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Tracy Frank, Published November 26 2011

Casselton woman expresses her art by doing hair, makeup for drag queens

CASSELTON, N.D. – A makeup brush is like a magic wand in Shay Schmuck Johnson’s hand, transforming working moms into Egyptian royalty, high-school students into Havana dancers, and men into women.

Schmuck Johnson of Casselton is a stay-at-home mom who does hair and makeup for drag queens and kings in the area.

She has also volunteered to do hair and makeup for the Central Cass High School musical production of “Guys and Dolls” this fall and the Rural Cass County Community Theater production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” this past summer.

She hasn’t had any formal cosmetology training, but she seems to have an eye for the dramatic and has picked up the tricks of the trade on her own.

“I had gay, male transgender friends in high school in California,” Schmuck Johnson said. “I started doing their makeup and they would show me makeup tricks that they had learned along the way.”

When they started doing amateur drag shows, Schmuck Johnson started doing makeup there.

“It’s just kind of followed me into where I’ve done drag makeup in Fargo-Moorhead and theater makeup,” she said. “I can do prom hair, wedding hair, drag hair.”

Doing hair and makeup is Schmuck Johnson’s hobby and her art, she said.

“It’s an interesting medium to take someone who can be very masculine during the day and sit him down in a chair and make it so people have to take a second look at him because they’re not quite sure,” she said.

Men who are new to drag will often laugh when they see themselves turned into women for the first time, Schmuck Johnson said.

“To me, it’s just makeup, but to them, it’s transforming them for a day so they can be whoever they want to be,” she said.

Schmuck Johnson does drag makeup anywhere from a few times a year to once a month, depending on when and where the drag shows are and how many people need help, she said.

She started doing theater makeup and hair this past summer and said she loves the glimmer in an actor or actress’ eye when they first glimpse how she’s transformed them into someone else.

“You do their makeup and their hair and you give them a transformation from their day-to-day look and you turn them into something completely different,” Schmuck Johnson said. “They’re very grateful and excited.”

Schmuck Johnson grew up in Napa, Calif., and moved to Tintah, Minn., in 1994.

It was a culture shock going from a place with gangs and drive-by shootings to a town where if neighbors saw her lights on in the middle of the night, they would ask what she was doing.

“I was used to a large community and I moved there and everybody knew my name and what time I went to bed,” Schmuck Johnson said. “It freaked me out.”

She didn’t do drag makeup again until 2004, after she moved to Casselton with her husband and two children in 2003.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526