I have been a longtime fan of Kierra Darshell, Pittsburgh’s First Lady of Drag. When she brought the region’s first regular drag brunch show to the Northside in 2015, I was very happy. I’m a daytime gal, not a nightlife lady (are those things?) so drag at noon is my idea of fun.
Soon it was reported to me that the 2x month shows were regularly selling out which paved the way for James Street to bring a queer burlesque troup to this side of town. That was even more awesome for me. I could go, drive a mile home and be in bed by 12:30 AM which is pushing it, but very doable.
Kierra paved the way to reignite LGBTQ entertainment on the Northside and she did it by introducing a new to Pittsburgh concept. Her brunch shows featured 2-3 performers who each did two numbers, somewhat modified of course to fit the venue space. Any given Sunday (always wanted to use that phrase), you’d find drag kings, brand new drag queens, and legends who returned to the stage to support Kierra. She invited singers and other performers as well.
What I really liked about the show was Kierra’s technique of addressing inclusion while turning drag stereotypes on their head. She talks openly about her ‘boy life’ as a gay man in the context of her drag identity. She clarifies which performers are trans identified and what that actually means. She uses a roll call to understand who is at the show. She pushes and pokes straight cis men to confront their inhibitions. She knows how to use the art of drag to engage the larger community and she does it well.
Kierra is a classic or traditional drag performer as she discusses in a recent article in the City Paper which also explored drag king culture and the emergence of 12 year old ‘drag tween’ E! The Dragnificent. As with many art forms, drag is multi-faceted and wide-ranging. It is terrific to see Pittsburgh having so many facets that they can’t be contained in one issue of a news paper. The beauty of drag brunch is that the art form is accessible to those of us who cannot or prefer not to be part of bar culture.
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For her final show this past weekend, I was thrilled to take our 11 year old niece to her first drag show. She’s a voice student at CAPA so I thought she’d enjoy the performance. We had a table front and center. As we enjoyed our brunch, we talked about drag culture and transgender identity and what sorts of jokes and references she might hear. She had tip money ready to share. And she was mesmerized. She loved the costuming and the staging. She was curious about the performer’s wigs. The shoes impressed the heck out of her (she’s a femme girl who love heels.) Ava is a classmate with E! The Dragnificent so I told her to ask them about questions she doesn’t want to talk about with her aunts.
She even raised her hand during roll call, but only after I assured her that Kierra’s ribbing would be focused on adults and not children. She went up to the stage several times to take our tips to the performers. She asked me questions. She even agreed to go up and take a photo with the performers, shaking their hands. I was impressed with her poise and lack of social anxiety in a new setting.
We had a really nice time. I’m sorry to see Kierra (and James Street) go, but I’m grateful they made this unique aunt-niece experience possible. I always enjoyed the shows, loved learning about her guest performers, and appreciated how hard she worked to create this opportunity.
I spoke with Kevin Saftner from James Street about their working relationship
“Working with Kierra has been one of the most fun and rewarding experiences we ever had at James Street. All of the performers and attendees came and went with the biggest smiles, every single brunch.”
In the words of Ava, “That was cool.”
So high praise all around.
Thank you, Kierra, for bringing drag (back) to the Northside and paving the way for queer burlesque and so much more. And thanks for being so nice to my niece.
Kierra is working to establish a new venue for drag brunch which she will announce on her Facebook drag brunch page.