Alumni Q&A: Keith Levy (aka Sherry Vine) MFA '88

Vertical professional shot of Keith Levy aka Sherry Vine in a green dress.

Keith Levy (aka Sherry Vine). Photo courtesy of Keith Levy.

For our Alumni Q&A series, we caught up with legendary drag performer Keith Levy (aka Sherry Vine) MFA ’88, discussing Vine’s 34-year career, the evolving art of drag performance and staying true to one’s unique voice.

Tell us a little bit about your professional background.

I’ve been performing in drag as Sherry Vine for 34 years now and have earned the title of Drag Legend. I tour the world with my all-live singing, hilarious comedy shows, and I’m the star and writer of The Sherry Vine Variety Show (OUT Tv). I can be seen on almost every streaming platform: She’s Living For This (HERE TV), Sitting in Bars With Cake (Amazon), Wigstock (HBO) and Drag Me To Dinner (Hulu), to name a few. I’m a founding member of Theatre Couture, and The OG YouTube Queen, where my video parodies have been viewed over 20,000,000 times. Most recently, I produced and co-starred in Dr. Jackie (OUT Tv), played Blanche in The Golden Girlz in L.A. and New York City, and opened for Bianca del Rio on her Dead Inside North America Tour for six weeks.

What are you currently working on professionally?

This summer, I will be performing my new show, Smoke & Mirrors, on the East Coast before doing a run in New York of The Golden Girlz. Then I’ll be headlining the cabaret room on two gay cruises in the Mediterranean. And ending the summer with a run of The Golden Girlz here in L.A.

What was your best USC experience?

My best USC experience? Well, it was 35 years ago! My time at USC working for my MFA were some of the best times of my life. I met so many people and got to work with some of the most talented directors and teachers. I can still hear their voices today. Other highlights included making about 10 student films. The School of Cinematic Arts and the School of Dramatic Arts really worked together and I learned so much. 

What do you miss about college, SDA specifically?

What I miss the most about college was the immersive experience of living, eating and sleeping 24/7 theatre. There was no other life and I worked so hard every day. And it was amazing. I miss that freedom of just being able to focus 100% on a monologue or a scene.

Was there a class or professor that was particularly meaningful or influential during your time at the School? Why?

Well, Anna Deveare Smith was a guest director one semester and I learned a lot from her. In fact, it’s her fault I’m doing drag! I was her assistant director on a BFA show and she also directed our MFA graduation project. That’s where I spent time with a local drag queen and “did her” onstage. After the show, Anna said to me, “I think you should explore that.” And I really heard her, and with two of my friends we started a theatre company where shows would be written and staged with me as the leading lady. And here I am 34 years later!

What (if any) productions did you work on?

I did a lot of experimental theatre in the Green Room Theatre and the Stopgap Theatre. I never got to perform in the Bing but maybe it’s not too late… I also co-directed a few BFA shows and even directed a BA showcase. 

What aspects of training at SDA contributed to performing as Sherry Vine?

It was very important to me when I started drag that I incorporate my theatre training. My act has always been live singing and comedy but I also mix in drama and acting. I learned a lot from Stephen Book about heightening everything and not being afraid to leap off the cliff. Certainly with the theatre company I utilized my acting chops and bag of tools. 

Has drag as an art form changed or evolved in the time you’ve been performing—and if so, how?

Yes! Drag has changed immensely. When I started it was still very fringe. Mostly for a gay male crowd and drag was marginalized. Now, thanks to RuPaul, drag is a legitimate art form that can be seen on TV, films, touring shows, etc. No one did drag in the 90s to be rich or famous. But now you can make money doing drag.

You have a huge social media presence. In your experience, has social media and the internet changed things for queer performers? And if so, in what way?

Social media has been a blessing and a curse. I definitely think social media has opened a lot of doors for queer performers. I had already been performing for 20 years when YouTube came along and I was able to reach more people overnight than in 20 years of live performances.

What are some ways that our students—particularly our LGBTQ+ students—can find their unique voice and stay true to it while at SDA and after graduating?

My advice is always: be you. Find what makes you special, what you love, and run with it. It’s ok to be inspired by other people but don’t steal or borrow – make it your own. And don’t be afraid to fall on your face. That’s the only way to learn. I tried dancing and guess what? I can’t dance! So I showcase and promote the things I can do that not many others do.