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St. Louis’ Pulitzer Puts On A Drag Show Amid Celebration Of LGBT History

On any given weekend, you can follow the show tunes and Beyonce beats to a drag performance in St. Louis.

But on Saturday, Jan. 25 and for the next several months, drag moves beyond the bar scene. The art and history of drag will be in the spotlight at PHD art gallery, the Missouri History Museum and the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in Grand Center.

Credit Provided by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts

Siren, Robyn Hearts and Pinko are among the performers in the Pulitzer 's Saturday night “About Face” drag show. It’s part of the foundation’s “Reset” series, aimed at drawing new audiences with novel fare.

Tyler Cross, aka Siren, who coordinated the local entertainers through his Glitterbomb Productions, never dreamed he’d perform at the Pulitzer.

“A museum isn't exactly the place I expected to see drag happen, especially not in St. Louis,” Cross said.

Beauty And The Beard

Cross, a retail operations and inventory professional, has been tweaking his drag performances for more than a decade. He started out as a self-described “over-the-top” entertainer inspired by goth and anime. Now he’s “toned it down.” Well, except for the hair.

“I have wigs in almost every shade of the rainbow,” Cross said.

Brantz Bulard, 26, performing as Robyn Hearts, sees drag as a natural extension of his days as a Muny Kid.

“I just like to be on stage,” Bulard said.

Bulard's performance songs include titles by Beyonce and Rihanna. “One of my favorite Rihanna songs is ‘Rock Me Out.’ It has a feel-good vibe and everybody loves it,”
 Bulard said.

Two looks of Raja
Credit Provided by the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
Two looks of Raja

Bulard considers his signature style to be about fashion and “the essence of being a woman.” But not all drag performers are queens, emphasizing only their feminine side. Jarrod Stetina, whose stage name is Pinko, rocks a full beard and chest hair with ruffles, lipstick and eye shadow.

Known as “skag drag,” it’s a look popularized in the 1970s by the local branch of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence back in the 1970s, and still performed on the East and West Coasts, Stetina said.

“You don’t see it much in St. Louis and I thought it was important to show that side of it,” Stetina said. “It really does open eyes.”  

Los Angeles drag performer and makeup artist Sutan Amrull, who's better known as Raja, also plays with gender as well as ethnicity. Amrull, the winner of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race Season 3" will join the local talent Saturday night.

Drag Pioneers Making History

Drag performers are an important part of LGBT history, according to St. Louisan Steve Brawley. During the past six years, Brawley and others amassed a generous collection of what they call queer artifacts. Recently, they donated the compilation to the Missouri History Museum.

Credit Provided by PHD Gallery
Posters, artifacts and images of earlier gay pride movements are part of the collection that will be showcased at the PHD gallery and the Missouri History Museum.

But before the museum takes conservatorship, a number of items will be shown in an exhibition opening Saturday night at PHD Gallery on Cherokee Street. The display, which includes vintage drag clothing, is more than just an interesting array. It also provides an important history lesson, Brawley said.

“Drag performers were the early pioneers in activism,” Brawley noted.

On June 28, 1969, a trio of drag queens at New York City’s Stonewall Inn decided they’d had enough of police raids.

“They basically took off their wigs and said, ‘We’re going to fight.’” Brawley said.

Their resistance sparked a riot and several days of demonstration that now mark the beginning of the LGBT civil rights movement.

Local performer Michelle McCausland (Michael Shreeve) is credited, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and others, with successfully challenging St. Louis’ “masquerading law.” The ordinance required residents to wear a specific number of clothing items related to their birth gender. The Missouri History Museum will also pay tribute to these local history-making drag performers in its “250 in 250” exhibition, opening Feb. 14.

The PHD exhibition also includes Pride festival posters and buttons, historical photographs and a clock from the Char-Pei Lounge lesbian bar. A public display of these items is important for several reasons, according to Brawley. It acknowledges those who paved the way for today’s greater acceptance. And it reminds younger people how far society has come.

“They can do things that were unthinkable before, whether it was walking into a gay or lesbian bar without being afraid of being beaten up or arrested,” Brawley said. “Or just walking down the street holding hands.”

Watch Siren apply makeup while discussing the art of drag.

See the many faces of drag star Raja in a video of runway performances.

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: NancyFowlerSTL

‘About Face’ Drag Show
Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, 3716 Washington Blvd., 63108
When: 8-10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25; preceded by makeup and manicures event, followed by after-party
How much: Free
Information: Pulitzer website

‘A History of Queer’
PHD Gallery, 2300 Cherokee St., 63118
When: Opening reception 7-10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25; runs through March 1
How much: Free
Information: PHD Gallery website

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.