VALLEY PEOPLE – A combat veteran knows a lot about being fierce.
by Jazmine Sanchez, Staff Writer
A tall, pale-skinned figure enters the stage wrapped in a black, head-turning sequined dress, atop a pair of gray, satin, 4-inch peep-toe pumps that require confidence with every step. From the sun-kissed auburn wig to the bright, ruby-red lips, the performer wins your attention with one flash of those ice-blue eyes.
This fierce, feminine singer belting out “I Am What I Am” at this May Valley College Players Club event is a 36-year-old U.S combat veteran majoring in theater arts. His name is Peter Nuoffer.
The first time he had ever dressed up as a woman was in seventh grade, when he took part in a traditional Shakespearean play in Arkansas. The frailest of the boys at just 5’4” and weighing 112 lbs, he played the female roles of Juliet, Desdemona, Lady Macbeth, Olivia, and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. During his junior year in high school he dressed as a woman, with the help of his mother and her friend with his makeup, for spirit week where an event took place where boys dressed up as girls and vice versa. Being really thin and having shoulder length hair already, fellow students actually believed him to be a girl with all the makeup he wore and it wasn’t until he spoke that they realized who he was.
“I had been involved with acting for quite a bit so I was really excited … but at the same time I was like, “No, I’m a dude.”
It was more than 20 years later when Nuoffer’s life would take up a career as a drag performer. It began in 2005 in South Korea, where a soldier in his group had a run-in with a transgendered woman. As a joke, Nuoffer and his friends decided he would dress as a woman on Halloween and convince his friend to buy Nuoffer a drink. He never found his friend, but Nuoffer had done such a great job that his first-line supervisor even tried to chat him up. When he realized who Nuoffer was, he ran away.
The following Halloween in El Paso, Texas, Nuoffer didn’t have a costume, so he decided to dress up as a woman again. He dressed up in a Britney Spears-inspired schoolgirl outfit. That night, he won $2,200 in three different costume contests. In about a week and a half, he had learned how to do every move to “Baby One More Time” – in heels. At the first contest he was approached by a talent coordinator for a nightclub called The New Old Plantation, which was partnered with The Mining Company in El Paso, which held drag shows.
“He asked me if I would be interested in being their Britney Spears for a Divas Revue and I immediately said No. A couple of months later, he called me and he said the girl who normally does their Britney Spears had dropped out and said if I was still interested, it pays $400 for one night, and I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.”
Depending on what character he has to be, his go to actor whom he finds inspiration from is Alicia Silverstone from Clueless. When it comes to classic looks he’ll get inspired by Marylyn Monroe, Vivienne Lee, and others from the 40’s-60’s. The process of dressing up as a woman is a rigorous action and it takes Nuoffer about three hours to fully develop the character he is trying to achieve. It starts with deconstructing and reconstructing his walk, posture, hand gestures, and voice. Once he is set with that he begins with shaving from his ankles up to his hairline followed by the makeup on just his face, which takes about fourty-five minutes. He then adds on the makeup to the rest of his body, which he uses to define the shapes of a woman. After going through each process, he finishes with putting on his shape wear and outfit and tops it all off with his wig. One look in the mirror and he is ready to hit the stage.
“For a man to put on a dress and makeup and heels and a wig and convince you that he is not just a woman but the most feminine woman,” Nuoffer says, “is probably one of the most impressive talents that a person can do,”
His career in drag includes shows for the Divas Revue. After winning the Millie Lewis Models and Actors competition in 2008, he was then signed to a Californian talent agency. His TV work has included “My Sister’s Keeper” as a transgendered escort, a “CSI episode” in drag, appearances on the Logo Network, and so on. This year he was chosen by Valley student Ruben Hernandez to become a co-host (in drag) for the Valley Collegiate Players Club event in May, “Gender Bent Cabaret.”
“Peter had an excitement about him when it came to performing and when he talked about how much fun drag was and his history with it. I knew he was the right choice,” says Hernandez. “He was spectacular.”
In 2010, he served in combat in Afghanistan. At that time, he discussed with his then-girlfriend (now wife) that it was time to put away that role as a drag performer.
“It takes over your life when you start doing it and so much of it goes into perfecting this appearance of femininity,” Peter said, acknowledging that events such as the Gender Bent Cabaret could bring his gowns out of mothballs from time to time. “Would I do it again on stage? Sure I would.”