I was in Decatur the first time I saw a drag king performance. I’d never heard of such a thing. I was at a GLAD party at the Firehouse Bar, and there he was, singing Creed’s “Arms Wide Open,” and I was captivated (shut up).
So I was in my late-30s before I saw my first male impersonator (as I thought of the performer at the time), or even knew they existed. But it turns out that, though the term “drag king” has only been in use for a few decades, female performance artists who do drag have been entertaining us for centuries (Crossing the Stage).
In my second article on drag performances, I mentioned that drag queens started the Stonewall Riots. Well, guess what. A drag king was at Stonewall too.
Meet Stormé DeLarverie
So when I learned that Emerald City Lounge would be hosting a drag king show on St. Patrick’s Day, I was pretty excited. Amy Myers, who works at Emerald City, is the woman behind the show. When I asked her if this would be Champaign-Urbana’s first king show, to my surprise she said no: "I’ve participated in shows in the past. And this past August, when I started working at Emerald City, I asked them to host a Ladies Night. We called it Lesbian Attack … and we had a great response.”
Co-owner Tim Denoyer said that after the success of Lesbian Attack, he was open to pretty much anything: “We’ve had such a good time. I had no idea that you could throw an open-to-the-public party like that and everyone would love it. It has really worked out well.”
“Lesbian Attack is something for the ladies,” Amy said, “and it’s been needed and it hadn’t been done in the community yet. So after that, I talked to them [Denoyer and Keith Smith, pictured left] about having a drag king show, and they told me that I could do whatever I wanted. They gave me free rein.”
I told them about my first encounter with a drag king, and Tim said that this particular performance art became more popular around the mid-nineties:
We’d been watching queens for years, but we had a single performer one night here [in C-U] during a queen show. I’d never seen a king show, and thought “Oh my God.” It was just amazing. It caught me off guard that it was so good.
Amy has performed drag in the past:
I can’t speak for others, but for me it was nice to create an alter ego. Another personality. And I enjoyed performing and seeing the looks on people’s faces, seeing them enjoying themselves and loving it.
I love putting a smile on the crowd’s faces and hearing the applause. It’s just a great thing. And I had wigs and I’d do costume changes — all kinds of things, and try to be funny. I did a prison bitch routine that was really funny. Everybody still remembers that. [Laughs]
When Emerald City announced that they were having a drag king show, the community’s response was especially positive. They sold out their reserved tables within days, and within four hours of announcing the show, nine performers had expressed interest.
Saturday’s show had eight kings who performed twenty-two numbers. Three of the performers were from Champaign; the others were from Springfield and Decatur. And at 1:00 a.m., DJ Dreea took over and the floor opened for dancing.
DJ Dreea being awesome.
The evening started off right, as we were greeted by our lovely hostess, Miss Chaise Manhattan.
Amy Myers (right) and her partner Elizabeth Ramirez (left), who MC'd the show.
And this time I wasn’t all by my lonesome.
And then the show began. As soon as TJ Taylor entered the floor, I recognized him. He performed during our very first Pride Festival. It was great seeing him again. He’s got a good sense of humor and a great smile. He sure as hell opened the show with a bang.
And it was during TJ’s performance that I noticed something. Unlike other drag shows that I’ve been to, the audience at Saturday’s show rarely got out of their seats. And, except for rare occasions, those standing never approached the stage either. One lone guy occasionally did so, but no one else really. The audience was generous with their tips, and they were having a great time, but they simply didn’t storm the stage the way the crowds do during drag queen shows.
This meant that the performers had to step off of the stage and approach the audience. Often. Every song, throughout most of the song. Normally I wouldn’t consider this a problem, but the lighting in the room was very dim. The stage was lit up beautifully, but when the performers stepped off the stage, that’s all she wrote as far as my videos went. Too dark. Thus, all videos, except for two, are clips.
Following TJ was Will Ryder (you gotta love the names of some of these guys). Will was a lot of fun. Lots of personality. And not shy at all. He even performed a song that he wrote himself.
Well hello there, cutie.
Will Tucket came next. Just fantastic. Great costume and performance. And later that night, during his second song, I flirted. Shamelessly.
I absolutely loved Kenny Tucket (yes, it was difficult keeping all of these similar names straight). Kenny sang such fun songs: “It Girl,” “Fuck You,” and “Sexy and I Know It.” Every time he came to the stage, I knew it was going to be a good time.
Slayne Ross Knight. OK, the braids alone … Love. And then he performed one of the sexiest songs of the 80s, “Wishing Well.” LOVE! And then my video was nothing but shadows. Arrgh!
I was already familiar with Freddie Fahrenheit. He’d performed at this year’s Turn It UP. I believe that he only performs Queen songs. He’s fantastic. I think that out of all of the performers, Freddie knows and lip syncs his lyrics the best. And he’s completely comfortable on stage.
At one point, as I was filming, a girl standing next to me asked me if he was “really a woman,” or was he a man. I guess that’s the highest compliment you can give a drag performer, isn’t it?
Freddie and Majure Tom’s performance of “Under Pressure” was simply wonderful. They had a great time and so did the audience. I wasn’t expecting a duet (it wasn’t on the program), so it was both a surprise and delight.
Ace Carrington knocks me out. He oozes sex appeal and male energy. He was the only one of the performers who touched the crowd and allowed them to touch him. When he felt like it, he even gave all-too-brief lap dances. And yes, readers, when my “work” was over for the night, I got one myself.
Finally, Hugh Jaz Z came to the stage and blew me away. I really enjoyed his interaction with the crowd. He’s another one who can take over a room. He was animated, made eye contact, and clearly loves to perform.
Emerald City Lounge’s first drag king show was a grand success. It was the kings' first time on this stage, but you sure couldn't tell. And it can only get better. I hope they enjoyed themselves as much as I (and the rest of the room) did, and I look forward to future shows. Amy told me that Emerald City plans to “do a Lesbian Attack and a drag king show on alternate months,” which sounds divine.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history and culture of drag kings, I recommend The Drag King Book, by Judith "Jack" Halberstam; Donna Jean Troka’s The Drag King Anthology; and Crossing the Stage: Controversies on Cross-Dressing, by Lesley Ferris. There are also plenty of DVDs out there. I recommend Venus Boyz and A Drag King Extravaganza. Finally, Anderson Toone’s website provides a pretty in depth timeline of drag king performers since 1980.