Tag Archive | "Drag Queens"

Shawnna Brooks Presides Over Drag Family

Shannon Jenkins, Associate Writer, Culture & Lifestyle

You can pick your friends, but you can’t pick your family. Depending on whom you ask, that saying may not ring entirely true, especially if that person belongs to the House of Brooks.

Several of Atlanta’s well-known performers make up the happy drag family, whose matriarch is none other than the legendary Shawnna Brooks. The origins of the Brooks clan began in 1989 in Fayetteville, North Carolina, when Shawnna performed drag for the first time in a talent show.

“That’s all it took,” she said of the birth of her drag career. “I’ve been working for more than 20 years. I’ve worked with the best, and I’m very grateful to still be working.”

It was Shawnna’s polished work that attracted the other performers who would become her family. Over the years Shawnna “begot” three children—Nicole Paige Brooks, Destiny Brooks, and Tara Nicole Brooks. Nicole and Destiny perform locally, while Tara Nicole works in North Carolina.

“A child is like your apprentice,” explained Nicole Paige Brooks, a season two “RuPaul’s Drag Race” contestant. “As a mother, you help polish the younger drag queens. You teach them all the tricks of the trade.”

When she first moved to Atlanta in 1999, Nicole Paige said she was obsessed with Shawnna.

“Every time Shawnna came out she had this crazy amount of energy, even when she was not moving,” Nicole Paige said. “She makes you look at her. You cannot not watch Shawnna.”

After seeing Shawnna perform, Nicole Paige followed her new idol everywhere until she started performing about a year and a half after moving to Atlanta.

“I started working at Blake’s, and Shawnna took me under her wing,” she said. “I was just Nicole Paige then because I had done drag in Oklahoma. Shawnna helped me calm down a lot and introduced me to a lot of people.”

In 2001 Nicole Paige added “Brooks” to her name. Then she had children of her own—Phoenix and Angelica D’Paige. And the Brooks family continued to grow with such additions as Janelle Paige Brooks, Alissah Brooks and more.

“I don’t even know half the kids that have my last name,” Shawnna said. “I have a million grand kids. It’s very flattering.”

Although the family has gained several members over the years, not just anyone can join the House of Brooks.

“You have to be voted in by everybody,” Shawnna said. “You have to get along with everybody. You have to have a certain ‘it’ factor.”

When they’re not showing off their “it” factor for crowds at various clubs around the city, they’re doing what any other family does.

“We all have dinner together,” Shawnna said. “We all go shopping together. We watch movies. We really are a family.”

Aside from the good times, being a family also means watching out for one another.

“In this business you have a lot of people who blow smoke up your ass,” Nicole Paige said. “Your family is supposed to tell you the truth. And, anything you need you just call your sister or your mother.”

As the head of the Brooks family, Shawnna makes sure she’s there for her girls. But she’s not one to coddle. She embraces the concept of “tough love.”

“I’m very hard on them,” she said. “I’m always checking up to see what they’re doing, what they have on, if they look right. I think they respect that.”

“Shawnna has really high standards,” Nicole Paige confirmed. “She makes sure we’re making our own costumes and we’re acting right. You need someone that you respect and will hold you to a standard.”

As part of her high standards, Shawnna imposes two particular rules on her family.

“Always be nice to people,” she said. “And always be humble.”

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Fire Party Delivers Hottest Event of Summer

More than 1,000 people attended Fenuxe Magazine’s Fire Party last night at Atlantic Station.

Fire breathers, stilt walkers, drag queens and go go boys mesmerized the crowd, while DJ Mike B kept the dance floor popping. Mary Edith Pitts celebrated her birthday with guests, and Phoenix and Nicole Paige Brooks showed off their fierce drag skills. Host Princess Charles rounded out the event, making it a night to remember.

After hours of cocktails and dancing, guests raved about the event as they parted for the night. If you missed it, be sure to attend the Ice Party this fall. As always, Fenuxe promises to deliver another explosive event.

Look for photos from the Fire Party soon!

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Armorettes Glamorize Easter with Drag Races

Shannon Jenkins, Associate Writer, Lifestyle & Culture

Long before RuPaul’s hit show, the Armorettes were running their very own Drag Races. Held every Easter Sunday in the parking lot of Burkhart’s Pub, the popular event draws hundreds of people while raising money for a worthy cause. The Drag Races began sometime after the Armorettes were formed in 1979. So far, the best guess is 1982.

