Go Deeper Seeing Philly through Rockstar Eyes

Seeing Philly through Rockstar Eyes

Posted July 25th, 2016

catgif“Hi, I’m Ryan, and I am a human being,” Sonia Petruse says as she begins any performance of Sonia as Ryan, Ryan as Drag. Ryan is Ryan Adams, the prolific singer-songwriter and 90s heartthrob, or as Sonia affectionately refers to him, DRA (his full initials, David Ryan Adams). For the past year Sonia has been singing, blogging, taking photos and surrounding herself with domestic objects posing as Adams—inspired by a Halloween costume she created seven years ago. This fall she brings Adams to the Digital Fringe in a video created with Laura Storck. She fondly recalls specific teenage memories associated with every DRA record, “before listening to Ryan and his other bands like Whiskeytown and Sad Dracula, I could never turn to one artist for so many different emotions,” Sonia recalls.

“I look back to times I was sheltered by his albums: Love is Hell through college, Jacksonville City Nights through the loss of my childhood home, Cardinology when I was lost in LA, III/IV after a breakup and Cold Roses forever.”

Sonia confesses that she finds most forms of fandom horrifying. Why? “We are in a strange part of human history, where celebrities are treated like gods,” she muses. While Sonia is undoubtedly a fan of Ryan Adams and performs drag as admiration, she wants to honor him as a human and an artist rather than a deity, saying “I’m a big supporter of Ryan, just like I’m a big supporter of my friends and peers within art.”

Ryan in front of 7-11

Sonia as Ryan in front of 7-11, his favorite store

Sonia reconstructs elements of Adams’ life masterfully, with impeccable attention to detail. She performs with what she refers to as “Ryan props”: stuffed cats, a peace flag, a crocheted blanket and boxes of Cheez-Its. Sonia isn’t just emulating Ryan, she says “[it’s] one of my missions with this performance, to mesh dialogue of my own with Ryan’s, because I find similarities in our personal memoirs.” In conversation, Sonia affectionately uses the plural “we” to describe herself and Adams, almost as old friends. 

Both artists come from small towns they left behind: the diner, the lake, the interstate, the quarry, and that feeling that you can’t ever go back home. Although Sonia moved to Philly and Adams moved to New York, she uses DRA drag to express her love of Philadelphia. For the Fringe Festival video Sonia promises to “go to the bookstore, look for cats, go to Barcade for the games, not the booze, the PMA, the Wanamaker Eagle and other places [she] thinks Ryan would enjoy if he was a Philadelphian.” She draws inspiration from Foggy, Adams’ video-heavy tumblr blog which existed around 2007, described by Sonia as a “future form of prose-y memoir.”

Sonia often refers to one of Adams’ Foggy-era videos, “Transitions,” in which he says “Am I crazy? Fuck yea I’m crazy! Probably. I hope the fuck so. Because whatever it is you people who think you’re normal are doing I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s wrong, but from here the way you knock each other’s dreams around, it’s like, you all huddle in packs, punching each other’s lights out . . .” Sonia expresses a similar desire to escape normality, and drag serves as the vehicle for her. The patch-covered denim jacket, wayfarer sunglasses, and mop of brown hair paradoxically aid in Sonia’s self-expression while acting as a disguise. “I feel liberated walking around the city as Ryan. As a woman, I get stared at and catcalled. I often fight back, but it never works the way I want it to. When I walk around as Ryan, no one looked at me,” Sonia explains.

Ryan with the Wanamaker Eagle at Macy's

Sonia as Ryan with the Wanamaker Eagle at Macy’s

She loves drawing inspiration from strong figures in her everyday life (“dragspiration” as she calls it), she loves the comfort of menswear, she derives joy from performing, and she is bitterly aware of the political implications of drag in modern society. Sonia performs Sonia as Ryan, Ryan as Drag from a place of social awareness as much as a desire to entertain. She proclaims that “if we’re forced to still live in a time where labels upon gender and sexuality are interfering with our everyday lives, we can embrace drag as protest, drag as refuge, drag as freedom.”

Sonia as Ryan, Ryan as Drag
10 minutes / Goes live Sept 9

—Emily Dombrovskaya