Tag: Drag

Poo Poo Platter: Serving Up Austin Drag

Jessica Jones, Fatima Puri, Shannon Smith

At 9:20, the stage manager throws open the dressing room door.

“Ready to go on at 9:30?” he asks.

But everyone shakes their head; Cupcake is running late—they’ll need more time. Seconds later, a frazzled man rushes in with a large suitcase in tow. The dressing room quickly becomes a center of chaos.

He yells that he only needs ten minutes. As Brady rips open the suitcase, one thing is clear: a transformation is about to take place.

Brady puts a hair net over his short, buzzed head and gets to work on his face. Quick brush stokes of foundation, blush, eye shadow. He swiftly applies glue to his fake eye lashes and places them perfectly on his lids. While he finishes up his lipstick, someone straps his heels. He shoves gel implants into his otherwise empty bra, and gives them a shake as he glances in the mirror. Next, he places two different wigs on his head and pins then into place.

Exactly 10 minutes later as promised, he sings, “Cupcake is reaaaady!”

Someone hands him the mic and he steps onto stage.

The dressing room looks like the aftermath of a tornado, but the five remaining queens backstage are too excited to even notice the mess. Tonight is a Poo Poo Platter show—and they’re ready to serve up the most unique of Austin’s drag.

Poo Poo Platter was formed three and a half years ago, after founding member Waldo moved to Austin and saw an opportunity to bring a new type of drag to the area. At the time, Austin drag was focused on female allusion, but Waldo knew others would want to join him in bringing a lighter-hearted, funnier type of drag to the city. With now more than ten members and at least two shows a month you could say it was a success.

Waldo, stage name Bulimianne Rhapsody, the creator of Poo Poo Platter, gets ready before the show. Photo courtesy of Shannon Smith.

Waldo, stage name Bulimianne Rhapsody, the creator of Poo Poo Platter, gets ready before the show.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Smith.

Although they are a troop, every member gets to design their own part of the show, from music and props right down to costumes and makeup.

“We’re very much independent contractors. Everyone does their own thing, they’re responsible for their own acts,” said queen Arcie Cola.

But being a part of the troop certainly has its benefits. It’s easier to book shows when you’re offering more than just one act, and the members understand that. Many of them had solo careers as performers before joining Poo Poo Platter, but enjoy the special relationships that being a part of this group provides.

“You can always be an individual performer, whereas being in a troop it’s a family. So for me it comes down to work and family,” said Zane Zena, who performed as a wrestler previous to joining Poo Poo Platter.

And the closeness of the group is apparent, even to an outsider. Whether they are helping each other in the dressing room, taking a cigarette break or just dancing around together during a rehearsal—it is clear that the group shares a special bond.

A big part of that bond is their agreement that “drag” is something that cannot easily be defined.

“When somebody tells you that you can’t be something—you do it. That’s drag to me,” said Zane Zena.

While Cupcake was more keen on not defining it at all, “I don’t know what is and isn’t drag… It’s not my problem to define the word, I’m not f***** Merriam Webster.”

And while the actual definition of drag may not be important, the troop agreed that there is a definite need to shine a light on drag as a real performing art.

Poo Poo Platter cast. Photo courtesy of Poo Poo Platter.

Poo Poo Platter cast.
Photo courtesy of Poo Poo Platter.

They practice hours a week and spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars, on making their own costumes. Yet, people are still quick to dismiss drag as being a real art. Respect—that is the universal word each queen mentioned. And the Austin International Drag Festival this past weekend was one step in the right direction.

An entire weekend dedicated to promoting and supporting the drag community, Poo Poo Platter was able to host events and mingle with infamous drag queens from around the world. More than anything, the second annual festival acted as a way of spreading the idea that drag is an outlet for artistic expression, not simply men in dresses.

 

cost-of-drag

More Than Just a Pretty Face

By Daniel Jenkins, Olivia Suarez, Shelby Custer, Omar Longoria, and Briana Denham

Eric Barber polished his routine to a fine sheen, carefully assembled an outfit to wear and spent weeks preparing for this moment. As the house lights dim, the audience’s laughter and cheers drop down to a whisper and Barber takes his position in the spotlight. But he’s not Eric Barber anymore. He is Belle Bottom

Barber performs as a drag queen known as Belle Bottom in shows put on every month by the student-run organization, Queens of Texas, at the University of Texas at Austin.  Barber says he loves doing the shows for the audience’s reaction and smiles, but the real reason he dons the wig, make-up and heels is a bit more personal.

Eric Barber, also known as Belle Bottom, hosted a drag queen performance for Queens of Texas on Saturday at 10 p.m. in an auditorium located in the Student Activity Center on campus at the University of Texas in Austin. Between each routine, he entertained the audience and introduced the next performer.

Eric Barber, also known as Belle Bottom, hosted a drag queen performance for Queens of Texas on Saturday at 10 p.m. in an auditorium located in the Student Activity Center on campus at the University of Texas in Austin. Between each routine, he entertained the audience and introduced the next performer. Photo by Shelby Custer.

