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The Art And Philosophy Of Drag

Michael Brosilow
Kevin Kantor in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's production of "The Legend of Georgia McBride."

The Legend of Georgia McBride opens Friday night at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. It's the story of an Elvis impersonator who has to change his act when his club hires drag performers to bring in more customers. The show is funny, heartfelt, and full of feathers and sequins.

The person in charge of those feathers and sequins — and the rest of the costuming for the show — is Patrick Holt. He is a professional costume designer and a professor of design at the University of Arizona. Holt also performs drag, going by the stage name Tempest DuJour. Holt says the first drag performances he saw as a young man were revelatory:

"It was like opening the door in the Wizard of Oz and everything was suddenly in Technicolor," he explains. "I saw these people who had total joy, no excuses, who were just living this heightened reality that to me seemed completely magical. Who wouldn’t that appeal to?"

"It's an art form, an expression. It's a character I play — it's not who I am."

Holt says that as magical as a drag performance is, it's also important to talk about what drag isn't. For him, it has nothing to do with sexuality or sexual identity.

"It's an art form, an expression," he says. "It's a character I play — it's not who I am. Transgender people and cross-dressing people are not drag queens, and drag queens don't consider themselves that [transgender or cross-dressing] either. What we do in drag is entertainment. It's not an identifier to us."

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.