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Headline

The Voice of Tokyo for over 50 Years

JAPAN’S NO.1 ENGLISH LIFESTYLE MAGAZINE

Serch Form
Latest Issue
About Us

CONNECT WITH US

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Photo by Alejandro Morales Rama

Haus von Schwarz: Tokyo Drag Haus With a Goth Twist

By Zoria Petkoska

“All the world’s a stage,” the Shakespeare quote goes. Indeed, we all perform in life, put on a uniform, do a little speech. Rarely do we get applause. Philosopher Judith Butler wrote about the performativity of gender, while drag celebrity RuPaul has a catchphrase: “We’re all born naked. The rest is drag.”

Gender performance and gender identity are where the drag performers from Haus von Schwarz storm not only the barricades of normativity but the gates of drag too, gatekeepers be damned. The drag scene can be very narrow, heavily favoring cis men who play sexy divas. But at Haus von Schwarz, gender doesn’t matter.

“We don’t care what’s between someone’s legs,” says Verik (non-drag name Ross Weryk), the haus father. Both he and his drag persona are male, albeit the latter one in towering high heels, the wearing of which should be declared a sport of some kind.

haus von schwarz
Verik – photo by Alejandro Morales Rama

Some members are female or non-binary, experimenting with a variety of drag expressions. “We are all meat suits ground through the gender pasta maker anyway,” Le Horla (non-drag name Kat Joplin) says, summing it up in line with the gory aesthetic of the haus whose shows are named Casket of Horrors and Fresh Meat.

How I Met Your Haus Mother

Every drag haus (also referred to as a “drag house”) is a family, and like every family, no two are alike — and this one is different in an Addams Family kind of way.

Traditionally, a drag haus revolves around a “mother.” Especially in the past, LGBTQ people were often ostracized, and they looked to older members of the community for familial support. A haus father, on the other hand, is rarely heard of in the show queen world. The role, however, came naturally to Verik, who has 20 years behind him in making music, performing and doing professional makeup. “I always loved gender-bending, and I just … fell into drag,” he tells me. He and the haus mother started with their dark electro band, named Verj, first.

Nattmara (non-drag name Yukiro Dravarious) is the haus mother. Nattmara was formerly known as Die Schwarze Frau, and this is where the haus’s name originates. She performed in drag for a decade before having a gaggle of drag children, who are in awe of her and Verik. They excitedly tell me how Verik taught them everything about makeup and how Nattmara always has the most outrageous, groundbreaking performances. At the TW Proud Voices event, it was Nattmara who made the audience tear up with her reenactment of how LGBTQ people are bullied.

Nattmara – Photo by Rodger Sono at Spiteful Sabbat

“I want people to feel something after my performance,” Nattmara shares with me. “And I want people like me to know that there is an escape and it’s OK once you find your tribe.”

Haus von Schwarz members say they want to create a safe space for all lost souls who feel like they don’t belong. They want everyone to feel welcomed at their shows.

“I do think drag queens can lead solidarity, and we want to achieve this with our charity events and be a lightning rod for these issues,” Angel Heart (non-drag name Shane Healy) adds.

The drag children, Le Horla, Angel and Stefani St. Sl*t (non-drag name Phuc Ngoc Nguyen), reminisce about the serendipity of converging all together in west Tokyo at the same time in 2019. Haus von Schwarz debuted in 2020, right as the pandemic started. Plague is not really outside their aesthetic, and they weathered it with online performances for a while. More importantly, they had each other and their haus to survive the isolation of the times.

On October 1, 2022, they celebrated their second anniversary with a big bash.

Haus von Schwarz
Verik, guest Mieko, Angel, Le Horla. Photo by Alejandro Morales Rama

Darkness, Duality and Diversity

Instead of copying the now mainstream drag style of over-the-top femininity, Haus von Schwarz forges its own path. The performers, who come from all over the world, are diverse and versatile, goth and glamorous, and they keep experimenting and creating. From Disney villains to anime villains, Hollywood horrors to Japanese visual kei, many threads bring the members of Haus von Schwarz together. Playing with the grotesque and taboo, reclaiming the queerness of drag, these queens slay on stage — both metaphorically and as part of the act. They subvert the subversive and carve out their own dark and fabulous dominion.

“We created something only we can create,” Nattmara says.

Nattmara is a mythological nightmare creature, Verik is a dandy demon, Le Horla is a genderless pre-Lovecraftian creature, Angel Heart is an angel-devil duality, Stefani St. Sl*t is a cocktail of cute and creepy. Julia Your-Makeup-Is-Terrible (non-drag name Julia Goodman) channels Picasso via makeup and Summer Balenciaga (non-drag name Michael Bain) throws in extra glam.

“We are the manifestations of bizarre. We want people to look at us and go WTF?” Stefani exclaims. She says she wants to have more than two hands, while Julia YMIT often paints extra pairs of eyes on her face.

Making these visions come alive is no easy feat. Stefani is the craftiest haus member, creating dazzling costumes out of cheap Daiso fare. She helps everyone create their devil horns and golden wings, while Verik creates transformative, fantastical makeup.

haus von schwarz
Le Horla – Photo by Rodger Sono

Drag Is More Than Dressing Up

Drag is fun, and by now very commercialized, but it is also about subversion, experimentation, self-expression and self-affirmation.

Le Horla explains how they feel more accepted in queer spaces when in drag. “When I’m in drag, I feel like I’ve become a genderless being,” they say.

Conversely, the rebelliousness of drag, of not fitting in on purpose, is what makes Angel Heart and Verik feel liberated.

“If you call me a freak, I’ll be ultra-freak and you’ll pay to see me on stage.” Verik throws some excellent snark. He tells me how drag has given him a position of power he has never had before. Power over bullies and naysayers and the power to be himself. “My persona is both a weapon and armor,” he adds.

When in drag, the members of Haus von Schwarz feel fearless, fabulous and able to express other facets of themselves. It’s a suit of armor, whether it’s a frilly princess dress like the ones Stefani adores or literal armor with wings like Verik’s. All those layers of fabric and foundation conceal something to ultimately reveal something different and free.

 


Haus von Schwarz will perform their dark goth drag on stage this weekend at TW’s Sep-Oct issue party. For details and tickets, check out our event listing.