Ford Howell is a natural performer.
“I started performing when I was 17,” he remembers. “I wanted to get out of my parents’ house, and what’s the easiest way I can do that at 17? Oh, dress like a woman!”
Ever since, Ford Fatale has been serving audiences with goth realness, a persona that took years to hone.
“When I first started, I was a tragic little booger queen,” says Howell. “Any good performance artist, I don’t think they ever have it all figured out. I think they’re always progressing into a different vision. It’s very Madonna—it’s always about reinvention.”
Howell has been performing with the Savannah Sweet Tease Burlesque Revue for three years and previously performed at Club One. The performance styles are remarkably different.
“With the Sweet Tease, we turn this shit out,” he says. “We rehearse, we do this, this we do that. Drag queens don’t do that shit. They’re like, ‘Um, I brought four outfits, what numbers can I do in these tonight?’ It’s all about what goes with that costume and this song. Especially at Club One, because you never know whether it’s a local audience or a tourist audience. You hate going first. You never get the feeling of the audience.”
After needing a change of scenery, Howell moved over to the Sweet Tease, which was a better fit for his performance style.
“Drag can be kind of narrow-minded, especially in the South,” Howell shares. “A lot of people think it’s big hair, a lot of rhinestones and cinched to the gods. That’s fine, you like that style of drag—awesome! But it was so refreshing to see so many different types and the whole spectrum and rainbow of performance art [in the Sweet Tease]. That was something really refreshing, leaving the drag world and coming to the burlesque world.”
Burlesque can often be misunderstood, especially in the South.
“When you think of a burlesque performer, some people just think, ‘Oh, that’s a stripper trying to take her clothes off for money,’” says Howell. “But what about this performer that’s doing a number about body consciousness, or doing a number about what they felt when they had to go to the clinic for the first time? Your emotions pour out of things like that, and a lot of people just don’t understand it. They’ve never been exposed to stuff like that.”
In essence, that’s what Howell seeks to do most through performing as Ford Fatale: exposing people to things they might not be familiar or comfortable with.
“I definitely want to change people’s minds, especially in the South with the homophobia and transphobia and all the bullshit this administration has brought out today,” says Howell. “I really just want to make people think. What are you trying to say with this number? That’s the whole point of this, isn’t it? What are you trying to say?” – Rachael Flora
Runner-up: Treylor Trash