Perhaps one of the most misunderstood art forms, “drag” is a performance art that combines fashion and gender transformation. It’s mixed with theatrical performance, music and sometimes dance, and it makes some people uncomfortable. Art can make people uncomfortable and it’s often considered good art if it does.
“Drag Me to the Red Carpet,” a celebrity female impersonator review, will be at the Lincoln Cultural Center on Saturday, Oct. 12. Originally from Greensboro, now living in Catawba County, David (last name withheld), who goes by the stage name “DeVida,” will be one of the performers. He prefers to be called an “actor” or “performer” at this time in his career because he no longer performs in night clubs.
“I come from the theater community,” he said. “I did have a history of working in night clubs in my early 20s because that was the only place that was really an option for this art form at that time. We’re talking about the ultra-conservative Bush administration years, which was a very scary time in American history for LGBQ+ people. As hard as things are now, my marriage is recognized and we were able to adopt our child.”
David comes from a musical and artistic family. He said that he’s been singing and putting on pretend plays since he was very little. He realized his own feminine nature fairly early on, which he said was difficult. In drag he found a place where he could be both a performer and present himself in a feminine way – that was celebrated.
“I took a really long break after winning Miss Gay North Carolina America in 2004,” he said. “I went to Miss Gay America then came home and decided it was time to step away from all of that. I finished my education and forged a successful career in education and mental health.”
Then David found that culture was shifting and the environment was more receptive to drag. He played a drag-orientated character in two musicals and discovered there was a market for being able to perform as a live entertainer. David does all of his own costumes, wigs and make-up which contributes to his artistic expression – which is why he calls himself a performance artist. Drag is not the only type of performance that David does but it’s drag that inspires him, finding it magical and special, and it brings him great joy.
“I really have a passion for charity events and giving back so through this art I have been able to participate in lots of events giving well over $150,000 back to underserved populations,” he said.
All proceeds from “Drag Me to the Red Carpet” will benefit the Cultural Center. In this show, David will do his Judy Garland impersonation which is both a visual and vocal impersonation.
“It’s not meant to be perfect but in line with the film that’s currently out (‘Judy’),” he said. “Renée Zellweger gives a wonderful performance but she doesn’t sound exactly like Judy. In all honesty, I would say that I’m a stronger vocalist than she is.”
As a live singer David said that he wanted a way to package his voice that would be different and engaging. He has loved Judy since he watched the “Wizard of Oz” as a child and was inspired by other live Judy impersonators like Jimmy James and Jim Bailey.
“The Jim Bailey performance that was on the Carol Burnett Show is stunning” he said. “Essentially I tried it and found success so I made it my thing.”
He’ll also do a lip-synced pantomime of Bette Midler, which is more of a visual experience. The point of his performances and those of his co-performers is to put women on a pedestal, not to be condescending or demeaning.
Drag is not a new art form, David explained. It originally stood for “dressed as girl” and would be written in the margins of Shakespearian plays. Women weren’t allowed on stage during those times so men played all the parts.
“Female impersonator is a term that’s historically been used in Las Vegas and on television basically to denote a form of acting wherein the actor is trying to present a very convincing image of a female celebrity,” he said. “Now we’ve come back to where ‘Drag Queen’ is more the concept and it doesn’t always apply to men presenting as women. It’s more so to an aesthetic of being over-the-top exaggerated femininity. Biological women do drag sometimes. The idea of it at this point is more of an opinion on the social construct of gender or gender representation because we came up with it.”
“Who decided that girls play with Barbies and boys play with GI Joes?” David added. “It was a marketing executive who wanted to sell more toys. There’s no such thing as girl toys or boy toys.”
Some of today’s society likes to keep sexes in gender boxes and anyone who steps out of their set box, even if it is done during a stage performance, is met with anger, disgust and considered immoral. Is there some sort of stigma attached to men wearing women’s clothing? Yet, it’s okay for a woman to wear items of men’s clothing.
“A man wearing a dress is disgusting so now women are disgusting,” David said. “It’s the commentary that things being feminine are somehow weaker. Yet women give birth and, to be frank, I don’t feel like there’s anything stronger than a woman. The idea that we have this concept that it’s completely appropriate for girls to dress as men and carry around shotguns but for a man to wear a dress is somehow an act of treason is incredibly unfortunate and hypocritical. We’re sending these messages that some of the traits that are traditionally associated with the feminine like being nurturing and caring that are somehow wrong in boys.”
David doesn’t want to become a woman nor does he dress up as a woman on a regular basis because it takes too much work. It takes him at least three hours to prepare his “hairy” body, put on make-up, which includes contouring and reshaping of features, coupled with the padding and corsetry involved in his stage presentations.
“I don’t think of gender in a binary way,” he said. “I am male and enjoy presenting as the social representation of female as an art form. I have no interest in altering my body as I am comfortable presenting as the social representation of male in my professional and social life. I suppose you would say I’m gender fluid if we were to use modern terms.”
“Drag Me to the Red Carpet,” a celebrity female impersonator review, will be at the Lincoln Cultural Center on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 general admission, and if not already sold out, will be available at the door. They are available now at the Cultural Center. For more information, call (704) 732-9055. All proceeds benefit the Lincoln Cultural Center, which is located at 403 East Main Street in Lincolnton.