by Kevin Shaw | photos courtesy of Steve Swift
It’s hard to believe, but it’s been 15 years since the Memphis community (and world) was blessed with the angelic presence of Sister Myotis. Whether it’s in the theatre, at an awards show or just mingling with politicians in the community, Myotis has always been loud and proud to biblically shame you in her “holier than thou” hilarious way. The man behind the sensation is Steve Swift—a local actor who is very surprised, but humbled by his alter ego’s enormous popularity.
Focus: Let’s go all the way back to the very beginning. When and how was Sister Myotis created?
Swift: She was born in December of 2002 out of a show that Jerre Dye created called “Present Present for Voices of the South. It was kind of a variety show that Dye created in which he would shop around New York City for odd things (a Samurai from China Town, for example) and then send them out as gifts to artists here in Memphis for us to open in the hope that these gifts would inspire a creative performance for the show. That year, he sent me a vial of glitter, a crown of thorns and a little slip of paper from a fortune cookie that said, “I give and I give and I give.” I knew that I was interested in doing something drag/character oriented, but I didn’t know what it would it be. Out of these “gifts” from Jerre is what created Sister Myotis.
Focus: How did you come up with the name Myotis?
Swift: (Laughing) Myotis is actually a genus of bat! I just ran across the word and I thought it was sort of “apt” for her. Plus, it sounded like an old southern name and yet it wasn’t. I also realized that it was a unique enough name that if someone Googled the name, not many hits would come up.
Focus: Is she based on a certain person or is she more of a hodgepodge of people you knew growing up?
Swift: She’s a hodgepodge of people and a hodgepodge of stories. The intricacies of her voice, her mispronunciation of names, the grammar she uses and the rhythm of her speech is a culmination of people. Now, after 15 years though, I can’t really even remember who she was based on in the beginning. They were voices in my head, but now she’s become her own voice.
Focus: With Myotis’ focus on religion, I’m assuming you were raised in the church?
Swift: I was raised in a conservative, Pentecostal environment, but I purposely never connected her to a definite religion. The name of her church has always been “Good Tidings Apostolic Holiness Christian Fellowship of Saints,” but I’ve never committed her to a specific denomination because I didn’t want anyone in the audience to feel specifically targeted. In the beginning, I thought I had to define her set of beliefs, but eventually I realized it didn’t matter what she believed, what mattered was that she was always right—that is her religion—always being right.
Focus: Has this character become bigger than you ever imagined?
Swift: Of course! She was created right when YouTube was starting to become a big thing and I posted a video which sat around for a few months and I was so excited when I realized that 100 people had seen my video! Then another three months had passed and 500,000 people had seen it and then it hit a million and it just kept going and going and going! By the time it had reached 2 million views, I was hardly sleeping at night! It freaked me out when I realized that people were watching me even while I was asleep and I had not control over it—I almost pulled it down.
Focus: So, do you anticipate Sister Myotis being around for a long time?
Swift: People are always going to know Myotis before they know me and I kind of like it that way. I realize now that she’s going to a part of my life for a very long time!