by Alessandra Wollner
From afar, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens would look like a large-scale, photorealist portrait. But, come in a bit closer, and you begin see that the portrait isn’t at all what it appears. It’s actually a series of cells, multi-shaped and many-colored, that work together to create the effect of a single, unified image.
This, Burton thought, was the perfect metaphor for drag, an art form that blends and reinvents gender to surprise, delight, and challenge viewers who think they already know all about what they’re seeing.
Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens (KQIB) dives, er, straight into the lively drag scene of Columbus, focusing specifically on two drag troupes—the Virginia West “family,” mostly drag queens, and The Royal Renegades, mostly drag kings. KQIB also shines the spot on the real lives and questions performers live offstage—expectations and (mis)understandings of biological sex and sexual orientation, parenting, and gender as a non-binary choice. The film also devotes a good chunk of time to the mechanics of drag. Without giving too much away, it involves reams of duct tape and Ziploc bags of clippings from your last haircut.
Burton estimates she attended around 30 drag shows while making the film. She took a camera to all of them. In KQIB, you’ll see scenes from rehearsals, backstage prep, and live performances intercut with interviews of a handful of Columbus’ most well-known drag performers, including Virginia and Nina West, in and out of drag, as well as co-director of The Royal Renegades, Becky.
Burton very intentionally crafted a film with no narrator. She wanted the performers and community members themselves to tell the story, to give a sense not just of a the local drag community, but of drag’s greater significance.
“Imagine a stone dropped in a pond,” Burton said during our interview. “First, I wanted to answer the question What the heck is drag? Then, Well, what’s drag—and the LGBTQ world—like in Columbus? Then, I wanted to really blow audiences’ minds, to get them to understand the biggest picture, the outermost ring: sex, sexuality, and gender are three totally different things, which leads to the final question What does drag make possible?”
Mid-way through filming, Burton gave a TEDxColumbus talk titled “How Drag Made Me a Better Parent.” Burton’s main point was about the way making this film helped her see and understand the nuance and complexities of gender identity and performance in a whole new dimension. It was perfect, but also dizzying, for the mother of two young children just beginning to come to their own dawning consciousness about gender and sex.
KQIB is the hard-won fruit of five years’ labor. But, if you’re going to give yourself a five-year project, you might as well give yourself a subject that’s fascinating, entertaining, and really, really fun, all of which drag has in spades…and sequins and, on occasion, copious amounts of fake chest hair.
Burton’s production company Five Sisters Productions, which she co-owns with her four real-life sisters, is about to launch KQIB, and the good news is that it’s coming to a few theaters near you, and also some far.
The Cleveland International Film Festival will screen KQIB April 2 at 9:15 pm & April 3 at 11:15 am, followed by a special forum based on the film. Burton and her sisters will be in attendance, as well as most of the stars of KQIB and performers from all the groups filmed. More info here.
KQIB will also premiere in Columbus June 7th at 7pm at The Wexner Center, with a celebratory reception co-sponsored by Stonewall Columbus at 6 pm.
Other screenings include…
Buffalo, NY: at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (BNFF) Sunday, April 17 at 2 pm with a Q&A with Burton, who is a Buffalo native.
The South: in the SouthArts Film Circuit April 20-28 to 6 cities for an audience engagement screening tour. Burton and her co-producer Ursula Burton will be at each screening for audience discussion after the film:
April 20, 2016: Williams Gymnasium, Oxford College of Emory University, Oxford, GA
April 21, 2016: Harrington-Peachtree Academic Ctr, Presbyterian College, Clinton, SC
April 24, 2016: Colleen O. Williams Theater, Winder Cultural Arts Center, Winder, GA
April 25, 2016: DP Culp University Center, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN
April 26, 2016: University Center Theater, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC
April 28, 2016: Jule Collins Smith Museum, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
Austin: at the Austin Drag Fest Friday April 29th
3:30-4:30 – Nina West (one of the main cast of KQIB) Dragcast Live, then:
5:00 – 7pm – Kings, Queens, & In-Betweens with Q&A following with Nina West & Burton
Oakland: at St. Mary’s College of CA May 4 at 3 pm with Q&A following with Burton
Alessandra Wollner is a third year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at OSU.