When Thorgy Thor performs with an orchestra, she like to poll the audience — how many are there to see the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant and regular on the TLC / Hulu series “Dragificent!” and how many are orchestra lovers who have no idea who this colorfully dressed person is?
Gauging by the applause, the mix is about half and half, and Thor loves bringing together the separate audiences for her two passions, classical music and drag.
“It’s the weight on my shoulders,” Thor said during a telephone interview in advance of the Thorgy Thor and the Thorchestra concert with the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 21 at Powers Auditorium with guest conductor Lawrence Loh. “Everyone who loves drag, please buy a ticket and come see the orchestra when it’s playing a Tchaikovsky symphony, even if I’m not here. Fall in love with symphony music. And those 70- and 80-year-old orchestra fans wearing their best pearls and furs, I hope they leave and say, “I met this drag queen, and she was phenomenal.’ Let’s keep butts in seats and keep things alive.”
Thor started playing violin in third grade (and viola after a growth spurt) and isn’t positive what drew her to the instrument initially
“My next door neighbor, who I was always really attracted to, played the violin,” she said. “Oooh, I kind of want to do that.”
Thor didn’t really take it seriously until high school, and she might owe her musical career to a chlorine allergy. Thor also was a competitive swimmer until the allergy got her out of the pool and shifted her focus.
“My parents were like, this kid with tons of energy and ADD needs to be in lots of things, so let’s pump him into music, and the rest is kind of history. I had really good private teachers all through high school and decided to go the conservatory route, and I loved it.”
At the same time Thor bristled at the tuxedo, white shirt and bow tie uniform of the classical musician and tried to sneak in a bit of color, which occasionally generated less-than-welcome responses.
“RuPaul says, ‘You’re born naked. The rest is drag,’ and I always believed that,” Thor said. “I wanted to make an impression. I just kind of resisted conforming forever.”
Still, Thor wore the uniform in the classical world, even while also playing “sweet transvestite” Frank N. Furter in the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in college or bouncing between playing with orchestras and giving lessons to students during the day and evening while performing in drag clubs into the wee hours.
At one point, Thor started incorporating her instrumental talents with her drag performances.
“In the nightclubs, it was so different and cool,” Thor said. “The drag queens and nightlife performers, they embraced it. It takes the same amount of time, creativity and discipline to do the art of drag very well in the same respect it takes hours and hours of practice to become a very good soloist or orchestra member. You have to give both the same fervor.”
The exposure from competing on season eight of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and season three of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” gave Thor the platform to bring the two together, not that there isn’t resistance.
Thor said she still has to win over her fellow musicians, although many who greeted her with skepticism initially have told her after the performance it was the most fun they’d ever had playing music.
And she has to win over orchestra boards and administrators. Shows that were being negotiated in Tennessee and Texas didn’t materialize after legislators in those states passed laws restricting drag performers. Thor said her manager told her the show in Youngstown, her first appearance in Ohio, is important, because success here would prove to other orchestras that the concept works in “middle America.”
The concert Sept. 21 will feature everything from Brahms to Bruno Mars with a program that includes classical works by Georges Bizet, Aaron Copland, Camille Saint-Saens and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart along with cheeky show tunes (“I Enjoy Being a Girl” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song”) to a mashup of Johann Strauss’ “Blue Danube” with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”
“I like to at least start with something that says to everyone, ‘Wow, she can really play the violin very well,’” Thor said. “But it’s a variety show.”
Thor promised plenty of music along with a little singing, painting, inappropriate jokes and even a competition audience members can volunteer to participate in with prizes at the end.
“Right now my mind is all about Youngstown. I hope we can really nail it, and for those who might read this in other middle America states, I hope to bring my show to a city near you. And, hopefully, we can all dress a little more fabulously.”
If you go …
WHAT: Thorgy Thor and the Thorchestra — Youngstown Symphony Orchestra with Lawrence Loh, guest conductor, and Thorgy Thor, viola, violin and cello.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21
WHERE: Powers Auditorium, 260 W. Federal St., Youngstown
HOW MUCH: Tickets range from $18 to $63 and are available at the DeYor Performing Arts Center box office, online at youngstownsymphony.com and by calling 330-259-9651.