When was the first time you heard of a drag king? Perhaps you discovered them through TV or film, like The L Word’s Ivan Aycock, or on stage at events like London’s BOi BOX. Looking closer to home, Rosie Blackwell-Sutton is the brain behind Brighton’s very own king scene. Starting out life as a Brighton Fringe show in 2014, King of the Fringe was a modest grassroots drag competition with three competitors. The show eventually became Kingdom, as the competitive nature of its predecessor didn’t feel right – to pit kings against one another in a growing scene seemed more damaging than encouraging.
Rosie and her partner Lauris Day are gearing up for another show as we chat. The former tells me, “Since I’ve been doing the shows I’ve always dragged up. I just don’t have the urge to go on stage, though!” Rosie’s alter ego is Slater Himmy, a play on riot grrrl band Sleater Kinney of the 90s. So it begs the question, who are the kings that are on stage?
“I think it’s mostly non-binary people that perform with us. Hardly any of our kings actually identify as women. It’s quite interesting considering people’s preconception is women dressed as men. A lot of them use drag to work through and work out who they are, exploring gender and the different sides of themselves.”
Most people will think of RuPaul’s Drag Race when thinking of the art of drag, and it did predate Kingdom. It’s an interesting comparison to make between the queens and the Brighton kings, as the artists and audiences work almost as counterparts to one another. For anyone that’s watched the show, you’ll know Ru scours the US in search of the best talent. I wonder how Rosie drums up interest in her shows – it’s a niche genre of performance. She tells me, “kings have started gravitating towards us now as we’re getting our name established. It’s amazing to see the level of excitement from more seasoned performers and newer kings alike.” If you’ve been to one of the Kingdom open mics or showcases, you’ll understand why; the venue transforms into a buzzing hub of anticipation, everyone involved appreciating the effort gone in and enjoying the ride.
Drag is a political act, which allows creative queerness to shine. It’s this which allows the acts and attendees to really explore themselves. “In terms of sexuality, I’d say there are a lot of pansexual people, bisexual and even straight people that come along. It’s for any person of any gender to explore masculinity and feminism,” Rosie explains. It’s an inclusive scene in which anyone can join. Having been curious throughout my own life about drag and gender, I’ve been tempted to jump on stage and see what happens. Personally, I lack talent in performing, so I’ve left it to others. But Kingdom are recruiting…
“If you’re interested in drag, come to the nights. All of the shows have open mic slots, just give it a go! You’ll meet the kings – and we’re all very lovely, give advice and we’ll support you. We’re happy to bounce ideas around too. Come and try it – I think kings are different [to queens] as we’re more edgy, and it’s fertile land as nobody has really put a stamp on it all yet.”
So if there’s no mold to fit, what is the plan for the future? Drag Race has done a lot for the community, getting drag out there in the mainstream. The Kingdom team are by no means riding Ru’s coattails, rather forging a path of their own. “We’re really open and want to encourage and grow the Brighton scene. That would be amazing. Hopefully we can run some workshops soon too. We’re aiming for a diverse kingdom!”
Keep up with future events: facebook.com/kingdombrighton