The E of S Creators Spotlight: Eat Your Heart Out With Ms. Davida Jones
It has been quite a minute since I have posted anything on Medium, because this Empress had to live a little before she can even begin to share a little. A moment of self reflection is indeed required. The blessings that come with a career in the arts is the remarkable opportunity to meet phenomenal creatives. The mission of The Empress of Style: Wear Fashion & Consciousness Unite ®️ is to shine a spotlight on Emperors and Empresses who seek to step up, show out, and empower others during our most stressful times. Art is life. We all need a breath of fresh air. Some might even say a stiff drink. Traditionally, creatives do not keep conventional work hours. What do you do when all the fun stuff is designed just for those with a 9 to 5?
Day Drink with Davida!
Davida, is the mystical creation of performance artist David Gilleo. Style speaks volumes and served as the vehicle for our connection when I became a swing dresser on Broadway’s Aladdin The Musical. David is a prominent full time dresser with the production and like much of the industry — we are creatives supporting creatives — after requesting a custom bag from yours truly, I was eager to learn more about his story. Last Sunday, David stopped by between shows at the studio for an impromptu interview.
‘Cause that’s just how we do.
Davida: [Comments on accessories in the studio space]
The E of S: Thank you for rockin’. Thank you for being David.
Davida: Yeah, I’m rockin’ all the time. I am looking for something for summer.
The E of S: The Davida Collection.
The E of S: Sooo David. What is your story?
Davida: Born in Trenton, NJ. Grew up in Morrisville, PA. Bucks County. Which is right across the river from Trenton.
The E of S: When did theater come into play? How did it tie into your career?
Davida: I was always dancing and singing around the house and I wanted to do gymnastics when I was a kid and my father said “No son of mine is going to be in gymnastics.” (Giggles) So, then they made me play sports at first and I was in football. Like the little league football for kids and I was so proud cause I caught the football and I was running and thought people were cheering me on and stuff. Well, I was running the wrong way and scored a touch down for the other team. (Laughs) And I think surely they realized that football wasn’t for me. Slowly, but surely I got into gymnastics and I loved it.
This was back in the day when the girls gymnastics team warm up song was Conga by Gloria Estefan. I couldn’t stay still. I was just dancin’ and just shakin’. I always loved music. I started singing in church actually. And my grandmom, Grandma Brudon, she was my next door neighbor, God Bless her heart, she would always say “I heard you the loudest.” When we would sing in the children’s choir, they would put this white little smock, like a little vneck, with a wooden cross on it, I loved it — I loved putting that on. I guess that was first experience with a costume or like drag. It made me feel so pure and so clean. (chuckle)
The E of S: When did you first come to NY?
Davida: I had been coming to NY since the first Broadway show I came to see was Beauty and The Beast and I believe at the time I was 16— possibly 15. Once I was able to drive, I drove into NYC cause I already had sung and I was in choir and did some community theater at home. They had an open call. There was a hotline you used be able to call for Actors Equity. I went in for Grease the revival, I was only like 16 years old. I drove my stepfather’s big truck into the city because I was so determined. I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna make it — I got cut. (Chuckle) But the dance captain did come up to me and said you are really right for this project. You are really good, just work on your dancing, picking it up. So, I did and I was training. I realized then it was easier for me to take the train into the city from Trenton, NJ.
“Ms. Davida Jones! In Living Color! ”— Ms. Davida Jones
Once, I figured that out, I was already taking some tap, jazz, ballet, I just started coming to the city and started training in the city at 17 — 18. I went to college in Pittsburgh, Point Park College, for a little bit and from there I started booking work. When I went to college it felt like I was being demoted or like we weren’t able to perform for a couple of years and that didn’t sit well with me. I voiced my concerns in college and if there was an extra little thing here and there or a concert they would give me a little solo but it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to be out doing stuff. So, I just started auditioning. I auditioned for Busch Gardens in Tampa, Fl, I was 18, and I booked it. I left college at 18, it was my freshman year in January and it was cold in Pittsburgh and I wanted to move to Florida. I told my parents. They said “what is the worst it can do? If you go down there and fall flat on your face. If it’s not good for you, you can just go back to college.” When they said that I was like. “No, I’m not turning back.” (We both laugh) Whenever, someone tells me something I can’t do. I’m gonna do it.
The E of S: When did Davida emerge?
