Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
There are two other times that Thorgy Thor was this nervous: as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race, combining high fashion and comedy in mini challenges and on the runway; and when she was young, performing a solo onstage in front of her teachers.
But Thor says nerves are part of the job of being a drag performer and musician.
“I would say this as a performer, the minute you stop being nervous about things, it’s the minute you stop being a performer,” she says.
The latest round of nerves for Thorgy Thor, a RuPaul’s Drag Race veteran and “Brooklyn’s Fashion Clown,” comes as her “Thorchestra” journeys to the United States for the first time this Thursday, performing with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser.
Thor — the drag persona of Shane Galligan — studied violin, viola and cello and earned a dual degree in violin and viola performance from the State College of New York.
While in rehearsal, Thor would close her eyes and think about set design or imagine a character in front, soloing with props. She says it was natural to combine classical music and drag based on her past experience in rehearsal.
“I always just thought, ‘I need to combine being a ridiculous entertainer with this beautiful classical music,’” she says.
The Thorchestra came about on season eight of RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2016, when Thor mentioned she wanted to combine drag and classical music with orchestras all over the world.
“I got home and I had 500 emails that week,” she says.
“Thorgy and the Thorchestra” made its debut with Symphony Nova Scotia in 2018 with two sold-out shows.
For the U.S. debut, audience members can expect a program varying from Bach and Tchaikovsky to Madonna, with Thor showcasing her violin, viola and cello abilities. There’s even audience participation.
“Expect to laugh your butt off, but also to sit back and to, maybe, cry a little bit because we really bring the audience through a whole spectrum of the history of LGBTQ issues as well as playing beautiful Tchaikovsky pieces for no reason because they’re beautiful,” Thor says.
Classical music is sometimes considered stale. Thor hopes this program breaks that stigma.
“It’s like, ‘oh classical music, how boring,’” she says. “I have never felt like it was boring.”
Despite the lighthearted show, Thor feels a great responsibility for the U.S. premiere of the Thorchestra.
“Whether I was in drag or not, I’m literally playing in front of the concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. And I’m a great player. I mean, they’re the best in the world,” she says. “No matter what, the nerves are there, but drag definitely helps add a little bit of humor and lightheartedness to it,” she says.
In the future, Thor wants to work with local and new composers and conductors when putting on her show. “I would love to debut brand new work or allow amateur conductors to come and conduct,” she says.
Thor’s ultimate goal after performing with the PSO? World domination. She wants to bring her Thorchestra to every major symphony in the United States and conduct or solo with an orchestra at the end of the Emmy Awards, an award Drag Race is familiar with. “How many did we win?” Thor asks. “4,000 already?
“I don’t see it that far away in the reality of me, you know, on a rotating platform, step up and say, ‘And now Thorgy Thor conducts the orchestra at the Emmy’s.’ And I would be like, ‘Yes, duh, why not?’”