"It’s not easy but for me it’s very enjoyable to put on these wigs and be these people. One mainly because I am an entertainer and I like to entertain people and I like what these characters do to people, and to me. But then in a deeper sense I’m very much exploring and reclaiming a lot things about myself that were taken from me as a kid. And that’s a slow, slow process."
Paul Soileau simply considers himself an artist even though he does practice and inhabit many different forms of art, theatre, performance, music, dance, and ways of self expression. More than creating a singular piece of art he is utilizing his body, voice, creativity, and soul to craft a unique and inspiring experience for his audience, one that he would want to witness himself. Rebecca Havemeyer and Christeene Vale are his most well known and traveled characters. They couldn’t be more different but the motivation behind them both comes from a simliar place. In addition to being very entraining and well loved, each character is a way for Paul to challenge his fears, expand his mind, and explore the deep, dark, and suppressed parts of his past and identity.
Rebecca is the wealthy old Hollywood grande dame and Christeene is a dark, dangerous, and sexual creature that challenges gender and societal norms with a twisted innocence. By trying to get out of his own way he is making room for these other personalities to have a life of their own. But at the end of the night when he takes off the wigs and makeup he’s back to just Paul. Acknowledging and exploring his own character becomes just as important, and is integral to inspiring and keeping the others alive. At the same time these others serve to force Paul to evolve more into the person he wants to be. And there is an integrity in what these characters say and do and a responsibility and commitment to walk one's talk, on and off the stage. He’s preaching to the choir of the audience and himself at the same time.
Surviving an intense previous two months has led Paul to a feeling of accomplishment and clarity. Christeene released a new album (Basura) at the same time that Rebecca had her first full-on one woman show (Winkie). Paul put himself through the gauntlet and in the process learned what is important to him. And the more he listens to the things he is making, and his gut, the closer he gets to better self acceptance and finding all of the potential he still has buried in the backyard of his restrictive catholic school years and the trauma of hurricane Katrina.
I think its fair to say Paul is a genius and is super talented. It was fun getting to know his work in anticipation of the interview. What he creates is appreciated and followed world-wide and he’s got a busy year ahead touring and promoting Christeene’s new album. Fans of Paul will very likely adore this conversation and those who don’t know him will I think come away with some new perspectives, quite a few laughs, and an appreciation for what he is doing even if it’s not your cup of tea.
Some of the subjects we discuss:
I’m an artist
Drag Queen grad school
Back to NOLA/Katrina
Move to Austin
Processing childhood limits
Three years in
What means the most
Passed the test
Self care/long term
Rebecca & Christeene
Banner image of Rebecca Havemeyer by Celesta Danger
Christeene Vale by Michael Sharkey
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Intro music generously provided by Stan KillianSupport Austin Art Talk Podcast