Drag queens, parties and performances all converge in Eric Swanson's upcoming one-man show scheduled for march 6 and 7 called "An Evening With Miss Bouvee" held at Pontiac's Little Arts Theatre. He said the audience is meant to feel like they're "included in one of Minnie Bouvee's famous New Orleans backstage pre-show parties."
"[It's] an intimate gathering where Minnie shares her journey from awkward and lonely childhood to fabulous stage performer and celebrated drag queen, all the while transforming and dressing before our eyes for her opening number," said Swanson, who is the co-founder and executive director of The Detroit Actor's Theatre Company.
A Bit of Backstory.
"An Evening with Miss Bouvee," is written by Robert Leleux and directed by Mindy Grissom with musical direction by Gerianne Ditto-Harvey. It follows 40-something Bouvee, who hails from New Orleans' Garden District.
"The runt of four boys, she grew up watching her family throw Mardi Gras parties, dance sing, etc. It took her a while to figure out her place; the problem was, she found it her mom's closet and clothes," Swanson said. "Dressing up made her feel better, less alone. She started exploring the French Quarter a bit when she stumbled into her first drag club. There, she made life long fronts and became a top-notch performer."
So top-notch that Bouvee was lured to New York by a flashy manager who promised to get her good parts. And he did. For nearly two decades, Bouvee played all kinds of roles and toured the world performing. However, by the time audiences meet Bouvee, she's come home to New Orleans and she's eager to reclaim the very stage on which she grew up.
Swanson said he can relate.
"Minnie is an extension of me, that's how I see her," he said. "We both love to sing the classics, we love hosting parties, we both played dress up in our mother's closets as a kid. I think the way I most relate to her is that in finding Minnie, I have found my 'truest self,'" he said. "She makes me feel at east on stage and when I speak. I guess I would say that she has given me more than I am giving her."
And as an unexpected blessing, Miss Bouvee has also helped Swanson trim down.
"Lord have mercy! It may be 90-minute show, but it's a marathon for me and my amazing music director. I am really taking care of my voice, resting when I can, warming up and stretching, then doing my warm downs as well," Swanson said. "After we run the show, it feels like I have just done a massive workout. All I want to do is eat chocolate and carbs afterwards. Put it this way: I have lost 10 pounds since we went into rehearsal. So, thanks, Minnie!"
Long before Swanson could confidently play the lead in a one-man show however, he was testing his acting chops elsewhere. He said he was first bit by the acting bug all the way back in fifth grade when he starred in a school production called "Clowns."
"I had the power ballad solo in the show, and I remember liking having my moment on stage, singing to the audience and 100 percent having their attention," Swanson said. "From then on, I never stopped. I did all the shows in middle school, high school, went on to college and did theater at the Croswell Opera House and Adrian College. And when I moved to the Detroit area, I quickly got involved in community theater around here. Theater has a way of making people think and come together."
Through the years, Swanson said he's helped many artists create their solo projects, too.
"I've helped recording artists write EPs, I've helped people write shows that address social justice issues, and I have helped several people write their own one-person show or cabaret," he said. "My husband said to me one night, 'When are you going to do it for yourself?' I paused for a moment and I said, 'Now, I guess.'"
Swanson was attracted to the Bouvee story as soon as he read it.
"She is honest to a fault, almost on the 'word vomit' level. She is the very definition of an open book. That's why she holds these pre-show parties in her dressing room. She loves talking with her friends and family about anything and everything. It's what calms her nerves before a performance."
"An Evening with Miss Bouvee" will take place at the Little Arts Theatre, which is located at 47 North Saginaw St. in Pontiac, at 8 p.m. March 6 and 7. Tickets are $20. To buy tickets or for more information, visit thedatc.org.