5, 6, 7, 8 — WORK!
He clears the space in front of his mirror. His lean muscles reach across his desk to grab a large, black case. Spreading a tight cap over his thick brown hair, he is nearly ready for the three hours of precision ahead of him.
He is Alex Dorf, and he is about to transform.
After spreading foundation, contouring, eye shadowing and lining, brow perfecting, and —most importantly — eye lash-applying, Dorf has crafted the face of his beloved drag persona, Sheba Shish-Kebab
Since he was a child, Dorf says he has loved playing pretend and performing. Growing up with four sisters in Lancaster, he shared toys and countless laughs with them. “I loved playing barbies! I always got the bad hand-me-down barbies, but they were coveted to me,” he says, holding his hands out like he’s cradling a beaten up doll.
A junior musical theatre major at Penn State, Dorf says that his theatrical experiences and his attraction to feminine style are what drew him into the world of drag.
Dorf always does his best to create all his original drag-looks on a budget. For his latest show at Chronic Town, he created a dreadlocked wig out of a pink bob and yarn. It took him about 40 minutes per lock, but after the crowd went wild for Sheba’s performance and flawless hair-flips, Dorf says it was definitely worth the time.
The crowd that formed on the night of his most recent performance included many strangers, but it was also packed with his loyal and supportive following of theatre friends. He says, “I’m fortunate to have a community of people around me that accept what I do. There’s no one in my life that thinks it’s weird, and if they do, they don’t matter as much. I wouldn’t want people to judge me for wearing this purple shirt and jeans so why would I want people to judge me for wearing a purple gown and denim shoes.”
But the young performer cannot always remain amongst such welcoming company. While working at a theatre in Indiana, Dorf experienced a collision with people that weren’t as open-minded as his friends at Penn State. He says, “We were in the middle of nowhere in Indiana, and these people were pointing and whispering from across the bar, so Sheba just went right on up, put her arms around both of the people and said, ‘let’s have a conversation about this, because clearly you want to have a conversation about it.’ It wound up being a good conversation, and I think it was eye-opening for them.”
Luckily, most of the scuffles that Sheba gets into are fun and light-hearted. Dorf says that Sheba is a bit of a flirt, and she likes to encourage other people to flirt too. “It’s fun to cause mischief and get away with it when you are in drag,” he says with a side-smile.
For anyone who wants to dress in drag but is too afraid to take the leap, Dorf says, “Find one friend, just someone who you know you can be one hundred percent who you are in front of, and go to the store with them. Go to Goodwill and buy one thing that you can wear behind closed doors and just feel good wearing it.”
Dorf says that places like Payless and Plato’s Closet have great, cheap heels and clothes that are perfect for starting a drag collection.
But even if you aren’t interested in drag, Dorf still recommends trying something new. “Any kind of self-expression outside of your box is good for you,” he says.
Most importantly, Dorf says that self-acceptance is the key to confidence in whatever you do. As the ultimate queen of the drag-scene, RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?”
Photo Gallery: Makeup Queen
There are many crucial stages in the drag makeup process that transforms everyday Alex into fabulous Sheba.