Each month in 2023, we’re asking a local artist to recreate one of our iconic covers from the past 75 years. For June, we tapped local photographer Hannah Bernabe and drag performer Paris Max reimagine San Diego Mag‘s July 1977 cover. Check out the recreation here and learn more about Paris in the Q&A below:
Tell us about how you found your distinguished style and how you honed your skills in creating your own style and designing pieces for performing.
Initially I did this thing where I tried really hard to fit in with the other entertainers I was working with that in the beginning I did look like a mini me of all of them. I don’t fault myself too much for that because I think in any field, you look at what works and you go that direction but I definitely cringe when I look back at some of my style and performance choices from when I began. There were attempts at being camp, glamour and sexy, but not in the direction that fit my stage personality. Eventually I found a great balance of being fabulous but more on the whimsical side and comedy, but not crass and more towards silly.My costumes reflect that today. I also made the rule of a costume not looking “standard.” If we’re gong to dress like a flower, we’re going to be a flower that’s seven-feet-wide. If we’re going to be a mermaid, our tail is going to be attached to strings so that it can have movement like a puppet. Yes, we will have a dress with carousel horses all around the skirt, yes we will have a five-minute song have seven costume changes. I rarely will go on stage wearing a slip-on outfit and I do this more for me so I’m constantly challenged and not bored. I hope the audience takes notice after the fact.
What other artists and entertainers do you admire or look up to? What makes their art or creations so special to you?
I have always looked up to San Diego Entertainers like Babette Schwartz and Chad Michaels. They are both extremely professional entertainers but also are such great community leaders. Babette to me is one of the most hilarious drag queens on the microphone, but she does it in such a way that her audience feels like they’re also a part of her show. She makes adult jokes but delivers it in a way where it’s corky and not vulgar. Don’t get me wrong, I love a vulgar joke in adult environments like the next person but I admire her for her style.Chad can literally make any character come alive. Their attention to detail with their costumes and music mixes is so crazy I’m often sitting in the audience wondering “where the heck do they find the time?!” Chad is also such an artist that when I’m watching their shows, I constantly step away from seeing them as my good friend Chad. I’ll sit there so sure that I am in fact watching Maleficent. And then I come to and I think “Wow, no that wasn’t, that’s my friend.” That’s how great they are with their attention to detail. Down to the way the character blinks or points their finger. Such an art.
How do you think your work reflects the southern California lifestyle? How does living in San Diego play a role in the way your performance comes to life?
We are so surrounded by art and entertainment in California, it’s almost criminal not to take all that in and apply it to our art. We also have access to materials and sellers from Tijuana to Los Angeles, that it gives very little excuse to not being able to do something costume, performance, or set design wise. As for living in San Diego, we are such a melting pot, I’m constantly inspired by the different cultures I am surrounded by.San Diego for me is also a great example of balance. We can have casual days but we also love to be glamorous. We have the beach but we also get to strut through the city that evening. Much like my stage life, I love that we can have it all. I also love that about folks from San Diego. For the most part, someone’s background rarely matters. We’re surrounded by such diversity, even the most closed minded (and I use that word very lightly) can still feel welcomed to try something new out for the first time. My audience on one night might not be surrounded by drag or may have never seen drag and then the next night my audience is full of regulars who watch my shows every week, and everyone comes with an open mind and with the goal of being entertained.
What are some of the organizations you have enjoyed working with the most?
I really love working with San Diego Pride as well as North County and South County Pride. A lot of folks don’t know this but organizations like them aren’t just working on Pride celebrations that happen once a year. They have year-long programs that those Pride festivals raise funds for that go back into supporting the LGBTQ community.The San Diego Family Justice Center Foundation is also a great organization that deals with victims of domestic violence. The hard work their organization does to provide legal services, housing and job placement (to name a few) is remarkable. A lot of us shy away from these issues because at times it may feel uncomfortable to approach such delicate situations and here they come in and provide that help and do so with dignity and grace.The LGBT Center was where my mom found support for our family and myself when I came out at such a young age. The work they do and the programs they provide is such a vital tool for not only our LGBTQ Community but for anyone seeking help and resources.
Where do you like to go to get away and relax?
I don’t! I think the closest I get to a getaway is when I go to Palm Springs but I usually go their to do one of my shows but I usually will stay an extra day so I can get in some pool and restaurant time. Don’t feel bad for me. I literally made a living out of having a blast and I get to work with my friends and chosen family while I am at it. If I’m crying myself to sleep, it’s because I’m happy.
Where can people find your work to admire you?
You can find me on Instagram under my stage name Paris Sukomi Max. From there you will get to see my weekly schedule for my shows or events, what crazy costume shenanigans I’m currently up to, my restaurant life or you can meet my alter ego known as the overzealous aunt.