They may not remember exactly when the races started, but the Armorettes sure know how to throw a good time. I had the pleasure of talking with three of the campy entertainers one evening at Roxx, and Ally Yankadic, Sofonda Cox and Princess Alberta Bananahammock certainly kept me entertained. Here’s how it all went down:

Shannon: So, tell me about the Drag Races.

Sofonda: It’s the biggest event we have every year. There’s a mix of drag and festival-like games. People wear elaborate bonnets they’ve made. The Drag Races come from our main event which is a relay race where you dress up in drag. The winner of the Drag Races gets the option to perform with us that night.

Ally: The way the Drag Races work is you start at the starting line, you run to one end of the parking lot and you put on a dress. Then you run back to the other end of the parking lot and you put on makeup and you run back to the other end of the parking lot and you put on a bra. Then you run back and put on high heels and walk like a lady across the finish line. The crowd really gets into watching everyone running back and forth. Last year one of the games was Snap Your Wiener where we took a string, tied a Vienna sausage to it and you had to lower it from your belt buckle and squat down and get a mouse trap to snap on your sausage.

Sofonda: My personal favorite game is Hide the Easter Eggs on the Drag Queen. The contestants are blindfolded and have to search our bodies to find the Easter eggs. There’s always a chocolate egg they have to find and that’s the winner.

Shannon: How did the Races get started?

Alberta: They started at the Armory but I don’t know what the story behind it is.

Ally: It just seemed like a good day to get drunk.

Shannon: Alberta, you won last year’s Races. What prompted you to participate?

Alberta: I just wanted to get out there and have as much fun as I could. When they said the person who won could perform with the Armorettes I was all over it. I wasn’t going to let anyone beat me.

Sofonda: We almost sent him back for not walking like a lady.

Alberta: I did walk like a lady!

Ally: He was the only one who did walk like a lady.

Sofonda: He tried to walk like a lady.

Alberta: Well, I’m not very ladylike.

Ally: He walked. The others just took off running.

Alberta: I’m not very fishy. Where were we?

Shannon: You won the Drag Races.

Alberta: Yeah it was a good time. I’ve been watching the Armorettes since I was 21, so since ’91. Then I became friends with some of the Armorettes and I knew them on a different level. There was a lot of encouragement from them for me to become more involved and consider joining the group. So it was like testing the waters with the Drag Races. As I’m getting older I want to find different ways to get involved with the community instead of just attending and donating. I want to be more of a leader.

Shannon: How did you get started, Ally?

Ally: Sofonda. I had never done drag before 2009. I was a bowler and entered the Miss Gutterball Tournament. It just so happens that I won. So I did drag for a year. The person who crowned me was Sevanda Cox, who was the prior year’s Miss Gutterball winner. We had bowled together and played football together and he ended up saying to me, “You really should audition for the Armorettes.” I was just ready to be done with it. I did my drag three times and I was like, “Uh, no.” But the Armorettes are something special and they’re a force within the community. It’s a way for me to give back. I can do something that’s meaningful and that was what mattered.

Shannon: How about you, Sofonda?

Sofonda: Mine is kind of a spiteful story. I was dating someone who tried out for Miss Gutterball and did not win. He tried out for the group and did not get in. While I was dating him I tried to give him advice on what he needed to do for his numbers and his response was, “Honey, I don’t mean to be rude but you don’t know what they’re looking for.” So after I caught him cheating on me I kicked him out. Miss Barfly rolled around and I tried out and won every category. And then I auditioned for the group and got in. I accidentally included him on an email list that told him I had done all that. One of the questions the Armorettes actually asked me was, “Are you doing this out of spite?” Miss Barfly I was doing out of spite but I auditioned for the group because I had guest spotted with them and became really attached to their cause and the group. I realized what an amazing thing they were doing with the community and what a difference they were making.

Ally: That’s the thing. You get to see how much it means to those charities. Sometimes you give them a check that makes their budget for the year. It’s the shortfall they were looking for and allows them to stay open and do business for another year. It’s an honor to be able to help these charities, even if it’s one dollar at a time. We’ve had some numbers where we only got a buck or two.

