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THE CHAIR SHOW

Imagine a late night talk show hosted by a drag queen that could be the love child of John Waters and Cher. Filmed in front of a live studio audience at the Bemis Arts building in Sodo, the filmings of The Chair Show have the vibe of a chaotic cabaret, the weirdness of avant garde pre-millenium public access tv, and the deep artistic insight and passion you’d find on a very queer indie film set. The Chair Show is an experimental local talk show created and hosted by Chair, the drag persona of filmmaker Stephen Anunson. But who is Chair?

Photo courtesy of The Chair Show.

I first saw Chair perform with HAUS OF A$$ during the drag competition Art Haus at everyone’s favorite queer Berlin-esque-but-in-Seattle nightclub Kremwerk in 2022. Chair’s bio on social media was short and sweet: Chair believes in life after love. Always says she can turn back time, but never does.

As host of The Chair Show, Anunson serves Cher drag combined with literal chair furniture drag. This surreal combination results in a riveting and campy conceptual art-like nightlife romp: lip sync to a Cher song. Yes. Dress like actual furniture? Definitely. Anunson describes how Chair came to be:

“Chair is a character that grew from nearly 10 years of observing and documenting the queer and trans performing arts, dance and drag community in Seattle. As someone who naturally gravitates to the background in a supporting role, Chair is a commitment to bringing my body to the foreground and participating in the performance.”

Just like his drag persona plays with the experience of those that often work, watch, and sit behind the camera, The Chair Show plays with the idea of elevating underrepresented and off beat local personalities using the structure of talk shows like Oprah and Late Night with Conan O’Brien to highlight the absurdity of mainstream culture and the skill of drag artists and others interested in parodying and transmuting power structures of celebrity. A different special guest gets interviewed for each episode. The ‘celebrity’ then performs a little something of their choosing along with performances from the recurring cast doing drag, burlesque, stand up comedy, and surreal takes on the cooking show banter you’d expect from daytime talk shows. 

Anunson says, “The Chair Show brings together my experience as a filmmaker and producer with my relationships with queer artists in the Seattle community. It is an opportunity for a core cast to build a show together while documenting and spotlighting artists who have created a name for themselves in Seattle.”

Although I have yet to see the recorded results, being an audience member for episodes 2 and 3 and a special guest for episode 4, I got to experience the roles of audience member and performer. Highly enjoyable, the set of The Chair Show lovingly embraces its low budget reality. The filming location is a small live/work studio in the Bemis Arts building that serves as Anunson’s film and photography studio on a regular day. The Chair Show transforms the space into a punk-like venue with limited seating. The dressing room (Anunson’s actual bedroom) is curtained off to create a staged area. Interviews happen on a shaky platform like a melting Oprah set complete with a giant TV monitor for the live audience to see pre-recorded interview footage and clips from past performances between two mismatched cushy chairs. Two camera operators and a handful of additional crew made up of local artists, techs, and producers showcase the hustle of Seattle’s experimental arts scene. They’re committed to making the thing happen for the love of it, even in a sweaty, low budget, and at times technically chaotic way.

Photo courtesy of The Chair Show.

EPISODE RECAP (Spoilers? Maybe 🙂 )

This is a limited series run of five themed episodes. 

EPISODE 1: Mind Your Business

Special Guest: Solana Solstice

I missed this one but I’m a big fan of Solana Solstice, one of my fave regulars at T4T: All Tran and Non-Binary Drag Show at the Timbre Room produced by the iconic drag artist Bee’Uh BombChelle. Solstice is a drag pop delight and she has killer dance moves. I can’t wait to see how this episode turned out and learn more about her from the interview segments.

EPISODE 2: SIDES

Special Guest: Saira Barbaric

A delight to witness an interview about this interdisciplinary wonder of a human, also a treat to see some of their genderfuckery inspired burlesque during the last number of the show. Barbaric’s interview got into the experience of bridging contemporary dance and drag strategies of creating. Also heard a bit about the upcoming  Mouthwater Dance Festival: A Disabled Dance Festival. Barbaric is one of the curators. This fall, disabled artists from all over the country, alongside those of us based in Seattle, will share their creative work and grow cross-disability solidarity.

Photo courtesy of The Chair Show.

EPISODE 3: BAR

Special Guest: Ade

Ade, Seattle legend of stage and screen, captivated during the interview portion sharing spicy and emotional quips about the beloved but now closed queer bar, Re-Bar. Ade told tales spanning its initial birth in a temporary space downtown, to the regular QT events that were so well loved in the queer community for the past 20 years. I remember dancing and performing there in messy trans drag before it was cool in the mid 2010s! Their performance featured a cover of a Kylie Minogue song showcasing their incredible range that brought The Chair Show house down into thunderous applause.

EPISODE 4: Melts in Your Mouth

Special Guest: Fox Whitney (yours truly)

It meant a lot to me to be invited on and get to share about my work in and out of performance, film, dance and drag with Anunson, who I met in the early days of my performance project Gender Tender. Not here to plug my own work but loved getting to play inside this container (experimental cooking segment! A Stonewall Riot inspired number featuring my Light Aloud collaborators Will Courtney, Vlada Kremenović, Dylan Cain, Shireen Nori and Tayler Tucker!). Very fun to bring our live music and dance vibe and share some new work.

HIGHLIGHTS/ The Chair Show’s recurring segments

The core cast is made up of Chair, Mona Real, Sneaky Boo, Issa Man, Kylie Mooncakes and stage kitten, Peach. (A stage kitten is the drag and burlesque version of a stage manager. They set and clear the stage in between acts and collect tips and discarded items.) The segment HOT CONCEPT features drag sweethearts Issa Man and Kylie Moooncakes shooting the shit, eating food, interacting with the audience and sometimes making them do blindfolded taste tests. The chemistry between these two is real and hilarious. This is the queer daytime TV I want. Drag icon Mona Real was a treat in a pre-recorded segment interviewing regulars outside of the QT landmark bar Pony, to comedic and awkward results. Regular Sneaky Boo brings a blend of her signature trans forward crass stand up comedy and smoking hot burlesque numbers. In one she dressed as a sexy cow in buttless chaps and I, a very flustered audience member, was handed a baby bottle full of “milk” and prompted to squirt her during a pivotal moment of her act! Peach is iconic for his ability to offer artistry and stage management at the same time–his musical interludes featuring beautiful trumpet solos. During episode 4, drag sensation D’Mon stepped in to substitute for Mona Real. He brought a glamorous planned disaster number involving ice cream sundae making and horror movie effects.

Photo courtesy of The Chair Show.

Chair herself does a more traditional drag number lip sync for each episode, but my favorite parts are when she tries more improvised meandering audience interactive segments. For example, “Chering is Caring” featured Chair asking personal questions (share/cher– get it?) after asking us to pull out something from under our chairs, just like Oprah would. We did not get new cars but we DID find Cher masks taped to popsicle sticks and were asked to wear them so we could maintain anonymity during this silly intimate moment and be more comfortably recorded. 

The Chair Show celebrates Anunson’s big weird love for the queer and trans performance artists in Seattle’s nightlife, dance, and performance art community. This is a great way to capture the ephemeral nature of the live arts. I love how this structure will create a very interesting episodic archive for the QT history “books.” These episodes are like the creatives that inspired them: beautiful, campy, conceptual and brilliantly chaotic. The Chair Show holds the entertainment quality of nightclub artists while creating a container for artists to share more deeply about their history, passion, and process. There’s one more episode in the series coming up June 24, 2024 featuring special guest Cucci. Check out The Chair Show for a truly Seattle experience of art and gathering. You can purchase tickets here.