Friday, June 10, 2016

Survivor and Thriver: Cinnamon St. Michaels

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
Cinnamon St. Michaels Cinnamon St. Michaels credit: Graham Snodgrass Photograpy

Entertainer. Optimist. Survivor. Those are just a few words to describe the indelible Cinnamon St. Michaels whose documentary, Spice Girl officially premieres at the Creative Alliance on Wednesday, June 15th at 6 p.m. The documentary celebrates the legendary Baltimore drag queen and her career spanning more than four decades in drag.

“We say ‘documentary’ but it really is a full film.” St. Michaels explains. “The film started out as part of another original film called Dragged, a documentary about drag queens and what ‘makes a drag queen.’” St. Michaels went on to describe that the original documentary delved into many of the “club girls” of the late-night club circuit. “Off of that documentary, Christopher [Birk, Spice Girl director] found me by posting an ad on Facebook looking for others who have done drag. So I got involved in it before the film was finished. I was in it as part of the interview system. From that, he felt that my life warranted being told and he made a secondary project calling it Spice Girl.”

Both Dragged and Spice Girl are part of a trilogy created by director and producer Christopher Birk. The third film, A Queen for the People, covers the story of Bob the Drag Queen, who was recently crowned winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The documentary covers both his life and career before, during and after his victorious finale.

Spice Girl, however, delves into the lifestyle of an aging drag queen and what it means to be a “senior gay.” “I felt that it wouldn’t hurt Christopher to have a senior who has lived the drag system from the 60s.” St. Michaels explains. “I’m still performing fundraisers. The filmmakers felt that there was so much material that we had to make something. We thought we were putting a face to something that we know so little about, a senior gay. I’m 72 years-old and I’m still performing. Some of the kids today may not know about that kind of struggle.”

Originally from Detroit, St. Michaels moved east in 1973. “Most of my drag, in both Detroit and on the East coast, was for straight people. It went over something fierce for 17 years. But my health was starting to decline and I had to back up a bit from doing big production shows.” St. Michaels faced many health scares in the upcoming years, ironically right after a conscious effort was made to get sober. “Alcohol ran rampant through my life. An intervention was done, and I got sober. My health deteriorated once I got sober. I then became really focused on HIV and AIDS. This was, of course, all before I found out that I was HIV-positive.”

St. Michaels explains that though initially there was immense hesitation to take any of the medications available at the time, the disease had eventually compounded into full-blown AIDS and AIDS-related cancer. “Soon, no one was focused on the HIV, they were just hunting down this tumor and killing it. And it said a lot about the medical community at the time. I was treated as a leper. They sent me home to die and hospice was here. Eventually, I had this brilliant idea to call my HIV guy at Johns Hopkins, and he helped me find a medicine combination that I could tolerate. It brought my T-cells up. This all took time, and eventually years later I found out that I had horrendous complications from the illness. There is a connection between the HIV combos and the heart damage and disease I then had many years later. They do believe that was my HIV meds that may have caused it. There sadly haven’t been enough of us around to know what kind of complications we might face.”

St. Michaels anticipates a lot of excitement for the premier at the Creative Alliance. “After the 90-minute film, there will be a Q&A with Christopher and myself, and then there will be an intermission. Once that is finished, there will be about an hour cabaret-style show afterward in which I perform.” St. Michaels laughs. “Don’t worry, I’m going to leave my fur and sequined walker on the sidelines.”

For information about the Spice Girl premier, visit: Facebook.com/events/283605665317472

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