Between building outer-space gear for astronauts and appearing around Houston as an intergalactic Star Wars drag queen and cosplayer, self-proclaimed sci-fi nerd Zach Paugh wouldn’t be where he is today without his love for the visual and performing arts.
“I’ve always gravitated toward film and TV,” he says. “Ever since I was little, I was always looking for a story like mine—and also for stories completely unlike mine, in locations I could only dream about visiting. I loved watching films and seeing people draped in beautiful yardages of fabrics or adorned with glittery jewelry. For me, art is the greatest form of escapism.”
Paugh’s involvement with art spans all the way back to his youth. In high school, he became involved in theater as a performer. After making one costume before enrolling in college, he decided to dabble in professional costuming. The 30-year-old worked with Cirque du Soleil and Magic Mike Live in Las Vegas before moving to Houston to work as the costume shop manager for the Houston Ballet.
Living in Houston has been a fun transition from Las Vegas, Paugh says, noting that downtown Houston offers up tons of diverse, engaging entertainment.
“What is unique about the arts scene in Houston is [its easy] accessibility, and how abundantly it flourishes,” he observes. “Coming from Vegas, where there’s a consistent lineup of shows running twice a night, five days a week, I appreciate how every night in Houston there’s something different to do. It’s almost so much that I can’t see it all! I still have plenty more exploring to do.”
Paugh isn’t stopping with the theater stage, however. The designer and costume technician is now involved in creating gloves for astronauts, an opportunity that grew out of an aerospace structures and materials course that he took online during COVID-19.
“In September of last year, I joined the softgoods team at KBR/Axiom Space and am currently the xEVAS Spacesuit Glove Lead,” he explains. “My team and I build gloves for astronauts, and our gloves will be worn by the first woman and the first person of color on the moon in 2025!”
Paugh’s journey from Houston Ballet to outer space is a natural next step for the costumer, given his intense love for sci-fi and all things Star Wars.
“My fascination with Star Wars comes from the lore of the Force, the costume design, and the idea that there’s more life out there in the galaxies surrounding us,” he says. “That’s me in a nutshell! I believe in the interconnectedness of people—the energy between us and wearing clothes that help facilitate and nurture that energy. And I love meeting people and learning about people.
“In particular, the character of Padmé Amidala inspired me to start a career in costume design and costume construction. Padmé was a cunning leader who, despite being told the odds by everyone around her, managed to unite the other races of her planet and use her small contingent of decoys and guards to free her people from occupation. Plus, she wore a velvet tunic with wide sleeves, full half-skirt, and a giant headpiece while doing it. There isn’t anything more badass than that!”
And it doesn’t stop there. Paugh loves taking his love for design and sci-fi and mixing it with drag. Cici Pingpong, his drag persona, often wears looks inspired by the many fabulous alien species from the Star Wars series.
“I’ve always loved drag,” he says. “My passion for drag comes from my love for theater and for telling stories. In college, I auditioned for the drag show, got in, and used it as a platform to be as wild and creative as I wanted. I love designing and building my own looks, mixing my own music tracks, and just connecting with the audience. I love having fun. Doing the unexpected and making people laugh is what I really love about the whole process.”
Paugh believes the queer community’s love of the arts is a way of overcoming imposed societal norms. “I think the LGBTQ+ community appreciates art because of our history of repression by society who, for too long, has told us how to exist instead of allowing us to flourish by loving the things, and the people, we want to love,” he muses. “I think we love art because we want to find peace and reset our lives—to see something we haven’t seen, to revisit our pasts, to see what we need to see.”
From the stage to the stars, Paugh says he has no plans to slow down, and he’s excited about the next chapter of his artistic journey.
“I am open to whatever the universe has in store for me next,” he says. “I am grateful for the many experiences I have had in my life so far. I welcome the adventure. Whatever it is, I’m up for the challenge.”
Keep up with Zach Paugh on Instagram @pawpr1nts.