Anyone who has been watching “RuPaul’s Drag Race” from the beginning knows that many of the queens’ talents extend beyond just being able to lip-synch for their lives and throwing shade. Some are actors, some are writers, some are bodybuilders, some are comedians, some are songwriters and some can sing in their own voices.
Season eight contestant Thorgy Thor (aka Shane Galligan) is a classically-trained musician — a violinist and violist who also taught themselves to play cello. Viewers who watched Thorgy Thor compete, finishing in sixth place, were treated to seeing her play one of her instruments. Those fortunate to live in the Charlotte, N.C. vicinity will able to experience more of that when Thorgy and the Thorchestra performs with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 17 and 18 at the Knight Theater. Thorgy was gracious enough to answer a few questions before the concert.
Gregg Shapiro: For the uninitiated, what can you tell me about the genesis of the name Thorgy Thor?
Thorgy Thor: Genesis, good word! Honestly, I always wanted to be a one-name queen. Thorgy! My grandfather’s name was Thor and my legal middle name is Thor, named after my late grandfather. He was an Olympic medal-holding ski jumping champion from Norway, played professional soccer and managed to contract homes until he was dead at 95! So, I’m proud to come from such a strong heritage. Thor + G for the first initial of my last name = Thorgy. Listen, there is no rule against naming yourself after your masculine grandfather and then making a living playing with gender, fashion and comedy! My name may sound off-beat, but it’s true to my heart and reminds me of where I come from every day. Skol, Thor!
GS: You are known for your catchphrase “I feel in-credible”, which has made its way onto a line of clothing and other products at the Drag Queen Merch website. What is involved in coming up with a catchphrase such as yours?
TT: Great question! Ask anyone who spends enough time with me, when I love a saying, I use it to death. I really do always feel “In-credible,” and I open every show by screaming it! I always feel that when I’m entertaining, it’s best to bring everyone up to your level of energy! Then throw a drink in their face! No, I kid. I think the moment you “think” about a catchphrase, it’s already boring. Just be yourself, and spit things out. If something sticks, put it on a T-shirt [laughs]. My other catchphrase — “UGH. JESUS. GROSS.” — came out of my mouth naturally as I got the boot to leave “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3.” It just flew out. Not at the contestants, but at the judges and producers. Gross! Moving on! Hey, is that a catchphrase? “Moving on”? I recently sat down with Sharon Needles at a bar in an airport, and I ordered a martini. I specified, “I like it dirty, but just a touch of dirt”. Sharon said “touch of dirt” to me non-stop for five days. Catchphrase?
GS: You have described yourself as a “fashion clown,” and yet your runway looks were consistently dazzling and fabulous. What are the challenges and rewards of creating a drag wardrobe?
TT: Oh lord, I could talk about clothes all day and night and you could never get me to shut up. I own everything from vintage Chanel suits and priceless designer vintage jewelry to modern designers that I love. I rip things apart then create new things out of them. I also work with a handful of crafty designers who customize looks for me. My closet is extensive and fun. I love fashion. I love clown fashion as well. I’m not afraid of color or laughing, but just because I’m from the “big top” doesn’t mean I’m not fashion. Fashion Clown fits my personality pretty well. Actually, a designer friend of mine Domino Couture looked at me and said, “Thorgy, you are the Fashion Clown.” Thank you for admiring my fashions on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Too bad some of the judges didn’t feel the same way! If you look at screenshots of each look I did on the show, it was important to me to show a different silhouette, color and style completely executed well! And I think I did that! At this point, my drag wardrobe is overtaking my New York apartment, so I’m looking into finally buying a beautiful home to curate. The question is whether to move out of New York.
GS: You are a natural comedian and quick with a funny retort. How important is it for you to maintain a sense of humor and also include comedy in your work?
TT: Good question! Gregg, when I make people laugh, it opens up a trust between audience and speaker. I feel after that laugh, they are really listening! Then we play Shostakovich [laughs]! Why not? Being able to bring the “Thorchestra” experience to everyone is so important to me because it’s been my whole life’s work. Being silly and then very serious. There is room for both, especially in an orchestral, artistic, crafty space with so many brilliant people brought together in one room. It’s on my shoulders as a classically-trained musician and a drag comedian to bring the two worlds together.
GS: In addition to being a fierce drag queen, you are a professional musician, playing violin, viola and cello. At what age did you begin your musical training?
