NYC drag artist Marti Gould Cummings brings a bite of the Big Apple to Big D
New York drag entertainer Marti Gould Cummings seems bent on bucking tradition. His gender-bending style is more boy-in-a-dress than paint-and-pageant. He sings live rather than lip-synchs. And, perhaps most shocking, he has no drag name.
“My parents named me with the girls’ spelling of Marti, and my last name is Cummings, so I thought I might as well keep my real name,” he says. “People sometimes ask me why I don’t have a drag name, and my answer is very selfish. When I was a little kid and I wanted to be an actor, and I would always pretend I could read about myself in the newspaper. Now I am able to. I can Google my name, and I like that.”
Cummings, who makes his Dallas debut Saturday at The Brick (with Drag Racer Milk), describes his performance style almost as if he were following a cocktail recipe: one part cabaret performer, one part glam rocker and two parts comedian.
“I like to think of my drag persona as a mix of Liza Minnelli, Lisa Lampanelli, Joan Rivers and Freddie Mercury,” Cummings says. “I pull from a lot of different sources. I’ve got a lot of influences.”
Cummings grew up on a farm in Maryland. Two weeks after finishing high school, he headed for the bright lights of NYC to enroll as a student at a musical theatre conservatory. His dream was to become the next Nathan Lane or Alan Cumming. His introduction to drag was happenstance.
“I did a musical off-Broadway,” he recalls. “They made a change in the character and asked if I would do it in drag. I put on those heels and I thought it was the most amazing fucking thing I’ve ever done. I thought it was so much fun.”
After a subsequent drag gig hosting a birthday party, Cummings was offered his first weekly drag show. It was an opportunity that he desperately wanted, but was not quite prepared to undertake. Cummings considers this period one of on-the-job training.
“It was like throwing yourself into the lion’s den,” he says. “I had to learn to talk to an audience with a microphone. It was a whole year of me just really failing. I have drag queens who ask me how I did it. I always tell them you have to stay in front of an audience a lot. You have to just stumble and let yourself do it and learn from the mistakes. It was a total accident.”
Early in his drag career, Cummings found the temptations of abundant liquor and a party lifestyle too alluring to resist. He began a downward spiral — a period he calls his “Britney Spears tragic meltdown” — until, at rock bottom, he found that he didn’t remember how he got home multiple nights in a row. He realized he had a big problem and decided to make changes.
“I didn’t move to New York to die,” Cummings says. “I moved to New York to thrive. I got sober four years ago and it has completely changed who I am as a performer, a human being, a son, a drag queen. It’s changed me as a person. All of my relationships are different. All my shows are different. I can control what comes out of my mouth. But it’s not easy.”
These days, Cummings finds his musical theater experience and the breadth of his performing ability to be among his greatest assets. He recently released a single called “Show Me Your Dick,” a cheeky track featuring gay rapper Big Dipper. A music video featuring the two artists premiered earlier this month.
“I have so many interests as a performer that I don’t want to ever pigeonhole myself into being this type of queen or this type of actor or this type of singer,” Cummings says. “I’m not versatile in my sex life, but I want to be versatile in my performing life. I want to be a queen for all people. I want everybody to be able to come see a Marti Gould Cummings show and enjoy it.”
Cummings feels the best career advice he has gotten was from fellow drag performer and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Bianca Del Rio. Cummings and Del Rio share the same New York home bar at the Ritz.
“She would come to my show all the time, and she would give me advice,” Cummings relates. “It helped me so much as a comedian and a performer. She would say, ‘Never let them see you sweat. The minute they see you are nervous, they will attack. Be confident. Even if you don’t feel confident, be confident.’”
Unlike many queens currently on the drag circuit, Cummings has yet to appear on Drag Race. The idea, though, is something he would certainly consider.
“If they called me, I’m not going to say no,” Cummings says. “I would love it. It’s a great platform to showcase yourself to an audience. Obviously it’s an amazing opportunity. I used to think I had to be on it. Now I look at it as if I am on it, I would use it to build my career. But I don’t need it to build my career. It would be great, but I don’t need it.”
Today, Cummings performs on stage seven days a week. If he had not established himself as a drag performer, he is not quite sure what he would otherwise do with his life.
“I would probably be an escort,” Cummings jokes. “I don’t have a plan B. I don’t know what I would do, because performing is all I know.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 26, 2015.