Interview by DS Kinsel

Photo by Renee Rosensteel

I recently caught up with Princess Jafar after her New Hazlett CSA show run for “The Princess Is Right” that happened February 17th-18th, 2022 in Pittsburgh, PA. This most recent show was part Wheel of Fortune, part H.R. Puff N Stuff, part Drag show story time with a slice of evil Disney shenanigans. Somehow this show and Princess Jafar’s work always packs a lot of heart. 

Princess Jafar has been a consistent and ever present personality on the Penn Ave Arts scene for some time, partnering with places like Assemble and KST as a community artist and producer. In the Winter of 2019, Princess Jafar was featured in the Unblurred Gallery Crawl at BOOM Concepts. Check out our post-show conversation below:

So let’s start off with talking about Princess Jafar as a character which is honestly one of my personal favorite performance art pieces in this region. It can be hard for people to separate performers from their characters. What’s the biggest difference between Princess Jafar the character and Josie the producer?  

I like to try to use Princess Jafar’s villainous nature to actually do good in the communities that have helped me become the artist and producer I am today. Hence my tag line “villain4good.” So, for example, the show might seemingly be all about me but I’m employing a cast of 20 Queer artists and creatives of color and raising funds or awareness for local organizations and issues. As Josie, I was always told I was too much, but the whole idea behind Princess Jafar is it’s never enough. My next production after this game show will be called “Too Far with Princess Jafar,” because I don’t just push the envelope, I send it Priority Mail. 

Who are the people in Princess Jafar’s world on and off stage? How have they helped to develop PJ as a character and as a brand?

It’s a rolling cast and crew. I love working with creatives and spotlighting their talent and work. Some of the names that pop up often are Gia Fagnelli who is a key collaborator on and off stage since almost the beginning of PJ back in 2017. I love working with larger than life personalities and people who have a world of their own behind their characters, people such as the moon baby Livefromthecity, slowdanger, N8Puppets, Brittney Chantele and Bae Le Stray. These are a few artists you might want to familiarize yourself with on Instagram. Yes you. Screenshot this list and find each of them when you’re done reading this. 

Share some of your processes around developing Princess Jafar. How did you come to the point that you are able to produce full-length shows? 

Princess Jafar premiered as an opening act for JunglePussy in June of 2017 but I already had years experience as a writer, filmmaker, event producer, VJ and performance artist. From 2012-2017, I was looking for an umbrella name for my disparate interests, projects and focuses and went with Princess Jafar after my long-time collaborator and producer Snugglzs said he really liked the name and I should stick with it. After that, everything clicked and the ball hasn’t stopped rolling since. I’ve performed in a dozen cities internationally, have multiple albums, music videos, stage shows, Christmas specials, shower curtains, water bottles, a podcast and I was voted Pittsburgh’s second best Drag Queen 2020 and 2021. This guy’s the limit, as the saying goes. 

As a producer and filmmaker, I was always unsuccessfully trying to convince other artists with fully-fledged performance characters like Lonesome Daughter to do holiday specials and talk shows. I knew I wanted to have a way to combine comedy, music and TV variety, talk and game shows but I needed a star of the show. It wasn’t until the character was born that I was able to produce those types of shows for myself. After finding the character, I worked with musicians like Mario Quinn and DJ Poodle Emoji, movers like slowdanger, two great theater makers and writers Dov Chernomorets and Zil Ricker in order to hone in on the character and flesh out her backstory and how this entity first documented in Fagrabah in 1088AD exists and functions in Pittsburgh in 2022, also AD.

What was most exciting about the recent show?  How is it different from your previous stage shows?  Where have you grown?  What have you kept? 

I was excited to bring surrealist Queer theater to the historic New Hazlett Theater and introduce their more traditional theater audiences to my world and to my merry band of friends. I’ve had game show elements in the past but have not had a fully dedicated game show experience yet and that’s been a long time dream of mine; to host a game show like the great Richard Dawson and Bob Barker as a Queer Arab. I was also a dream of mine to work with Just Jingles, a world renowned Burlesque performer. She has a washing machine number and I’ve wanted to have her perform it while we give away a washer and dryer set for probably 8 years now. 

I was also really amazed to work within not just a beautiful building but a very capable team of theater professionals. I would call myself a stage producer or a theater maker but working with people who are technically proficient in the art of theater is a blessing. Working with Madeleine Steinek as a lighting designer, Tucker Topel as a stage designer, Kristin Helfrich and Rene Conrad as producers and everything else’s and Janus Young as a last minute stage manager who really whipped the show into shape was the biggest gift from this CSA series at The New Hazlett.

Why is Drag important to our performance arts ecosystem?  

Drag is an important tool because it can be a very effective way to quickly analyze or provide commentary, explore, or celebrate. And for that, Drag is for everyone. However, like so many popular forms of expression and art, modern Drag as we currently recognize it, is a Black art form. If a Drag performer is not Black, they are a guest and need to know their place in the history of the art form and need to be actively doing anti-racist training and doing the work to decolonize the Drag and performance and art and music communities they benefit from. 

Pittsburgh has plenty of newbie queens of Color. That’s not the issue. There’s always baby Drag queens popping up. But, the infant mortality rate of queens of Color is drastically higher than the rate of white queens. This is a product of the privileges allotted to white people who have less responsibilities and who have access to multiple safety nets in their white communities that intentionally do not exist in many communities of Color that allow these white performers to take risks on passion careers. It is not for a lack of talent or passion or drive. And anyone who acts like the art world is a meritocracy is saying that the best make it and that those best are also coincidentally mostly all white men.

Most times people wanna know what’s next but we have a different ask. It’s really tied to your self care: How have you been resting since the shows have been over? 

Through a Twitter break, I took a Facebook break.  And I just have been eating well. I haven’t been watching any content that has to do with game shows or talk shows. Giving my brain a rest because that stuff has been on my mind for three years. 

Is this the first time you’ve taken a break after a show? 

Probably. But, I’m doing a few pop ups, two bingo events, and a drag brunch.  But I’m excited to jump back in the studio to record “daddy 2” which is coming out Fathers Day 2022… “who is your daddy and what does he do?”

I make a comment to Princess Jafar that none of this actually sounds like a break. How can someone be resting and have events line up? They just told me about in-person, digital, and studio practice already scheduled. Princess Jafar goes on to explain:

It’s a break. There is a break because I’m just sleeping and eating well.  It’s a break in the sense where I’m not currently planning a huge show but even though there is a break, I need to capitalize on the momentum of the moment and get “The Princess Is Right” booked at another venue.