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Monday, June 24, 2019

Go Behind the Scenes with Two of BAM’s Most Dynamic Staff Members

Daisy Desnuda (photo by Doug Ross) and Flower Tortilla (photo by Michael Avance)

By David Hsieh

They have double identities. To BAM staff and patrons, they are Leo Paredes and Hector Rios, with the totally normal job titles of, respectively, Operations Coordinator for Education and Community Engagement and Special Events Coordinator. But to New York’s night crawlers, they are known as Daisy Desnuda, burlesque thespian, and Flower Tortilla, drag queen. But once in a while, the two lives converge. Such is the case when Flower Tortilla performs at Everybooty, BAM’s annual Pride party, joining many other New York night life glitterati in celebration of diversity and creativity. We talked to them about what it’s like pursuing two parallel career paths.

Can you tell us about your day jobs?

Hector Rios: I started at BAM in February 2018 as a part of the Special Events team, which is an arm of Development. We handle events geared toward our patrons and members and offer interdepartmental support on large parties.

Leo Paredes: I started at BAM in September 2016. I’m the Operations Coordinator for Education and Community Engagement. I manage all calendars for the Education department, collecting programming information and distributing it to other departments, among other duties.

What is your night life and how did you start it?

HR: I perform as drag queen Flower Tortilla. I’ve been doing it for three years.

My introduction to drag was through theater. I took a course at Pace University about drag in theater. We studied how actors and actresses portray masculinity on stage. Then I started to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. I got the idea that there could be a crossover so I tried it and it has snowballed into this big part of my life.

LP: My stage persona is Daisy Desnuda. I’m a burlesque performer. In college I took a class on turn-of-the-century pop culture, which was about circus, burlesque, sideshows, and I was obsessed with it. I wrote a senior thesis on burlesque as art. Then one day I took a class at New York Burlesque School and fell in love with it, and three months later, I got on stage. I’m also a strong advocate for body and sex positivity and sex workers’ rights. So burlesque fits into that.

When people think of burlesque, they think of American striptease. But if you look at it from a historical standpoint, it was a satire on current events, politics, and pop culture. The type of burlesque I do definitely pulls from that comical kind of striptease.

How did you choose your stage names?

HR: I was looking for something that celebrated my Mexican heritage. I grew up in a border town where everyone around me was Mexican. I repressed my identity for a long time. I was doing theater and people couldn’t make sense of me because I don’t have an accent. I was “Too Mexican for the Whites and too white for the Mexicans.” So when I came to drag I really wanted to honor it but also have fun with it.

LP: Much like Hector, I also want to celebrate my Latinx identity. I remember meeting a theater manager who said she didn’t know any good actors of color. I think she just didn’t know where to look!

Do you like having a day job?

HR: That’s a tricky question. I love being at BAM. I love what I do. Although I do think as a queer person I live more the life I want to when I’m in drag or when I’m in that circle.

LP: I have a musical theater background. I did a brief stint in Bachelor of Fine Arts until I realized it was not for me. I wanted a job that was going to feed me. And if I’m completely drained creatively, I don’t want to think about performing or creating a new act but that will still be fine.

HR: There’s something really relaxing about conforming.

LP: (Emphatically) Yeah!

HR: In the drag community half the people have day jobs. We do the night life as our artistic expression. What I find is you can perform your art part-time, but being an artist is always full-time.

LP: Yeah, you’re always thinking about it. There are so many levels of being an artist and practicing your artistry. You don’t have to be full-time for it to count. Daisy never turns off!

HR: Sometimes things happening at work feed into artistic ideas. But then there are times I have to put into my calendar: Do not think of drag!

LP: I think sometimes you need a break to create new ideas and not just look at the same thing over and over. Like if it’s a really busy week or month doing shows, at the end of it, I try to have one day off—no costuming, no listening to music.

Is your stage persona the real you? 

HR: A part of me lives my life code-switching. When I’m Flower I’m a different person from Hector. But there are similarities. Sometimes I want to reconcile them, sometimes I don’t. I think there’s something to be said about portraying a persona and what it means to be that persona—are you extending yourself or making it up in some way?

LP: I do think both are very personal art forms. You present a character that comes from within. I draw a lot of inspiration from my real life but I don’t present it in that way. I did this show once called “Do Both.” I had to do a talk for five minutes before I did my burlesque, and the subject was Latinx identity in the US, which is super personal. After I did it, I was like, this is such a weird experience that everyone knows my life story, everyone knows me on a personal level. And I thought I had crossed that barrier between Daisy and Leo and the audience had seen too much Leo for me to be Daisy again. After that I decided I’m never going to do that again, to make Leo so visible when I’m supposed to be Daisy.

HR:  I totally understand. There’s a certain level of vulnerability that you don’t want to show audiences because you need to make them believe you’re the character you created. When I’m on stage I don’t talk about my personal life. Maybe I’ll throw in a dating joke every once in a while. But it’s never too personal.

But interestingly, drag also helped the real Hector. When I turned 21, I felt as a brown queer person, I was very outside the bubble of this white cis gay male community. I didn’t belong. I thought drag could make me not feel that way. And it did. Along the way I realized I’m really supplementing my self-esteem in drag, how much more comfortable I was in the social setting.

Everybooty is at the BAM Fisher on June 29.

Follow @DaisyDesnuda and @theflowertortilla on Instagram to learn about their upcoming performances.

David Hsieh is a publicity manager at BAM.

© 2019 Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

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