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Article Published January 31, 2018

Drag Mania: Sashaying All Around Connecticut Stages

By By Frank Rizzo

The New York Times just declared this “the golden age of drag,” and judging from the offerings around, it would be hard to disagree.

It seems you can’t swing a pair of stilettos without hitting someone on stage looking fem fab, lip-synching, and showing sass.

RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1 has become an Emmy Award-winning hit and just launched a new all-star edition featuring some of the series’ favorite non-winners from seasons past. Yes, there’s been Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Kinky Boots on Broadway and Goodspeed had a hit with La Cage aux Folles a few seasons back. But closer to home there’s a thriving drag community sashaying on stages throughout the state.

As for high-profile shows, there’s Bianca Del Rio—who was a winner on the sixth season of the show—who will bring her chops to The Bushnell’s Belding Theater in Hartford on Thursday, March 22.

School of Drag

And starting Friday, March 16, Hartford’s TheaterWorks will begin performances of The Legend of Georgia McBride, a Matthew Lopez comedy that centers on a straight man who turns to drag when his Elvis impersonation act wanes.

More immediate, however, is the fifth annual edition of Yale Cabaret’s School of Drag in New Haven, which this year has expanded the number of performances of three nights, one by Yale School of Drama students, another for alumni and faculty, and a third featuring performers from the area’s drag community. The shows will be presented in the basement theater at 217 Park Street on Thursday and Friday, Feb. 15 and 16 at 8 and 11 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 17 at 8 and 10 p.m. and midnight.

“We decided we wanted to give it a full weekend,” says Rachel Shuey, managing director of this season’s Yale Cabaret. “For the cabaret’s [50th] anniversary year, we wanted to celebrate not only the current students’ desire to explore drag, but to also look at our past by having an alumni night [on the 16th] and also looking at the rich culture of drag in the New Haven community [on 15th].”

“What’s fun about the drag show is that people develop their own pieces and we just curate it,” she says.

With the shows coming together usually at the last minute, it’s a bit of a glam madhouse and this year the fever pitch is expected to be even more heightened with three separate variety shows from the different groups of performers.

Shuey says the drag event fits in well with an overall theme of the anniversary season.

“What we’re seeing at the cabaret this year,” she says, “is a lot of fierce women proposing really brave work that pushes boundaries, with people working out their stuff on stage which is coming from a personal place.”

The professional queens around New Haven welcome their participation, but also have their own perspective.

“I would define drag as being a political and artistic expression in the queer community,” says Patrick Dunne, executive director of New Haven Pride Center. He applauds the Yale Cabaret as being “the only theater around that’s focusing on queer story-telling.”

Just the Thing

“For me, Yale School of Drama students present a very impressive show that utilizes the creative skills of the performers and designers and resources of the school,” Dunne says, but adds it takes the pros to truly show what drag is.

“There’s a lot more to drag than putting on a costume and memorizing words,” says Dunne, who is also a professional drag performer who goes by the name of Kiki Lucia. (“If Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s had a love child with Gypsy Rose Lee, that would be Kiki.”) “You can have your moment of coming out looking fabulous, but you still have to do your five minutes of performance after that.”

Professional drag performers will include Kendra Fiercex Rose, Loosey LaDuca, Maxim Rose, Giganta Smalls, and more.

The Yale School of Drag began when several students wanted to have an extra event during an off-week for the cabaret.

“They were craving an outlet of self-expression,” says Shane Hudson, a former student and managing director of the cabaret and now executive director at off-Broadway’s Primary Stages.

“The School of Drama is grueling and having this collective party during cold winter months was just the thing. For the first year, it was a little bit underground because we weren’t sure how the audience would react to it.”

Hudson says the response “was mind-blowing and very quickly we realized that this was something the community really enjoyed and really wanted, though I had no idea that we were building a bit of legacy.”

Hudson will be returning for alumni night.

“I have not yet decided what I will be wearing,” he says. “Luckily I have a number of good friends who are costume designers.”