Split Personality

Along with his alter-ego, Summer Camp, party promoter Shea Van Horn is determined to make the D.C's nightlife scene even more weird, wild and wondrous than it already is

“One time at work,” Shea Van Horn says, “I was in a meeting and a guy across the table, he passes me a note that said, ‘You have glitter on your eyes.’ ‘I was like, ‘Yeah, it happens.'”

Glitter is not usually a part of Van Horn’s day job, but sometimes his nighttime work as drag queen Summer Camp lingers. And in fact, it should linger more often in Van Horn’s future, now that he’s decided to perform as Summer Camp more than just a few times a year at his zany, off-kilter show Crack DC at Town Danceboutique. “Crack happens so infrequently that I find my skills get rough,” Van Horn says. “The more you do something, the more you discover nuances.”

Shea Van Horn Photos by Julian Vankim

Shea Van Horn
Photography by Julian Vankim

Van Horn started doing drag while studying theater in Seattle more than two decades ago. And his career has tracked arguably the two most popular drag queens in American culture — Baltimore’s Divine and RuPaul.

These days, he’s also increasingly encouraged by his fiancé Andy Papp, whom he’ll marry in New Orleans come September. “He’s so supportive of everything I’m doing,” Van Horn says about Papp. The two live near LeDroit Park in Northwest, making their home with two French bulldog puppies, Lulu and Biscuit, as well as Van Horn’s 15-year-old cat, Simon. Many weekend nights, Van Horn says, “I’d rather just snuggle at home with my puppies and fiancé, watch some TV and have some popcorn. That’s my favorite way to unwind.”

But it’s not only increasing work as Summer Camp that keeps Van Horn from being a homebody. The Washington state native, who first settled in D.C. more than 15 years ago when he was pursuing his master’s at American University, is also still one of gay D.C.’s most prominent DJs. Among other things, he’s the other half behind Mixtape with Matt Bailer, the dance party now going on seven years, and he also throws the weekly summertime tea dance party Guil-Tea at Nellie’s on Sundays. And Van Horn doesn’t see his work as a DJ ending anytime soon, either.

“I’m so thankful that people are still coming to Mixtape,” he says, reflecting on his past decade as a leader in gay D.C. nightlife. “I have experienced what feels like a nice level of success, and I’m so thankful for it.”

METRO WEEKLY: Let’s start with a rumor. Is it true you auditioned to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race? If so, why?

SHEA VAN HORN: I auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race this year. I decided to do it late in the process, so there wasn’t a lot of time left. I realized when I was trying to pull together all of my various looks, and put together my audition tape, that I wasn’t able to just kind of open up my closet and go. So I thought, I need to get myself out there more. I’ll audition again next year. And I feel like between now and then, I’ll get myself out there more, perform a lot more, improve my makeup skills, that kind of stuff.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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