Tag: culture

Poo Poo Platter: Serving Up Austin Drag

Jessica Jones, Fatima Puri, Shannon Smith

At 9:20, the stage manager throws open the dressing room door.

“Ready to go on at 9:30?” he asks.

But everyone shakes their head; Cupcake is running late—they’ll need more time. Seconds later, a frazzled man rushes in with a large suitcase in tow. The dressing room quickly becomes a center of chaos.

He yells that he only needs ten minutes. As Brady rips open the suitcase, one thing is clear: a transformation is about to take place.

Brady puts a hair net over his short, buzzed head and gets to work on his face. Quick brush stokes of foundation, blush, eye shadow. He swiftly applies glue to his fake eye lashes and places them perfectly on his lids. While he finishes up his lipstick, someone straps his heels. He shoves gel implants into his otherwise empty bra, and gives them a shake as he glances in the mirror. Next, he places two different wigs on his head and pins then into place.

Exactly 10 minutes later as promised, he sings, “Cupcake is reaaaady!”

Someone hands him the mic and he steps onto stage.

The dressing room looks like the aftermath of a tornado, but the five remaining queens backstage are too excited to even notice the mess. Tonight is a Poo Poo Platter show—and they’re ready to serve up the most unique of Austin’s drag.

Poo Poo Platter was formed three and a half years ago, after founding member Waldo moved to Austin and saw an opportunity to bring a new type of drag to the area. At the time, Austin drag was focused on female allusion, but Waldo knew others would want to join him in bringing a lighter-hearted, funnier type of drag to the city. With now more than ten members and at least two shows a month you could say it was a success.

Waldo, stage name Bulimianne Rhapsody, the creator of Poo Poo Platter, gets ready before the show. Photo courtesy of Shannon Smith.

Waldo, stage name Bulimianne Rhapsody, the creator of Poo Poo Platter, gets ready before the show.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Smith.

Although they are a troop, every member gets to design their own part of the show, from music and props right down to costumes and makeup.

“We’re very much independent contractors. Everyone does their own thing, they’re responsible for their own acts,” said queen Arcie Cola.

But being a part of the troop certainly has its benefits. It’s easier to book shows when you’re offering more than just one act, and the members understand that. Many of them had solo careers as performers before joining Poo Poo Platter, but enjoy the special relationships that being a part of this group provides.

“You can always be an individual performer, whereas being in a troop it’s a family. So for me it comes down to work and family,” said Zane Zena, who performed as a wrestler previous to joining Poo Poo Platter.

And the closeness of the group is apparent, even to an outsider. Whether they are helping each other in the dressing room, taking a cigarette break or just dancing around together during a rehearsal—it is clear that the group shares a special bond.

A big part of that bond is their agreement that “drag” is something that cannot easily be defined.

“When somebody tells you that you can’t be something—you do it. That’s drag to me,” said Zane Zena.

While Cupcake was more keen on not defining it at all, “I don’t know what is and isn’t drag… It’s not my problem to define the word, I’m not f***** Merriam Webster.”

And while the actual definition of drag may not be important, the troop agreed that there is a definite need to shine a light on drag as a real performing art.

Poo Poo Platter cast. Photo courtesy of Poo Poo Platter.

Poo Poo Platter cast.
Photo courtesy of Poo Poo Platter.

They practice hours a week and spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars, on making their own costumes. Yet, people are still quick to dismiss drag as being a real art. Respect—that is the universal word each queen mentioned. And the Austin International Drag Festival this past weekend was one step in the right direction.

An entire weekend dedicated to promoting and supporting the drag community, Poo Poo Platter was able to host events and mingle with infamous drag queens from around the world. More than anything, the second annual festival acted as a way of spreading the idea that drag is an outlet for artistic expression, not simply men in dresses.

 

cost-of-drag

Latinos: Celebrating While Fighting the Narrative

Cassandra Jaramillo | Jade Magalhaes | Sandy Marin | Jan Ross Piedad

Photo by: Jade Magalhaes

Photo by Jade Magalhaes

They’ve been called criminals, drug dealers and rapists.

Even though some Americans have no reservations when expressing their negative feelings toward Mexican immigrants, they are here to stay.

Hundreds of latinos brought a wave of red, white and green to the Texas Capitol in celebration of Hispanic Heritage month.  In light of the upcoming presidential election, the immigration discourse surrounding the fastest-growing minority is reaching its peak.

In the current political environment where immigrants are heavily scrutinized, a new study broke down narratives and misconceptions. The research, conducted by the School of Social Work at The University of Texas at Austin, revealed that immigrant teens are less likely to commit crimes and use drugs than their U.S. native counterparts.

