LOOK: The genre-bending play “DragOn” shows how costume carries power

“That there’s a little bit of fierce in everyone,” DragOn’s writer Jessica Austgen said, “you just need to be true to yourself and let it shine.”

Tyrell D. Rae as Princess Leia on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Tyrell D. Rae as Princess Leia on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) theater; drag; drag queen; lgbtq; pride; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;
Tyrell D. Rae as Princess Leia on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of “DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You,” presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, June 11, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Both genre and gender-bending, “DragOn: May The Fierce Be With You” is the superhero’s-journey-meets-drag-show extravaganza, currently nestled in at the Garner Galleria Theatre. It’s the latest spectacle put on by Off-Center, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ experimental contingent who’s mission is to bring audiences a taste of the unique.
The story follows Bobbi Brooklyn, an aspiring drag queen with little idea that she is, in fact, the chosen one. Her journey winds through a landscape of geekdom, encountering superheroes, a Dr. Who look-alike and monsters that are presented with incredible technical execution and wit that’s deeply grounded in nerd culture. What’s the temperature inside of a dead tauntaun? Luke-warm, obviously.

Last Saturday, after the matinee performance, we took a moment to interview the show’s five cast members. Though it’s rare for drag shows and nerd culture to collide, our conversation suggested costumed PrideFest goers and cosplayed Comic Con attendees have more in common than you might think.

Reace Daniel – Storm/Wonder Woman
Reace Daniel as Wonder Woman on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) theater; drag; drag queen; lgbtq; pride; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;
Reace Daniel as Wonder Woman. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Daniel is a veteran actor making his first drag debut in this show. He says that dressing up both in his Wonder Woman costume and in drag brings a certain power.

“A costume is designed to help make you feel different,” he said. “It kind of helps you take on a coat of armor to be yourself and be brave and be wild and crazy.”

And the show’s geeky component, he said, opens drag to the uninitiated.

“It’s so hard for the straight-laced world to see this gay explosion of happiness and pride…. Putting us in these types of costumes makes it funny and silly and it almost makes it easier to see a drag queen because she’s a character, not just a man in a dress.”

Tyrell D. Rae – Catwoman/Princess Leia
Tyrell D. Rae as Princess Leia on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) theater; drag; drag queen; lgbtq; pride; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;
Tyrell D. Rae as Princess Leia. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rae has been acting since he was 9 and performing in drag for the last five years. He says when he slips into his drag queen persona, Zarah (who does not appear in DragOn), he feels free.

“When you are creating a drag persona, so much of you is a part of it,” he said, “but you get so much power and so much confidence. She can do things that I could never, ever do.”

Anthony Adu – Bobbi Brooklyn
Anthony Adu as aspiring drag queen Bobbi Brooklyn, on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) theater; drag; drag queen; lgbtq; pride; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;
Anthony Adu as aspiring drag queen Bobbi Brooklyn. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Having just turned 19 last week, Adu is DragOn’s youngest cast member. He describes himself as a lifelong underdog who has found his own voice alongside his character, Brooklyn, while working on the show.

“Allowing Bobbi to kind of grow has helped me grow myself to gain self confidence,” he said. “It’s this whole idea of being able to transform into whoever you are, no matter what that is. In my daily life I’m finding that I’m more confident in who I am.”

This is Adu’s first time in full-on drag and the beginning of a career for the University of Denver theater student.

“I walk on this stage and I’m never nervous,” he said. “I feel so empowered doing it.”

Heather Hughes – The Doctor/Gatekeeper
Heather Hughes as the Doctor on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) theater; drag; drag queen; lgbtq; pride; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;
Heather Hughes as The Doctor. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Hughes is a professional actress and not a drag queen. Instead, she said, she hopes her characters in DragOn help the audience experience Bobbi Brooklyn’s transformation for themselves.

“I hope that it brings lots of attention to the person going through the big journey in this show, encouraging somebody to be whoever they are, whatever that is in this world, especially right now.”

Whether a person is trying to become comfortable in their sexuality or as a superhero superfan, she said, “In both you have to be really brave.”

Stuart Sanks – The Mother of Drag
Stuart Sanks as the Mother of Drag on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) theater; drag; drag queen; lgbtq; pride; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;
Stuart Sanks as the Mother of Drag. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sanks is a long-time actor and drag queen, known outside of DragOn by his persona Shirley Delta Blow. He said the show exudes a message of self-acceptance, a lesson that can hold true for anyone.

“Be yourself. Whoever that is, whoever you want to be, be that person and that’s OK. You may feel like you’re the only one, but your people are out there. You just have to find them.”

A puppeteered dragon on stage at the the Garner Galleria Theatre after a matinee performance of "DragOn: May the Fierce Be With You," presented by Off-Center, a new division of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) theater; drag; drag queen; lgbtq; pride; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite;
Kailey Buttrick brings a dragon to life. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

This is DragOn’s message. It doesn’t matter what internal struggle a person might be wrestling with, the lesson Bobbi Brooklyn’s journey teaches is about having the courage to conquer your own demons and sing who you are from the rooftops.

“That there’s a little bit of fierce in everyone,” DragOn’s writer Jessica Austgen said, “you just need to be true to yourself and let it shine.”

You can catch the show through Sunday, June 25th.

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @kevinjbeaty.