Liberty City Kings drag through Philadelphia
The Liberty City Kings are in the business of blurring. What, exactly? Gender, politics, and satire. How? Live music, all-female drag shows (generally and appropriately referred to as “drag king”) and good old-fashioned burlesque.
“It started with love,” says Heather Coutts (performance name: Lascivious Jane), the artistic director of the Liberty City Kings. “At the time, Philadelphia had this lack of any drag going on, so [my ex-partner and I] just decided to start a troupe. Our first event was a “Santorum Scares Me” Halloween event [a theater, drag, music and spoken word event hosted by Keith Campbell on October 28, 2006.]”
Heather and her fellow performer, Ari Catanzaro, sit next to me and a half-eaten muffin at the High Point Café in Mt. Airy. Both have been with the Liberty City Kings since its inception, and, a week earlier, performed a shortened version of their drag show at Sisters nightclub in Center City.
Their passion – and others’ – for drag king performance has been on the ups within the broader LGBT community since the mid-90s, though it’s existed as an art form since at least the 19th century. The last two decades have seen the art mushroom out to festivals across the country, which include the International Drag King Community Extravaganza (IDKE), the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, the San Francisco Drag King Contest, the New York Burlesque Festival, and several others.
Drag kings are generally known for playing up masculine stereotypes on stage, stripping to pre-selected music as “redneck” or “macho male” characters. And the Liberty City Kings are no exception. “I play a trucker guy. Heather brought out my inner trucker,” Ari says. “I sometimes play a gangster, too. He’s a regular guy, but he can be a total asshole. Totally, an ass. That’s pretty much it. If we do group numbers, then I’ll jump in as the school boy.”
“We often have a theme of the night [based on the venue and/or song selection],” says Heather. “We have redneck themes, a schoolboy theme, we have cowboy characters. With a full-length show, which lasts two hours, we try to incorporate as much material as possible and make it a mixed bag. Every once in a while, we’ll do a cabaret. We bring in another drag performer, a musical act, or spoken word performer.”
Being the only drag king troupe in Philly, the women haven’t had a hard time getting gigs, either. They’ve performed all over the city – Woody’s, Sisters, Vesuvio, The Pleasure Garden, The M Room, Shampoo Night Club, the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, The Dive, and have been the featured dancers at the Republican Club’s Pousse Café, a 10-year-running go-go party where dancers, “take over a little strip club for a few hours of dyke debauchery,” according to Philly Gay Calendar.
“People want us to perform,” Heather says, “because we tend to be raunchy, sexy, dirty and naughty.”
She also remarks that their place at the top affords them the responsibility to recruit new members dedicated to performance – and they don’t mess around. Along with the nonstop performing, the troupe has released a calendar (photographed by Leah MacDonald) and are represented this year at IDKE in Tuscon, Arizona.
“We’re always looking for new members just to keep things fresh,” Heather says. “Anyone who’s interested in performing with us, if they want to do drag, they need to have a number they can audition with. They need to come to a meeting and fill out an application…We’re all a big family. We get a long really well, and we support each other outside the troupe. We all call each other ‘family.’ It’s like a new girlfriend. That person has to fit.”
Liberty City Kings have a performance coming up at the Republican Club (1700 Snyder Ave.) on December 12. They can be found on the web at www.MySpace.com/LibertyCityKings
Photo: Jasmine Zowniriw