Despite research findings, immigration remains a major topic of debate among 2016 presidential candidates.

“No one knows who the Democratic or Republican nominee is going to be,” said Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly and nationally-syndicated columnist of “Ask a Mexican.” “But if the Republican nominee wants a chance at winning, they need to stop this anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican rhetoric.”

 The research also found that immigrant youths are more likely to report cohesive parental relationships, positive school engagement and disapproving views with respect to adolescent substance use, according to UT News.

Furthermore, a particular discussion that has recently sparked debate is “anchor babies.” The term refers to children born to a noncitizen mother in a country that has birthright citizenship. After Republican candidate Donald Trump criticized the citizenship clause of the 14th amendment, the term caused controversy for those who adopted the language.

“I was born to undocumented parents,” Arellano said. “I come from a family of anchor babies. I know exactly what we contribute to this country. The last time I checked, the American constitution called anchor babies American citizens. So, when you’re calling someone an ‘anchor baby’ you’re demeaning an American citizen, which just goes to show how racist those people are.”

 

Certain students on the UT campus are working to defy the stereotypes that surround the Latin community. 

Infographic by Jan Ross Piedad

Camila Olmedo, from Bolivia, is studying economics and nonprofits in social entrepreneurship. She moved to Texas three years ago to follow some of her brother’s footsteps.

Although Olmedo and her brother are not American, they knew they wanted to do something beneficial for the community. The siblings, their cousin and other friends brainstormed in their apartment and founded “Starting Americas Together” (START).

“We recognize that we are very lucky [to be able to] study here,” Olmedo said. “It is definitely a sacrifice to us and to our parents to make this move. We definitely want to be on task and involved to get the most out of this opportunity.”

The organization’s goal is to connect students from different countries in North America, Central America and South America. They put together several different philanthropic projects each year to bring awareness to certain issues facing those countries and send members to volunteer abroad.

The group is currently working to raise funds for a new project called “H2O: Water is Golden.” START plans to hire a water truck that will provide clean water to the community of Campo Rancho Cerro Verde in Bolivia on a weekly basis. Through clothing drives, contests and community outreach, Olmedo hopes to complete the project before she graduates.

Although the organization has accomplished many goals, Camilla believes there is still a lot of room for improvement for the mostly Latin group.

“Something we have a lot of struggle with is trying to get more American students involved, because we also want to connect North Americans, not just Latin students,” Olmedo said. “We are trying to get more on their side.”

With a new START chapter being established at Texas A&M, this group of immigrant students hopes to expand and make a difference.  

 

 

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Austin Gets Exotic with Local Pet Store

Photo by Cheney Slocum.

A chameleon hangs from a stick in its tank at ZooKeeper Exotic Pets in North Austin.

By Cheney Slocum and Jamie Oberg

“There’s something magical about a pet shop.”

Daniel Keeper sits in his office, walls lined with artifacts and oddities like dinosaur eggs, metal antlers, and a plastic monkey head that starts screeching as it senses the wave of his hand. Outside his office door a fluffy black chicken runs around his store, ZooKeeper Exotic Pets, clucking as children laugh. One couple looks adoringly at their Swoop, their five-week old yellow bird, and another girl smiles as her pet chameleon climbs up her arm and attaches itself to her sweater. Most pet stores are magical, but this one is more. It’s exotic.

Daniel Keeper opened ZooKeeper Exotic Pets in 1988, the first exclusively exotic store in the state. The current location, his fourth, is located on the corner of U.S. 183 and Burnet Road in North Austin.

At the store, Keeper and his staff care for and sell many different types of exotic animals including snakes, tropical frogs, scorpions, hedgehogs, bearded-dragon lizards, a bird-eating spider and Sophia, a two-toed sloth who hangs out in an enclosure near the door.

Even though his passion for animals was always present, Keeper didn’t begin his professional life in the pet business at all.

“I grew up and became interested in other things as well and tried to make a vocation of conventional things, so I ended up as a service manager at a rental car company in Austin,” Keeper said. “But after ten years of employment I realized I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing and I started thinking ‘I wonder if I can make a go of my interests.’”

Photo by Cheney Slocum.

ZooKeeper owner Daniel Keeper in in his office.

So he looked around Austin and realized there was only one pet store that carried exotics, and only in a small closet in the back of the store, Keeper decided to “make an entire store of that closet” and open his own store for $80 a month in rent.

Originally, Keeper maintained his conventional job from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and operated his store from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., but decided after a few years to go all in.

