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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Drag Queens take over the Dayton Arcade for a holiday fundraiser

The Rubi Girls drag troupe poses in costume in front of their painted camper van.
Courtesy of the Rubi Girls
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The Rubi Girls holiday drag show is this Saturday at the Dayton Arcade. Last year’s performance was online because of the pandemic. This year, they’re back on stage and more risqué than ever

The Rubi Girls have been hard at work, rehearsing new numbers for “The Show Must Go On.”

The holiday show should be celebrating its 25th anniversary, but the Rubi Girls are calling it 24.5, as last year’s show was virtual and this year’s may be a little different because of COVID.

Josh Stucky is one of the founding members. He says the Rubi Girls got their start throwing house parties on Rubicon Street, which is where their name comes from. Then, they agreed to host a benefit.

“Everyone was like ‘this is the funniest, funnest drag that’s ever been,’ and we were like ‘Really?'” he says. “And being the antithesis of what drag was just made people feel like they were part of something that was bigger, you know, because the money was going to help people.”

Josh, whose stage name is Dana Sintell, says the Ruby Girls are the antithesis of drag because they’re not female impersonators. Instead, they’re just entertainers. He says “drag, at its core, is supposed to be fun and crazy and goofy. You know that old saying, we're all born naked, the rest is drag.”

rubi_girls_2015.jpg

And the Rubi Girls formula seems to be working. Over the years, they've helped raise over two million dollars for charity, and they’ve become ubiquitous in the Gem City, promoting the Dayton Art Institute, posing with the mayor, and lending a hand to dozens of local non-profits.

This year, they’ll be donating to 65 different charities.

In between rehearsals, Tim Farquhar works on one of his wigs in the large dressing room in the back of the Rubi Girls’ building. He’s applying hair spray liberally.

The walls are lined with wigs and hats. There are big chairs, showgirl mirrors, racks and racks of clothes.

“We have thousands of looks,” Tim says. “I mean, it looks like a big place, but when you've got 10 people who are storing years of drag and working costumes and headdresses and outfits, that's a lot of a lot of stuff. We always call it South Park's largest closet.”

Tim, who goes by the stage name Fonda Peters, gives me a tour of the building and its collection, but the items that resonate with him most are large posters with HIV ribbons and lots of people’s signatures on them. They’ve become a staple at performances.

“Typically, before the intermission, we do the song from Rent “Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand,” and people can come up and sign that ribbon and tip. So, those are all the signed ribbons from shows past,” Tim says. “It’s difficult. We started this back when I lost people, friends, so it reminds you of that. And a lot of people in our audience might have had that same memory, you know, so you see people come up, they have a tear in their eye and you know this and that. So, it's a little heart wrenching, but it's also very rewarding and satisfying.”

Nan Whaley and the Rubi Girls
Courtesy of the Rubi Girls

While Tim and Josh are founding members of the Rubi Girls, there are plenty of newcomers, too. Jacob Sams, whose stage name is Jackie O, saw the Rubi Girls once and made up his mind to become one.

The first time I ever saw them, it was mind blowing,” he says. “First of all, I came from being just like your standard run of the mill drag queen. So I was like, ‘Who are these men who did not shave their armpits in all this thrift store junk?’ But then when you actually sit with it and watch it and observe it for a while, it is just a great time. And all the love and the energy that they put in—everything that they do is amazing.”

Jackie O still does more traditional drag and recently competed in the Miss Gay Ohio competition, but Jackie says the Rubi Girls are unique in the way they support each other and the Dayton community.

I think what's so cool about Ruby is that we're all carrying each other. Instead of “who can be prettier” or “who can be more talented,” it's all about what can we all do to bring it together and make it more awesome.”

The Show Must Go On is this Saturday at the Dayton Arcade. And a word of warning, it’s very raunchy this year.

Rubi Girls 2018.jpg
Courtesy of the Rubi Girls

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.