STORY BY ELIZA BAQUET, senior at Eleanor McMain High School
This story was originally published in an ongoing partnership with The Gambit. The following is that article, verbatim.
For the last three years, drag collective High Profile has co-produced parties and themed events. One of those is Choke Hole, organized by drag performers Jassy and Visqueen, along with graffiti artist Hugo Gyrl. Fans are drawn to its mixture of campy, queer performance art, over-the-top fashions, wardrobe malfunctions and wrestling.
ELIZA: How did Choke Hole start?
JASSY: We were throwing kind of steely monthly parties. We always had different themes that were high concept. So, we did something silly: a New Year’s Eve party in March, and we did a parody of “The Voice.” Eventually, we did a wrestling party, and we were wrestling on the floor of a bar. It was very low-key and very silly, but we had our biggest audience.
The parties had a great response, so we thought we should do it again but bring it to a bigger audience. We partnered with local graffiti artist and party producer, Hugo Gyrl…they helped us put together a larger drag queen wrestling show, which became Choke Hole.
E: Did you guide the wrestlers in deciding what the characters and costumes would be?
J: When we started, we were flying by the seat of our pants. We didn’t really have an overall concept and the people we hired to wrestle were creating their own characters and costumes. There wasn’t necessarily a coherent idea of what everyone should be doing, but as the show developed, there is definitely more of an overall style. It was initially informed by Hugo Gyrl’s art, which is very graphic and colorful, and very ridiculous and absurd. Over the years, the fashion has moved in that direction. Now we ask for the looks to be graphic, bright, neon, colorful and absurd, but we still leave the design process to be up to [the performers].
E: Do wrestlers think of a character and base the outfit on that, or is it the other way around?
J: Most wrestlers choose a character, then they develop what they want their character to be…My character is a real estate agent-slash-landlord. She is a high-powered businesswoman, and she’s here to gentrify the neighborhood. She’s buying up all of the buildings and turning them into breweries. Those characteristics definitely inform my costume. I’ve always been inspired by the high-powered business of the ’80s — big shoulder pads and big hair. So, I took that and kind of put a cheerful spin on it, making it super bright and neon, and latex-y and plastic-y. I kind of took the big ’80s hair and made it even more absurd.
Another character, Vodka Soda, is a failed pop-star wrestler, and she’s a big fan of Peaches, the musical artist. Her costume is based around one of Peaches’ costumes but she added a Choke Hole spin on it. I think people are inspired by their character first and then just move it in the direction of the show’s overall aesthetic.
E: Have you ever had any wardrobe malfunctions?
J: I have wardrobe malfunctions all the time, but generally on purpose. My character has giant titties, so I designed the costume to just barely cover the nipples. While I’m wrestling, they’re always popping out, which is a design feature I added on purpose. There are always wardrobe malfunctions because we’re wrestling, but it just becomes a part of the show. Usually, wrestling costumes are designed to be really simple, but drag queen costumes are the opposite of that. They’re very detailed, very complicated, and very extravagant, so we’ve tried to mix the two by making extravagant drag costumes that also can be used to wrestle in.
E: Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to pursue a fashion career or perform in drag shows?
J: It’s super important just to be true to your personal style and not be afraid to take risks. I love to look at the clothes that I have and think about different ways to wear them. It’s fun to layer things or add unexpected touches. Ultimately, you should just stay true to what you like and don’t pay so much attention to what is trendy or what other people are doing.
J: Everyone uses different materials…I think it’s easiest to use materials that won’t stain easily. I have seen a trend where wrestlers have been wearing more plastic-y and stretchy materials in bright neon colors. I think that it definitely matches the aesthetic of the show, but then it’s also practical because the shows can get pretty messy and pretty crazy.
E: Have your costumes ever been inspired by the cities where you performed?
J: We’ve really only performed in New Orleans. We performed once in New York, but I don’t think we based them on the city. Generally, it’s based on the characters themselves.
E: What do you see for Choke Hole in the future? Do you think that the fashion will evolve, or will it remain the same? Do you think that you’ll expand your performances to other cities?
J: We have big hopes for Choke Hole. We are currently working on bringing the show to Europe in the fall. We got a grant to go to Germany, so we’re in the midst of preparing for that. We want to see the fashion at Choke Hole continue to evolve as the show elevates. We’re inspired by the fashion and pop culture that we see around us, so we want Choke Hole to inspire other people, too. I think once we go to Europe, and get outside of our New Orleans bubble, that will only help to further what we aspire to do.
E: When was the last time you did a show?
J: Our last show was in February of last year. About a month before we shut down. We did a Valentine’s Day-slash-Mardi Gras show and then the shutdown happened, and we haven’t been able to do one since. Probably the Germany show is going to be our first comeback.