by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Robbie Turner, 29, is doing exactly what he was born to do: entertain.
Robbie is a triple threat; he can sing, he can dance, and he can act. As long as there is an audience - and with Robbie, there is always an audience - he will knock 'em dead every time. You've seen him perform with the Seattle Men's Chorus; you watched the YouTube video of the Seattle Lady Gaga flash mob; and you've cheered as he emerged as the standout performer of An Evening at Le Faux at Julia's on Broadway. And now, Robbie Turner has been gracious enough to grant Seattle Gay News an exclusive interview to learn that behind all the glitter, there really is gold.
Every Friday and Saturday night, Robbie Turner transforms from boy to girl - not just any girl, mind you; he's given us Liza, Kylie, and most recently, Gaga. Surrounded by feathers, costumes, and makeup, like an artist painting a canvas, 'he' becomes 'she' with one little hitch & Robbie is no blank canvas.
NEW YORK IS A LONG WAY FROM SEATTLE
Contrary to popular belief, Robbie Turner is not the love child of Bette Midler and Nathan Lane. Neither did he hatch like Lady Gaga at the Grammys. Robbie Turner hails from a town in Lewis County with a population less than that of a capacity audience in Key Arena. In 1982, baby Robbie was one of 6,100 residents of Chehalis, Washington.
'I was born in Chehalis but grew up in Centralia,' he explained. 'When I was a little boy I dreamed of becoming an actress.'
He laughed. 'I'm kidding. But I did know that I would end up being an entertainer.'
As a child, Robbie found himself enthralled with Liza Minnelli. Growing up in the pre-YouTube and Hulu days, Robbie could only catch a glimpse of Liza on TV programs. 'The cable TV networks Encore and FX would often play Cabaret,' he recalled. 'Some of my earliest memories were of watching Sally Bold [Minnelli's character in the Academy Award-winning film] over and over again.'
After graduating high school he left western Washington for the Big Apple, where he attended New York University for theatre and English literature. The life lessons he would receive while living in NYC would prove to be invaluable as he began to come into his own as an entertainer.
'I would die if I wasn't able to perform,' said Robbie. 'My heart just gets sucked out of work if I'm not on a stage. Performing live provides me with an instant connection to the audience.'
Today, Robbie Turner is always 'on.' He's a master storyteller and socially aware. In public, he never appears to have a bad day. But he told SGN there was a dark time when that wasn't always so.
While in college, Robbie was hospitalized after being brutally attacked by a stalker. An obsessed fan had found a way to be close to the budding entertainer, and one night, he struck.
'When I woke up in the hospital, I was horrified,' he recalled. 'I disappeared for a year. I barely spoke and didn't see anyone. I kind of died, in a way.'
Broke, living in a friend's basement, and at the end of his wits, Robbie had become a hollow shell of who he once was. Then, just like when he was a boy, it would be a scene in a movie that would forever change his life. 'My friend brought over a copy of the movie Dances With Wolves,' he said. 'There is a scene in the movie where the Indian chief tells his adopted daughter that she doesn't have to live in pain and sadness. And I thought, 'Wow & I don't have to be this way either.' That is when I began the healing process.'
'If you are struggling with issues stemming from an attack, you need to talk with a professional,' he advised. 'You've got to talk about it. It's a struggle, but you can get past it.'
In many ways, Robbie says, drag queens are public servants. Because of his attack, he chooses to approach his public service like that of a mentor and friend.
'If you are a true entertainer, then you belong to the people,' he said. 'You listen to their problems and become something of a therapist and often times and advocate or activist.'
Being in drag you can easily get 'caught up in ego,' he says. 'There are two ways that drag queens usually react to situations and people: you can always remain positive, or you can be a bitch. I choose to remain positive.'
A STAR IS BORN
There is no doubt that Robbie Turner is a local celebrity. His name is synonymous with Le Faux, and his impersonation of Lady Gaga garnered the largest audience response at last year's Pridefest. In the unlikely event Robbie isn't the headliner, it's a safe bet he will outperform whoever is.
Still, in mid-2005, Robbie didn't know that drag was to be the art form that would catapult him to local acclaim.
'Drag was never in my psyche. I was always good at doing impersonations, but I just never thought that I would end up impersonating women,' he told SGN.
