By Denny Patterson
A New Orleans import, Miss Bouvèé is the drag persona of Michigan native Eric Swanson who moved to the Fort Lauderdale area due to work opportunities. A lifetime performer who has appeared in countless musical theatre productions and national tours, Swanson created Miss Bouvèé less than a year ago. Still relatively new to the drag scene, he wasted no time starting work as a solo cabaret artist. Miss Bouvèé is a southern belle who sings live and captivates audiences. Be prepared for a huge dose of southern hospitality.
Swanson took some time to chat with OutClique about how Miss Bouvèé came to be, his passion for entertaining, how he has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and what he thinks the future of live drag shows will look like.
Denny Patterson: Thank you for taking some time to chat with me! How have you been doing during these unprecedented times?
Eric Swanson: Boy, that is a loaded question! I am doing okay. It was a very rough start. Like most of my friends who work in showbusiness, we were devastated, bored, and scared about what was next. I have friends who moved out of New York, Los Angeles, and left the industry for awhile because there are no opportunities for them. They cannot afford their rent, or their mortgages, so I consider myself fortunate that I am working. Michigan opened relatively early in July, and then I got to working with cabaret right away. It seems like single performer cabaret is what people are really biting at right now as far as bookings. It is also what people are comfortable with going to in many cases. I feel very blessed that I get to work. Two or three dozen of my friends have left the industry entirely.
DP: Can you tell us more about who Miss Bouvèé is and what she is all about?
ES: The way I describe her, she is kind of a cup of Barbra Streisand, a cup of Judy Garland, and a cup of Carol Burnett. She is old school southern belle comedy. Miss Bouvèé also sings live. I lived in England for a while and live singing queens are a huge thing in the U.K. It is almost a social norm. So, fast forward 15 years later, I am excited to bring that to the cabaret scene here.
DP: And Miss Bouvèé is from New Orleans?
ES: Yes. My real-life husband and I love to travel! After dating for about five months, we took a long weekend to New Orleans. I always tell people that that trip is where I fell in love with him and the city of NOLA! . We just fell in love with the scene there, the food, the drinking, and I became friends with a queen there. I don’t call her my mother, but I created Miss Bouvèé sort of in her honor and placed her in New Orleans. New Orleans is a melting pot and the style is very welcoming. It’s the most European city in America. When you go to a show, you are going to eat and drink, and you are going to feel that southern welcome, that is also how I run my shows.
DP: You are originally from Michigan. What brought you to South Florida?
ES: Truthfully, work. I have been working in Michigan for the last 16 years, and it’s closed once again. I knew they were going to close come the winter months, so I decided to move down south ahead of that.
DP: Have you always had passion for entertaining and singing?
ES: Oh, girl, yes! It is who I am. I grew up on a stage and I am a Broadway baby by heart. I have been in countless musical theatre shows, regionals, and national tours; that’s my avenue. Entertaining an audience has never been foreign to me. It has been quite innate.
DP: When did you discover your love for drag, and when did you decide that this was a career you wanted to pursue?
ES: I think I am still discovering it. Miss Bouvèé actually did not get her premiere until March 7, 2020. I did a show, I wrote a one-woman show called An Evening with Miss Bouvèé, with a fabulous writer out of New York City. His name is Robert Leleux. Miss Bouvèé was always supposed to be a storybook sort of theatrical character, and so I had a run of the show scheduled in San Diego and Chicago, but then the shutdowns happened and nobody was able to uphold their bookings. So, I switched to broadcasting on Facebook Live every Friday. I was just doing live streaming as Miss Bouvèé. I called it Booze with Bouvèé, we would just get drunk and I would take song requests. I was very fortunate in the shutdown in that my husband has sort of a traditional 9-to-5 in the medical field. Even though I lost income, I was not destitute whereas a lot of my sisters and friends were. So, I donated all my tips to charities, local musicians, bar staff from bars I worked with, and over the course of 16 weeks of the shutdown we raised around $5,500. I think the live streams were how I got my chops. The audience changed every day, the requests changed every day, it forced me to change my looks and styles of Miss Bouvèé, and people fell in love with Miss Bouvèé. Some of my videos have 5,000 views and 45 shares, and some of them have like 300 views. They all chose their different avenues of love for her. Then I fell in love with her and “thought this could be something I could get to work with sooner than later” because I am not going to be getting theatre work. I am not going to get to teach voice. None of that is going to happen anytime soon. So, this was it, and it literally just fell into my lap; then I stepped into her heels.
DP: What more can audiences expect at a Miss Bouvèé show?
ES: My wheelhouse is Broadway, Disney, and some popular top 40s like the divas: Cher, Celine Dion, and those kinds of top 40s. They can certainly expect to laugh and sing together. They should leave with a sense of community, we are all in this together, and I love when they all sing along because I do believe in that power of music. You should leave feeling better about life. I think people can expect to just have a traditional, down to earth, southern time.
