Sophomore breaks into D.C. drag scene during pandemic

Media Credit: Courtesy of Nolan Phillips

Phillips said the namesake of his drag persona comes from a combination of his favorite comedian and his birthstone.

Sophomore Nolan Phillips said his drag persona, Patricia Diamond, was formed from a combination of boredom while staying isolated during the pandemic, a fair amount of internet research and a lot of practice.

Phillips, a sophomore International Affairs major, said he has always had an interest in drag, but it wasn’t until the pandemic hit that he got his start. He said the downtime allowed him to craft his persona before performing in his first show in his home state of South Carolina this June, followed by his debut onto the D.C. drag scene at the start of the school year.

Phillips said he saw the development of Patricia Diamond not as a way to reinvent himself but rather as an extension of his personality.

“The persona of Patricia Diamond is the same as me,” Phillips said. “I’m just maybe a little more friendly or not as reserved. I based it around who I am and the way I perform.”

Phillips said the name Patricia Diamond ties together the name of his favorite comedian, stand-up comic Miss Pat, with his birthstone, a diamond.

“I wanted an old white lady name,” Phillips said. “Diamond is my birthstone, I was born in April and that was actually my mom’s idea.”

Phillips spent months crafting the other aspects of Patricia Diamond including the hair, outfits and makeup. A typical look for Diamond includes white tights, a black leotard, rainbow eyeshadow, voluminous black hair and her signature mole on her left cheek bone.

Phillips said the pandemic allowed him time to polish Patricia Diamond’s appearance and his act as a whole before he hit the stage in South Carolina.

“The local queens didn’t really know that I was that new,” Phillips said. “I had so much time to make sure my makeup was polished, make sure everything looked good.”

Phillips designs and sews his own performance outfits and said he wants to start working on commissioned retail outfits for new drag queens, a goal that Phillips said can be achieved as he increases his exposure in the D.C. drag scene.

“Something that I make could go for like as much as like $80, $120 for an outfit,” Phillips said. “So one of the goals is to kind of start selling things like that. But you kind of have to start making a name and start making a couple things for people.”

While makeup, hair and costumes are an essential part of the drag experience, Phillips said he thinks good drag really comes down to the performance. Phillips said he pulled together aspects of other drag shows to curate a show that pays homage to queens who came before him. Performances include a combination of lip-syncing songs, dance routines and occasional comedy acts.

“I’m just trying to make it where people can’t take their eyes off of the show,” Phillips said. “So they go home and say, ‘That was a really good show.’”

A typical performance for Diamond is very high energy, Phillips said his goal is to keep the audience on their toes and entertained.

“You have a lot of like stunts, like split kicks, a lot of the high energy stunts, which I’ve always been able to do, all that kind of stuff,” Phillips said.

Despite the demanding lifestyle of drag which requires a lot of time, effort and money, Phillips said he feels like he has managed to balance school and new gigs successfully. Phillips said the drag scene is competitive in D.C. and he is only booking two or three gigs per month, allowing him to dedicate time to both his drag and student obligations.

“I don’t really have to worry about rushing to get ready for a show and or having to miss a class to get ready for something like that,” Phillips said.

Phillips said every queen just wants to entertain and bring joy. Though the world of drag queen can seem somewhat intimidating, Phillips said that every performer is just trying to overcome their own insecurities.

“Entertainers, they’re all insecure at heart,” Phillips said. “I always wanna make sure everybody has a good time.”

Patti O’Furniture, a prominent Drag Queen in South Carolina who booked Phillips in his first show, said she was impressed by Phillip’s confidence.

“For a young, relatively new entertainer to have the confidence to reach out and ask for a chance to perform says a lot about their character, and that confidence usually translates to a level of comfort on the stage and in front of the audience,” O’Furniture said.

It was in part Patricia Diamond’s style that impressed O’Furniture who described it as a combination of sorts, with outfits centered around bright hues and makeup that incorporates all colors of the rainbow.

“Patricia is a mix of light and dark, a slight goth appearance mixed with pops of color,” O’Furniture said. “I remember that her makeup skills and costume were very polished and deliberate. It was obvious that Nolan had put thought into the performance and put time into the looks they presented on stage.”

O’Furniture said that for young drag queens like Phillips, experience is key.

“You can only learn so much from a YouTube video or watching Drag Race,” she said. “You have to get on the stage and actually perform to truly discover your stage persona and develop the drag queen character you are creating.”

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