Alberta: You come back with three dollars and you think, “Wow, I thought that was a funny number.”

Ally: Three dollars makes a difference!

Sofonda: You think you must be wrong and you start digging through your titties and you still don’t have any more money.

Alberta: It’s in there somewhere.

Ally: So, it really is a joy to experience.

Alberta: Digging through your titties.

Sofonda: Some don’t have titties.

Alberta: They get caught in my chest hair.

Shannon: I can imagine. So, how much money do you usually raise?

Ally: Usually the combination of events raises at least $1,500. In past years I’ve heard of numbers much bigger and better in a better economy but we’re just happy to get whatever people can donate.

Sofonda: And honestly the only time we make money for the cause is when we’re performing the numbers. Easter is a little more about us giving back to the people who support us all the time. It’s more about the games.

Alberta: It’s like customer appreciation day.

Sofonda: Yeah, so it’s not as much about the bucket at Easter. We don’t charge for anyone to play the games. It’s more about camaraderie and getting to know the Armorettes.

Shannon: What does it mean to be an Armorette?

Ally: We don’t approach drag the way you expect traditional drag to be done. This is camp. You’re coming to a comedy show. Some of us look glamorous. Some of us still have our beards. But all of us are there to entertain. It’s all about us doing the job and trying to raise money for HIV and AIDS awareness and to find a cure for this horrible disease that has haunted the community for so long. We will make a difference.

Sofonda: And almost every Armorette agrees that if there was a cure tomorrow some of us would burn our bras and dresses and be done. That’s why we do it.

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Atlanta Film Festival Goes Gay

Films about lesbians, drag queens and an Atlanta stripper! Oh my!

The Atlanta Film Festival begins today through April 1 and offers plenty of films sure to be popular with the LGBT community. Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker star in “Cloudburst” as a lesbian couple who hit the road Thelma and Louise-style in an effort

Film "Cloudburst" starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker

Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker in "Cloudburst"

to get married. The documentary “Glitterboys & Ganglands” follows three contestants through the prelim rounds of a drag competition in South Africa. Drag diva Varla Jean Merman attempts to appeal to a younger audience in the mockumentary “Varla Jean & The Mushroomheads.” And, last but not least, “AKA Blondie” tells the intimate story of Atlanta’s famous exotic dancer known for crushing beer cans with her boobs. According to the festival’s web site, online tickets for “AKA Blondie” are sold out, so you’ll have to pull some strings to see it.

We spoke with Atlanta Film Festival Director Christopher Escobar about the week-long film fest and how Atlanta’s gay community plays a part in the film selections.

Fenuxe: How big is the festival this year?
Christopher: We’re playing more films this year than we ever have. We’re playing about 220 films and that has a little bit to do with the fact that we had about 500 more submissions than we’ve had in 36 years. Over 50 of those have local connections, which is also a record number. In addition to the awesome screenings and Q&A’s, there are some terrific parties, receptions and performances for those who are interested in learning more about the industry.

Fenuxe: What do you look for when selecting films for the festival?
Christopher: We’re looking for films and stories that are genuine and different. That can be in the story, the subject or the characters. We’re looking for something that makes us wide-eyed. We’re movie lovers just like the people who we program films for. We’re looking for films that get our attention. Sometimes we’re looking through the eyes of a middle aged mother and sometimes we’re looking through the eyes of a 21-year-old indie rock lover. We have to put different lenses on. We look for films that really strike us and that are new and interesting.

Blondie, Atlanta's famous stripper from the Clermont Lounge

"AKA Blondie" tells the story of Atlanta's most famous stripper

Fenuxe: Does Atlanta’s gay community factor into your film selections?
Christopher: It totally does. We were the original producers of Out on Film. I refer to it as our child that grew up and moved out of the house. We’re a 36-year-old non-profit, and Out on Film has been going on for two decades now and it’s since spun off and become it’s own non-profit. We’re extremely proud to have helped get that launched. We’re even more proud to see all the great programming and the great things that they’re doing. During the Atlanta Film Festival, as part of tradition, we host the Pink Peach Series, which features a number of feature-length LGBT films and shorts. One of the big ones we have is “Cloudburst” with Olympia Dukakis, which is a little bit like the movie “Thelma and Louise” but with lesbians. It’s a really great film, and it’s getting a lot of excitement. It obviously has an Oscar-winning actress in it. So the Pink Peach is a staple and a longtime tradition and will continue to be for the Atlanta Film Festival.