When Robbie returned to Seattle from New York, he was unemployed. He heard about some drag gigs in Olympia and Tacoma and went for them. He stepped out onstage under the drag name Fosse - chosen from the famed American actor, dancer, and director Bob Fosse, whom he had studied in college - and the rest is history. 'Suddenly,' he said, 'I was a drag queen.'
Robbie's first impersonation was no surprise: Liza Minnelli. 'I love her and I think she is just great.'
In mid-2007, Robbie Turner became one of the founding cast members of An Evening at Le Faux, where he has brought Liza to the masses ever since. No one can deny that Le Faux is the premier female impersonation show in the Pacific Northwest, and audiences began to realize that Robbie wasn't just good - he was great.
'The show is great and, in the community, it's a big deal,' he said. 'Le Faux is my job and the people I work with are my friends. I feel lucky to work with so many talented people. Doing the show can be hard, but every job is.'
The fans love Robbie, and he loves them. 'It is important for me that they know I am genuinely here to perform for them. Because of them, I am lucky to do this work that I enjoy so much. Liza knows her fans and that is awesome, so I try to emulate that with my fans. They are real people and I just love talking with them after the show,' he said with a smile.
There is room for more than one lady in Robbie's life. Move over, Liza, because Lady Gaga has moved in! What Robbie has done with his Gaga has become a local phenomenon.
'I've been doing the character for a year and a half,' he said. 'What set me apart was I was throwing dance moves into the production before Lady Gaga was actually becoming known as a dancer.'
There are times when it seems like Robbie does Gaga better than Gaga does Gaga.
'She's a bit of a genius, and as with most geniuses, she is crazy. You never quite understand them, and that's where she falls,' he said. 'She is shocking and amazing. Gaga has blown the lid off of entertainment.'
Robbie says he never stops researching for his characters. He makes scrapbooks of interviews, pores over videos, and watches footage of performances to learn every nuance and subtlety in order to encompass that character when she appears in Le Faux. 'It's like a light switch,' he said. 'Until I hear the music, I'm not the character. Instead, I am in the dressing room stretching and getting ready for the number.'
And then it's show time, and there is no stopping Robbie Turner.
FOR THE LOVE OF LIP GLOSS
I asked Robbie to describe himself using just one word.
'Encompassing,' he said.
'I don't think a lot of people look at those of us in the entertainment and social world as real people,' he says, 'but we are, and we don't get a lot of time off. We always have to be 'on.' So we learn, because we love what we do for a living, to be all-encompassing.'
In his 'off' time, Robbie says he likes to read a lot. 'I research everything that I am interested in.'
One thing Robbie feels passionate about is the mental health of Gay men. He says he tries to use his status as an entertainer and as an out Gay man to be a role model for others whenever he can. To Robbie, love is so much easier than hate.
'If you spend all of your time judging people, you will have no time to love them,' he said.
It is also important, he says, to stay healthy. 'You can't drink every day like it's a Saturday night. I respect myself and I take care of myself, and I wish that for everybody. I'm not the type of person who wants to wake up the next morning with my arm falling off because I slept with the wrong person.'
'I have fear for the younger Gay boys because they seem to be a bit reckless,' he said. 'The day you come out, you become a 14-year-old girl. You want to try all the new lip gloss, and everything is shiny and new. You feel you don't have to ever grow up because the world doesn't expect you do. But please respect yourself and your partner and use protection when you have sex.'
Robbie says that he sometimes feels the wrong message is being sent to Gay youth. 'In some of the glossy Gay magazines, the advertisements clash in a way,' he explained. 'On one page you have an ad for the new HIV/AIDS medication and then on another page there is an ad for buying a hotel room with a picture of two men in bed and a pile of clothes on the floor. What are we saying to our youth? 'Buy fancy vacations and fuck your brains out.' The truth is, unless you are careful, that one good time could send you home with a disease that tries to kill you every day.'
'How do you expect the world to love you if you don't love yourself?' he asks.
Robbie is full of love and talent, and those close to him will tell you that he practices what he preaches. 'My friendships and family dynamic are the most important things in my life,' he said.
'I want your readers to know that I would love to see them at the show,' he concluded. 'I'm accessible, so come up and talk to me and take some photos. I enjoy that connection with my fans - and who knows, maybe we could even cultivate a new friendship.'
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