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Zora Phoenix named as Portland’s Best Renaissance Man in Drag

Zora Phoenix: "What, me, the best of Portland?"

Just wanted to give a quick shout out to prolific and hard-workin’ performance queen Zora Phoenix, for making Willamette Week’s annual “Best of Portland” issue, an irreverent take on the wonderful characters and quirks of our city (think, a journalistic version of Portlandia). The founder and administrator of BurlesquePDX.com and a new event planning business called Redhead Productions accepted the honor, detailed below, graciously.

On her business card, Zora Phoenix presents herself as a sort of jill-of-all-trades: a singer, emcee, graphic designer and burlesque producer. Nowhere does she use the phrase “drag queen”—even though, when she gets off her day job as a red-haired, bespectacled advertising executive named Chris Stewart, she changes out of her black slacks and gray shirt and into fake eyelashes, a dark bob wig and shimmering red dress. Instead, she prefers the term “gender illusionist.”

“I’m not really trying to be what most people think of as a drag queen,” says Stewart, 31. “I’m not transgender, I’m not a transvestite. But if you take drag queen, transvestite and transgender and put them in a triangle, I’m in the center.”

Stewart began entertaining at age 8, as a square-dance caller in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. When he moved to Southern California in 2004, he picked up a gig hosting a bingo night at a piano bar in Long Beach, where he began to develop an act combining music and comedy around his Zora Phoenix persona. He describes Zora as “a seemingly promiscuous, dumb girl who’s really acerbic and witty and quick to catch you off-guard,” but insists that under the makeup, “it’s really just me.”

Since moving to Portland in 2007, Stewart’s job description has expanded. In addition to putting on burlesque events all around town—including Burlesque S’il Vous Plaît at Crush and Phoenix Variety Revue at Kelly’s Olympian—he runs the burlesquepdx.com website, uses his marketing  background to teach performers how to better brand themselves: to, in his words, “use your T&A to help your S&L”).

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