Fenuxe: What can you tell us about some of the LGBT-geared selections?
Christopher: “Glitterboys & Ganglands” focuses on the Princess Glamour girl Kat, and it’s really a character piece on Kat’s life as a cabaret star. It’s very much a bio piece. “AKA Blondie” is sort of similar but with someone who is an Atlanta celebrity. She’s a stripper at Clermont Lounge, and the film talks about her sexual escapades and her lack of luck in relationships and how she’s simultaneously jaded and hopeful. It’s a really interesting piece. You don’t typically see character pieces done on strippers. With “Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads” you sort of think of “Waiting for Guffman” by Christopher Guest but set in a drag show. It’s comedic, and it’s kind of tragic. It’s dramatic. It’s really fun. That’s one that is really edgy, and it pushes the limit a little bit. It’s one everyone would enjoy but I think there are some jokes in there that will have people of the LGBT community laughing a little harder.

Varla Jean Merman in Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads

Varla Jean Merman in "Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads"

Fenuxe: Why do you think it’s important for Atlantans to support the festival?
Christopher: Our year-round mission is to lead Atlanta through cultural discovery through the moving image. We really want to help people discover more about themselves and about each other and about ourselves collectively using cinema, television, short films and all the forms of the moving image to help us understand more. It’s the medium that helps us know more about history, other cultures, ourselves and our relationships. We’ve chosen these different good films that can make you laugh and make you cry and help you learn something and maybe make you angry and make you feel passionate about an issue that’s maybe off your radar. For different reasons we’ve worked extremely hard over the last nine months to put this festival together specifically for the city of Atlanta.

For more information about the Atlanta Film Festival, please visit www.atlantafilmfestival.com. Buy your tickets for the following films below. All shows take place at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema unless otherwise noted. All tickets are $10.

Varla Jean and the Mushroomheads
Saturday, March 24, at 4:45PM

AKA Blondie
Sunday, March 25, at 9PM
Plaza Theatre
Online tickets sold out, rush line day of only

Pink Peach Narrative Shorts
Sunday, March 25, at 4PM and 5:30PM

Pink Peach Documentary Shorts
Sunday, March 25, at 6:15PM and 7:45 PM

Monday, March 26, at 7PM

Glitterboys & Ganglands
Thursday, March 29, at 9:30PM

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Venerable ATL Drag Queen Suffers Heart Attack

Ryan Lee, Associate Writer: News & Current Events

The last month has been quite a drag for Lily White, one of Atlanta’s pioneers of female impersonation.

The venerable drag queen was taken to the Redmond Regional Medical Center earlier today after complaining of chest pains, and suffered a heart attack that has left him in the critical care unit for the next 24-48 hours.

“He had 100 percent blockage [to his heart],” said Charlie Brown, a close friend of Lily White’s. “He had a stent put in, and that’s all I know for now.”

Brown has been the chief organizer of fundraising efforts to help Lily White after a fire destroyed his Rome, Ga., home on Feb. 26. In addition to displacing Lily White and his elderly mother, the fire destroyed countless costumes, jewelry and other memorabilia that Lily White accumulated in more than 30 years as a drag queen.

“Oh my god, he’s been through so much,” Brown said. “When’s it going to end?”

Lily White’s hard times are even more devastating considering how generous he’s been as a drag elder: making costumes for other performers, serving as a drag mother and mentor for numerous youth, helping raise money for agencies like AID Atlanta, Brown says.

“Lily’s a pioneer of the art of female impersonation and she’s worked her ass off for our community, especially during AIDS,” Brown says. “He’s one of my best friends. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for me, and that I wouldn’t do for him.”

A March 22 benefit has been scheduled to take place at Jungle, with at least 40 entertainers expected to take part in the fundraiser. Drag benefits have also been organized in Washington D.C., Birmingham and Tampa to help Lily White recover from the fire, and Brushtrokes has been collecting donations at its store.

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