What can we add to the cultural explosion that is Nina West? A homecoming Pride Parade to welcome home our queen from the RuPaul’s Drag Race runway and congratulate her on her new EP Drag is Magic for children. For 18 years, Andrew Levitt as Nina West has performed, entertained, encouraged, empowered, advocated, and given back in more ways than we can count. (Although one tangible place to start might be the $2 million that The Nina West Foundation has raised for local and national charities that provide services to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as children and family charities.) (614) is pleased to share the insights of this amazing performer at such a career-defining moment.
Thank you, your majesty, for everything you have done, and for everything we look forward to from you in the future.
Tell me about your background and how it has channeled
your activism. Correspondingly, how has drag created
opportunities for you?
I started becoming really involved in my community as a child, volunteering with my family. That continued when I began school at Denison University, as service is a pillar of the school. When I attended college, I had my own story of bullying—and I never wanted anyone else to have to feel that. So, wanting to give back and protect became my focus to help younger queer people like me.
The art form of drag is where you get to create the world you want to live in. You have freedom to create characters that demonstrate what you really want to say. Along those lines, you also get to create your own opportunities. When I first started drag, no one wanted to book a queen at their event. I was forced to create opportunities for myself to be on stage. As pop culture has embraced drag, I have benefited from the swell of mainstream popularity; but I have never forgotten that in order to do specific projects I want, I have to create those opportunities for myself and collaborate with brilliant and open-minded folks who share a similar vision.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY
You have a commitment to old-school camp. How has your experience on RuPaul’s Drag Race shaped you as a performer? Has it refined your act? Made you more experimental or competitive?
RPDR is the greatest stage for drag—it is also drag’s toughest bootcamp. I learned that it is never too late to teach an old dog new tricks! At the end of this experience, I am reminded that someone like me—with years of experience and knowledge—brings a tremendous amount of worth to the competition. Drag Race has reminded me that you’re never too old to dream, and this opportunity has given me the ability to create things that 10 year-old Andrew would have never thought was possible. The show hasn’t refined my act; rather, it has reaffirmed my voice. I have always felt that I was an experimental artist, and have always seen myself as being competitive. But the show’s critiques allowed me to receive and apply feedback that I had not previously been in a position to take.
The theme of Columbus Pride this year is “The Power of Pride.” How do you feel that you and your work embodies this theme?
I believe my career is a living example of the power of pride. Not to sound simplistic, but I feel like a phoenix that rose out of the ashes. I could have [gone] in a myriad of different directions after college—including dark places, like suicide. Rather, I chose to surround myself with other queer leaders and artists that helped me develop a strong sense of pride in myself and this community—and I hope I’m a part of that continuing legacy today.
In the excitement of the moment, have you thought about the future? Where do you see yourself going?
This is the most exciting time for my career. I am learning to quickly readjust and allow for the multiple dreams and priorities to shift. I’ve waited for these opportunities for so long, and all the doors are opening at once. It feels hard to keep up! It feels incredible for people to see me on TV, and then continue to help spread my message of pride and kindness in their own circles. It is astonishing to me this recent social media push to see me on SNL—and I would welcome that opportunity! I am passionate about working with children, and so continuing to create work around inclusive children’s music, books, and animation is a dream I’m currently getting to live out. I welcome any possibilities that allow me to continue to advocate for the silenced, while compelling real change through this art form. •
To learn more about the Nina West Foundation, visit ninawest.com.