Davida: The way that this all started was two of my best friends, my family members, Steven Skeels and Jerad Bortz-Skeels, they are husbands, we are best friends, I’ve known Steven for 21 years. We would always go out to a place in Poconos and out to Fire Island. When we were around, we were great friends like that, you didn’t need to have the television on. We just had music. We would come up with theme songs with each other. We would like to grill out, we would like to cook, and just be around each other. We would have so much fun. We really work well off each other’s creativity. Balancing ideas off each other and we would come up with these silly theme songs. The theme song for me is “Ms. Davida Jones! In Living Color!” So that is how they would always announce me. We would be silly. We would put on a pair of heels or maybe put a scarf on our heads, or something sparkly and just act silly about it all. Starting off just having fun. Like 3 sisters. Like 3 incredible close friends acting silly and making each other laugh.
“It will be 2 years in June and I finally decided I don’t give a fuck anymore. I want to do what I want to do. I am just going to own it. ” — Ms. Davida Jones
Slowly, over time out on Fire Island, I dabbled into it and so for the last 2 summers out on Fire Island, they have a place out there in Cherry Grove, I entered the Ice Palace Princess Pageant at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove. It was an amateur drag competition, hosted by Ariel Sinclair, she is one of my drag sisters and I learned so much of the art form of drag because it is an art form. There is so much to learn about it. I thought “Oh, I this can be easy. I’ve been a performer. I’ve danced on Broadway. I’ve travelled all over the world. I’ve done Broadway national tours, lot’s of regional theater, I’ve sung on cruise ships. Oh, this will be easy.” Little did I know. It helps to have talent but the other thing is you have to learn so many different things. I knew of stage makeup. I knew how to boy makeup while your on stage. But drag makeup is completely different.
I love drag. I appreciated drag. Part of the hold up for why I didn’t start drag sooner was I was concerned if I was going to be cast would people think, especially being a gay man, am I too feminine? Am I not masculine enough? Am I not butch enough? I mean look at me. Clearly, I am the most masculine man there is. (Laughs) I think that’s so funny. These were all conversations that were running in my head. I had a significant birthday. It will be 2 years in June and I finally decided I don’t give a fuck anymore. I want to do what I want to do. I am just going to own it. I always felt I would love to dabble into drag. I done a lot of gender bending before, played with some makeup, used my scruff and did a little bit of a wig, I love messing with the gender norms.
“It’s not time consuming if you love it. ”— Ms. Davida Jones
I entered the pageant and my sister Chloe did my makeup. Ariel Sinclair said “Who did your makeup?” I said “Chloe.” Ariel said “ she is painting your face like you’re a woman. You need to paint your face like you’re a drag queen.” I listened to her and I got it. The way you get better at it and it’s true, I’ve got pictures and you can look them up, is that you just got to keep doing it. It’s time consuming. It’s not time consuming if you love it. What I’ve done is I like finding inspiration from other queens. So maybe I will see a picture of someone’s look and “oooh, wow, I love that glitter brow.” So I would see how I would duplicate that glitter brow but make it work for me. So that is something I think about creativity, being as an artist — you mimic. When you go into dance class and we are doing pliés. Pliés have been taught for generations after generations but how can I make that different?
The E of S: Your training wheels? I always feel like everything prepares you for where you are currently. So you were able to tie in gymnastics — I saw your last performance and I was like YES! (We both laugh) Singing, costume design, makeup, how has this experience of being Davida allowed you to tap into your highest self?
Davida: By just saying YES. Not putting borders on myself about it. Not putting boundaries and also collaborating with incredible artists. I know your interviewing me but when I first met you, Angela, at Aladdin, I was like “oooh, I want what she has!” Like I loved your style. “Oooh, your apron is cool and that necklace. You made that? You were like, Yeah.” Then I was like, can you make me a bag? I just knew I wanted apart of your aesthetic, your sense of pattern, your sense of fabric, it’s just incredible. When you see other artists. Artists know artists.
The E of S: Yeah
Davida: You can see it. So, great. I can’t be you? You’re you. I can take a piece of that with me and use that into my artwork too.
The E of S: The E of S is all about kings and queens creating their own sense of a kingdom — their own sense of community. So, two questions for Davida. How are you establishing a sense of community? What is your mission?
Davida: My sense of community is that I love collaborating with artists but I prefer to collaborate with “Good Judys” There can be a lot of drama. There is a lot of drama in life too — where ever you are at but some people can be threatened by my confidence, my talent, my creativity, by my POSITIVITY. I think that’s one of the main threats for some people. I just like to be optimistic. I always lead with my heart and for some people that can be intimidating. I don’t have to diminish my light to let other people shine.
