This year Gragger is back in person. BWC’s Gragger Planning Team is excited to be collaborating this year with local Jewish drag troupe Ain’t Mitzvahavin’, who will be sharing their purim-shpil this year. BWC Organizer Zohar Berman chatted with Ain’t Mitzvahavin’s founder, Jean Sequins, about the troupe’s past work and their hopes for this year’s Gragger.
ZB: So many folks are excited to know that Boston has a Jewish drag troupe once again. How did Ain’t Mitzvahavin’ get its start?
Truthfully the story starts with Purim 2020. This was before I even thought about doing drag on my own. I went to a Jewish drag show at Club Café and Turmohel was in the show as well as some other Jewish performers form the area. I was LIVING! I can still remember how my heart swelled to be in that crowd (even if I was the only person who dressed up in costume besides the performers) and wanted to see more Jewish drag. A couple weeks later everything shut down from the pandemic.
I started doing drag in December 2021 and after performing for the first time I really wanted to see another Purim show. It’s the gayest Jewish holiday we have and it’s so camp and drag. So I reached out to some performers I knew who were Jewish and asked for their advice and how to get started. Samara Metzler pointed me in the direction of the Jacques Basement and we were able to secure a date that was close to Purim. We sold out the show and had people clamoring for more tickets and raving about the show so we knew there was demand for Jewish queer performance. We officially came together as a troupe at the beginning of this Jewish calendar year because we had a great name (shout out to Alexis Is for her help on that) and we got to planning for the upcoming year. We even have an instagram now!
ZB: Your purim-shpil show has sold out in the past — what can people expect? What makes Ain’t Mitzvahavin’s shpil special?
We have sold out 2 of our past 3 shows! And we’re hoping to sell this one out too. Part of what’s special about an Aint Mitzvahavin’ show is the variety of acts you’ll see. It’s not just drag! We have burlesque performers, comedians, vaudeville, musicians, dancers, and circus performers involved in our productions. We’re always looking for performers to join the troupe and be in shows. The only requirement is that you have some connection to Judaism. Regardless of if you’re patrilineal, converted, not observant, your great grandparent was Jewish but converted, you weren’t raised Jewish- It doesn’t matter. If you have a connection to Judaism and you want to explore that then you have a place with us.
I think that’s also part of what makes this troupe special. It’s not just about performance. It’s also about community building and strengthening. Being a queer person and a Jew can sometimes feel like two opposing identities and when you find a place where you can be not just accepted, but celebrated, for both sides of yourself you feel that overwhelming swell in your heart. That’s exactly what I felt when I went to the Purim show in February 2020 and I’ll never forget that. I want to create that for others, both in the cast and in the audience.
ZB: What makes celebrating Purim as a drag troupe unique? Do you see any relationship between drag and themes of Purim?
Oh absolutely. Like I said earlier Purim is the gayest, most camp holiday in the Jewish calendar. Being able to dress in costumes and explore that flamboyant side of yourself is a needed outlet of expression. In American culture, Halloween is a big season for when people get into drag for the first time (the other is Pride season). I don’t see why Purim can’t be like that for Jewish Queer folks.
The themes in Purim, like triumphing over genocidal forces and having to mask your identity to avoid persecution and to assimilate to the larger culture, resonate in queer communities and Jewish communities. These are both identities that are still under constant attack despite outside voices saying that we’re no longer marginalized people and that we are now the mainstream or even that we are the forces doing the oppression.
ZB: Drag as an art form has been particularly targeted recently in legislation and through other means of suppression of queer community. What is it like to perform drag at this moment in history?
It’s truly terrifying.
There are bills being passed through Tennessee legislation in addition to being introduced in at least 5 other states in the US that will ban Drag Shows in public spaces, even criminalizing them. I have friends here in Boston who have lost their livelihood because the Drag Story Times they were doing with local organizations have been cancelled after protests from Far-Right groups and Nazis demonstrated at these events. I’m not talking about a few crumpled dollar bill tips I’m talking about thousands of dollars lost by these performers who use that money to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families. This is happening all over the country, including these liberal bubbles we live in where we think to ourselves “that only happens in the South and the middle of America where the uneducated Trump supporters live” No. It’s happening in our backyards because Never Again is Now.
It will never stop us from performing though. I’ve always been the loud, mouthy Jewish type and I’m not going to let some schmuck right wing skinheads who want to see me dead either way silence me. Their protests just make me become more stubborn about it. I’m not going to stop being unapologetically Jewish, Queer, and a performer and I’m not going to stop putting on performances that speak to other unapologetically Queers and Jews. Drag has been threatened before, Queerness has been threatened before, and Judaism has been threatened for thousands of years. What else is new?