The Rumpus Mini-Interview Project #30: Paula Whyman in Conversation with SM Shrake


Paula Whyman talks with SM Shrake about his annual witch costume in The Rumpus’s thirtieth mini-interview!


Paula Whyman: Why do you dress like a witch every Halloween?

SM Shrake: Because I can. When I was a teenager, I would have been persecuted for dressing as a witch. I had to go as other things instead (Fidel Castro, Abraham Lincoln, Vito Corleone). A fifteen-year-old boy in Middle America is not going to get away with dressing as a witch for Halloween unless he’s the head of the football team (or whatever that’s called, the quartermaster…?). Butch guys could play it as a joke. I was too effeminate. My ass would’ve been kicked. But now that I’m an adult…

Whyman: You can do anything, but you choose to go as a witch. What’s the appeal?

Shrake: I like things that can get you burned at the stake. Like being left-handed, or practicing the black arts, such as homosexuality. Heresy, witchcraft, it’s all “of a piece” for me.

Whyman: Do you dress that way any other time?

Shrake: No. Only around Halloween. Everyone hates my witch costumes. My friend Gabe refuses to be around me if I’m dressed as a witch. I asked him why, and he said, “Because one senses it’s not just for fun. You’re serious.” That scares him, I guess. Which means my witch costume is working. That’s the point of dressing up for Halloween, traditionally.

Whyman: That’s why so many girls dress as princesses. It frightens their progressive mothers.

Shrake: Good for them! They should take it up a speed and dress as Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin. Little three-foot tall versions.

Whyman: When did this start for you?

Shrake: My mom sewed me a witch costume when I was five, at my request. She’s such a good mom. She obviously never thought anything like, “This isn’t gender-appropriate.” Or maybe she’s more like me than I ever realized, and didn’t give a hoot what people thought of her spooky little witch-boy. I don’t know. We’ve never talked about it.

Whyman: What’s your typical costume like these days?

Shrake: I’m trying to make myself progressively more hideous every year, to keep the evil spirits away. I do my own makeup, which always looks just… wrong. Which, again, is the point. I spend about $85 a year on my witch costume. In the last several years I’ve done S&M witch, white witch, purple witch, hippie witch. Fat witch (by default). I think this year it will be fat sexy witch. Like Appolonia or Vanity, but more zaftig.

Whyman: Which witch in television/film history is your biggest inspiration? (Ooh, I got to say “which witch”…)

Shrake: Agnes Moorehead as Endora on Bewitched. Hands down. I dressed as her once. Runner-up: Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevet in Rosemary’s Baby. Such amazing 20th-century originals, these women. Their witchcraft is a distant second to their magical charisma.

I’m an expert on that show and that movie, by the way. You can ask me anything.

Whyman: Okay. Which Darren?

Shrake: Dick York. Mortal, all too mortal. The second Darren can’t act; it’s like someone has a gun to his head.

Whyman: Are there any witches you particularly despise?

Shrake: I hate, hate, hate the Wicked franchise. What a travesty. See, I love Margaret Hamilton’s character in The Wizard of Oz. Who doesn’t? Then you start reading Wicked, and it’s a total drag, man. Sci-fi? Come on. And the musical version? Please shoot me in the face with a bazooka. I wish Margaret Hamilton would come back and destroy all the people associated with Wicked.

Whyman: Okay then. If we’re focusing on purity of approach, what appeals to you about the witch ethos?

Shrake: Being a witch, from the whole pagan/Wiccan/Earth Mother thing in olden times right up to me, Shrake, today, is about the power that comes with understanding how the universe works. You can really go places once you know witchcraft.

Whyman: Do you know witchcraft?

Shrake: One night a year I do.

Whyman: You told me it bugs you when people assume you’re a cross-dresser. What do you say in that situation?

Shrake: I tell them it’s about magic, not drag. I’m a witch first, transvestite second. Besides, this isn’t Salem 1692. You can’t put me on trial just for being a middle aged, fat, gay, depressed alcoholic man in a witch costume. I know my rights.


SM Shrake is a Scorpio and live story circuit regular.  The horror continues at

Paula Whyman writes fiction, humor, and interviews. Her fiction is forthcoming in Gargoyle magazine, and she was recently awarded a MacDowell Colony Fellowship. For more, see More from this author →