If you live in Austin, Texas chances are you have attended a Kings n Things show in the last 6 years and seen some amazing drag performances. The company is well known for their all out spectacles, and in recent years, have been a huge part of raising the bar for what we expect in a drag show. The producer of Kings n Things took a few minutes to sit down and chat with me about the joys and challenges of wrangling 16 queers on stage, road trips, politics and life.
Cherry Poppins doesn’t smoke cigarettes anymore, but asks if I mind her using one of mine as a prop during our discussion, and the charming performative side of this leading lady and producer begins to shine. Hailing from a theater background she involved herself with the Kings troupe early on (it was formed in 2001) and has been the glue holding one of the longest running drag troupes together. Just off the heels of IDKE 10 (International Drag KingCommunity Extravaganza) in Columbus, Ohio when we met for our interview. Since IDKE began in 1999 it has become one of the largest performance and conference weekends for drag kings in the United States. Cherry and I began chatting about the growing conference for everything drag king.
Bug Davidson: What does Austin bring to IDKE?
Cherry Poppins: I think we bring old school southern hospitality and kick ass performance. On the workshop side of things we have the wisdom and experience of having hosted the IDKE.
What is the history of the conference, and what was new this year?
CP: Well its pretty amazing that the conference has been going for ten years now, it started in Columbus and the first three were held there, and they said on the 10th year they would bring it back home. Something new this year was all the acrobatics and extreme athleticism that was brought to the stage. The Gender Offenders from Santa Fe were particularly impressive; I really enjoy drag performance that has a story. The Country Kings from Durham North Carolina bombard you with issues, and use very beautiful, intense choreography coupled with mixed media in a very Post Drag performance.
Explain “Post Drag” to me.
CP: The “drag” becomes less important, gender becomes mixed, less of a focus and sometimes doesn’t matter at all. What keeps it to the original purpose of gender performance though, is that there is space for everyone. The experience that I come away from IDKE with is always love, and getting smitten. It’s like a family reunion of cousins that have all slept together.
What are the challenges of producing the Troupe?
CP: Sensitivity! Performers are very very sensitive and we have 16 of them all with “lead singer syndrome.” The thing to remember is that each performer raised a hand and volunteered, there is no audition process or external validation. We are certainly like a family that goes through tough times, but we never break up. What I have ultimately gotten out of it is patience, forgiveness and appreciation of every ones process.
I have noticed that Drag Kings often tackle political issues, and sometimes receive strong reactions to topics in performance.
CP: There is always some issue being tackled, as we deconstruct the gender paradigm we begin to deconstruct others as well. Being a marginalized community we also are looking at other marginalized individuals. We are committed to creating the world we want to live in on stage. If people have strong reactions towards a piece that is always valid you can’t have everything sacred, we need to be free to be subversive and provocative. If someone has a substantial opinion, I would encourage them to talk to that performer. Although its really hard to do anything provocative anymore, especially for our crowd! Part of what we are doing in the bar is creating space; drag has sprung up in places where there is no gender deviant space.
What else are you working on at this time?
CP: Genderbent Zine! I think it’s really important that we document ourselves and be our own media.
Check out Austin Kings n Things online at http://www.kingsnthings.org/ and Genderbent can also be found online www.myspace.com/genderbentzine