Sarah Gordon and Heather Spear had a big idea, one they never expected to have staying power. Back in 1999 the roommates and fellow dancers longed for a different take on the drag shows they were seeing around town. “Dykes Do Drag” was born.
Seventeen years later the raucous cabaret series at Bryant-Lake Bowl is still going strong but soon Gordon will be leaving the Twin Cities for Portland, Ore. The show will go on but without the beloved “Glam King,” although she’s sure to pop up as a guest. This weekend’s performances mark Gordon’s farewell.
“I think I’m going to be crying,” said Spear, who serves as master of ceremonies. “It’s good and exciting and heartbreaking and I can’t conceive of it. When I watch her dance I realize how much I will miss her.” According to Gordon, “We wanted to create a family. The performers are constantly fed and not torn down. There are no divas and everyone supports each other. I’m sad – and it feels great that I was part of something.”
Gordon and Spear (aka the Gentleman King) created “Dykes Do Drag” because they felt gender wasn’t represented in drag shows in a way that reflected the men in their lives.
With their first booking, said Gordon, “We made a night of drag that was reflective of David Bowie and more femme masculinity. At that point there was a lot of crotch-grabbing masculinity [in other shows], which was perfectly valid, but it was not what we saw.” Said Spear, “To my knowledge it was the first show to be gender fluid. Gender is on a spectrum and you don’t have to be just one. We made performances from that principle.”
“Dykes Do Drag” received mixed feedback at first. According to Gordon, “There was an unspoken and maybe even a spoken rule about who got to do drag. Femme boys got to be drag queens and butch girls got to be drag kings.” For performers who fell somewhere in the middle, there was new ground to break. Gordon and Spear broke it with glee. For example, many drag kings bind their chests and, said Gordon, you’re not supposed to whip off your shirt to reveal the binding. But they did, and playing with illusion remains a big part of “Dykes Do Drag” today.
Gordon, who came to Minnesota after graduating from the California Institute of the Arts, was trained as a modern dancer. The characters she creates, said Spear, are all totally different because of her physicality. “The way her mind works is totally unique,” she added. “She’s capable of exploring so many different facets of masculinity.”
Among Spear’s favorite memories is when Gordon danced to Rod Stewart's “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and peeled off layer upon layer of winter clothing until she was wearing metallic pants and a spiky Stewart-style wig. “It was so not sexy but that was the point. She was playing with the whole concept of stripping as something sexy in a completely opposite way,” said Spear. “It was awesome, and ultimately a little bit sexy too.”
Gordon’s other creations include a little old man, who will be returning to the stage this weekend. And, in one of her classic works set to Bowie’s “Space Oddity” Gordon spins on a bar stool the entire time. She counts her biggest influences as the Muppets, which is evident in her endearingly controlled floppiness and constantly changing hair colors. “They were tapping into really serious ideas but they were always playful,” she said.
This weekend Gordon promises a “goodbye piece” which, she explained, “will be very sentimental and potentially very maudlin but I’ll do it anyway.” Come September, she will travel west, with the hope of entertaining new audiences and hosting Dykes Do Drag tours. Get ready Portland!
“Dykes Do Drag” shows are at 10 p.m. June 16-18 at the Bryant Lake Bowl. They tend to sell out so plan ahead. www.bryantlakebowl.com.