Let These Hocus Pocus Drag Queens Transport You to 1993
In honor of Halloween, a trio of drag queens embodied the Sanderson sisters and put a spell on everyone in the club.
All photos by Mateus Porto
It was 2017 on Hallow's Eve everywhere except at An Iconic Halloween, a party at the downtown Manhattan night club Better Days where Hocus Pocus's infamous Sanderson sisters teleported everyone back to 1993. One-by-one, drunk NYU kids did double-takes to ensure that Griffin Stoddard, Ryan Cobleigh, and Philip Sieverding weren't actually Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy respectively. The trio of drag queens had only performed together once before Halloween, but the intoxicating combination of their chemistry and the audience's nostalgia—evoked even from kids born after the cult film's release—was enough to make even the most faded club goers stop and sing along to "I Put A Spell On You."
Broadly spoke to lead drag Sanderson sister, Griffin Stoddard—who, when he's not performing as Winifred Sanderson, is a film director and production designer—about how he and his fellow sisters brought the performance to life and why he decided to honor his favorite film through drag.
BROADLY: What does Hocus Pocus mean to you?
GRIFFIN STODDARD: I remember watching Hocus Pocus for the first time with a friend at her cabin when I was maybe seven or eight. I've always been obsessed with witches and to see this wacky movie where there's three amazing characters with such a hilarious dynamic was really exciting for me. After I saw the movie, me and my friends would play Hocus Pocus at recess and I was always Winifred and the other girls would rotate who would be Sarah and Mary. I always identified with her, and I watch the film like once a month—okay probably not that frequently, but this month I've watched it seven times. It makes me really happy.
You're super new to drag, how did you decide to get into it?
This was my second time ever doing drag and it was Ryan and Philip's third time ever. Drag is a really intimidating culture and process, but it's so fun and so nuanced. There's so much depth and history, which is just the type of thing I love to get into. I love performing, but it's not part of my job. I don't do it every day. I always kind of wanted to do drag, but was never comfortable enough until—honestly, until I met Ryan and Philip. They were much more involved in the drag scene so i felt comfortable trying it with them. Drag is a beast, but it's so much fun and worth all of the effort.
What made you all decide to hand make your costumes and style yourselves?
The reason I decided to hand make everything is because you just can't get a good replica. It's funny because they're such an iconic group of witches, it's such a great group costume, but they're so difficult to find or make. The mass produced Winifred, Mary, Sarah costumes are just terrible, they look really cheap. I am not the type of person to go any way but all the way. It has to be just right or it wouldn't be as fun as it was. For mine, I started with the robe, my roommate reminded me how to use a sewing machine and helped me cut out all the pieces. I sewed the robe in one day and then it took me four nights to do all of the painting, dyeing, and embroidering. I dip-dyed it in purple dye to give it more depth and dimension when it moves and then I hand painted all of the gold snakes and details.
You're not a fashion designer, were you just improvising?
Yeah, I mean my roommate guided me through the construction aspect of the robe, but the rest was following my instincts. I'm a production designer and a director so I make a lot of stuff and I do a lot of prop fabrication so it was like just another one of those projects but it had a sewing element this time. We did all of our distressing together, we brewed buckets of coffee to stain the hems and we ripped them and used a cheese grater to give the fabric a worn look.
In terms of Winifred's mannerisms, your execution was spot on. Did you study her intensively?
I didn't have any choreography really. I just had a lot of hand motions. It was really easy for me, I didn't have to practice at all because I've seen that scene so many times that my brain just kind of tells me what to do as I'm going. As far as all of the little idiosyncrasies, I played Winifred all the time as a kid so it was kind of like I had a little refresher and then it felt very natural.
What were your expectation for how this would be received?
The great thing about doing the Hocus Pocus witches is that any way you do it people will be happy to see it because everyone loves the film. Fucking everyone loves Hocus Pocus! I was really pleasantly surprised when people knew the words, especially during the dance part of the song at the end. Everyone was singing and the adrenaline and excitement was really overwhelming. Oh my god last night, a girl came up to us and she was like, "I saw you at the Rosemont and I saw you at this other party and I just want to say you guys are incredible and this movie means so much to me," and she gave us $20. Tipping is a huge part of drag, so people were throwing money at us and stuff during the show, but she came up afterwards and gave us a $20 and I was like, thank you oh my god, put it in my bra!
How do you feel about the Hocus Pocus remake?
I think it's absolutely offensive that it's taken this long and they're not using the original cast. Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Midler, and Kathy Najimy have all been really vocal about wanting a remake or a sequel literally since the film came out. To do it now and not involve any of them it's just a disastrous mistake and it's gonna be cheap and it's gonna be terrible. All I can say is that I hope it makes more people watch the original.