Featured photo: Andy Monroe performing drag during a New Year’s Eve party (photo by Ciara Kelley)

When drag king Ellis D. started performing five or six years ago, he says no one else in his community did anything quite like he did.

“I wanted to do more alternative stuff, like monsters, more goth,” he said. “No one else in my community was doing that.”

Ellis D. met a lot of pushback against his art. Eventually, he met up with Hysteria Cole, a drag queen, and the two formed Underground Presents in Greenville, North Carolina.

Since then, the group has traveled all around North Carolina performing. On Jan. 7, they will have a show at Monstercade in Winston-Salem. Ellis D. says they are looking forward to performing at a more inclusive, welcoming environment.

“We want to give the best damn queer showcase you can give,” they said. “All these performers of all kinds just having a fucking good time.”

Underground Presents will be Monstercade’s first drag show of the new year; the last was on Halloween with Queer Winston-Salem.

“Monstercade caters to an alternative crowd, so we’re kind of the weirdo bar in town,” said Carlos Bocanegra, the owner of Monstercade.

“Anything with the alternative arts, we’re ground zero for that,” he said. “You’re not going to see this at a brewery or at a Joe Schmo bar. We seek out these types of performances. We’re extremely proud to host a show like this and give a place where alternative artists can use their creative voices.”

The upcoming show will feature several drag performers, burlesque dancers and combinations of both. Katie Murawski, who performs drag as Roy Fahrenheit, says she does “boylesque,” where she reveals a male illusion body under her clothes. As Fahrenheit, Murawski is known amongst her friends as the “smiling king.”

Murawski has never trained in burlesque, but says that performing makes her feel good about her body. She started performing in 2019, after she met drag queens through her partner’s best friends. She and her friend Andy Monroe, drag name Andy Droge, now perform with Ellis D. and Hysteria in Underground Presents.

Overall, her experience with drag has been empowering, but Murawski says she has also been pushed into boxes by the community.

“Some things, like misogyny, are universal,” she said. “There’s a lot of that involved. It’s not uncommon.”

For example, Murawski and the others in her group have been told that they only showcase drag queens, not kings.

“Trans and AFAB [assigned female at birth] performers are often pushed to the side or not taken seriously,” she said. “The whole reason me and Andy joined forces with the Underground is that there’s a new show in Winston-Salem that popped up that I thought would be inclusive, but it wasn’t.”

After she posted about it in a Facebook called Drag Kings Unite, she says Ellis D. saw her post and reached out. Ellis D. and Hysteria have both experienced similar prejudice in the drag world.

“For me, [there were so many] hoops I had to jump through to get stage time,” Hysteria said. “We had to compete in amateur nights, on Thursdays, once a month. You had to do what the bar wanted. It was judged heavily. Now, we invite new people in where people collect the tips for our performers, then they do a guest spot, then we book them. It’s nothing like what I went through to get stage time.

“I started doing drag in 2002, so going on 19 years ago in Greenville,” they continued. “I was also put into a box by many of the queens in Greenville. One of them came up to me one day and said, ‘Don’t change who you are for someone else, because you’re the only one doing what you’re doing in the state.’”

(L-R): Ellis D, Star Sirius, Dique Humor (a Raleigh king) and Katie Murawski after performing at a Freddie Mercury-themed show at London Bridge Pub in Raleigh (courtesy photo)

The scene across North Carolina has changed a lot over the last few years. When Andy Monroe began doing drag for example, they say kings were rarely, if ever allowed to perform. When Monroe did perform, they were told their shows didn’t bring in enough money, even though their shows were started late and ended early.

Part of what they love about performing at Monstercade is that as the self-proclaimed “weirdest bar in North Carolina,” they include all kinds of performers.

“The weirdest part about it is the fact that it doesn’t matter who you are, what breed or creed, whatever,” Monroe said. “That is the kind of weird I love and that we need to see. Having this type of show there can also bring a new perspective to people who may be alternative or may not be and they can still come out and see things they might not be exposed to before.”

Monroe, like their counterparts, loves performing in front of an audience, especially when audience members come up to them and say they haven’t seen their type of drag before.

“Come get weird with us,” they said. “We love to be there, and we love for you to be there, but the only way we can love for you to be there is if you’re there.”

Given the pandemic, the performers are just now getting back into live shows after spending much of the last two years unable to be in front of a crowd. As burlesque dancer Mona Loverly put it, coming back has been amazing.

“It’s been sold out lately,” she said. “I’ve been doing shows with Underground Presents in Greeneville. I’ve been in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro. It’s amazing. We were just so glad to get back out there. It feels really good to be back.”

Doors open for the Underground Presents show at Monstercade at 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7. Performances will include burlesque, drag and drag roulette, in which performers will have to perform a song they haven’t prepared for. Check out their Facebook at facebook.com/undergroundpresents, Instagram at @underground_presents and underground-greenville.com

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