The glitter’s cleared from the streets and you’ve probably had a chance to give your body a rest after dancing all week. The weekend has ended but Pride doesn’t have to unless you want to. This past week Berlin Nightclub presented Black Girl Magic, a melanin infused, femme centric, jaw dropping night all run by legendary drag queen The Vixen (IG @thevixenbitch.) The audience was immersed till the early morning as each member of the impressive roster lit the stage up. I managed to catch up with one of Chicago’s newest queens and 2 time BGM performer, Bambi Banks (IG @bambi.banks), while she was getting ready for another Pride Week performance.
Hey Bambi, what are you doing right now?
Just painting my face. I’m just getting ready for the (Drag Race) finale party at Side Track and these brows are stressing me out.
What’s the look for tonight?
Um. The look for tonight is very much like earthy black girl giving you praise dance. I’m doing a Debra Cox number. I just like to take a huge skirt and spin around a million times. It’s a lot of fun. They gag.
Haha! Well happy Pride! How many years have you spent Pride in Chicago and is this your first doing drag?
Yeah, I just started drag eight months ago so this is my first time working Pride. I’ve been to pride in Chicago since 2012 and it feels like it gets longer each year. Like Pride when I started it was a day. Then it was a week. Now that I’ve started working it’s basically the whole month.
Eight months doing drag in this city – how’s that been for you?
I’ve been very fortunate to have people support my career. I actually am moving a lot faster than most drag queens that have been doing this in the time I have been doing it for the time I’ve been doing it – so I feel very lucky and fortunate to… be doing so well to the point that I continue to have a job!
Sweet! Can you run me through some of your favorite gigs around the city then?
My favorite party to go to is Femme’s Room which is ran by Scott Cramer (IG @scottiecramer) and Abhijeet (IG @bon_abhijeet ). I love it because the energy of it is just very femme friendly and positive. It’s always a positive environment. You get one spotlight performance and that performer gets the entire night to be about them. It’s just about celebrating queer femme culture. My other favorite would be Black Girl Magic.
How was last night for you then?
Last night was a very special Black Girl Magic, each is special, but last night was special because it was the Pride Black Girl Magic and the theme was Black Opulence. So… I went to school for theatre and our first year we did these projects where we had to perform a piece that was special to us that wasn’t acting. For my Black Girl Magic performance I decided to bring that back. Um. So last night was a very.. spiritual experience and very beautiful. Black Girl Magic is always very beautiful and prideful and magical.
Ok. I see so many pictures of you and other current Chicago queens and I just want to know what its been like? What is the drag community like here?
The drag community here is like one big weird sisterhood. Like I’m glad that I started drag here verses anywhere else. Not speaking for everywhere but I know a lot of places you don’t get a lot of help when you first start. Here everything is very collaborative and very art based. Drag has multiple elements to it. You have performance, you have fashion, here in Chicago we strive to mix all the elements together. Like there’s theatre, dance, art and all of those things can be blended into one performance and that’s what the Chicago scene is really about, the collaborative process. So meeting other queens hasn’t been hard, they’re all kind people and willing to help when you ask… But they’re all really busy.. so. That’s another thing.
Now we’ve gotten how it’s been professionally – how long have you been doing drag for yourself?
I think I knew I wanted to be a drag queen in high school but I had other goals in mind for college so I never really took it that seriously. But I started practicing with makeup maybe three years ago. I started watching a lot of makeup tutorials and figuring out my face. Then by the last year I did my first full drag thing because we had this charity event at school to raise money for the seniors and one of my jobs was putting together a drag show. Which ran a couple of times because it was such a big hit with the students – so we just continued.
Nice Now you have to tell me. So who are just a few inspirations for who Bambi is now?
Oh! Good question. That’s so funny. Bambi, her actual persona, is a weird mixture of my aunt and my female cousins and the girls in high school that I was weirdly friends with but they were all too popular. You know the girls. Like really pretty and obviously really popular but they were secretly nice to you. You know what I mean? Like on the side. I knew a lot of girls like that in high school. I went to a very diverse high school so I grew up with a lot of different backgrounds and things like that. There was this one girl specifically I think of when I think of Bambi and her name was funny enough, BB, and she had this squeaky little voice, like she had the smallest little voice. I knew her since 5th grade. So she’s always been this little chew toy of a person, so tiny, so squeaky, but she was always popular! She used to pick on me in 5th grade but still be my friend weirdly. And that’s the type of shit that Bambi gets into.
So Bambi is BB?
Um. No. Not really. Bambi is also her own type of person. I took inspiration from BB to create her but what’s she’s become is this very sweet, young… like for the scene, she’s become a very sweet young face. My expression of clothing is always very cute and young. It’s like, it’s on purpose, I’m putting it on. But once you think of the name it sweeps you up into the idea of what your character can be at the moment. But it’s forever changing, always. I really do whatever I want. One of my dreams for Bambi is to produce a queer cartoon where Bambi is the main character and she’s this girl who’s an alien disguised as a black girl on earth and she’s like a mood alien so she changes colors and things like that.
OMG. I’m getting anime, Daft Punk..
Yeah it’s gonna be super anime. Cuz like we also don’t have enough anime or Japanese style African American characters too. I’ve always been obsessed with anime, it’s always been a big inspiration for me. Cartoons in general. But anime specifically because a lot of the time it’s all about huge expression within the voice and that’s really what I try to bring to the stage and bring cartoons alive on stage with my performances.
Yeah I’m reliving that look with you as a Flintstone with blue hair.
Oh yeah. Bam bam Bambi. I had one of my friends make me this weird like fur-kini thing and I planned on learning the song Dinosaur by Kesha, ended up not doing that I’ll do it later. But see that’s a lot of what Chicago is about. I met this girl through a friend. She’s a costume designer at the University of Chicago and she helps me design a lot of my looks. She helped me with my look last night and my look for my performance on Pride on Sunday. I’m going to do a Blue Diamond look, like from Steven Universe.
Ok. Two things. One you watched a shit ton of Toonami didn’t you?
Amazing. Two, how do you feel your acting background has influenced your drag background?
Heavily. The reason being is because drag performance is just acting- to me at least. Drag can be whatever you want to turn it into, you just need to keep the ground’s attention. What’s interesting about using my acting background is that a lot of the time it’s very robotic in my head and very thought out and mapped out – not like the actual performance, just the way I get where I need to can be very thought out. Like beat changes and things, sometimes I can take a time to write out a performance. But I just like never actually do it until day of for some reason. But my acting background has cut the extra time a queen needs to learn how to perform. A lot of getting into the scene and being new to the scene is throwing yourself in but since I have a background in performance that’s a big part of why I’ve been so successful so far. But that’s me.
Well, I think that’s a wrap. Thanks Bambi!
If you want to follow Bambi Banks and her next moves. Follow her on Instagram @bambi.banks
And keep an eye out for events at @berlinnightclub .