Who is he? You could perhaps say that one of his alter egos, Spencer McNeely O’Hara, which is a Facebook alias inspired by “The Valley of the Dolls” character, Neely O’Hara, is a blend of the man in front of you with the dramatic sensibilities of a woman ‘who gets addicted to pills and goes overboard, like so many actresses of the time,’ and Spencer explains that this name ‘was an homage to that, suggested by one of my good friends.’ But is he just the man?
“You see, I’m sort of experimenting with different characters right now. I don’t think there is just one drag queen in here, I think there are more than one inside of me!!” he laughingly said. Spencer McNelly likes to describe his other alter egos with three words. Who is she? “Ava Darling is classy, upper-class, and conservative,” says Spencer with a cocked eyebrow. But one thing you may not know about this Bloomington drag artist and impersonator is that he is developing other characters. “There’s Bambi, with chipped nails, a bit more dirty, and liberal.” If Ava were the trophy wife, Bambi would be the feminist in us all. Lately Spencer has been working on a third character, one who embodies the power of three in general, all wrapped up into one woman.
See a performance of Spencer’s at Bloomington’s The Backdoor HERE.
But is he just the façade of characters with something to say? As Echo Dance Company begins our first showcase questioning identity, challenge, and restoration in “The Shameless Experience” on May 21st, we have worked to realize our own identities as artists and dancers. Spencer McNelly is no stranger to this idea, as he has diligently spent his life questioning his own identity.
Around the age of 12 or 13, Spencer recalled watching “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and seeing an impersonation of Ru Paul by Wayne Brady. Immediately, a light bulb went off. “As a young child, I was pretty non-conforming, and my mom allowed me to play dress up with my sisters, and that was normal. But I knew that I was not completely myself being just a boy."
When I saw the show I asked my mom, ‘Who is Ru Paul?’ and she just quietly replied, ‘Uuuhhh, well, he’s a man who sometimes dresses and acts like a woman.’ I thought to myself, “That’s an option? You can do that?” There was always a question of how could I fit in? It even came to the point where I considered transitioning to a female because sometimes I preferred to dress more like a woman. Having the third option was great!”
Spencer now believes that anything should go when it comes to gender. There are more options out there to identify with these days, but the fact that we as humans feel the need to identify with any one thing at all is limiting.
“I have been very inspired by Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth”. In this book you learn that we all have the same purpose, but we all have a unique outer personality. With that, we all need to be more responsible for our own thoughts, especially when it relates to activism for what you believe in. I’m definitely a bigger activist on the everyday level with people I interact with. I don’t necessarily go out of my way to change people’s opinions, but I do think that a muscle we don’t exercise enough is empathy.”
“Drag for me is spiritual. I don’t want to be completely female, and drag for me is tapping into neither and both male and female. The moment one says, ‘I am [this],” you immediately turn yourself off to something else, you separate yourself from someone.”
With Spencer’s love for drag as not just a performance, but a lifestyle, we applaud his genuineness and perhaps his ability to know who he is better by not subjecting himself to just one stereotype of a gender. “I hope for ‘Madonna’ in ‘The Shameless Experience: A Journey Through Identity, Challenge, and Restoration’ to be a celebration of otherness, a free-for-all. I don’t intend to push buttons or shock people, although it invariably will. But I hope to celebrate being human!” replied Spencer.
We can’t wait for you to see Spencer McNelly perform with Echo Dance Company on May 21st! It’s really going to be ‘in vogue’!