The drag culture in Santa Fe continues to grow steadily every year with shows at some of our favorite venues. At the forefront of this scene is singer/performer Richard Peters or better known as Bella Gigante. GaySantaFe recently sat down and talked with Bella Gigante about the drag culture in Santa Fe and the magic of our city.
How did you get into performing?
I’ve always performed my whole life as a man, singing and acting and in musical groups, since I was in grade school. I’ve always identified more to women’s music more than men’s music. When I moved to Santa Fe I sang at the La Casa Sena Cantina. I sang there for 21 years. I also worked at a costume shop here in Santa Fe and started learning costume design from the owner there. I worked there for 7 years and became the head stylist and dresser. So I would dress women of all shapes and sizes. That is where I learned about hair and make-up.
Four years ago I started doing Bella and it seemed like the perfect combination since I had all the skills to make it possible so I decided to do it.
So how did Bella come about?
They were doing a show at La Casa Sena Cantina called “Divas” and they assigned different divas to different employees. I was assigned Aretha Franklin and Adele so I decided to dress up in drag to have fun with it. I looked really good and everyone was in awe of how well I did the drag. One of my long time customers asked me what my drag name was and I didn’t have one so he said he would think of one. So he came up with Bella Gigante and I loved it. I’m a large man at 6’5” and Bella is sometimes 7’ tall with wigs and heels.
For those who have not seen the show, are Bella’s shows a really big production?
No, they are actually more intimate than you would think. I have different kinds of shows that I do. I have a cabaret show with the theme changing monthly. It could be rock music, it could be blues, and it could be country, those types of themes. It’s usually me with one special guest. The guest will do about two songs. I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. Even as a drag performer I don’t dress in what you would call very “dragy.” It’s more like a classy woman. Also, my voice is in such way that I don’t think I need a lot of bells and whistles so I don’t have to put on a giant show.
Well your events are pretty well known. We post them on the Gay Santa Fe event calendar at least once a month but sometimes you perform more often right?
Yeah, right now I have one every week for the next two months. I have a show at the Skylight and one in Taos and also one with my band.
What’s your rock band?
When you first did Drag shows, what was it about Santa Fe that made you feel like it was an accepting place for it?
Santa Fe has a pretty large drag culture for such a small city. I don’t seem to be a part of the drag culture anywhere I go which is a strange thing. The drag culture is sort of a sisterhood where they learn things together, have each other’s backs and perform together. I didn’t really need to learn those things through drag because I learned them through being a costume designer and a professional singer for many years. Not to discount what they do. I respect and believe it has its place. I just never seemed to be a part of that culture. At least 50% of people at my shows are straight.
Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because I sing live and I really connect with the audience really well. That’s what I do best. That’s why my shows tend to be intimate. And times have changed. People are more open to drag shows.
Right. People now are more accepting to attending shows especially in Santa Fe.
That’s why I do my shows in Santa Fe. I love Santa Fe. Within a month of me starting my drag, I was Miss Santa Fe Pride and Entertainer of the year. Santa Fe just completely embraced me doing this. I couldn’t imagine doing this somewhere else as my home base. I travel and do my shows all over the place but Santa Fe is definitely my home.
That’s what a lot of people we interview say; that the embrace of the community is what made them stay in Santa Fe. What got you to come to Santa Fe?
My best friend moved here and I came to visit her. I fell in love with Santa Fe. I went home, finished my lease and came back here and now I’ve been here 21 years.
What is it about the Santa Fe community that is different than other cities, because we have no gay districts or areas?
Well there doesn’t need to be in Santa Fe. Even 20 years ago when I moved here there didn’t need to be. That’s why gay bars never succeed for very long in Santa Fe because you can be gay at any bar. That’s what is so magical about Santa Fe. It’s this place with culture and art with all the best things of a big city but with a small town feel.