Bold & Beautiful: Ana Lee Kage
Performance & Theatre
Having moved to Utah from Arizona for grad school, Ana Lee Kage never expected to stay in Utah after finishing her degree. Her original plan was to move to Chicago for architecture, “but then I got halfway through and I was like, ‘You know what? I don’t know if this is the vibe for me,’” Kage says. “I decided to take a break, and the break became a, ‘I think I’m good for now’ kind of thing.”
This strong sense of self is no anomaly for Kage, who at one point also went to school at BYU Idaho, a notoriously conservative university. Kage went about making her own clothes, and as she progressed through her degree, “the outfits kind of just became a little more outlandish,” she says, despite the school’s repressive atmosphere.
This love for creating unique clothing that challenges the status quo, along with a long-running love for drag, led her to eventually perform drag herself. “I started going to shows back in like 2017 or 2018, and I started to learn that if I went out more, people would see me more and then hopefully ask me to do shows,” she says. Her career has steadily taken off since then. Prior to the pandemic, Kage performed at Bottoms Up until their closure and the Sun Trapp before they temporarily closed. Now a resident performer with both Club Verse and The Cabin Queens, Kage stays busy onstage and behind the scenes.
“I started going to shows back in like 2017 or 2018, and I started to learn that if I went out more, people would see me more and then hopefully ask me to do shows.”
“I’ve been at The Cabin for over two years now,” she says of her weekly brunch performances every Sunday at noon. There you can find her strutting on stage in a carefully constructed outfit and sometimes wearing one of her original, handmade yarn wigs.
As for her performances at Club Verse, “Those usually happen Friday and Saturday nights,” Kage says. “They have karaoke on Sunday nights as well, but most of the drag shows are on Saturday and Sunday nights. They’re usually pop-ups around 9 p.m.–12 a.m..”
Kage’s face lights up when she talks about the cultural shift in Salt Lake’s drag scene in recent years. When she first started, the scene was not as active. But, she says, “I definitely think the pandemic has picked up a bunch of baby drag performers in general, so it’s been really cool just watching new people come into it.”
SLC’s drag scene is much more active now according to Kage, so when people say that they can never find a show, she responds with, “You’re just not looking hard enough because they’re literally everywhere. I mean, at Club Verse, we have shows there every week. And at Why Kiki they have shows Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”
“I definitely think the pandemic has picked up a bunch of baby drag performers in general, so it’s been really cool just watching new people come into it.”
Constant performances over the last two years tired Kage out a bit. But after a break of several months, Kage has rolled back into her shows with renewed passion. Finding a balance between performing and working on the production side allowed her to reconnect with one of her favorite parts of drag. “That’s where a lot of my love for drag comes from: making the drag and making the mixes, so that by the time I get there it’s a delivered and ready-to-go kind of thing.”
Kage’s inner artist shines through when talking about her creative process. While taking me on a virtual tour of her home, she explains the meticulous level of work that goes into creating the “bitchy, social butterfly diva” that is Ana Lee Kage.
A lover of soul drag, Kage draws inspiration from icons like Bette Midler—who you may know as the campy, redheaded witch from Hocus Pocus—and Whitney Houston. In addition to performing their songs for her sets, Kage’s glamorous outfits are a nod to the two artists’ styles over the years. The way she lip syncs is also a love letter to Houston. “For the 1994 Super Bowl, she was criticized for not singing live, but … I just really, really like [her lip syncing] because [it’s] just so precise,” Kage says. “Plus, I always think it’s so funny when an artist can’t lip sync their own music very well.”
“That’s where a lot of my love for drag comes from: making the drag, making the mixes, so that by the time I get there it’s a delivered and ready-to-go kind of thing.”
Kage’s performances reflect the awe-inspiring precision of her architectural background. Her home tour includes the six cubbies she dedicates to separate projects. “If I think of something random or a project that I want to work on, I try to only spend like 15–20, maybe 30 minutes on it per day,” she says. “I think working on it little by little also takes the stress out of it because drag is so fucking exhausting already,” Kage says of creating a complicated outfit that only gets worn once.
Kage’s dedication to her art, as well as knowing her limits and needs, speaks volumes. She is an experienced performer who’s been in the scene long enough to have a practiced, intentional approach to the art. I admire her ability to step back and hone the finer details. We’re lucky to have someone like Ana Lee Kage in our city. People like her keep cities alive, breathing life into art and pouring heart into craft.
Keep up with Ana Lee Kage’s work and performances via her Instagram @analeekage.