DP: What would you say is the best part about transforming into drag?
ES: Miss Bouvèé teaches me something every time I put her on. Every time I put her on, I just find something new about myself as a performer, and changing up her looks is creatively fun. I have zero, and I mean zero, skills when it comes to drag design. I can’t do my own hair and I can’t sew my own costumes. Those queens in the bar are like goddesses to me. When I meet them, they are like, “I made this.” I’m like, “Yeah, I paid somebody on Etsy to make this.” I have no skills to do that at all. I just flew my hairdresser in from Detroit because all my wigs did not ship down here very well. They look like a ratchet mess, so he is here for a couple days sprucing them up. It is just not in my wheelhouse at all. I have complete trust in these artists that I work with, and you cannot go wrong if everybody is in their own lane and creating the same goal. I think that is beautiful. That is probably what I love most about her. I learn something new, creatively about myself, and then watching these amazing people do their craft.
DP: Where can one catch your performances at?
ES: Right now, I am at Matty’s and the Eagle, which are on The Drive in Wilton Manors, and I will be teaming up with the amazing Bill Hallquist at The Pub WIlton Manors as well doing their Show Tunes Tuesday. Every Saturday, I am in Key West at Alexander’s Guesthouse, and then I do private engagements all over the place. I still go up to Detroit and do some events up there as well. I am a working girl! Thank God!
DP: This pandemic has changed so much. What do you think the future of live drag shows will look like?
ES: That is a really good question. I think it depends on the place you are in. It really just depends on the venues. For the most part, the venues I have worked with are very protective of the performers. So, I think the shows will have small casts. I think there will be a single performer to 3-4 girls at a time. You are not going to see these shows with 8-9 girls anymore, at least for a while. It will be a while before people feel comfortable coming out in mass groups again. Even when places are at full capacity, I still think people will prefer to sit on patios. People will have this sort of COVID-debris, as I call it, in their head. People will have this debris and fear, and I think it is going to be hard on performers because then you obviously have to reach a certain number of sales to keep entertainers employed. So, I would encourage people to go out as often as you can when you feel like you can. Once the vaccine is available in mass, do your research and see which one is the best match for you, but as quickly as you can please give business to small businesses, as it will help entertainers. Throughout this pandemic, you turned to Netflix, Pandora, SiriusXM, the arts, etc. Now you have the chance to see something live, and there is beauty in live performance. Come support live [entertainment] as quickly as you can when you feel like you can.
DP: Are you still doing live streaming performances?
ES: I am on occasion. It has gotten a bit harder to do the busier I get. I have a following in Michigan who really supported me when I was getting started, and they all cannot go out to dinner right now. They are under a stay-at-home order. So, I try to do a Booze with Bouvèé on Wednesdays when and if I can.
DP: Do you plan to go back to Michigan once it reopens, or will you stay in Florida?
ES: We are permanently relocating to Florida and don’t have any immediate plans to return. I am thinking in terms of years. The cabaret culture here before COVID was so rich and so abundant with a number of different styles of performers, and there were few, if any, signing queens in the Fort Lauderdale area. I am happy to fill that empty space, and hopefully see cabaret culture come back to that. You could walk down The Drive and have seen seven different shows happening at the same time. You could catch 20 minutes of this one, 30 minutes of that one, bar hop, and support all these entertainers. Right now, there are like five venues programming.
DP: Do you have any interest in perfecting your drag craft and auditioning for reality competition shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race or America’s Got Talent?
ES: I have gotten a lot of pressure to do that from a lot of people. Of course, I think about it. Anybody who says they don’t is lying to you. I think it comes down to how much you want to put yourself out there. Reality TV is rarely about the talent, it is more about your story and how much you want to disclose. I have not had an amazing past, most artists haven’t, so what do you want to put out on TV? What are you comfortable with people knowing? That is what you have to ask yourself because that is what they are going to sell. Then your talent is what they monetize afterwards. You get your fame based on your story, and then your entertainment career happens afterwards. So, I don’t know. If I had to choose one, America’s Got Talent probably seems the best match. I am way out of my league on RuPaul’s Drag Race. The Voice would be interesting, but I think America’s Got Talent would be good for me. We’ll see.
DP: Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects you would like to mention or plug?
ES: I hope to be working with more theatres to do An Evening with Miss Bouvèé, my book show which is an 80 minute show about Miss B’s life. I also have a new book coming out. Robert Leleux, who wrote the script for An Evening with Miss Bouvèé, is writing it with me! The book will begin with me (Eric Swanson) starting on my first show, and then each chapter is anchored in a show I was in with a major life event. It ends with Miss Bouvèé. So, it is sort of like the birth of Miss Bouvèé and all these elements that sort of contributed to her rise. We hope to have it out by pride season!