“We are humans. We are all here for a reason. Let’s move it forward. Let’s move the connection forward. Let’s collaborate. How can we push our artistry if we can’t move forward beyond ourselves? Even bigger than you can imagine. ”— Ms. Davida Jones
The E of S: You have the right to your humanity and figure out why you are here.
Davida: It’s true. But that being said if I am collaborating on a show and I have to work with someone who is upset that is okay. I still have to work. You have to find ways to still work with people. Especially, on big shows. These big Broadway shows — like Spider-Man, I was a swing dresser and I did laundry full time, there were 17 full time dressers and 3 supervisors. That is just on the wardrobe team. Plus a laundry person. There was 21 people to make that show go off. That is the one thing that is incredible about Broadway, also about film and tv and big budget productions, people don’t realize, they see a finished product, and it’s like “oh, it’s so beautiful.” They see Beyoncé and say she is incredible with her image. She looks so perfect. Do you know how many hands were on her to make this happen? Her wigs, her shoes, her costume, not even mention the makeup, to have her walk out on that set like that, there could be over a 100 people that were involved in that process.
“I believe in inclusiveness not exclusiveness. ”
— Ms. Davida Jones
The E of S: So your experience on Broadway, you want to take this and put that into the type of community you want to develop around yourself as you create Davida?
Davida: Correct. I love championing my other sisters and artists. I collaborate with them for wig design. I don’t expect ANYONE to do anything for free. I pay them.
The E of S: What is your mission?
Davida: My mission for Davida is love. I believe in inclusiveness not exclusiveness. I believe that there is common ground with everyone that you meet. We are humans. We are all here for a reason. Let’s move it forward. Let’s move the connection forward. Let’s collaborate. How can we push our artistry if we can’t move forward beyond ourselves? Even bigger than you can imagine? I had visions in my head. I had ideas and when I get to collaborate with other incredible artists, it’s like “Wow, I didn’t realize it could be even better.” It’s about not limiting yourself and keeping yourself into this box but keep breaking those walls down.
The E of S: Let’s talk about your event. When is it and what should we expect?
Davida: It is Monday, March 26th, Day Drinking With Davida — It’s a real drag! It’s the first time they’ve done something like this at the restaurant. This will actually be their 2nd drag event. The first drag event was a huge success. It was a fundraiser for Steven and Jerad, they were in a horrific car accident, and Jerad has been paralyzed now from his chest down. We raised over two thousand dollars that night. It was myself and six queens, we had so much fun. The place was packed. There was a lot of heart there — we slayed!
This time what we are doing is, I love brunch, but who doesn’t love brunch? But, when you work on a Broadway show, we work 8 shows a week, 6 days a week, and the weekends are our busiest time. Brunch is usually on Saturdays and Sundays. So I came up with this idea to come up with some collaborations with my colleagues and also the restaurant. “How about a brunch on a Monday?” They would go “Oh, that’s not gonna work.” I said well you know it kind of will. We are in Hells Kitchen. This is very theatrical. There are a lot of dancers, singers, actors, people who work in the front of house, and back of house, wardrobe, crew, and everyone who works on Broadway lives around here. If I am in town on a Monday, hell, I would like to go to brunch. The owners of Samba thought it was a great idea and they just recently started to open on Mondays. So, why not just give it a go?
Day Drinking with Davida — picture coming over to my apartment and I am going to have brunch with you. We are just going to have a great time, live singing, live dancing, trivia, some games, great drink specials, and great food. The amazing thing about Samba their food is top notch. It is a Brazilian restaurant. They are along for the ride, for this collaboration. That is what I love the most. It will be me and a guest, I will have one of my sisters there. You will expect beautiful costumes, whole lotta heart, and just fun enertainment.
The E of S: That is so beautiful. You are all having fun together. In one sentence or even in three words, when everyone leaves, what do want to feel?
Davida: Love. Family. And Confidence.
The E of S: Yaaaas! Thank you Davida!
Davida: Thank you Angela. I enjoy you!
The E of S: I enjoy you too!
Creatives, start next Monday off in heaven and celebrate the 6th day of Spring with a little brunch with Ms. Davida Jones in Hell’s Kitchen.
Follow her on Instagram under MsDavidaJones
Day Drinking With Ms. Davida Jones
Monday, March 26th
Brunch 12pm — 4pm
661 9th Avenue
Between 45th & 46th Street
Hells Kitchen, NYC
Stay Fashion Conscious.
Move Fashion Forward. ©️
This has interview has been conducted, transcribed, and edited by Angela M. Fludd, creator of The Empress of Style: Wear Fashion & Consciousness Unite. Subscribe to my newsletter.