When Logo announced that Robbie Turner would be competing in this spring's season of RuPaul's Drag Race, beginning March 7, Seattle's drag community responded with a resounding "What took so damn long?" She's a fixture at R Place, hosting an evening called Robbie Turner's Playground every Wednesday at midnight. On Fridays and Saturdays at R Place, she cohosts Lashes with Chablis. Blessed with a quick wit, meticulous attention to detail, and gorgeous vintage attire, Robbie is a busy gal, but she made time to chat with us about her innermost sanctums: the rooms where she transforms from Robbie the guy into Robbie the gal.
What's in your dressing room?
My dressing room at my house is quite large. It has everything you would imagine: wigs, costumes, tons of makeup, dust from powder. And good lighting! I put it all in one gigantic room where I get ready. It's also my closet, and it's got a little sitting area, if I want to sit and stare at the clothing.
It sounds like a meditation room.
Kind of. It's become that. On the walls are pictures of old Hollywood celebrities, constant inspirations.
I have [Hollywood golden-age star] Norma Shearer and Jean Shrimpton, a British model. I have some drawings from [early 20th-century costume designer] Charles Gibson. Wanda Jackson is up here—she's a rock-and-roll singer from the 1950s. Tons of pictures of family and friends.
Which celebrity would you most want to talk to?
I would most want to talk to Dolly Parton, and I would probably want to ask her how she remains so positive-spirited. I think that's really impossible sometimes. She wrote a great song called "Shattered Image" about how people lie and say things about you that aren't true. I wonder, how do you do it when you're at that stature? How do you have a normal experience going to a grocery store?
What about your dressing rooms where you work?
My dressing room at R Place is really clean. There's nothing in it but the mirror and the lighting and what I bring to that specific performance. Certain wigs, the makeup that I bring, and the costumes—and that's it. And a dressing rack. It's sparse.
Where did you learn to be so tidy?
I went to school for theater. I definitely liked my stuff to be easy to find. When it comes to my drag, I will put something in the exact place, so when I call for an assistant to grab something, I can be like, 'It's here exactly, and if it's not, someone else moved it.' I don't want to lose anything. The shows are fast paced, so you want everything to be close at hand.
Have you ever had a costume disaster during a quick change?
Far too often, honestly. There are moments where you accidentally knock something over and your powder goes flying all over everything or a zipper sticks and you can't get into the dress and you have to throw on something else. I saw this happen to another girl recently—her zipper broke; it separated from the costume, and she had to keep wearing the outfit she just wore. You don't get the luxury of explaining yourself. It's live theater; you're constantly running around with your head cut off.
What is it like to dress for television?
There's more hurry-up-and-wait. Of course, in the magic of TV, it's done and over with, and it took one commercial break and they were in full drag! That's obviously not true. But for Drag Race, it's very fast. Faster than you would ever want to put on a face. I think that's a hard thing for each queen who's new to television. You don't anticipate that.
Did you like working with the Drag Race folks?
They were great. Very accommodating. Every girl has her own long dress rack and shelving. Initially when we're all there, it seems like "How the hell are you going to get all your stuff in there?" There's the one shelf where everybody gets their makeup on, and you've got 12 contestants, and it's very tight. It's like going to a weird camp. But everybody that's on Drag Race is super professional, so they're like, "Yeah, this is going to suck, so let's make the most of it." If only Ru was more of a camp counselor. She's more like a drill sergeant. It's a race. It's absolutely a race.
So no room for you to have a meditative space of your own?
No. There's barely time to think during Drag Race. It's very fast. And you do have those hurry-up-and-wait moments when you're away from the workroom and it's too late to change. You can't really do anything if silly things happen—you step out of your shoe at your big moment and you trip and tear your dress a little. That's live theater. Drag Race is like live theater that's then edited. You're getting one of the edits, and you just have to hope for the best.
You can catch Robbie live around town many nights of the week—in addition to performing Wednesday and Friday nights at R Place, she's hosting Monday night RuPaul's Drag Race viewing parties at R Place starting on March 7. She also has a regular show at the downtown Hard Rock Cafe; the next one is tentatively slated for early April.