“My wife was so scared because we had a mortgage and a kid, but I told her it’s kind of like going off the high board for the first time,” he said. “Once you’re up there you just hold your breath and go. You do the best research you can do, you just go and put your head down and start working and don’t look back up until you’re sure it’s safe again. And that’s what I did.”

Keeper describes his store as primarily service oriented and hires only staff members who he thinks will get along with others and contribute to the store’s laid-back, friendly atmosphere.

“The average person that comes in here is happy to be here. They’re excited,” he said. “It’s not like going to the dentist; there are fun things in here. So when someone comes in its easy to strike up a conversation with them, because you have something in common.”

With such unfamiliar animals housed within its walls, ZooKeeper staff attracts a wide variety of customers and seeks to educate them while providing a fun experience, especially the children.

“Sometimes we’ll take them to the back where we are feeding the baby animals or take them to the incubators and show them that,” Keeper said. “If you’re a parent there is nothing better than walking into a place and having somebody treat your kid like they are a little person. I remember being a kid and people didn’t treat me as a human. So I try to get down on their level, and some of them are really smart, it’s just amazing to them.”

While Keeper says he enjoys educating all customers about the creatures in his store, owning an exotic pet can be a tough task.

“I’m good about helping people look into the future and get past just being excited about the animals they’re interested in and trying to show them the high points and the low points,” Keeper said. “We want them to be successful, and we want it to be a good fit for both [the animal and the owner]. We always try to show them the ups and the downs of everything.”

For some animals require exotic diets, nontraditional living quarters, or expensive regimens, Keeper said he has had to intervene in the sale of the animal.

“There’s a fine line in the pet industry about making decisions for people. When I was up and coming consumer in the pet store, I didn’t want somebody telling me I wasn’t fit for an animal. I didn’t want someone making that decision for me,” he said. “Now that I’m on this side of the counter I try to find the right animal for the right person. In a few circumstances I’ll put my foot down and say this is not the right animal for you and I’ll try to make something that’s a better fit.”

As Austin has gained popularity as a host for movies and television shows, Keeper has received callers with strange requests that might not be a good fit for the average consumer.

“We’ll get a call out of the blue saying they need 10,000 roaches or something like that. A lot of the time they’ll also need a wrangler, or someone to manage the animals while on the shoot,” he said.

The store has provided roaches and scorpions to the television show Fear Factor, and had National Geographic photograph their animals for a series on arachnophobia, or “fear of spiders.”

“We just ask that we get some legal promise that our name will get mentioned in the credits,” Keeper said. “Usually that’s what we’d like, some acknowledgement and a little PR for our efforts.”

Last year, ZooKeeper was approached with an offer for its own reality television show highlighting the culture of the store, its customers, and the exotic pet “lifestyle.”

Keeper and his staff met with the prospective producers, who also work with the show Pawn Stars on the History Channel. The staff got a contract from New York and shared tales of store pranks and fun times, but ultimately decided against participating.

“A lot of my staff was freaked out about being on camera, and every customer that came in (about 100-200 daily) would be required to sign a legal agreement to be on film,” Keeper explained. “It seemed like a lot of hassle for not much money.”

zookeeper-15

Spiders like this one are bred in the store. Some spiders will hatch up to 1,500 eggs at one time, each needing its own separate food and habitat.

Along with just selling animals, the store also has its own breeding program. Keeper began breeding animals before he opened up at his first location. Currently, the store is incubating eggs for a batch of red-bearded dragons and tortoises.

“The breeding just came out of an interest in seeing if I could be successful in it,” Keeper said. “Most of the time when animals feel comfortable enough to breed its because you’ve done a good job making them feel comfortable. If you get something to breed its kind of an assurance that you’ve done something right.”

While most of the pet breeding is just for fun, the store also breeds “food animals,” such as crickets, worms, and mice, to help supplement the store’s income. Breeding these animals in-house allows Keeper to avoid relying on vendors for the mass quantities of these animals sold. On average the store sells 500 to 1,000 mice (many of which are frozen into what employees call “Mice Pops”) and between 20 thousand and 50 thousand crickets weekly.

Whether it’s to buy some of these food animals or to just browse, there are always people poking in and out of ZooKeeper. And they like it that way.

“I think our enthusiasm for what we do is contagious,” Keeper said. “My favorite thing is dealing with kids of all ages–not necessarily just physiological kids– you can just tell when someone has that ‘Wow!’ when you see that whole amazement of having a close-up one on one experience with nature. “

What exotic pet would you want to own?