by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
In this life you are considered lucky if you find a job that truly makes you happy. Ryan Gabriel Schwartz knows what that feels like - multiplied.
By day, he works as a makeup artist and sales manager for Dr. Jen's House of Beauty offering a unique retail experience and spa with an open lab formulating non-toxic skincare and cosmetics for drag queens, burlesque entertainers, biological women and pretty much everyone else you could think of (seriously, this is one popular business).
However, by night, Ryan becomes Cherry Sur (pronounced sir) Bete, one of Seattle's most recognizable drag elite. And if you add philanthropy through community service to the mix, you can see that Ryan has accomplished finding happiness in the work he does, and then some.
'Drag does not define me - I am very much a fully realized Gay man with a partner and a career on top of this full-time job I call drag,' Ryan told Seattle Gay News.
'Makeup is confidence and poise, an attitude which I get in life from helping others find,' he said. 'One of the most fulfilling aspects of my job is when I get to assist a Transgender person who is looking to feel more comfortable in their skin.'
According to the drag star, he has a unique skill set which enables him to feminize or masculinize, or enhance or deflect from specific facial features. 'When any person I touch with my performance, my words, or my brush walks away feeling more confident or inspired I need nothing more,' Ryan said.
Ryan moved to Seattle in 2003 from Redondo Beach, California. He told Seattle Gay News he's worked as a performance artist in Seattle for the past four years. 'I am largely self-taught in the ways of makeup application and stage performance, but I was hugely inspired by my drag sister, Dann Richey,' he said. 'Dann and I would get together several times a week to construct costumes for Hard Times parties thrown by David Richey and L.A. Kendall.' (Currently of QULTURE QREATIVE and hardtimesrevolution.com - 'From Hard Times Comes Great Art.')
'Dann went by 'On A Bet' in face, because the first time he did, it was literally on a bet,' said Ryan. 'I chose a name which honored him by keeping 'Bet' and one of my favorite performers, Bette Midler. I then discovered that Bete means 'beast' in French and I liked the duality of Cherry Sur Bete as Cherry on Beast and Cherry Sorbet.'
Every performer draws off of inspiration whenever they are set to perform anywhere. As a young man Ryan says he was inspired by the comedians and singers and writers like Carol Burnett, Bette Midler, Doris Day, Dolly Parton.
'Then and now, I draw inspiration from the women who are larger than life, almost other-worldly, and proudly display both traditionally masculine and feminine characteristics, like Katherine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, Annie Lennox, Sigourney Weaver, and Tilda Swinton,' he said.
Ryan, performing as Cherry Sur Bete, donates a lot of time and talent to help out local charities in need. 'I have helped raise funds for local organizations like Seattle Counseling Services (seattlecounselingservices.org) and Camp Ten Trees (camptentrees.org) and The Seattle Foundation (seattlefoundation.org). We all have a responsibility to create more awareness and to support those in our community. Philanthropic causes were a big reason why I started performing, giving me an outlet to do what I could to help.'
'Another big reason I started to go out in drag was that I was terribly awkward in certain social situations and did not know how to communicate with other Gay men,' admits Ryan. 'Putting a mask on gave me the courage to be myself. As Oscar Wilde said 'Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.' Cherry helped me find myself in a lot of ways - I like to think of her as the best possible version of myself.'
'That said, I have a basic expectation of nightlife performers; that we are ultimately kind and constructive,' he said. 'Seattle has a vibrant nightlife community which largely fosters creativity in self-expression.'
There is a stigma, an expectation perpetuated by current pop culture, that Queens should be catty, proud peacocks throwing shade in their path, says Ryan.
'Reading' started between Gay men as a way to prepare themselves for the persecution they received from those outside the community,' he said. 'It has become a vehicle for some to deliver cruel or hateful words under the guise of 'fooling around.' Queens are ambassadors of the Queer community and should lead by a compassionate, charitable and constructive example.'
As RuPaul said, 'Throwing shade takes a bit of creativity, being a bitch takes none.'
'Reading' challenges make for great TV, but, for the love of all things Bowie, can we see more mention of the charitable deeds done by Queens and other members of the nightlife community?' said Ryan.
One way that Queens can feel safe or quite literally be safe, is to join a drag house. In theory, young Queens will learn discipline, history, makeup and more from the older, more experienced Queens. Ryan is a founding member of the Haus of LadyDude, a subversive artists' collective with two convictions: uncompromising artistic self-expression and community.
'We are a chosen family, and that is thicker than blood,' he said. 'I can count on any member of the Haus to be there for me. We also divide and conquer and lean on each other for promotion as a rising tide lifts all boats.'
Ryan's music library is vast but he is most frequently found listening to electronic dance music like The Presets, Tiga, Peaches, Princess Superstar, Basement Jaxx, The Chemical Brothers, Robyn and Junkie XL remixes. His all-time favorites include David Bowie, Grace Jones, Bjork, Annie Lennox, and PJ Harvey.
'Newer favorites include Janelle Monae, Lana Del Rey, Lorde and I'll always enjoy a standard Cole Porter by Etta James or Nina Simone,' said Ryan. 'My first CD ever purchased was Des'ree's I Ain't Movin.'
Ryan is a 'free agent' and has the luxury of performing all over the city. 'Closest to my heart is Sylvia O'Stayformore's monthly variety show 'Bacon Strip' (my first stage performance in drag) at Theatre Off Jackson. I also perform at 'Lashes' at RPlace, 'Pulse' at Neighbors, 'HashDrag' at Highline, 'Queen of the Brunch' at Julia's and Nark Magazine events. I also co-host 'SEX.WAV' (a Goth industrial dance party) at the Mercury every first Thursday of the month.'
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