High-heel shoes are a staple for a successful drag queen.

High-heel shoes are a staple for a successful drag queen. Photo by Shelby Custer.

“It is an exploration of things I don’t get to do in day-to-day life,” Barber says. “But it’s also more of a reflection of things that do happen in my everyday life as well.”

Barber explains he has always had bad hearing so sometimes he doesn’t know what’s going on around him and, in his drag persona of Belle Bottom, he is able to incorporate that feeling into Belle’s typical “clueless” demeanor.

Eric Barber demonstrates how he becomes Belle Bottom at his apartment a week before the Queens of Texas show.

Eric Barber demonstrates how he becomes Belle Bottom at his apartment a week before the Queens of Texas show. Photo by Briana Denham.

“Most of the time it will get to the point where I’m just like, ‘I don’t know where I am,’” Barber says with a laugh.

Despite the funny persona he becomes on stage, Barber thinks drag should be taken as a serious art form that people should try to approach like any other creative performance.

“I want people to come with an open mind and actually see our performances and all of the work that we put in,” Barber says. “Because it’s not just about getting in a dress and lip syncing to a song, there’s a lot more to it than that.”

Queens of Texas is trying to do its part by getting more people to attend its monthly drag shows. The organization successfully packed the auditorium last year in April during its “Drag Race” competition, where over a dozen performers competed against each other with routines, choreography and costumes that they individually created.

Austin Culver, the co-founder and event organizer for Queens says he originally started the organization to provide spaces for performers like Barber to hone their craft.

Near the end of the production, Holly Woods and Naomi Tipton have a dance-off.

Near the end of the production, Holly Woods and Naomi Tipton have a dance-off. Photo by Olivia Suarez.

“We want to provide a chance for the queens to show whatever it is that’s in their wheelhouse,” Culver says. “However, in the interim between these shows and the ‘Drag Race’ competition in May, we provide themes to try and get queens to perform things outside of the box.”

Culver also says the club organized with the premise that the performances could allow gateway opportunities for queens to perform without going through the hard-to-break-into realm of the downtown drag community.

“It can be either knowing the right people, or you end up hitting the ground running, and that can leave a bad taste in people’s mouths afterwards,” Culver says. “So we try to give the queens a stress-free introduction to drag.”

The club’s September performance attracted about 20 people, but Culver is optimistic that the future of current, mainstream drag will continue to catch on.

The increasing popularity of drag is recognizable. Rudy Ramirez, a Graduate student studying Queer Theory at the University of Texas at Austin, says recent shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race and Drag U have been creating more of an audience for the drag community.

The audience interacts and meets the drag performers after the Queens of Texas Variety Show. Photo by Omar Longoria.

“A lot of younger gay people who didn’t necessarily know about drag balls got into them, embracing the competitive format that RuPaul himself based on both regular reality TV and the competition of drag balls,” says Ramirez.

But, the history of drag goes back much further than RuPaul’s infamous shows. Some think that the orders against cross-dressing in the Old Testament stemmed from priests who practiced polytheistic religions and dressed as women in order to symbolize goddesses.

As time went on, drag continued to be seen in theatrical performances. “In any environment when only men were allowed onstage, a number of them dressed and performed as women,” says Ramirez. “Also in mixed-gender theatre, you have a tradition of women performing as young men or boys.”

After a quick costume change, Lizzie Spice entertains the audience once more in an elaborate group routine. Photo by Shelby Custer.

The history of drag is rich, but it continues to be a disputed topic within society as well as amongst gays. Some individuals in the gay rights movement think that the practice of drag is keeping gays from being accepted by society.

“It’s important to remember that drag queens and kings have often been at the forefront of queer liberation,” says Ramirez. “Drag queens—both men and trans women—were leaders of the Stonewall Riots that sparked the modern gay liberation movement.” If not for the drag queens who threw their heels at cops during the Stonewall Riots, society would be years behind in starting to accept the LGBT community.

Regardless of the denial by gay rights leaders for their actions, if not for the drag queens who threw their heels at cops during the Stonewall Riots, society would be years behind in starting to accept the LGBT community.

As for drag culture’s future, Ramirez remains unsure of what performers like Barber or Culver could expect in the years to come.

“I can’t predict the future of drag,” states Ramirez. “I hope that it will continue to challenge its audiences, but I also hope that drag performances will always think about how to make their pieces more liberating without making fun of potential allies in the trans community and communities of color.”

With plans to one day be a teacher, Barber knows that his love for drag might not be in the cards. While he enjoys expressing himself through drag before he goes out into the world, he remains unsure about whether it is something he could do for the rest of his life.

Barber stands by while attendees take photographs of all the performers after the show concluded.

Barber stands by while attendees take photographs of all the performers after the show concluded. Photo by Shelby Custer.

He adds in a quip that he might consider it if he became really good or famous because of his drag, but states, “I don’t—I’m not sure that is going to happen, but we’ll see.”

Barber ends with a casual shrug and laugh that seems to embrace the hopeful thought that there may not only be a future for him, but also for drag itself.