According to the BBC, the “story of drag goes back far further than the time [RuPaul’s Drag Race] has been on the air.”
In the late 16th and 17th centuries, “drag began out of necessity” when only men were allowed to perform plays on stage. Male participants then had to dress “as members of the opposite sex so the story didn’t suffer.”
“The word ‘drag’ is believed to have theatrical origins, too,” the BBC said. “The dresses men wore to play female characters would drag along the floor.”
As time went on, drag evolved to focus more on “the individual,” and drag queens began to build up fanbases from vaudeville productions, minstrel shows and more.
Today, drag is heavily popularized by “global superstar” RuPaul Charles and the television show ‘Pose’ by FX.
As self-proclaimed “show people,” Elliott and Kendra Rubin, owners of the Punk & Poet Cut and Color Co., have wanted to put on a big show for Forsyth County.
And, as it has been Kendra’s “life-long dream to put on a drag show,” last year the pair began planning a grand performance which came to fruition on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
“I literally watch [RuPaul’s Drag Race] every day,” Kendra said. “It’s my favorite show.”
With her dream in her back pocket, Kendra started reaching out to venues in Forsyth County to hold the show, which the couple said was “important to have … on our home turf.”
“Given the history here with race and acceptance in general, we thought it was really important that we have the show here in the county,” Elliott said. “This is the best place for a drag show and to … put a flag in the sand.”
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Turning a dream into reality
Kendra said that once she and her friends were old enough to drive, they made sure to get license plates that read ‘In God we trust’ instead of ‘Forsyth.’
“If you wanted to go to Atlanta, you didn’t want to have a car with a Forsyth County tag,” Kendra said. “It was almost embarrassing — you didn’t want people to know you were from [Forsyth County].”
Kendra got busy looking for a venue where she and her drag sisters could perform, but she was “basically ignored by [everyone].”
Through some “back channels” and hard work, she got in touch with the owner of Rosati’s Pizza and Sports Pub agreed to be the venue.
“Everyone [at Rosati’s] has just been so positive, which was not what I was expecting,” Elliott said. “It’s just a breath of fresh air. The reception has been so positive that it’s been really heartwarming and mind blowing.”
Matt Smith, the owner of Rosati’s, said that “while this event is different than other events, we have had here at Rosati’s, we felt that Kendra had a great plan to showcase her show on a bigger stage.”
“They… sold all the tables and general admission tickets for their show,” Smith said, “so it seems to me that there was a need [for this] and that Kendra is on to something.”
That “something,” Kendra explained, was an acceptance for the art of drag and the celebration of people who “might be a little different.”
“The [Punk & Poet] has sort of become a hub for people that don’t really feel like they fit in,” Kendra said. “There’s so many people that come in here on a daily basis and say, ‘I’m so happy that I can sit here and feel comfortable in my own skin.’ We just think it’s time that those people were celebrated.
“We want people to know that they’ve got allies here,” she said. “They’ve got people that love them and want to celebrate them.”
Kendra likened the show to “our own little non-violent Stonewall [Riots],” which, according to History.com, “served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement [in the late 1960s] in the United States and around the world.”
“I hope that us being silly on stage [shows] that … it’s OK to just step out and say who you are and be who you are,” Kendra said. “Maybe if it’s just for that two hours [during the show,] but I know that’ll be such a relief for [someone].”
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The drag queens
With a venue and date locked-in, Kendra got to work recruiting some “awesome sisters” to her drag queen family, House of Laveau.
“I’ve wanted to do this forever,” Kendra said. “And literally, every time someone sits in my chair, I’m having a mental audition to see what I would think about them joining my drag family.”
Adam Bissonnette, also known as Ms. X-Posure, was one such client.
Bissonnette said that he met the Rubin’s “probably a year ago” when he and his family visited the salon for a haircut. Kendra told his wife about her dream show and Bissonnette’s wife volunteered him as a performer.
“I originally thought they wanted me to take photos since I’m a photographer,” Bissonnette said. “But they were like, ‘No, we want you to be in the show.’”
“At first I was really nervous,” he said. “But then I thought about it some more and [agreed to do the show.]”
Having no prior experience, Bissonnette signed up to be one of eight drag queens in the House of Laveau and practiced with his drag sisters “basically every Sunday” until the show’s debut.
“I just wanted to support and help Kendra and Elliott’s dream come true,” Bissonnette said. “But I also wanted to see if I could get up [on stage] and [perform]. I kind of set a challenge for myself to see if I could get up and perform in front of a large audience of people, and I did it, and it was awesome.”
Elliott described the members of the House of Laveau as “not your typical drag troupe” because it was mostly “straight men with kids or … women.”
“Our queens are so diverse in who they are, their positions and jobs, their age,” Elliott said. “And I think that right there speaks for itself. All of these different people are coming together for this one important purpose.”
He said that he was “really proud” of the queens for stepping up and joining his and Kendra’s show, and said he was proud that each performer was either from Forsyth County or had a connection through work.
“I don’t think our queens even understand how grateful I am for them,” Kendra said. “This is a big risk. I don’t understand why it is such a risk, but it definitely is.”
With eight “amazing sisters” primed, practiced and ready to perform, Kendra said that she hoped the drag show would inspire other people to get involved.
“We’d love to have enough queens to be able to rotate out to perform,” Kendra said. “We want to inspire change, yes, but we also want to be silly on stage and have fun and maybe find some other like-minded people to join us.”
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Time for the show
About 250 people filled Rosati’s Pizza and Sports Pub to support Forsyth County’s first-ever drag show on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
“The tickets sold out so fast,” Elliott said. “We couldn’t believe it.”
Bissonnette, who is originally from Toronto and has been living in Forsyth County for the past 10 years, said that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the diversity of the crowd on Tuesday night.
“I’m not from here, but even in … the last 10 years, I’ve definitely seen [Forsyth County] change,” he said.
He said that he and his drag sisters were looking out through their window backstage to “gauge the crowd,” and were excited to see a mixture of ages in the audience.
“And at the end of the night, everybody all had fun,” Bissonnette said. “It was great.”
While he was nervous to perform, Bissonnette said he would “definitely do it again” after the positive feedback he received from the crowd.
“I would definitely do it again with that group of people,” Bissonnette said. “Over the last few months, we became pretty tight-knit, and it was such a cool, diverse group of people who had different backgrounds which I think made the show better.”
Bissonnette said that he spoke with a woman, who came with her husband and their “young son, probably no older than 10,” after the show.
He said that the woman’s son was excited to come to the show and that she “almost teared up talking to us because she was just so happy that there was something like that happening in Forsyth County.”
“She also liked my dress so much that she bought it [online] right there in front of me,” Bissonnette said. “So, to see that, her and her son and how much fun they had, that was really awesome.”
Kendra said that the show on Tuesday was such a success that “Rosati’s wants to do a two-night run next time.”
“This show was so much more than lip syncing and dancing,” Kendra said. “This was the birth of a new era in Forsyth County. Get ready, FOCO, we queens aren’t going anywhere.”