Sophomore theatre major Randall Kraujalis went to his first drag show with a friend when he was 17 years old. He loved that it combined several different aspects of performing — hair, makeup, costumes — into one unique experience.
He loved it so much that he wanted to try it for himself.
He started experimenting with makeup, though he admits he was pretty bad at it at first.
“I kinda knew about makeup because I was in theater and did theater in high school, so I knew how to do stage makeup and how to look like a normal person from afar,” Kraujalis said, “But drag isn’t a normal person at all, it’s like an exaggeration of what a woman looks like.”
Kraujalis would try to follow makeup tutorials from RuPaul’s Drag Race to not only help him practice putting on makeup, but also to see what types of things looked good on his own face so he could start building his queen’s persona.
After some trial and error, Sydney Nudes, a word-play on “Send me nudes,” was born.
“Her aesthetic, I guess, is like blonde, bitch and boujee,” Kraujalis said.
Kraujalis considers himself to be pretty outgoing, but Sydney is larger than life.
“Sydney Nudes will show up in just a bra and a pair of underwear and be like, ‘Yeah, this is my outfit; this is who I am,’” Kraujalis said. “I feel like I’m even more outgoing when I’m in drag … You don’t want to make a drag queen who is afraid of doing things, so I want Sydney to be fully out there and be who she is and be bigger than life. Sydney definitely takes all of the spotlight and she’s like, ‘Look at me, I’m Sydney Nudes.’”
As Sydney, Kraujalis wears a blonde wig and a corset with a padded bra to create an hourglass body shape. She likes wearing clothes that fit tight to her body and accent her waist. Kraujalis makes many of the costumes himself, pulling inspiration from magazines and Instagram posts.
When he was starting out with drag in high school, Kraujalis would participate in online drag races where contestants — newer queens, usually between the ages of 15 to 21 — would be given a task to complete each week and then submit a photo or video. More experienced queens would give them feedback and winners would proceed to the next race. The bottom two would have to lip sync for their life with a one-minute video of them lip syncing to a specific song. The loser would be eliminated from the race.
Sydney Nudes made her debut performance earlier this year at an open stage night at Bar 1868. She did a burlesque number to “When You Got It, Flaunt It” from the musical “The Producers.” After each verse of the song, Sydney would take off a piece of clothing, revealing the corset and lingerie she was wearing underneath.
“It was a lot of work since I’m not a big dancer, but that’s what drag is, it’s dancing to a song and lip syncing along,” Kraujalis said. “So I had to figure out what moves I can do in six-inch heels, what can I do to make it look extravagant, what can I do that’s feminine?”
Kraujalis remembers being really nervous for this first performance since he didn’t know how the audience would react, but he thinks it’s still one of the best shows he’s ever done.
“The atmosphere is super welcoming,” Kraujalis said. “You go because you want to see it, you don’t go to be an asshole. Everyone is happy to be there, everyone is excited to be there, everyone is having a good time and appreciates it.”
Performing has opened Kraujalis to a new side of the drag community that he couldn’t get through online drag races alone.
“When you perform live and you’re in a bathroom with these people getting ready for your number, they’re not afraid to tell you, like, ‘Hey, you need to fix your hair’ or ‘That costume is not great for your number, do you want to borrow this?’” Kraujalis said. “They’re so generous to share a little bit of wisdom, especially if they’ve been doing it longer.”
Bar 1868 has since stopped hosting regular open stage nights, so Kraujalis tries to find other places to perform. Most recently, he performed at an open stage night at a venue in Dayton.
“In the drag community, it just takes a lot of open stages and going to places that offer open areas to perform,” Kraujalis said. “I’ve just been working on getting my name out there, making sure people know who Sydney Nudes is and what she’s like as a performer.”
Through drag, Kraujalis has found a supportive community, confidence and a new sense of self.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a whole new sense of who I am as a person because I found another person in myself and am able to express myself through that,” Kraujalis said. “I love drag because I’m able to express myself in a different way. Like, I love fashion and I’d say I’m still trendy, but I’m still more on the masculine side when I’m out of drag, but when I’m in drag I’ll wear the tightest things, shorts, skirts, things like that. It’s like a whole other person.”