TT: I studied at Hart Conservatory and Purchase Conservatory of Music and then moved into Brooklyn and ran my own contracting business booking at least 100 events a year. I had Juilliard Doctorate students asking me for work, so I knew I had a knack for business. Drag was always a very large part of my artistic expression, so it was (only) a matter of time before it all came together. I started playing violin in fourth grade, with no extra special training, but as my folks realized I loved it, they pushed me to succeed. I taught myself cello much later. In the mix was viola, which after a quick growth spurt in high school, my teacher immediately taught me. Playing viola well was my “in” to many freelance positions and chamber ensembles over the years, all while wearing a pink wig in nightlife after rehearsal was over [laughs]!
GS: You have talked about being a perfectionist. How much of your being a purist is tied to being a classically-trained musician?
TT: Another good question, Gregg. It’s tough for me to leave something alone if I know it can improve. On the flip side, I have many projects that I start and leave alone for years because they need more work and attention than I’m able to give them at the time. If this makes me a perfectionist, then I wear that medal with honor. Growing up as an orchestral musician, you are taught to be quiet and mix with your section, not to stick out. Drag is all about sticking out! However, training never leaves you. I found my discipline implemented in my work ethic as a nightlife performer and couldn’t be more thankful.
GS: In January 2020, you will be bringing the Thorchestra aspect of your performance to a concert where you are a featured performer with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. What does it mean to you to perform in such a setting?
TT: Where do I begin? I feel I’ve commented about my gratitude many times in the past. RuPaul allowed me to play violin on “Drag Race” during Season 8, and I said out loud, “I want to do a Thorchestra!” After that, I received over 500 emails from orchestral players throughout the world saying, “Hello, my name is Sarah, I live in Scotland, I play the viola, I would love to audition for your orchestra.” So, I knew I had something important happening. Putting together my own orchestra immediately became a daunting task. When conductor Daniel Bartholemew-Poyser of Symphony Nova Scotia called me and collaborated on the very first Thorchestra, I was floored. Two sold-out shows and the rest is history, as well as the future! I work with a small team executing each Thorchestra, and one person I’d like to mention is Mary Kirk Pollard, who has been by my side every step of the way as my tour manager. Mary Kirk is also a Charlotte native, so welcome home, girl! Being invited to perform with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra is a great honor, and I couldn’t be more excited to give the audience a night of entertainment, because that’s what I love to do. I’ve had the pleasure of performing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, as well. I would love to grace the stages of every major orchestra across the great U.S. of A., so, hopefully, Charlotte is the catalyst for that. Thank you for inviting me with your famous southern hospitality, Charlotte!
GS: What can people attending the concert expect to hear from you?
TT: Well, I’ve always been very loud and proud to be the person I am. If you ask friends of mine from 13 years ago, they would say “she hasn’t changed a bit.” I worked NYC nightlife for years and now that I have transitioned into performing with major orchestras, I would be doing a disservice if i didn’t include some adult language at the show. It’s where I come from! However, it’s for all ages. In fact, if you come to the show, be prepared to be pulled on stage. I love doing that! It’s also something that orchestra culture has steered away from for years. I will be giving away free gifts to random seat holders, telling stories from my life, and of course, playing famous classical pieces live on violin, viola and cello! To be honest, I would love to just join the orchestra and play a 42-minute Brahms symphony directly into Mahler and then call it a night. However, I can’t control how excited I get. Audience members will get everything from Tchaikovsky to Madonna, sentiment to humorous! Prepare to have a great time melding the modern drag phenomenon with classical orchestral brilliance!
GS: Are there any other upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
TT: Well, you mentioned catchphrases earlier. I’ve decided when something is funny, memorable and I can’t stop saying it, it’s a song title. I’ve been working on my “album” for more than two years, filled with ridiculous catch-phrase worthy song titles, good beats and overall tra-la-la. Fingers crossed (that) I have time this year to get into the studio and lay it down for all to enjoy and critique! Other than that, I have a long list of Thorchestras to prepare for this coming year and well into 2022. Most importantly, I’m ecstatic that I can announce the airing of our new show on TLC in March, “Drag Me Down The Aisle.” It’s a feel-good show with me, and three of my queen peers traveling across the U.S. sprinkling humor and sentiment to those in need during important events in their life. I urge everyone to get excited and tune in — March on TLC network! This project was hard work and really hits close to home.