So You Think You Know...Paige Turner?
It's 10:29 p.m. on Sunday night at Therapy in Hell's Kitchen. New York drag performer, Paige Turner, takes her place at the bottom of a set of stairs. In the span of a minute, she will begin the 199th show of her popular Sunday night soiree "Slurp!" She is channeling the 60s, serving a bit of Nancy Sinatra in a colorful print, pink go-go boots, and signature Turner bee-hive style blonde wig with cascading curls topped with a large pink flower.
At 10:30 p.m., DJ Natazu plays "(Who, Who, Who, Who) Who Is She?" from The Apple Tree, this is Turner's cue and the cue to the audience that show has begun. Turner thinks to herself, "I was born to entertain and love my audience." Natazu announces, "Make some noise for 'Showbiz Spitfire,' - Paige Turner." Turner clutches her mic and makes her way to the top of the steps. She is met by a spotlight and applause. It's show time!
"Slurp," says Turner. It's a rainy Tuesday afternoon, five days prior to her 199th show. She's picking up some lunch at the Whole Foods located underneath The Shops at Columbus Circle when she sees an attractive guy walk by. The word "slurp" was just a word Turner would use in such situations when she would see an attractive passerby, but, it took a life of its own when she started saying it to cute audience members at her show at Bar-tini Ultra Lounge, The Paige Turner Show, four years ago. "'Slurp' became a catch phrase. I like the word catch phrase because it' a phrase that catches on. It's not something planned," she said.
"Slurp!" Catches On!
When she moved her show from Bar-tini to the now closed Vlada, she changed the name of the show to "Slurp!" Last month, on Sept. 28, it celebrated its 200th show, which is quite a feat for a drag show. "(Slurp!) is the baby that I nurse," she says. "If you are lucky enough to work full time in drag, you have your one big show. It's the show that I tell people who have never seen me to go to first. It's not that I don't put in the same energy at other shows, it's just the one where right away you'd get me."
Turner has had the vision to put on an interactive show where the audience is the guest star since she was putting on shows in her garage at 8 years old. "It sounds like a gay cliché, but I really have" she says. "My show should feel like a kids' show for adults, like a "Pee-Wee's Playhouse" or Barbie's Dream House. People that come often are in on in jokes, and it becomes a familiar thing. Like when you'd watch Mr. Rogers, you become familiar with sayings and things he would do. I wanted to capture people in that way."
This familiarity is exemplified in Turner's look, which hasn't had to modify itself much over her career. "The biggest thing that had changed since show one and show 200 is that I started wearing makeup," she quips. "For me, I don't want the makeup to be the star. I'm a Broadway chorus girl that thinks she's a star, and that's my kind of makeup, that's the character. Joan Rivers would say when she went out, she'd play the part of Joan Rivers. That's what people expected from her. That's what I do with Paige. When I step out, I'm Paige Turner."
Make 'em Laugh
Turner's dedication to her character is a testament to her years as a professional, working actor out of drag. Her theatre training has also set her and her show apart from others with its musical references and live singing. "So many people do pop music. Why should I do it? I'm sure, after a while, people want to hear something different," she says. "I think to do a song to most engage an audience is to tell a story."
As Turner cuts through a caramel covered apple she bought at Whole Foods, she thinks about what has been the most rewarding part of "Slurp!" and becoming the drag Elle Woods on a weekly basis. "My favorite moment, that I get emotional about, is when someone comes to tell me they had a really difficult thing happen. I survived cancer or my parent died. The show gave them laughter, or they knew that would be the medicine they needed. Those moments make me glad to be a performer," she says. "When I put on Paige Turner, I want to be that happy clown, no matter what mood I'm in. I want to be the happy starlet. Paige means spreading joy through performing and laughter. She's about bringing people together in a community to be entertained, to laugh at the ridiculous factor."
Paige Turner's show-stopping seasonal drag competition "So You Think You Can Drag" dominates the Thursday night midtown scene in the lower floors of the New World Stages on 50th Street every Thursday night @ 11 p.m.