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Life’s a drag

The long-running gender-blending cabaret “Dykes Do Drag” continues to fortify its Minneapolis drag kingdom.


If gender studies and vaudeville had a baby and that baby could sing, dance or perform a politically-conscious striptease, it would be a shoe-in for âÄúDykes Do Drag,âÄù the enduring queer performance evening that has become something of a local institution since its inception in 1999.

On title alone, âÄúDykes Do DragâÄù initially reads as an evening chock-full of butch women in button-down shirts and self-adhesive sideburns. Lift the veil, or top-hat, or wig or what have you, and the all-inclusive, multi-disciplinary crowd that enlivens âÄúDykesâÄù quickly reveals itself âÄî sometimes with pasties on.

Drag kings and queens reign supreme in this vaudeville-style revue, which was borne out of collaboration between Heather Spear, Sarah Gordon and Rudy Renaud, who sought a venue where they could showcase all shades of gender-performativity.

Spear, who performs as her dapper and dandyish Gentleman King, was long involved in theater and dance before she came to co-found âÄúDykes Do Drag.âÄù Spear has fashioned her own male drag character as slightly effeminate, to explore what she calls âÄúthe third space in-between the binary.âÄù

âÄúI don’t try to be a man. I don’t try to trick anybody into thinking I’m a man, but I enjoy the fact that I can intrigue audience members âÄî from gay men to straight women,âÄù Spear said. âÄúYou’re kind of questioning what the audience assumes is their basis of desire,âÄù Spear said.

Gordon’s drag persona similarly straddles the realms of femininity and masculinity in her own Glam King character, influenced by intentionally androgynous glam rockers like David Bowie or Marc Bolan. Gordon occupies this space across the gender spectrum as her way, through crafted theatrical performance, of âÄúbusting the binary.âÄù

âÄúIt’s about busting the binary to the point where none of that is really important; it’s about presenting characters,âÄù Gordon said.

This emphasis on character study is reflected in the female impersonations by women who identify as female to begin with. Natasha Oreskovich performs as Paulie Graff, for which she dresses up in elegant gowns and long gloves.

âÄúI think of it as a character that I’ve created, and this specific character has a higher level of glamour than I do in my daily life,âÄù Oreskovich said. âÄúI consider it drag in the sense that I perform in a more heightened sense of femininity than how I go through my daily life, but I’m not a drag king.âÄù

Fellow female-female impersonator Foxy Tann performs burlesque in her âÄúass-kicking, bad mamma jammaâÄù character inspired by blaxploitation heroine Foxy Brown. Tann started out doing drag through shows at the Gay ’90s and at the time was the only female-female impersonator.

âÄú[I was] using the aesthetics of the drag queen and kind of making fun with it a little bit,âÄù Tann said. âÄúPeople didn’t know I was a girl, so I let that go and stayed there for a while.âÄù

Where drag kings like Gordon and Spear may stir up the masculine and feminine in their own playful concoction, Tann’s iteration of gender presentation slaps it all together in a multilayered perceptual trick.

âÄúIt’s going around full circle because I’m imitating men who are imitating women, but I’m a woman,âÄù Tann said.

The performances in âÄúDykes Do DragâÄù are often helmedby trained actors and dancers who use their craft to create characters that blur the boundaries demarcating gender presentation. The skits of âÄúDykesâÄù all examine, dismantle or forge gender identities through character creation and the occasional lip-synching routine. Ultimately, it’s a theatrical revue that âÄî even as it stretches into its 13th year âÄî has still proven every bit as seductive to performers as their characters have been to audiences.

âÄúIt seemed more fun than performing Shakespeare. You know what I mean?âÄù Tann said.

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