She spent her childhood and adolescence learning to play classical music, eventually graduating from the State University of New York with a degree in viola and violin performance. But once she discovered drag, there was no way Thorgy Thor was ever going to be content playing second fiddle—or even third violin—to anyone.
Standing over seven feet tall if one includes her six-inch heels and towering bouffant wig, the drag queen otherwise known as Shane Galligan came to international attention thanks to multiple appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Before that, she’d been eking out a living playing in orchestral string sections and wedding-reception quartets, but she’s now turning her TV celebrity into a full-on career in musical comedy—and her upcoming local appearance will feature the best of all possible backing bands, in the form of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
There’s no word on whether the local musicians will also be cross-dressing—although some, we know, could handle it. But they will be in disguise for the night, masquerading as the Thorchestra, an ensemble that’s grown out of an impromptu remark Thor made during the taping of the RuPaul show.
“She had me play the violin, live,” says Thor, who had earlier mimed with a violin-shaped prop. “And everyone was like, ‘Oh, she can really play!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah. I’ve been playing my whole life as a classical musician.’ And I just said, out loud, ‘If anybody wants to be part of the Thorchestra, I want to see local musicians in every city, so when I show up we already have an orchestra planned, and I can pop in, rent a venue, and play these shows.’
“I got 500 emails in the first two weeks, saying ‘My name is Rachel. I play the harp and live in Alaska,’ or ‘I play viola. My name is Gerard, and I’m in New Jersey,’ ” she adds, laughing. “All these emails became very, very difficult to get back to quickly enough. So it just became a little easier, to be honest, to work with orchestras that were already established—some of them smaller, and some of them a lot larger, like the VSO.”
The Thorchestra made its debut in Halifax last year, playing to a full house with composer and Symphony Nova Scotia artist in residence Daniel Bartholomew-Poyser on the podium. Bartholomew-Poyser will repeat the honour in Vancouver, and his presence ensures a high level of musicality, even if Thor’s repertoire might include pop hits from Lady Gaga and Madonna, as well as an outrageous tango routine and music from LGBTQ+ composers Aaron Copland and Ethel Smyth.
Thor doesn’t want to say too much more about the Thorchestra’s set list, although she notes that the finale will find her leaping between violin, viola, and cello in a rendition of the overture from Mikhail Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Lyudmila. She also cautions that we needn’t take the VSO’s “mature themes” warning too seriously.
“With my whole act, playing with masculinity and femininity and dressing in drag, they just have to put that on the flyer,” she explains. “Well, I do curse every once in a while, but this show is really about being inclusive, making everyone feel great about themselves, and enjoying beautiful music. It’s a show for all ages—and there’s not going to be any nudity involved!”
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra presents Thorgy Thor and the Thorchestra at the Orpheum on Tuesday (June 25).