Student Giana Formica is combining queer activism and her love of performing in her drag performances. Dean Heartthrob, Formica’s drag identity personifies every aspect of manhood. Whether it be in a corset and heels, or a Marty Mcfly homage, Heartthrob expands upon what it means to be masculine.
Formica’s drag career began in Nov. 2021, first performing at Cleveland State University’s drag night. Since then, she performs several times a month at various venues in NorthEast Ohio.
Formica recalls two performers, Pineapple Honeydew and Rhett Corvette, who introduced her to the local drag scene. She met the pair during a conference held by Colors+, an LGBTQ+ youth center in Cleveland.
Her activism doesn’t end there however. Formica participates in reproductive education, drag story-times, interns at CSU’s LGBTQ+ center in BH 211, and on April 14th, at 7pm, she will be participating in the Mr. Unique! Benefit show in Pittsburgh, PA.
Upon reflection of her first performance, Formica describes feelings of nervousness and fear. Drag expression varies from each performer, but within any art comes comparison. “I didn’t think what I was doing was comparable in any way,” Formica said.
Despite these challenges and self-doubt, Formica became immersed in queer and drag culture and dedicated countless hours and money towards expanding her drag and activism.
Preparation is no small task for Formica. “I have an aesthetic that I really like right now — I try new things to see what I could start to incorporate,” Formica said.
“Straight up, choreographing numbers is difficult — it’s a lot different when I’m performing rather than in my bedroom,” Formica said. In terms of choreography and attire, Heartthrob is pushing the boundaries of masculine expression.
In addition to preparing outfits and choreography, Formica creates her own mixes for performing. Most recently with her Back To The Future number, in which Dean Heartthrob is adorned with an orange vest and blue plaid shirt– a nod to Marty Mcfly.
Dean Heartthrob has also performed My Way by Frank Sinatra. “It’s obviously a very emotional song, it’s a different approach than if I was doing a comedy mix — it’s like buying into the character,” Formica said. Demonstrating the versatility of what’s to be expected of her drag performance.
She describes the importance of finding community especially for queer people. Putting yourself out there as not only a performer but as a proud, queer individual.
To Formica, putting yourself out there also means engaging with her audience by improving her performance based on audience reactions.
In stark contrast to Heartthrob’s first debut, Formica describes her confidence as both a woman and drag performer. “Dean is helpful — I like being feminine day-to-day but I had this yearning to find a way to express myself in the way I wanted to. Because I do drag, I have an outlet to explore different things and different looks,” says Formica.
For Formica, drag is a personal outlet for creativity, self-expression, and feeling comfortable in her own skin..
“Giana and Dean are two sides of the same coin, like my twin brother. It’s an aspect of me that I don’t get to do on a daily basis” Formica said. She describes the subjective nature of drag and gender, and finds harmony while performing and existing as both Giana and Dean.
While drag is an important aspect of Formica’s gender expression, it’s also a source of income.
Drag performers receive booking fees and whatever tips they receive during numbers. Booking fees vary by venue, but as Formica describes, “the industry standard for the past 30 years or so has been $50 for showing up and performing two numbers.”
“There’s obviously a need for that to change, and luckily some venues are offering $75-$100,” said Formica.
Travel expenses are a major factor in the effort to increase booking fees for drag artists. “But I think it’s also understanding our worth as queer entertainers,” says Formica who finds empowerment in making money from her art.
“Other people appreciate what I’m showing to the world — they want to pay for my art,” Formica said. She is driven to keep expanding and creating new numbers because of the positive feedback.
Balancing work and school is no easy task. Formica is often at venues until late in the evening, and physically exerts herself performing choreography each night. Formica majors in non-profit administration. She hopes to work in the LGBTQ+ and abortion space.
“I want my day job to be working in harm reduction — helping people find resources, expanding health care access, and continue to use my drag platform to advocate” Formica said.
Formica has two upcoming performances on March 9th at Coda in Tremont, the Mr. Unique pageant at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburg, PA. on April 14th, and CSU’s drag show on April 4th.