who defy culture at-large simply by being themselves, attracting a mixture of disdain and praise. Praise comes from a place of appreciation and identification, while disdain comes from fear and shock.
Freak is only derogatory if you want to be a follower, a wallflower, someone who blends into the scenery. To me, though, being a freak is incredibly powerful as it demands the attention of the people around me and puts me in the position to educate, explain, break down barriers, create, and share. I’ve always liked tarot cards and, in particular, The Magician card; it represents an individual who harnesses the power of the world around him and can evoke change. I would like to think that freaks, drag queens or no, are the magicians of this world.
OT: You and your partner in drag, John Musser a.k.a. Veronica Bleaus, recently began doing Drive-by Drag performances where you show up to various public locations in the Pittsburgh area, do a number, and then leave without a trace. What was the impetus behind this type of performance? What kind of reception from the public do you hope to get/have gotten?
DS: Drive by Drag was, in a way, a fantastic intersection! John and I are very different people, but we have moments when a singular idea resonates perfectly with both of us. We had toyed with the idea of giving performances in supermarkets, parks, and other random locations, but it never quite happened. When John approached me with the idea for Drive by Drag, as a series of performances throughout the city, I could hardly say no! I love the spontaneity and randomness of it all. Unlike most shows, we can’t control many of the elements of our stage; it presents new creative challenges and hurdles. I’m eating it up.
To date, the public has been curious, friendly, and completely stunned. More than anything, I think John and I both want to bring a little bit of unexpected art and excitement to the world around us. I feel we’ve been successful thus far.
OT: What can OT Blog readers expect from you or your alter ego in the near future?
DS: Oh, gosh! Well of course, you should expect more Drive by Drag. You never know where we’ll show up! I’ll also be performing at Veruca La’Pirhana’s birthday party at the Blue Moon in July. I would definitely encourage the readers to show up; I have something quite special planned.
Classical voice and music were my life for most of my childhood and teenage years, and I’m dying to re-explore them. I’ve taken up some musical endeavors, both solo and collaborative. In particular, I find atonal and experimental music enticing.
Life presents ceaseless opportunities to be creative, and I’m always interested in working with other artists and creative types. Got an idea? Give me a call!