When John Dormady first put on his mother’s dress at age 4, he felt curiously comfortable. He spun around in his room, music blaring, imagining himself as the singers he heard.
This experience would evolve and give birth to a diva alter ego – Dora Diamond.
During Halloween in the small town of Ashland, Dormady had the opportunity to dress up in drag. The rural community presented no other outlets for doing drag. It wasn’t until Dormandy moved to Milwaukee to study art at MIAD that he found a flourishing LGBT community, as well as place to start a performing career.
“When I first moved here in 2009, I sang an original piece onstage at MIAD’s talent show,” he says. But that was in male attire.
In 2011, Dormady was a winner in a Lake Superior singing competition, Big Top Idol. Around the same time, he began incorporating his passion for drag into performances.
“I’ve noticed that when in costume, I get a little more ‘quippy’ – a little more flirtatious and extroverted,” Dormady says. “I’m an extrovert by nature, but being in costume certainly amplifies that. Being in costume adds another level of theatricality to the mix, and I’m all about theatricality.”
After performing in drag shows around Milwaukee and building a reputation for Dora Diamond as a performer and a personality, Dora began hosting a monthly gay cabaret variety show at the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center. Since its March debut, the show has gained popularity in the local LGBT community.
Dormady says there are several drag shows weekly in Milwaukee, but what sets his apart is its integration of performance styles and a goal of unifying various drag cliques.
“There are drag queens that are cartoonish and there are pageant drags queens who dress glamorously with lots of glitter.” Dormady says. “I consider myself to be somewhere in between. And that’s similar to how I want my show to be – some kind of hybrid show.”
Dora’s shows mix comedy, burlesque, singing and of course, drag queens. As curator, Dora features reoccurring performers doing a variety of acts. Inspired by an Oscar Wilde quote, she encourages everyone to participate. Wilde said: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Dora performs songs by Madonna, Adele, Whitney Houston and Cher, but dreams of putting on a concert singing blues and jazz standards made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone, performers admired for their vocal prowess and their courage and perseverance.
“They overcame adversity and sang their hearts out to the acclaim of thousands. I feel like as a member of the LGBT community, I too face some adversity in today’s society, but these are the voices that keep me strong,” Dormady says.
“My career dreams are simple. As long as I get to continue singing and performing, I’ll be truly happy. I don’t care if it makes me filthy rich – I do it because it’s what I love to do.”
ONSTAGE: Dora Diamond’s monthly drag shows benefit the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, a nonprofit venue for LGBT performers and artists. There is a suggested $5 donation at the door. For more, call 414-383-3727.