BY KAYLEE DUFF
Meet the troupe of drag kings who are eradicating the barriers in queer performance while raising money for local causes and creating a safe community for queer performers.
With the rise of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the local drag queen scene, drag performers are no longer strangers in the public consciousness. Yet somehow, drag kings (who are often women, non-binary and trans performers) continue to remain under the mainstream radar. A group of advocates in northeast Ohio are looking to change that and bring more inclusivity and accessibility to drag with the Cleveland Kings Action Pack (CKAP).
The Cleveland Kings are a group of drag kings that perform in venues around Cleveland, to both spread the word about drag kings and provide fundraising/support for local community charities and activists causes. CKAP was started by activist friends Lisa Sanchez and Rose Driscoll, who were looking for a creative fundraising opportunity for the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF)-sponsored annual Bowlathon for Preterm, Cleveland’s abortion and sexual health clinic.
What started as a pipe dream ended up being wildly successful; their first show raised over a thousand dollars for Preterm. “People were definitely interested in seeing more of it,” explained co-founder Sanchez, who performs as Macho Grande. “So we just kept trying to put together shows.”
Since their first show a year ago, CKAP has continued performing and raising money for fantastic causes. All of the proceeds from their seven total shows have gone to organizations like Preterm; the Black Pride 4; Esperanza, a local Latinx school aid organization; a Cleveland Brake Light Clinic, through the Cleveland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA); NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio; and the Tamir Rice Foundation.
In addition to donating money to organizations that help the community, the Cleveland Kings Action Pack’s mission also includes making drag more accessible and inclusive. Their main focus is bringing underrepresented voices into the drag scene, and growing the awareness about drag kings.
One way CKAP is making drag accessible is by starting a community closet, with Sweetlime Alterations, a queer tailory in Tremont, and Mandy Lane, a local artist and organizer. This is to make performing “more open and available to people who may want to participate but don’t have the cash, the time, the energy to really go out and buy makeup or put their costume together, because it takes time and money,” according to Sanchez.
“We’re also going to have classes and watch parties for shows,” added member performer Rya Lally, a.k.a. Rhett Corvette. “We’re going to do a makeup tutorial, dance classes, things like that.” Both the community closet and how-to classes helps make the technical side of performing just that much easier for interested individuals.
Making drag accessible will also help make it more inclusive; many underrepresented communities are the ones who lack the funds, time or “know-how” to perform. By offering help in those areas, CKAP is creating a safe environment for minority voices, especially for femme, non-binary and trans folks, to participate in the local drag scene.
“I had always loved drag but, for some odd reason, I didn’t think women could do it,” shared performing member Roze Thornz, a.k.a. Thornstar. “I had never seen a women in drag before and I didn’t think people wanted to see women in drag. After that first CKAP performance, I made it a goal of mine to become a drag performer.”
“There are not many trans and women performers in queer performing arts. There’s a huge drag queen scene in Cleveland, but not many opportunities for drag kings,” explained Lally. “I thought that expanding the mission of CKAP [to include those opportunities] would help develop queer performing arts for women and trans folks. We’re taking power into our own hands and making those spaces ourselves if they don’t exist. You don’t have to wait to be invited somewhere; you can just make it.”
At the end of the day, the Cleveland Kings Action Pack is all about having fun and playing with self expression while being a part of a community. “I think groups like CKAP are important because [they] give people a chance to experiment with gender expression and express themselves in a way they otherwise couldn’t,” said Thorn.
Performing in drag — for both drag kings and queens — is a way for people to have a little bit of fun with gender stereotypes. We perform gender every day when we get dressed a certain way or participate in certain activities, so why can’t the queer community use performance as a way to push those boundaries and binaries? Lally emphasized that: “When something is art, there are no limits.”
Catch CKAP at their one-year anniversary show — The Pack is Back: Cleveland Kings Action Pack Turns 1 —at 7:30 p.m. on March 23, at the Grog Shop.
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