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Arts & Culture

Smoke & Mirrors & Couch Cushions: Creating the Illusion of Drag

The Rubi Girls are Dayton's charity-driven drag troupe
courtesy of the Rubi Girls
The Rubi Girls are Dayton's charity-driven drag troupe

Drag performances happen regularly all around Ohio, as they have for many years. Men dressed as women - with elaborate and sometimes outrageous hair, costumes and makeup - perform on stages and in clubs in Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, but also in smaller towns like Lima and Monroe. Dayton has its own drag tradition.  Community Voices producer Eva Buttacavoli talked to some local drag performers for a glimpse of what it takes to prepare for a show

Some drag artists go all out to create the illusion of a glamorous woman, and a great number of people have asked: "How does she look that fabulous when she’s really a guy!”

Smoke & mirrors they’d say...or hair remover, couch cushions and duct tape, as Community Voices producer Eva Buttacavoli learned when she asked 3 drag queens in Dayton their tips and tricks.

Eric Williams aka Nadya Nice, Miss Gay Ohio, 2015
Credit Cuyote Wilde
Eric Williams aka Nadya Nice, Miss Gay Ohio, 2015

First she asked drag performer and Miss Gay Ohio Eric Williams what he does to get ready.

“Assuming I haven’t been in drag for like a month and I’m all hairy,” he says, “I would go into the bathroom, strip down and cover myself wherever I’m not supposed to have hair with Veet; legs, underarms, that sort of thing, chest, tummy; and while that’s setting I’m gonna shave and get all the hair off my face.”

Brent Johnson and Jonathan McNeal, two drag artists from Dayton’s popular comedy drag troupe, the RubiGirls, described their hair rituals.

“I am not a leg shaver,” says Brent, “I have very little chest hair so just a quick swipe and I’m done on my chest. And I have very little leg hair so I don’t shave my legs, I just do 3 pairs of pantyhose, sheer to waist, nude."   Jonathan McNeal, on the other hand, doesn’t shave anything—legs, armpits and chest stay all hairy.  

Eva asked Eric how he creates his trademark womanly figure. Eric revealed the drag trick of "using an old couch cushion and a bread cutter to cut out the shapes of two kidney beans," placing them on your hips and then layering up sometimes up to 12 pairs of panty hose to smooth everything out. "Once you have on the rest of your clothing,” he says, “it just looks like a perfect hour-glass figure.”

Jonathan McNeal, aka Ileasa Plymouth, applying makeup
Credit courtesy of the Rubi Girls
Jonathan McNeal, aka Ileasa Plymouth, applying makeup

Jonathan went on to describe how he creates the illusion of breasts with two Nerf balls that are cut in half, tied together with pantyhose and then knotted at the end to create a little “Va-Voom.” And Brent added that if he were to lose his favorite pair, he’d be traumatized. “Over the years I’ve tried making them out of bird seed and water balloons, each of which can get real messy if you turn the wrong way,” he said

“I think I’m pretty clever with a few safety pins or double stick, but in the dressing room of the Miss Gay Ohio pageant I saw earrings super-glued on, waists girdled with saran-wrap and duct-tape, and yes, exactly what you’re thinking: the securing of the boy parts.” Eva said. She asked Jonathan if he would talk about that.

“So I tuck my business away but not as much as some queens. There are some who will tie it down and around and duct tape and all that,” he said.  

“It’s actually pretty funny when you think about it, isn’t it? What we do to look a certain way. And we’re not talking surgery here, we’re talking self-expression really.” said Eva.

Lastly, she asked Eric to imagine she didn’t know what drag was and to explain it to her.

“So many different performers would say that it’s so many different things. One of the most interesting things that I’ve heard is from RuPaul. She says that everyone is born naked and the rest is drag."

Dayton’s own Rubi Girls will perform this Saturday night at WYSO Serious, our spring fundraising party. Learn more here: http://wyso.org/wyso-serious