A Night at the Dragapella
They say you can be anything you want with a Harvard Law degree.
You can even be Rachel. It doesn't take long to get to know her. She bounds onto the stage all mouth and hair bow. She barks and she bites. She writes the songs that make the whole world plotz with laughter. She is, says someone who knows her very, very well, everything you don't want your daughter to be. Including a man.
Rachel is Ben Schatz '85, a performer and songwriter for the Kinsey Sicks, billed as America's favorite dragapella beautyshop quartet. And, really, who's to argue, especially on this June opening night in Provincetown, Mass., where the group wows the early-season tourists with its sassy and salacious original songs and twists on popular tunes. There's "Don't Be Happy, Worry," Schatz's paean to Jewish guilt, and "Everybody Loves a Drag Queen," the denouement and raison d'être of the performance.
Schatz plays Rachel as pathetic and predatory, a raunchy woman who has strangled that inner voice that tells us to behave. That is part of her appeal for Schatz, who left his job as executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association in 1999 to become a full-time, professional singing drag queen.
"She was a direct reaction to the frustrations I felt as a respectable-sounding executive director making my TV appearances as capital E capital H, earnest homosexual," said Schatz. "Rachel was this part of me that was longing to come out. Rachel is constantly inappropriate, but that's what she does. She is all id. She says whatever comes to mind. And I have to tell you I can't imagine having more fun."
Rachel's star was born when Schatz and friends dressed in drag to a Bette Midler concert in San Francisco, his home. Afterward, they sang together and sounded good, which sparked more forays into drag and song. The concert wasn't the first time Schatz donned a dress, though. He wore one to a final exam at HLS--a way, he now says, to remind himself that he didn't fit in. He didn't want to be a corporate lawyer, but he sure didn't think he'd do anything like this either. "To go from Harvard Law School to a singing drag queen," he said, "is to take a plunge off a mountain in terms of social respectability."
Yet he's surprised at how many people have supported his decision, from his parents to coworkers to his fellow HLS graduates. In fact, many people, longing to do something different with their lives, are living vicariously through him, he says.
"There were a lot of people who said, 'I really feel you're doing this for me,'" Schatz said. "Oh my goodness, I'm having a hard enough time doing it for myself. It was very flattering, very moving, and certainly very sad. So many people said, 'What I really want to do is blank and I don't have the nerve to, and I'll feel good if you do it,' including a lot of people I went to law school with.
"I'm in the top 5 percent of my law school class in career satisfaction and the bottom 5 percent in terms of revenue. I wouldn't mind being in the upper percentiles for both, but that would be icing. I'm really enjoying the cake."
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